Michael was changing his shirt in the laundry room when his 11-year-old son walked in.

"Dad, what happened to your back?"

Michael's back was deeply scarred by childhood acne. Still embarrassed by his skin, he'd never been able to get a massage. Even after 20 years of marriage, he still wished he could wear a T-shirt when making love to his wife.

"Did you get burned?" his son asked.

"I got hurt in the war," Michael said.

"What war?"

"The War of Poverty," Michael said. "I was poor, so I had bad health care. Nobody told me I could medically treat my skin. Not my parents, not the doctors. Nobody."

"I'm sorry," his son said. "I wish I could take away those scars."

"You're an awesome kid, you know that?"

"Of course I do," his son said and laughed.

Later that day, Michael saw a gorgeous woman in a restaurant. Her eyes were dark blue like an underground river illuminated by a campfire. But her face was pitted with acne scars—deep craters where Neil Armstrong could have planted a flag. Michael wondered if the woman believed that she was beautiful. Did she look in the mirror and see only her scars? Michael knew that he was lucky his scars were on his back. He could only see them if he performed gymnastics in a mirror. For a moment, he thought to approach the woman, to tell her she was gorgeous and that he understood what it meant to be ashamed of one's skin. But doesn't the reminder of shame only cause more shame?

That night, Michael took off his shirt and asked his wife to massage his back.

"Pretend my scars are stars," he said. "And tell me if you see any constellations." recommended


Comments (5) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
I love Sherman Alexie's mind; it is as rich, varied and savory as what I would choose for a last meal.
Posted by kdm on April 17, 2013 at 9:43 AM · Report this
Simple 2
Well played. I can hardly wait until the NBA tips off here next year. Alexie you describe basketball better than anyone on the planet.
Posted by Simple on April 17, 2013 at 2:35 PM · Report this
OutInBumF 3
Posted by OutInBumF on April 18, 2013 at 2:26 AM · Report this
Acne covered my adolescent face like sprinkles on an ice-cream cone. 40 years later, the facial scars are blended into leathery skin that has been sunburned too many times. I look "weathered," kind of like the Marlboro Man.
When I was 19, full of whiskey and self-hatred, I shot myself through the stomach with a 30/30 rifle, the kind of weapon used to hunt big game. The blast went straight through me, through the wall behind me, and lodged itself in the TV in the next room. Surgeries and reconstructive work left numerous circular scars across my belly, like nine holes on a putt-putt course. A 14 inch vertical scar zips up from my belly button. The worst is the tennis ball size divot on my back; they called it the exit wound. Like Michael, I can only see it through a mirror, but I know it's there and I've always hidden it.
I use to wish that there was a beach somewhere, specifically designated for damaged people like me. You know, terrible scars or physical disfigurements which would cause "regular" people to stare.
But we wouldn't stare. Oh sure, we would look, but not like at a freak show. We would look at each other with empathy, understanding that what is seen on the outside is just a fraction of the pain that has been held on the inside. There, on that healing shore, we could finally allow our wounded skin to remember what sunshine and fresh air feel like. There, we could smile and each other and see beyond the surface, knowing that the real scars lie deep within, in a place that only the owner can choose to reveal.
My scars were self-inflicted but my wound arrived without my approval. I am gay. And I hide that scar because I live in the prison of Roman Catholic morality.
Someday I hope to find that Beach of Broken, Scarred People. I would take my shirt off. Hell, I'd take all my clothes off. And I'd pray for someone to touch my skin.
Posted by dakota on April 19, 2013 at 5:10 AM · Report this
My son, about your age, is a fine writer, but he doesn't believe it -- and you aren't helping much (he's a long-time fan). I've published several books and maybe he's afraid to compete with me. My point is that he writes too much; he's entranced with your style of short-writing; and I'm his Mom (so he won't listen to me). What would you tell him about ways to write the short, poignant, and surprising way that you do?
Posted by jazzyval on April 20, 2013 at 12:13 AM · Report this

Add a comment