Pacific Ocean air streamed through my hair as I pedaled along the bike path from Ojai toward Ventura in southern California. The Ventura County line the Beach Boys sang about was nearby. Rolling green hills greeted me as massive, two-hundred-year-old oak trees seemed to assure me that I would be okay.
Despite life’s ups and downs, I would endure as the oaks endured the harshness of life. I enjoyed riding my bike and always loved a great workout. But I hoped to benefit more by sculpting my body into a more beautiful one.
I didn’t know that the dog walking so nicely by its owner ahead on the trail would get spooked as I rode by. In a swift blur, he zigzaged and freaked out as I approached. I hit my brakes but it was too late. The sudden braking catapulted me over the handlebars. I slid along the asphalt, face first, until I came to a heap.
The doctor scraped asphalt out of my face and stitched close the laceration on my chin. The left side was scraped and cut. The right side was fine. After the procedure, we drove to the pharmacy to pick up my prescriptions, and that’s when I first noticed people looking as though they had seen a ghost. But of course it was me their eyes focused on. Everywhere I went, if they saw me on the left, their eyes opened widely in shock. Sometimes people pointed and showed others the left side of my face. (I always thought parents taught their kids not to stare, but I guess not.) I felt like a freak. Everywhere I went, people gawked and looked as though they were in shock at my Frankenstein-like face.
I endured a process of bruising, scabbing, scarring, and pain. The doctor gave me a gentle plastic brush and a special soap to continue scrubbing the asphalt pieces out as they rose to the surface. He told me I would probably need skin grafts after the initial healing. The top few layers of skin were no longer on the left side of my chin.
Lying on my bed, careful not to touch my bandaged face with the pillow, I thought about all the times I had obsessed about the flaws of my body. My mind flooded with recent experiences of people gawking in shock as they approached my left side. For a while I rarely left the house unless it was a necessity.
About two years later, my face had healed other than the pink blotch on my chin. I was prescribed a bleaching medication to get the redness out. Fortunately, I didn’t need skin grafts. I took a deep breath and reflected on all the times I had obsessed about my body, and was eternally grateful that my face had healed. Other than a white blotch on my chin and a small spot on my cheek, I’m back to normal. I only had to live with disfigurement for a few years (with the worst part lasting only a few months), but many have to live with it permanently. Truly, I have so much to be thankful for. Maybe obsessing about my body isn’t worth the space I give it in my head. I do it much less these days. Sometimes I think my shift in thinking started near the Ventura County line as I rode among the stately oaks. God had assured me that despite life’s bike accidents and other dark moments of my soul, he would carry me through. The faint, almost invisible scars on my face remind me.