Billy sits in a corner of the deck. The weather is good, but he can’t focus on letting the sails catch the breeze. Instead, his attention is on the white lines that mar his forearms.
“How do I get rid of them?” he mutters. “They hinder my movements, my thoughts, everything.” He picks at the scar tissue until it bleeds anew. “How am I ever going to get rid of them?”
“With love,” says a voice.
Billy starts when Richard, the ship’s surgeon, kneels beside him with a bottle of iodine and a handkerchief.
“I know it’s not what you want to hear,” Richard continues as he pours a bit of brown liquid on the handkerchief and dabs that on Billy’s bleeding cut. “Scars can fade and even heal when you treat them with the right ointment, keep them supple and cared for. In short, treat them with love.”
“Screw that! I want them gone!”
“That is only understandable,” Richard says calmly, not the least impressed with the First Mate’s temper. “However, trying to cut them out of your skin will only result in deeper, nastier scars. That won’t help you, either.”
“As if that matters,” Billy hollers. “Those bastards cut me far deeper than flesh! The last thing I want is to treat them with love! They don’t deserve—!”
Richard interrupts him with a gesture. “Hold on. I meant that you rub ointment on the scars, not on the blade that caused the wound. You can dodge a blade when it swings your way, or wear armour when you may not be able to avoid getting hit. But that only concerns new wounds, Billy. Old wounds like these have scarred over. The pain you still feel is part of you, not part of the blade that cut you all those years ago.”
“They hurt! They hinder me! I want to hurt them as much as they hurt me!”
“You want revenge, then?” The surgeon nods, but firmly holds Billy’s arm still as he bandages it. “Of course you do. Still, breaking the blade won’t undo those old wounds, will it? Revenge on those who hurt you won’t stop the scars from hurting, either.” He glances up. “But to you, those people, their blades, the wounds and the scars… it’s all one and the same.”
Billy shivers with anger. He wants to argue, but he also knows that Richard is right: as First Mate, Billy lost track of what was then and what is now. The scars are left by old wounds, dealt to him long ago by people he hasn’t seen in ages. The people, their blades, the pain of the first cut – when he feel his scarred skin pull, he remembers them all and his anger comes back anew.
Time and again, because the past doesn’t change.
“You want to be rid of the constant agony,” says Richard. “I get that. I can also promise you that the pain will be less when the scars fade, but they need patience and care to heal.”
“That could be years!” Billy protests.
The surgeon gives him a long, hard look. “Yes, it may. But it will take even longer when you cut them open every time they ache.”
“Huh! What else can I do?”
“Acknowledge that you have them. Like it or not, right now you have these scars. Acknowledge that, at least for now, certain things will cost you more effort and discomfort because of them.”
“Acceptance doesn’t change anything!”
Richard smirks. “Oh, I said nothing about accepting them as an immutable fact. Only that you acknowledge them as they are: scars. Not a fresh wound, not a blade still whirring towards you that you might evade if you were fast enough. All that is long past. They are scars, and they hurt sometimes.”
With a reluctant but relenting sigh, Billy strums the edge of the bandage wrapped around his forearm. “They do hurt,” he grumbles. “And they do hinder me in my work.” He gestures at the slack sails hanging from the yards.
The surgeon lets out a chuckle. “Quiet days are not the end of the world, you know? Still, it’s not a secret that both you and our Captain are easily frustrated, so…”
Richard takes Billy’s arm and turns the wrist. Billy winces.
“That smarts, doesn’t it? You needn’t stop what you’re doing on account of a twinge, but it is a reminder that you should proceed gently. Ease the damaged tissue into moving a fraction more than is comfortable. Rub some ointment on the sore spot when you can, so that the tissue can relax and adjust between work.”
The surgeon rocks back on his heels and watches as Billy, carefully and consciously, tests how far his wrist will turn. More than anticipated. Richard returns the First Mate’s surprised smile.
“Keep that care up day by day, and before long you will find that you’re able to move with more ease and less pain. That, Billy, is revalidation after an injury – emotional or physical.”