I split my lip once when I was little. Being at the time just a little too raucous and taking up far more cubic inches of space in the sticky air that had housed my family in the long, miserable summers of the south than necessary, I found myself promptly plopped down into the rickety lawn chair of the back porch, isolated from the rest of my cousins, and chastised about dangers of running too fast, running into blunt objects, and running too fast into blunt objects as my chubby, calloused feet swung restlessly in the breeze. I had needed exactly seven stitches -- three disclosing themselves shamelessly in the front, four hidden on the inside of my bottom lip -- and for nearly two weeks I could feel the scarring flesh wrapping uncomfortably around ice pops, around soup spoons, around cool edges of dangerously full glasses of lemonade, the sensation each time rendering itself new and tender and painfully, painfully present. The faint, crooked mark of a line perpendicular to my bottom lip merely reflects itself in the mirror now, having long since ceased its throbbing, but my mother brings it up every once in a while, comments occasionally how much prettier I would look if I took the efforts to cover up the imperfection with a dab or two of concealer. So it's still noticeable. To this day I can still feel the sting of my mother accusing me of injuring myself for attention, for only something to be remembered by in my backwater whirlwind of a childhood, and the memory of splintered ashwood nestled within the blood remains fresh in my mind.
I can only imagine that the distinct appearance of the scar is precisely why this cologne-reeking, spectacle-bearing wire of a man has bothered to place his thumb on the blemish, curious. Testing it, probably, just to see if it would try to bite the way I had wished the first time had gone, or if it would simply remain still and quiet and vaguely, passably compliant like the way our coerced joining had actually proceeded. My professor taps the patch of skin once, twice -- no movement, of course -- before settling my chin for me into the vice-like grip between his forefinger and thumb, satisfied. As if he hadn't already attempted to explore everything once already. And out of all the reasons that could've stood for an explanation as to why I'd been called back down into the privacy of his office again, I'm thinking that he wants to kiss me and that I'm scared and that I really, really want to cry out to the stuttering intern down the hall, maybe even tear him away from the ever-propped book sitting in his lap if I have to.
And then I think:Would Mama still tell me I was only looking for attention if I did that?
He clears his throat suddenly, and the abruptness of the break in silence is enough to force me straight-backed against the chair again, attention drawn. Something like amusement passes over his features; thankfully, he makes no comment on it.
"Now, Scout," he addresses instead, "I understand that you may be a bit upset over the events that have transpired recently and that you may be slightly concerned and confused over the manner in which those events occurred, to say the least of it. Maybe even a little angry, a little frustrated, a little -- well, I'm not you, Scout, but I imagine that calling you down to my office at a time like this may seem a bit incriminating in regards to my character. Am I correct in that aspect?" The words are slow, stagnant -- aggravatingly so, actually, as if he were speaking to an eight-year old child instead of a woman on a scholarship just a decade over -- and the one-on-one humiliation is difficult to choke down underneath the inherent fear. He doesn't wait for me to respond. "And I imagine, also, that your rather troubled state of mind may be exactly the key to the road of repercussions that lies ahead of you, should you choose to report the details of our previous meeting. You're a smart girl. I like to think you've read our policies in regards to second and third offenses after your little incident last month."
Of course I had. The academic scholarship keeping me afloat and away from my dying flat of a hometown had been stressed in meetings that I would have never thought necessary to be extremely strict in its rules and codes of conduct, a marginal but prevalent nod to the socially disastrous events of the antecedent years. As I assumed, anyway. I'd pored over the tiny blocks of text over and over and over again out of the fear that I'd missed something, that I'd be caught in some hidden loophole to toss out my too country, too-accented-to-be-intelligent self, that for one slip-up in letting a friend borrow my fridge to store their whiskey would lead to losing everything that I'd worked for -- and he had been there. Holding my hand, rustling knowing, understanding fingers through my hair in an attempt to soothe my panicked sobs. Whispering into the frizzy, disheveled curls that everything was going to be okay, that he'd take care of this, that all I needed to do was let him do one thing for me and could I do that? Would I let him do that? Even in the air-conditioned rooms of the northern cities there still remained a sultry, heavy hot spell in the air, and my worn shoes and cardigan and hair tie had come off over the course of the conversation in an attempt to ignore it. And he'd told me everything was going to be alright again, voice husky, one hand pressing my head to his chest and the other creasing his graying strands, and he'd asked me what I'd be willing to --
"You understand, don't you, Scout?"
I do. He's running his fingers through my hair again, eyes tracing over the scarred lip that had provoked his curiosity so intensely that first week of class, and it's all I can do not to flinch. I like to believe there's some power to be claimed in the lack of obvious fear. I don't flinch when I begin to feel the pressure on my thighs, in my mouth, in places I would've never expected to hurt so much. I don't bite into the inside of my wrist to keep myself from crying, from screaming, from calling out to someone who would only further incriminate my actions in the situation that I'd put myself into. The ceiling -- like I imagined my mind would be like in the youthful days of hours upon hours of chiding and punishment -- floats somewhere above, distant, and aside from the occasional stab of pain that had emanated from the bloody bottom left portion of my lip in the first of a long line of displays of disobedience in my childhood, I had learned quickly how to become unattached.
As a child, I'd always wondered if splitting my lip would lead to the tearing of my entire body.