Excerpt taken from ‘Scars and Skin: The Phenomenon of Emotion-Triggered Scar Tissue’ by David Jensen, Chapter 1 - Origins.
[…] Though anthropologists, pathologists, and many others have dedicated much time to the question, the origins of ETST remain unclear; no-one can be sure of where or when it first began. Research over the last few decades has shown that there is evidence of what looks to be ET scarring in preserved human remains dating back thousands of years, but nothing has been revealed regarding how the so-called scars appear on the skin. ET scars appear somewhere on the body that is related to an emotionally traumatic experience, at times with or without pain, though it is rare for humans to scar due to physical injury. After years of study […] there is nothing in the human genetic makeup can explain the biopsychological phenomenon of ETST. It is unknown how the body determines which experience will result in a physical remnant. […] Cultural perceptions of ETST have generated an interesting field of study as well, indicating that ETST research extends beyond the laboratory and the clinic. However, within this field of research that only generates more questions as it grows, there is only one thing that is certain.
Emotion-Triggered Scar Tissue does not fade.
Everyone gets their scars eventually. It’s a part of being human. Though he’s never seen them, he knows that even his parents have their share, from the way his mom’s fingers sometimes trail over her abdomen or the way his dad rubs his shoulder. Jack notices his scars for the first time when he is fourteen. They’re not obvious at all, in that not even his parents have noticed that any ETST had shown up on his body. Him batting away the hands of his father reaching out for a ruffle is simply attributed to puberty and embarrassment. But he feels the abnormal puckered skin behind his ears every time he puts on and takes off his helmet, every time he tries to shake the sweat out of his hair or holds his head in his hands when trying to calm down from whatever his anxiety has latched on to for the day.
Though they teach in school that scars usually come in all at once, Jack knows he is not one of those cases. He can feel the damage spread slowly but surely down towards the back of his neck with each day that passes and knows it will start creeping upwards or forwards eventually. He doesn’t even need to wonder what triggered the scarring; he stares at the bottle of pills that are essential for keeping him sane and tries not to think about the things he hears his teammates and their parents say.
« Le fils de Bad Bob, hein? Nous avons une vraie chance à gagner s’il joue comme son père. » said Gilles, who has a thin scar on his upper arm.
« C’est certain qu’il va jouer dans la ligue, son père est Bad Bob! C’est seulement une question d’où. » said Louis’ dad, whose shorts reveal a patch of rough scarring on his right knee.
« Alicia et Bob Zimmermann! Ben, tes parents sont si beaux, alors qu’est-ce que s’est passé avec toi? La beauté, ça saute les générations? » said Michelle with a laugh. Jack had never found Michelle particularly funny.
He starts growing out his hair, letting the dark curls hide the damaged tissue. His mom is always asking if he needs a haircut; Jack always says no, just a trim is fine, thanks. Nothing to see here, Maman. I’m fine.
Jack is sixteen when he meets Kent Parson, whose skin is dotted with freckles but unscarred and undamaged. Kent Parson is a whirlwind that takes him along for the ride, sweeping up and down the ice, in and out of parties, in and out of hotel room sheets. Kent Parson has felt the scars on Jack’s skin that lace around the back of his head and neck. Jack’s own hands have traced over a body that looked too small to be on the ice and too small to ever make it in the League. Kent Parson asks about the scars, and sometimes Jack doesn’t know if it is out of worry or curiosity. He would like it to be the former and thinks it’s the latter, but he never ends up asking. Kent Parson asks whether they hurt (yes), whether the pills help (no), and whether the scars are done spreading (probably not). Jack always answers no, yeah, and for sure. Kent Parson has no choice but to believe him, because Jack never tells him otherwise.
“See you tomorrow, Zimms.”
Jack is eighteen and in a hospital bed when he wakes up to his mother’s hand running through his hair, her fingertips tracing the new barren lines that fragmented his scalp as they pleased. There was nothing left to hide now. A fresh scar peeks out from the hospital gown as he looks down at himself, a thin, almost inconspicuous one that seems to run the length of his sternum. He tries reaching up to lift the neckline of the gown but decides against it, not wanting to disturb whatever is attached to his arm. His mom sees him looking down and tilts his chin back up. She pushes his hair back gently and kisses him high on the forehead, where the scar tissue lies along his hairline like a warped crown.
How fitting, he thinks.
Excerpt taken from ‘ETST – wounded or warrior?’ by Jessica Holt, Journal of Anthropology, Vol. 34, Pg. 34-46.
In North America, it is not rare for people to cover up their ETST, as it is taken as something personal, something that indicates a point of weakness and pain during a lifetime. In Canada, the United States, and some pockets of Mexico, the industry for cover-up sleeves, concealing makeup, and cover-up tattoos has grown extremely fast over the last three decades. Though societies have become more accepting of visible ETST, it may still be daunting for an individual to bear their scars in public. On the other hand, in some communities, ETST is seen as a sign of seniority and strength. Even as scientists present increasing evidence that ETST expression varies greatly from person to person and the degree of expression is an individual factor, in some pockets of the world, people bear their scars with pride. In fact, the more marked the skin, the more influence an individual has in that population.
In social studies, his favourite class in elementary school, the teacher had told them that ETST could either be seen either as a sign of courage and strength or as something unsightly depending on where you were from. She hadn’t given them a clear answer when Marie-Philippe had asked which one was the correct view to take. His parents have never said anything about his scars, but they also don’t discourage Jack from growing out his hair and wearing beanies well into late May.
By the time he gets to Samwell and takes his photos for the Samwell Men’s Hockey website and his new student ID, Jack has learned how to strategically maneuver his hair to cover any trace of his ETST. It’s a lot of hair, but he’s not ready for the world to see the scars, see his weakness, yet. He has heard many speculations regarding whether he has ETST as a result of what happened at the draft and his dad had mentioned Kent being asked multiple times whether he knew anything. (Jack doesn’t know why his dad had mentioned that.) However, ever since the incident happened, no media has ever gotten confirmation and Jack isn’t about to give them any.
Things begin to change when he ends up at Samwell. When he first meets B. Knight, it is at the hockey orientation that he opted to attend with his mother instead of Bad Bob. Already seated, they watch and wait for the other student-athletes and their parents to arrive. After a few minutes, another player walks in with an older man. The older male has a hand on his son’s shoulder, and the younger man is visibly gritting his teeth, even behind the mustache, as his gloved hands pull at the high turtleneck collar he is wearing. Almost every inch of skin on the freshman is covered, save his face. He is walked, no, marched, over to Jack and Alicia by his dad, who extends his own hand in greeting.
“Bickford Knight Sr., pleased to meet you,” he says. “This is my son-"
“Shitty.” Both Jack and Alicia startle at the interruption from the younger man and turn towards him. “The name is B. Knight, but I go by Shitty. I’m a freshman from Boston and will be pursuing a double degree in political science and gender studies.” He holds out one of his black-gloved hands for a fist bump and calmly ignores the intense glower his father is shooting him.
Jack goes along with it and raises his hand to bump Shitty’s before reaching over to shake Mr. Knight’s hand. “Jack Zimmermann, from Montreal, studying history,” he says, and Alicia introduces herself after him, shaking the other parent’s hand before her knuckles meet the younger Knight’s with a wink. If the Knights recognise him, they don’t make a big deal of it. They take a seat behind the Zimmermanns in the small block of chairs that have been set up. It doesn’t take long before the other players and coaches arrive and for the session to begin. They do not speak again at the event, but Jack catches B. Knight Sr. looking very angry with his son multiple times throughout the afternoon.
As the season starts, Jack knows he is not the only one that notices how covered up Shitty is - long-sleeved compression shirts and leggings every day, even during the heaviest of workouts. Shitty changes in the private stalls and when chirped about it, simply gesticulates and provocatively sidles up to whoever chirped him. However, after one particularly rough practice, the mustache-wearing player comes up behind Jack on the ice and says, “Fuck this bro, I can do this,” between heavy breaths. Jack doesn’t understand what he’s alluding to, but he affirms the sentiment anyways. Shitty beams as they walk into the changeroom.
Instead of grabbing his things from his locker and moving towards the private stalls, Shitty lifts his sweater over his head and begins to take off his gear in the locker room together with the rest of the team. Only Jack and their captain have noticed the change in routine and behind Shitty’s back Jack responds to his captain’s raised eyebrow with a shrug. As he tugs his own sweater up over his head, he hears Shitty exhale, then the sound of cloth lifting off skin. With his face still in his sweater, Jack doesn’t know why the entire room has gone quiet, but he soon finds out. Shitty’s entire upper body is covered in branching scar tissue, from his neck to his fingers, tracing the outlines of veins and vessels. From the way the scars descend, it is obvious that they continue down onto his legs. The others have definitely noticed, but they begin filling the room with noise again as if nothing had changed, though Jack catches more than a few glances going Shitty’s way.
“Sweet freedom,” he hears Shitty say, and Jack smiles and hums in acknowledgement. Shitty looks up and grins from where he has sat down and is unlacing his skates, scarred fingers pulling at the strings. “ETST’s got nothin’ on me,” he sings.
Jack doesn’t doubt him because over the next few months, Shitty goes from being completely covered to being completely naked whenever he could be, citing rebellion and ‘fuck the Knight patriarchy’. More than once, Jack has seen more than he has ever wanted to as he tries to get Shitty out of trees around campus. However, the more he sees Shitty bear his scars to the world, the more he thinks he is that he himself may be ready. Before he goes home for the summer, he gets a haircut. He leaves the front, but buzzes the back and the sides. When Shitty sees it, he smiles the same way that Jack did all those months ago.
“It’s a good look for you, brah,” he says. “Really brings out your eyes.”
When he meets his parents at the airport, he pretends that his dad’s whisper of 'I’m so proud of you' against his shoulder and his mom’s teary eyes don’t make him as happy as they do.
Excerpt taken from ‘The Prevalence of Adolescent ETST in Canada’– by A. McClain, E. Lanoa, and K. Hasan, published in Psychobiology Today, vol. 106, pg. 50-58
It has long since been established that an individual is most susceptible to ETST in the few years known as the Lost Years. A time of new experiences and changing social circles coupled with the biological fluctuations that arrive with puberty and sexual maturation, it is no surprise that this age group is easily scarred. It was presented consistently on a bewtween nultiple demographics that those who have ETST scarring obtained the scars in their teenage years. However, while it is important to count the numbers and observe the percentages, it is also important to understand the situations that are generating ETST among teenagers and young adults. Responses gathered from focus groups and interviews point to social and familial sources, as well as issues stemming from mental health. […] Even though these broader categories have been identified, surveys have indicated that individual experiences are hardly similar. What was brought to light in this investigation was that many adolescents do not realise how much damage an experience has caused until they see the ETST after the fact, sometimes days or weeks after. This may point to a new explanation for why humans have this unique trait; there is a growing amount of research suggesting that ETST may be an evolutionary trait, a product of self-preservation and survival instincts, acting as a physical marker to alert an individual of situations that they would do well to avoid in the future.
Most students come in scarred and develop more over their four years at Samwell. Jack’s captain in freshman year had arrived with a single scar on his left shoulder but graduated with two more on his right.
In his sophomore year, Jack helps welcome the freshmen. Justin Oluransi comes to Samwell from Toronto with a familiar web-like scar over his scalp, and Jack takes the defenseman under his wing. Justin is subdued and quiet, until he hits it off with Adam Birkholtz. The blond, who Shitty has been talking to, is paired up with Justin on the ice and nicknamed Holster to Justin’s Ransom. After a slow start, it is like the two have known each other since exiting the womb. Although loud and rambunctious, Adam will occasionally hold his hand over his mouth, most likely an unconscious move to cover the ETST on the lower half of his face and the front of his neck. Jack notices, but never mentions it. If both freshmen are still smiling, it’s fine.
Sophomore year also brings a new manager, as their last one was set to graduate. A small girl shows up at the rink during practice one day and Jack is introduced to Larissa Duan, an art student in her freshman year. He is wondering whether she is actually up for the job, but all doubts are washed away when one glare from her shuts up a group of lacrosse players in the dining hall that were having a rather unsavory conversation about the womens volleyball team. She doesn’t let them see her scars until the very end of the season, just before she leaves for Kenya. Lardo shows up to the last practice of the year to say goodbye, her tank top exposing the two lines descending from her shoulder blades to about mid-back, as if a pair of wings had been torn out. They all give her a hug, and she is off for the next 8 months.
Jack has gotten so used to seeing people come into college with pre-existing scars that he doesn’t know what to do with Eric Bittle, who shows up at the beginning of his junior year with seemingly no scars in sight, bearing pie to the orientation. He also doesn’t know what to do with this freshman that is deathly afraid of physical contact in a full-contact sport, except tell him to bulk up and provide extra practice times. Bittle moves fast and seems to be constantly in motion, never really stopping enough for someone to get close, both on and off the ice. He can’t help but be curt to this new member of the team, who doesn’t appear to have a reason to be here on the ice.
“Bittle, you have to skate through the check,” Jack says as he offers a hand to Eric, who is down on the ice yet again at one of their early morning checking practices. “The more that the other teams know that you can’t take a hit, the more they’ll go after you.”
“I’m tryin’ as hard as I can, Jack!” Bittle grabs the outstretched hand, and Jack helps him up. The freshman looks down as he brushes snow from his sweater and murmurs something under his breath. Jack resists the urge to roll his eyes – he had promised both himself and Shitty that he’d be more patient.
“What was that, Bittle?”
The silence hangs between them as the sunlight continues to stream into Faber from the windows, making the ice glisten. Neither of them speak, but just as Jack wants to open his mouth, Bittle moves. The blond brings his glove up to his face, so the words are still muffled, but Jack can just make them out. “I said it’s not the hits, it’s the falling,” he says.
Finished with the practice, he turns and skates away, leaving Jack to watch him as he steps off the ice. As much as Jack wants to call after him and tell Bittle that he wouldn’t fall after a check if he learned how to skate through it, he doesn’t. It’s not a solution that would work for Bittle. Jack doesn’t have to ask to know that it’s bigger than that.
He keeps an eye out for Bittle at practice. He can’t help but keep noticing the flinches and the freshman’s desire to weave around players to avoid not just checks, but any collision or maneuver that could result in a fall. Jack wonders if the coaches have noticed that the problem extends beyond just hits because it’s really quite obvious – but maybe that’s why they recruited him in the first place. He also notices that Bittle wears gloves and always disappears to the stalls after his shower.
So he's got some after all.
When Jack watches Bittle take the check behind the goal off a risky play that he’d called, he freezes.
When he sees the smaller player get launched into the air, time seems to stop.
When he sees the helmet bounce along the ice, the crack of plastic on ice has never rang so loudly in his ears.
He hopes and prays that it doesn’t scar.
Excerpt taken from ‘The Traces of Humanity – Chapter 5: Absence’ – by Dr. Keith Westmount, MD, PhD. 2016.
As with any part of the human experience, there are anomalies to the known standards. When examining ancient writings and descriptions of ETST, most if not all documents have noted the presence of those who remained unscarred for the duration of the lives. Known by many names throughout history, those who are ETST-absent – though faced with the same difficulties and emotional experiences offered by the human lifespan – demonstrate no signs of scarring. The reasons behind the lack of scarring have yet to be discovered, though many a scientist will say that this points to an evolutionary explanation. […] Dr. Haley Lee-Cheng, a geneticist specializing in ETST, has worked with many children and their families, both in clinical and research capacities. Her work in ETST genetics by means of twin studies observing mono and dizygotic twins, as well as twins who were raised in separate environments, has touched upon potential hereditary explanations for ETST-absence. […] Socially, many who are ETST-absent choose not to share this piece of information, for fear of judgement. Recent movements of individualism and self-expression have sought to dismantle the stigma surrounding the absence of ETST.
Jack opens the door of the Haus and steps into the front hallway, the smell of whatever Bitty has going on in the kitchen welcoming him home. He rubs the soles of his shoes on the mat, not wanting to track the late winter melt into the hall. He hears voices and more importantly, banter, meaning that the frogs have been recruited into the latest baking endeavour.
“Bitty, please tell Nurse that going to this party is a bad idea,” says Dex as Jack makes his way into the kitchen. “There is no legitimate reason, and I have a midterm next week.”
“You’re a freshman, your GPA doesn’t matter, Poindexter.”
“If it makes you feel any better, I’m going too, Dex!” Chowder smiles as he turns away from the counter, wooden spoon in hand. “It’ll be fun, and maybe you’ll find someone to go to Spring C with- Oh hi, Jack!”
Jack cocks an eyebrow. “What’s this about a party?” The goalie smiles sheepishly in response and just rubs at the Sharks cap on his head.
From the table, Derek speaks up. “Rugby is holding a party celebrating their win and I’m trying to get Poindexter here to come. It’s gonna be chill.” Jack gives the defenseman a look, while Bitty turns from the counter, mixing something in a bowl.
“Wasn’t their championship a few months ago?” asks Jack as Bitty rolls his eyes, leaning back against the countertop.
“Nursey, hun, both you and I know that that party will be anything but chill,” Bitty says.
“If it makes it any better, I was told that it was tame because it couldn’t even be marketed as a kegster.” Jack shakes his head and curses Holster under his breath. No party at Samwell was tame. He’d gone to a history society ‘gathering’ once and that had been enough for him.
“If you end up going and need anything don’t hesitate to call one of us, okay?” he says to Chowder.
“Yeah, of course, I promise we’ll be good, I mean-” Bitty, who had finished mixing without Jack noticing, gives Chowder a pat on the shoulder to console the rambling goalie.
“Y’all probably won’t need to call but making sure you have our numbers before you head out won’t hurt, hun.”
“Not my first party but it might be Poindexter’s,” says Derek while leaning back in his chair.
“Okay, fuck you, I was at our own Kegsters,” comes the retort from the other Frog.
Jack doesn’t know what to do and chooses to opt out of the conversation. He turns towards the fridge and opens it, looking for the extra smoothie he’d made in the morning. Jack spots the bottle in the back amongst the beer, half-empty shaker bottles, and questionable jars. It was his last year and he’d miss a lot of things but sharing a fridge, he decides, will not be one. Standing up and closing the fridge with his hip, he nods at Bittle with a small grin. “Smells good, Bits, but you gotta remember-”
“Diet plan, nutrition, got it, you enemy of all things happy and wonderful,” says Bittle, but not without a grin of his own. “Let me know if you want coffee or tea – if your thesis is going how Shitty’s is going…” They share a moment of amusement at the expense of their suffering housemate, knowing full well that Jack’s own thesis is well on its way to being done.
“Have fun tonight, boys,” says Jack, waving to the Frogs on his way to the doorway. “Bye Jack!” Chowder waves, spoon in hand. Jack leaves the kitchen with a smile and heads up to his room for a night in.
It is shortly after ten when Jack has very little warning before Shitty barrels into his room. Looking up from his laptop, Jack barely notices Bittle in the doorway with Shitty, Holster, and Ransom taking up most of his field of vision. “Is everything okay-”
“Nursey texted Bitty,” Shitty says urgently. “Chowder got in a fight at that rugby party. They stopped him before he could take a swing but apparently he got pretty damn close.
They didn’t tell me what happened but they’re on their way here.” Bitty steps forward from the door, holding out his phone for Jack to see. On the screen, there is a string of messages from Nursey, timestamped for a few minutes ago.
- Bitty can we come over
- C almost punched a rugny bro
- Omg ofc, what happened????
- Idk, dex and I weren’t with him he was with caitlin
- She got dex when c started shouting
- he wont say anything
- I’ll let the Haus know, be safe!
- Yea, none of us went too hard at pre so idek
- C doesn’t look super mad anymore
- But he wont talk to me, dex, or farmer so
- I’ll make some tea and heat up some pie for y’all
- k thank give us like 5 min
Jack hands Bitty his phone, and the blond tucks the phone back into his back pocket. “I’ll get some water on – those boys sound like they’ll need a lil’ somethin’.”
As he leaves, Jack turns to the others in the room. Shitty just shakes his head, and both defensemen shrug. “As far as I know, the rugby guys are usually pretty chill,” says Shitty. “None of the ones I know are particularly known to be assholes.”
Jack hums in thought. He can’t recall hearing anything bad about the rugby players either, though he knows he isn’t the most up-to-date on the social climate of the student-athlete community. Pushing back from his desk, Jack runs a hand through his hair and stands. “Well, we’ll find out what happened soon enough.”
“Lead the way, cap,” says Holster. They head towards the stairs and come down in time to see Bitty opening the door. Nursey comes in first, followed by Dex, who is turned sideways so that his eyes do not leave Chowder. The goalie has yet to enter and is uncharacteristically silent, jaw set; Farmer has a hand on his elbow, looking extremely worried. “C, you gotta come in – Farmer is gonna get cold if you don’t,” Nursey says. Chowder glances at his girlfriend, who pats his arm and nudges him forward.
Once inside, coats are removed and people corralled into the living room. Everyone sits in silence, not really knowing what to do except wait for Chowder to unfurl from the ball he’d curled into beside Farmer. The goalie mumbles under his breath and being the only one close enough to hear him, Farmer winces. She squeezes his hand and Chowder looks up. The others can only watch the silent communication between the two as they wait. After a few moments, Farmer bites her lower lip and tucks her hair back before speaking.
“Chris had gone to the bathroom and a senior had come up to me and flirting with me. I told him to back off, but he was pretty drunk already. Chris came back and got in between us, but then the senior started getting mad at him and said that because it was their party it was their rules, and then he said-”
“He said ‘You’re probably fucking blank, huh? Don’t even know how the world works- Bet you’re a baby-ass blank, let me put a few on you, I bet I could. A few hits should show you. Show that you’ve lived a little.’” The anger in the freshman goalie’s voice shocks everyone, even more than the words he’d repeated. Shaking, Chowder snarls. “I wanted to hit him so bad, but Dex stopped me before I could. You should have fucking let me.” Dex startles at the anger directed at him but calms as Ransom puts a hand on his shoulder.
“Are you mad that he called you a blank?” asks Holster.
Uncertainty sits in the room like lead.
Chowder growls in frustration, balls up his free hand and punches the couch cushion. “No! I’m mad that he thinks blank is a fucking insult!” He shouts angrily, tears forming in his eyes. “It’s not! It’s really fucking not! We get hurt too! Just like everyone else! I’m not some spoiled brat who knows jack shit! Just because I won’t ever get scars doesn’t mean that I don’t know how to fucking live! I’m alive right now aren’t I?! I don’t need fucking ETST to show that I’ve fucking lived!”
Chowder turns into Farmer’s shoulder and lets his sobs be muffled by her sweater. His words hang in the living room, weighing down on everyone for what seems like ages as the seconds pass. It is Bitty who speaks first.
“I’m sorry that happened, Chowder. That should never be used as an insult.”
“It really shouldn’t be,” says Shitty. “What a dickwad. I’ll give him a good kick to the shins.”
“If you tell me who it is I can probably TP his house,” offers Holster. Ransom nods in agreement, gesturing to the first floor powder room.
“No violence or vandalism,” says Jack. “But we can bring this up to the head of athletics or their coach.”
“Can you do that without telling them I’m a blank?” asks Chowder, now leaning on Farmer tiredly. “I don’t think I want people to know without me being the one telling them.” Jack nods, and Chowder nods in return, seeming to not want to speak anymore.
“You guys can stay over tonight if you want, Haus by-laws states that distressed teammates call for pillow forts.” Shitty proudly pats the green couch, then smiles at the goalie. “We know how much you love the green couch, bro.” As the rest of his teammates return to their normal levels of rowdiness, Jack takes another look at Chowder, who despite the events of the night, has a small smile on his face. He had started pulling his phone out of his pocket, but he slips it back. Texting the coaches can wait for a few hours, until he wakes up for his morning run.
Right now, there are pillows to gather and a Bittle to save from the cushions of the green couch.
‘Healing – What Fades and What Does Not’ by Micaela Erikson, CBC News - Science
It has been proven that Emotion-Triggered Scar Tissue does not completely fade. However, there have been reports of individuals who say that their scars appear to either shrink in size or look more ‘healed’ than they had been before. Some researchers are investigating the correlation between effective coping mechanisms and ETST healing. “There is an increasing amount of people who report their scars fading after therapy sessions and counselling,” says Dr. Ronald Chungh, Head of the Biological Psychology department at the Toronto Psychology Institute. Dr. Chungh expressed his interest in the impact of mental health movements and the removal of the stigma around ETST on changes in ETST states. […] There has been a rising theory among online platforms and discussion boards that scarring may fade to and almost unnoticeable state if one comes to terms with the emotions triggered by the memories in question, but there has yet to be empirical evidence for such claims.
[Continue reading at CBCnews.ca]
Jack flicks on the bathroom light and moves to his sink. He turns on the sink and cups his hands under the running water, letting it pool until he has enough to splash on his face.
He has been with the Falcs for a while now.
He has raised the Stanley cup over his head and is soon going to wear the C on his jersey.
He has Eric.
People know he has Eric.
They've hugged on national television.
They've kissed on national television. More than once.
He has spent summers in Providence and summers in Montreal and thanksgivings in Boston and holidays in Madison.
He’s tried to make a pie.
He has yet to make a good pie.
“Jack, honey – come eat or you’ll be late to the press conference!” calls Bitty from the kitchen.
“Je viens!” Jack grabs the face towel off the rack and dries off his face. He looks at himself in the mirror and makes note of the changes. He still has his mom’s startling blue eyes but now there are crows feet beginning to form at the corners. His forehead shows traces of furrowed brows but there are no signs of tension. He has some stubble, but his laugh lines refuse to be covered. His dark circles are gone and if his hairline is receding, it doesn’t show.
He runs a hand through his hair, brushing it back, feeling the ridges and the bumps. There’s a little bit of a sting as his palm crosses over his scalp. A reminder.
If they feel smaller than when he was a teenager – eighteen and lying in a hospital bed – he’ll chalk it up to his hands being bigger and tougher, hands that are now able to hold onto happiness and wrap around Bittle’s whenever he wants.
“Coming!” He slips the towel back on the rack, turns off the bathroom lights, and goes to meet his fiancé in the kitchen.
Samwell Senior Art Show 2023 Guest Contributor: Larissa Duan, Samwell Class of 2016 – That Which We Bare
Film photography, fiber-based gelatin silver print; Acrylic paints, transparent
Artist’s statement Everyone has their scars, and whether you like it or not, they are something you have to live with. I used to hate mine. I used to cover them up and hide parts of myself because I was afraid. I hated what I thought was my weakness. However, my years at Samwell taught me otherwise. My scars are no longer a burden that I bear; they are what make me unique, they are what make me the individual that I am.
So why not bare them to the world.
Though I’ve taken the pictures and painted on them, I’m not going to speak for everyone in this project; I’ve let them speak for themselves. Some had words upon words to deliver, some let their scars do the talking. As you go through this exhibit, remember: Your ETST is not weakness or shame; it is a sign of strength and courage, a reminder that you’ve lived.
Be proud of who you are.
Jack arrives at the gallery with Eric at his side, and they immediately make their way towards the hall that Lardo had said she was set up in. Though it is nearing the end of the exhibition hours, the venue is crowded as they maneuver through it. Like all those years ago, when they had attended Lardo’s own senior art show, there are statues and installations and paintings upon paintings. There is quite a lot of chatter in the main hall, as the seniors explain their work and visitors move around excitedly, but the atmosphere changes when they step into the separate room that Lardo had set up in.
When she had first asked if he wanted to be a part of this project, Jack had been hesitant. ‘It’s totally up to you, bro. It’ll be a few photos that I’ll develop and paint over, then a blurb if you wanna. The project is anonymous too,’ was what he had been told. He had agreed after a week of deliberation and showed up to her studio a few days later. Jack hadn’t asked who else was going to be photographed or how many she was doing, but he knew that he wasn’t going to be the only one. When he had arrived at the studio, Lardo’s assistant had given him a once-over before pointing him in Lardo’s direction. The entire session had taken about an hour and ended in a promise to show up on opening day.
A sign welcomes visitors at the entrance, informing all incoming persons that no photography was allowed as a measure of privacy for those who participated in the project. Jack lets go of a breath he didn’t know he had been holding. There are quite a lot of people milling about the room but unlike in the main hall, the atmosphere of the room is muted, any and all conversation brought down to a level where it feels like the entire room has been soundproofed. Large images hang on the walls of the room while a select few, larger than the ones on the walls, have been framed and positioned on easels that are paired back-to-back; there are five pairs in total, four towards each corner and one in the middle of the room. There are at least fifty works and each photo in the room is greyscale with splashes of transparent colour that highlight the ETST but still leave it visible for the world to see.
“Lardo got a ton of people involved, huh?” Eric whispers from beside him.
Jack nods and bumps his hand against his boyfriend’s. “Let’s go take a look, maybe we’ll find Lardo or one of the boys.” Eric smiles up at him, and Jack smiles back. They head to the nearest frame, which happens to be the outermost easel, and are surprised when they recognise it immediately.
/a hand reaches for their own throat as a shocking blue climbs up the neck and chin, moving around the open mouth that looks like it is mid-shout/
I was bullied into silence in middle school. I wore face masks and turtlenecks until I found a place where I could just let my voice out. On the ice, I spoke, sang, and screamed.
Eric reaches out for it, and Jack has to bring his gloved hand back down before they attracted attention for touching the art. Brown eyes meet his as they give each others’ hands a squeeze before turning once more at the photo that cuts off right before exposing the rest of Holster’s face. They move around to the other frame, both knowing that it was most likely Ransom on the other side.
/carefully traced lines of light coral pink cross a shaved scalp; what could easily look like a shattered window looks instead like delicate lace/
Coral is easily affected by its environment, appearing sturdy and solid but is really quite fragile and unstable. But even then, reefs can be home to many; even I can be someone’s rock, somebody’s home.
A silent agreement passed between the two of them that they’d bypass the walls for now, seeing as the photos on the easels were of those close to Lardo, and by extension, close to them. They walk across the room to the next pair of easels and see that the next set of defensemen had kept their words short and sweet, while baring it all to the world.
/bright red splashes highlight the hands that cover both ears; flecks of the same crimson descend the arms and the back among greyscale freckles/
My scars don’t mean shame. They are proof that my family is a part of me, important enough that I am willing to be hurt for them and take that hit for them.
/Pink, white, and red streak across the back of hands that are raised to hide the face; the streaks of colour disappear between the fingers as they follow the scars, the imprints left by other hands that had once held the ones captured/
“I wonder if Nursey and Dex made it, I think they had something going on today,” whispers Eric when they move away from the second pair.
“I’m sure they’d have made the time, Bits.” Jack puts a hand on the small of his boyfriend’s back, and they share another smile before moving. As they make their way to the pair in the centre, out of the corner of his eye, Jack catches a glimpse of a teal beanie. It moves quickly from frame to frame before stopping in front of one that features a bright blue stripe going down the spine of a well-toned back. Jack sees now that Chowder is pulling his girlfriend close as they take in what Lardo has captured, and he smiles. If Chowder was here, he’d probably have made sure Derek and Will made it here one way or another.
Eric has wandered away from his side and moved ahead of him towards the frames in the middle of the room, which are even bigger than the others. As the only full body shots in the room – though faces remain hidden – they are obviously placed in the centre as the main attraction. A crowd has gathered, the murmuring louder in the middle of the room compared to the outskirts. On the edge of the crowd, Jack can see perfectly fine, but notices that Eric is on his toes. He exhales lightly through his nose in a silent laugh and resists the urge to pick up Eric by the waist to give him a little more height. Truthfully though, neither of them needed to see it, as they’d already seen the body many times. In fact, some would say too many times.
/an abrasive shade of yellow tracks the scars as they cross the entire expanse of skin from the neck down to the ends of the fingers and toes; a blurred mirror in the back shows that not even it was spared by the scarring/
Many think that scars are inflicted by other people – they forget that at the end of the day they are self-inflicted. I may be known as my family’s reject, but it is I who chose to reject my family and the blood that runs through me.
Most of the conversation happening around the photo centered around people never having seen such extensive scarring before. Some are clearly missing the message Shitty had wanted to convey, whispering “poor boy” and “what a pity” while others that understood nodded at the words Shitty had included in the description underneath his photo. Jack is suddenly reminded of the conversation he had with Shitty about his name back in freshman year.
“Technically, I never changed my name. It’s still a reflection of the namesake,” he had said. Jack smiles. Only his best friend would ever do something so outside the norms yet have a completely infallible reason behind his decision to do so. Only Shits. Eric has left him in his own thoughts again to move on to the other frame, where an even larger amount of people are muttering as they gather around. Jack moves to rejoin his boyfriend and is faced with a photo that is laid out similar to their frequently-naked friend’s, but is completely devoid of colour. The person that Lardo had photographed was a blank. Members of the crowd all push forward to see the description, because it was rare that blanks would come forward so publicly.
/a blank back is slightly blurred in the foreground as the attention is drawn to the equally blank front of the body – there is no colour, but the strong stance and tight outlines of muscles draw shadows across the skin/
Being blank does not make me any less human than you.
“Wow, I didn’t know I had that much back muscle,” whispers a voice from beside him.
Jack turns towards Chowder and whispers back. “If you didn’t, I’d talk to your nutritionist about upping your protein.” Both Chris and Caitlin turn quickly, very much wary of breaking the anonymous nature of the project. Seeing that it was just Jack, both let out a sigh of relief. They step further away from the crowd and linger in the empty space between the other attendees.
“How’s the off-season going for y’all?” asks Eric. Caitlin smiles, resting a hand on Chris’ forearm.
“We’re heading back out west to see Chris’ family during the rest of my week off, then I’m heading out to Brazil,” replies Caitlin. Chowder nods, smiling at his wife.
“We lucked out that Lardo’s show was at the same time as Cait’s break,” he pulls his beanie a little further down, obviously not minding that it was pretty much summer. “We knew having opposite seasons would make things difficult, but we’re making it work.” They talk a little more, ending their conversation with the promise of dinner before either couple’s departure from the east coast. As Chris and Caitlin wave goodbye and make their way towards the exit, Eric pulls Jack towards the next set of photos. Jack doesn’t even need to read the description to recognise Eric’s shoulders.
/a warm pale orange drifts across shoulders and the underside of the forearms of a body ready to lift itself from a crouch; twin splatters of the colour on the ground are left behind by scarred palms pushing off against it/
I'm not a large person, but I am strong. I’ve been knocked down so many times for things that I can’t control, for just being who I am. I could’ve stayed down and avoided falling again. But I chose to stand up, and I’ll do it every time.
Eric’s hand finds his and both tighten their grips. It registers in the back of Jack’s mind that Eric has taken off his glove and Jack holds even tighter. He’s never met a person so resilient and so kind, so fierce and so willing to defend others, no matter the cost. Jack pulls Eric in front of him and wraps his arms around him. He feels Eric relax, though his hands unconsciously grip where the ETST marks his skin along the elbows. It feels like no one else is in the room with them as Jack leans down to kiss the top of Eric’s head. Leaning down to his boyfriend’s ear, Jack can’t help but smile.
“That colour looks good on you, like peaches,” he whispers. Eric turns his head and places a quick peck on Jack’s cheek.
“Mr. Zimmermann, I look good in every colour.” A squeeze on the forearm and Jack lets go, unwrapping Eric from his hold but not willing to move just yet. Was he ready to see his own scars this way? Lardo had asked one more time before printing and he had been so sure then, but now-
“Jack, honey. Are you okay?”
And suddenly he can breathe again. Unlike all those times he’d spent looking in the mirror with his hands in his hair, he isn’t facing his scars alone now. None of them were. Not anymore.
They round the easel and come face to face with Samwell Red.
/delicate lines of deep crimson thread their way over each other around a head turned to look over the shoulder; they climb around the ears and down the neck; the forward-facing body shows a thin crimson line descending the sternum from the clavicle/
“No words?” asks Eric.
Lardo had asked him if there was anything he wanted to say. Jack had thought about it for days before calling her back with an invitation for coffee. They had taken seats across from each other in a coffeeshop that was faintly reminiscent of Annie’s but with dimmer lighting, more bookshelves, and less stressed students.
“Is it okay if I don’t say anything?” Jack had asked, holding his cup of tea.
“Yeah,” she’d replied while reaching for the eraser she’d set down. Jack had pushed it closer and she had thanked him with a nod. “Pictures louder than words and all that, you know?”
He hadn’t known that Lardo picked Samwell Red. It was perfect – everything he wanted to say without having to actually say it.
“No, but it’s perfect,” he says in reply to Eric, because it is really the only way he can describe it. Eric hums his agreement and neither of them rush to move on to look at the last pair of easels. They stand comfortably together, Jack occasionally pressing kisses to the top of Eric’s head when he brings his head to rest on Jack’s upper arm. Neither of them know how much time has passed, but when someone taps him on the shoulder, Jack realises that most of the people have cleared out. There are only a few people left milling about, almost all of them being staff. The exhibition room is roped off already. He looks down expecting a staff member but instead sees Lardo. He takes in his friend’s signature black dress and gold necklace, smiling as a means of greeting.
“Do you like the colour?” she asks, nodding towards the print.
“Yeah, I do,” he replies.
“Good, because it was a bitch to blend.” Lardo’s lips quirk upwards into a grin, and Jack is reminded of how much he misses the days when the Samwell team was always together. Eric moves around him to give Lardo a hug and she wraps her arms around him in return. “Glad you guys could make it, I know you guys are busy.”
“We’ll have to come back another time during the next few days to see the rest, though,” says Eric while letting Lardo go.
“Have you guys seen all the main sets?” Eric shakes his head as Jack tilts his head towards the last set of easels. “One more to go,” he says.
“Good,” Lardo says. She holds out an arm as if escorting someone. “C'mon then I’ll even walk you there myself.”
Eric takes it and smiles. “So kind of you to offer, Ms. Duan.”
“My pleasure, Mr. Bittle-Zimmermann.”
They get closer and closer to the easel, and when he stops in front of it, Jack can’t place why it seems familiar. It is difficult to tell, because all that is shown are the legs.
/royal blue footprints trail behind legs frozen mid-stride; the raised heel of the left foot shows where the colour originates as the paint scatters around where feet have met the ground/
I remember burning when I walked away from my family, knowing I could not go back. But it was not safe for me. Not even now. I miss them, but now I help support another person when they learn to walk and carry them when they need. And I am safe, and I am happy.
And then Jack realises that he knows who owns these scars. Alexei had told him the story of his departure from Russia to come play in the NHL, and how his soles had felt like they were burning until he skated on NHL ice for the first time.
“I didn’t even ask him, you know,” says Lardo. “He found out from someone else who’d come in for the project and then called my studio.” Jack wants to ask who Alexei had heard about the project from, but he has a feeling that it will be whoever is on the other side of the display. Eric and Lardo are chuckling about how it had taken Lardo much longer than she’d thought she’d need for Tater’s shoot because the man was ticklish as shit and would twitch and shift every time she’d tried to reposition his feet manually. However, out of the corner of her eye, Lardo notices that Jack is getting antsy and moving towards the edge to see the other image. Before he can get around, she moves in front of him and Eric follows, confused.
“Wait, Jack,” she says. “Before you see this one, he had a message for you – he says you don’t have to forgive him, but please believe what he’s saying.”
“He knows Jack?” asks Eric.
“Who is it?” asks Jack, though with Lardo's words he has an uneasy feeling building in his chest.
Lardo puts a hand on the easel. “That’s all he told me to say. Giving you this message it was the condition for putting it up. I was just gonna text you, but there wouldn’t be any context. I was just hoping to catch you before you saw it.” Her other hand comes up to run through her hair, releasing few strands from behind her ear.
Eric moves around Lardo first and she doesn’t stop him. Jack doesn’t miss how the blond bites the inside of his lip as he reads the description, then tilts his gaze upwards to look at the rest of the display with a soft ‘Oh’.
“Lardo, is this-” Eric whispers.
Lardo just sighs and walks to the front to the print. “He DM’ed me on twitter, asking when our next rematch was. I let it slip I was working on a project and didn’t have time to play. He asked about it, I told him, and he came to the studio the next time he was in town.”
Jack follows her around the easel and doesn’t know how to react when he turns and sees a body that he hasn’t seen since it was scar-free all those years ago.
“He said that he’d rather I get the honours than Sports Illustrated.”
/a splash of maroon blooms from the centre of the chest, tendrils hitting the collarbone; a hand lies at the base of the neck and a forearm partially covers the scar, as if the true extent of the damage is too gruesome to reveal/
To you who took a piece of me with you:
I’m sorry. I’m sorry I forced you to carry it for so long, that I never took it back and just kept trying to add on instead. I’m sorry I didn’t let go.
I know it looks bad, and I won’t lie: it is. But I want to tell you that I’m okay; I’m not great, but I’m getting there. You will always be in my heart, but I don’t love you anymore. Not the way I used to.
I see you sometimes, and I know you’ve put me down and moved on. I’m glad. I’m glad you’ve finally found your happiness. Now I’m doing what I can to find mine.
All the best.
Jack realises that he has been silent for a little too long when Lardo says “Jack, you alright?” at the same time that Eric asks, “Honey, are you okay?”
Jack isn’t sure what to think. He opens his mouth, then closes it. His brow furrows and he inhales deeply. There is pressure building behind his nose, his eyes, his heart. He wonders what it looks like, the actual scar tissue that lies beneath the arm. Jack’s own scars are deep, but where his are neat and clean, this one looks more like erratic slashes that scarred over without ever being stitched closed, all starting from a gouge at the sternum, right over the heart. Jack wonders when the scars had appeared on the familiar yet foreign chest, how long after he had disappeared from beside it.
He still remembers the ghost of this body, the image of it when it was younger and he was younger and nothing was okay. He thought he knew this person, thought this person knew him, thought they saw each other the same way before and after that day, and yet-
“I’ll find his number, give him a call,” is what he manages to get out.
Lardo holds out a slip of paper. “He just got in town, so maybe give him a little bit to settle in. He’ll be here for a while though. He said he’d finally changed his number, so I was to give this to you if you wanted it.”
Jack takes the paper and looks at the string of numbers for a while before slipping it into his back pocket. He’d changed his own phone number how many times since then?
Finally changed, he says.
“Is he at a hotel?”
“No, but he’s around. He said the hotel wouldn’t let him keep his cat with him – I call bullshit.”
Jack leaves the building with Eric, and they walk hand-in-hand past Faber, making their way back to where they’d parked. It’s a silent but comfortable walk, Eric’s thumb moving up and down his fingers absentmindedly. Jack can feel the bumps of the scar tissue on the palms of Eric’s hands and just holds tighter.
“I’m so proud of you,” says Eric when they’ve settled into the car.
“I’m proud of us both,” says Jack as he starts the car and shifts the gear into drive.
He runs a hand through his hair as he pulls out from the parking spot, and for the first time in years, feels nothing hurt when his fingers brush over his scars.