Dealbreaker

Sometimes, straddling my husband in bed, I drag my fingertips down his chest, over the smooth pale skin of his torso and then up again to his collarbone, down the center, over the scar. The scar is seven inches long, shaped like an exclamation point with its period floating an inch below, pink like his nipples, fat and flat like an earthworm that has been slowly sinking, over the last year and a half, deeper into his body. It is a little wider in the middle — I think, perhaps, from the rib spreaders. Maybe that is where the surgeon's hands went in.

"Does it look okay?" he usually asks.

"It's sexy," I say. The Christmas tree lights hung above our bed reflect off my wedding ring. He had the open-heart surgery seventeen days after we were married, when he was twenty-five and I was twenty-three.

When it was new, the scar was puckered from the stitches on the inside; they'd sewn him up like the seam of a pillow. His sternum had been sawed in half and wired back together with twistie ties. He wasn't allowed to drive for six weeks for fear of damaging the bone before it re-knit, but when he came home from the hospital five days after the surgery, we had sex anyway, me precariously perched on top and making sure not to touch his chest. I was afraid I would slip and cave him in like a trap door or the flaps of a cardboard box. Everyone would say, "Well, what did you expect to happen?"

But I was leaving in nine days — I had to fuck him while I could. We had scheduled both the wedding and surgery during my winter break from grad school. One plane ticket, that way — I was living in New York and he was still in Kansas, and I had to get back for the spring semester.

When he came to New York to interview for jobs three weeks later, he was still in his recovery period. You couldn't tell with his shirt on. In bed, I pulled his undershirt off and studied the new ridge running down the center of him, the new skin — soft and hard at the same time, both alien and him.

"Are you still attracted to me?" he asked.

I kissed his belly and licked the scar from bottom to top, dragging my body across his newly healed chest.

He moved to New York and we moved into our own apartment and I watched the scar sink into his chest. With my nose pressed between his pecs and the scar under my lips, I could feel his heat rising against my face and smell him all around me — the same smell I fell in love with when I first met him, when I was sixteen and he was eighteen and his chest was hard and flat, like skin over slate. He had been 5'8" and 113 pounds and rebelling flamboyantly against his parents and adolescence and I had thought him sophisticated and eccentric and some sort of embodiment of sex. When he told me the aortic valve in his heart was deformed, I considered it the metaphorical root and physical manifestation of his unhappiness — and a turn-on. He was doomed, the Byronic hero I had been looking for.

Back then, he lived as if he wouldn't live long, with a fast little sports car he drove at parked cars and cement pillars, dodging them at the last minute, and a propensity for feuds and conflict. He was the first boy to introduce sex matter-of-factly when making out with me, rolling on top of me one night as we kissed in his bed, his body between my bent legs, the possibility of the act both unspoken and unsubtle. I felt light-headed panic when I realized I was about to do too much, and yet there was the opportunity to do even more. My fingers and feet and head were numb and seemingly inoperable as all my nerve-endings shrank inward toward my stomach, the nausea of over-stimulation coursing upward, catching in my throat and making it hard to breathe, hard to say no, to say anything at all, especially when there weren't any questions being asked.

We didn't do more than kiss that night, but it was the first time I spent the night with a man, slept in the same bed as if we were lovers, and I fell asleep with my head cradled comfortably by his hard chest in a way I could never get right with anyone else after, no matter how many pillows I propped around us or how many times I positioned my head. We were lovers soon, but there was an after, and others. Byronic heroes might be good in bed, but they can't be bothered with routine relationship maintenance, and it wasn't long before it had been a long time since we had spoken.

Commentarium (35 Comments)

Oct 31 01 - 3:12am
bc

Stunning. Riveting. All the adjectives that I wouold ever want a piece of writing to be.

Oct 31 01 - 12:33pm

Fucking amazing.

Oct 31 01 - 6:52pm

wow. really great read.

Oct 31 01 - 8:12pm
cc.

the longest relationship i ever had was with c, a man who had open heart surgury at the age of fourteen. we'd lay in bed at night and i'd trace it, where the skin was pinched by the clamps and the stitches were less defined.

beautiful story.

Oct 31 01 - 10:49pm
mlf

beautiful story.

Nov 01 01 - 2:39pm
CR

What a lovely, lovely piece of writing. I've always felt that scars, both literal and figurative, are sexy. Anyone over the age of about 25 has some kind of scar, though many times it's an internal one; a scar on the soul. Our imperfections are what make us fully human, and if you look for the scar in someone, often you can better understand who they are, what roads they've traveled. That's sexy; to know and accept someone's full humanity....that's sexy.

I look forward to more from this very sensitive and talented young writer.

Nov 01 01 - 7:39pm
EAD

This story could not be improved on - Thank you for sharing it with us!

Nov 06 01 - 11:00pm
EL

This is a truly incredible piece -- nothing that could be improved on.

Nov 30 01 - 7:48am
KBD

How funny, while looking for something else, to come across something written by my sister. The WWW is such a small place after all. Congrats sis.
love Kirk

Nov 30 01 - 7:11pm
mro

excellent.

Nov 30 01 - 9:45pm
km

this kind of love, the kind where you are as enamoured with the fucked up details as the "perfect spouse" ones--it is the rare love of a true artist....your claim on your husband and his scars and his heart is beautiful, and being one who appreciates a scar (as much for its beauty, it's contrast next to the skin on which it lies, as much as for the story--because every scar has a story--behind it. mmm....i thought this essay was fabulous; you deserve to get rich (money, too, not just emotionally or whatever) for how great you write! keep in touch, and write sometime...
bonjovirox2@aol.com....

Dec 10 01 - 11:42am
cw

Whoa. Some (a very precious few) relationships are truly historical. Yours is one. Thank you for loving him like that.

Feb 14 02 - 9:28pm
E.L

truly incredible devotion and love. Its all in the way you view something.

Jun 09 02 - 7:59am
JMS

Nice story. I liked the part about thanksgiving it always nice to fuck during the holidays. Especially when visiting family in a boring place like Independence, MO. ;)

Jul 16 02 - 11:20am
BK

That is the most touching story I have read in ages. I felt as if I was right there and knew you both. All those other girls don't have shit on you, they didn't love him fully as you have. He is a lucky man to have you. It is obvious you have unconditional love for him....a kind of love we all need and want. Good luck to you both, I hope your marriage will last beyond your years on this earth. My love to you both - Bev King

Nov 27 09 - 1:40pm
SM

This is the first decent writing I've read on here in months. Nice.

Nov 27 09 - 3:30am
RA

im a female and i have a scar just like that because i had a heart transplant. you are great to appreciate it because it makes the person who they are!

Nov 27 09 - 4:03am
LM

That was a genuinely beautiful and moving article.

Nov 27 09 - 10:32am
AM

That was hot. I felt very illicit reading it at work.

Nov 27 09 - 11:32am
rb

hi to the writer. great stuff i have been run over and often wonder what folks would say if they saw the scars. but my wife seems to think im in good shape.
super writing!keep going.

Nov 27 09 - 12:15pm
cc

hmm. reads a bit like a grocery store book flap.

Nov 27 09 - 12:35pm
JL

Remarkable.

Nov 27 09 - 2:32pm
AW

Bah! In tears.

Nov 27 09 - 3:36pm
HL

Lovely, lovely, lovely. Such an affirmation, and a reminder that we can be loved not only in spite of but because of our individual imperfections....They make us, well, us.

Nov 27 09 - 6:59pm
MD

What a sweet and honest story, nicely done, both in terms of the writing and the marriage!

Nov 27 09 - 7:52pm
VW

I love this piece.

Unfortunately, however, this is from the archives, not the work of a new writer on Nerve. I remember reading this several months ago, when I devoured the back-issues upon discovering this site.

Nov 27 09 - 9:30pm
AFC

As the sister of a burn patient, and as a medical provider, I ALWAYS tell my young patients that chicks (and dudes) dig scars...and it's true. I sure do...

Nov 28 09 - 12:46am
QX

I wonder how things would have been different if (considering where it would be located) he'd had an appendicitis scar instead?

Nov 28 09 - 3:59am
L

The best thing I've read on Nerve in a long time. It's actually about something other than nueroses and promiscuity.

Nov 28 09 - 3:10pm
Krzc

And how is he as a father?

Nov 29 09 - 11:49am
LC

My father had his aortic valve replaced, too. There's nothing scarier. The rate of failure even after a successful operation is dismal. You're a lucky woman and you seem to know it.

Nov 30 09 - 1:28am
MSJ

One of the best things I have ever read on nerve.

Nov 29 09 - 10:43pm
sb

This is why we like ER etc. Make it hot and the tears will follow. Poor guy was exploited by his wife.

Dec 02 09 - 12:00am
Rp

This hit so close to home it confused me. I was a brooding teen with a bad heart and had the same procedure at the same age and my wife taught me to love the scar in the same way.

May 05 11 - 6:46pm
MW

I guess this was written a long time ago...but as someone who had the exact same problem and exact same procedure, and who has learned to love her "Scarlett" too, I loved this story.
My husband didn't know me without my scar, and though I know he'd love me just the same, I'm glad.

Great writing.