I have a scar on the inside of my left wrist, just to the right of center, a tiny oval divot of missing flesh. It's been there since the day in fifth grade when Ricky Doud challenged me to a race--first one to the top of the monkey bars wins!
It turned out Ricky had ulterior motives. Once we were both at the top of the monkey bars perched on opposite rungs with the top bar between us, we spent a few minutes bickering about who had reached the top first (hint: it was me), but then he grabbed my wrist and pinned my hand down to the top bar.
"I love you," he said. "Do you love me?"
Now, Ricky was cute enough--dark, bowl-cut hair framing deep dimples and soulful brown puppy-dog eyes--but he was no Tony Cimino. And though I expended considerable effort covering my true emotions with nonchalance and fake hatred, Tony Cimino owned my ten-year-old heart--as he had owned my nine-year-old heart. In top secret declaration of my nearly two years' worth of undying love, I had even carved Tony's initials high on the trunk of the maple tree beside the chicken coop at our house. My heart was a loyal and stubborn thing, even then.
As far as I was concerned, Tony was the love of my life. I did not want to hurt Ricky's feelings nor did I want to profess a love I didn't feel--not even to get out of the hostage situation I suddenly found myself in. So, I said, "I don't know."
My attempt to dodge Ricky's question unleashed a dark side of Ricky I'd never seen before. He squeezed my wrist tighter and said, "Do you love me or not?"
I squirmed, as much from emotional discomfort as from any physical pain, and tried again, "I don't know. I'll tell you tomorrow."
Ricky pressed the nail of his index finger into the skin of my wrist, the glint of a threat in his eyes. Those eyes had gone from puppy-dog to Cujo in an instant. "Say you love me."
"I won't say it," I said. I looked him straight in the eye, daring him to carry through with his implied threat. Though he claimed to love me, he clearly did not know me at all. I was not the sort of girl to cower and squeal at bugs or snakes or mud puddles or fingernails pressed into my flesh. Not only was I not that kind of girl, I was ever-ready for the opportunity to prove how much not that kind of girl I was.
"Last chance," he said. "Say you love me."
I vigorously shook my head, my lips pressed tightly together to dramatically illustrate my resolve.
My skin gave way beneath Ricky's nail with a barely perceptible pop. When this failed to elicit either a whimper or a proclamation of love, Ricky's eyes met mine as his nail dug deeper and twisted, carving away a little piece of me. I pushed Ricky hard then, pulled my arm free and climbed down from the monkey bars without a word or glance in his direction.
That lifelong indentation on the inside of my wrist was the first scar I got in the name of love. It would not, of course, be the last.