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I choose to live

"Are you sure you want to do this? I really think you should give it some thought before you do, after all you'll be scarring yourself for life"

This is a question that I have been confronted with for years. My reasons are not common ones; they are certainly not from a place of vanity, ego nor from a place of thoughtless impulse. I can understand why others might consider the idea of purposefully scaring yourself terrifying. It was to me for years. After all I had been through, the scars I boar because of others where my constant reminder of, what I like to call, my 'expiry date'. This must sound confusing to many of you, so I guess I have to give out some history.

It all began with my grandmother; she died very young at the age of 35, with what was believed to be (at the time) cancer. She left my father when he was 7, little did he know that she did not only leave him motherless but with a burden greater than he had imagined.

At the age of 22 my father had his first heart attack. He was told that he suffered from high blood pressure and that all the physical work and traveling he was doing would have to come to an end. Of course he was stubborn and proceeded to continue his travels, I guess his will was more important to him then the threat of death.

I was born somewhere in Canada in 1981, I was born prematurely so doctors actually took the time to make sure everything was ok with me. This was the year HOCM (Hypertrophic Obstructive CardioMyopathy ) was discovered. And that was the year my involuntary "modifications" began. They had discovered that this was hereditary and that most probably one of my parents would have the same. Of course my father tested positive for the disorder and they immediately began treatment, on both of us. Now for those of you who do not know what it is I will try to explain as briefly as I can:

'A disorder in which the heart muscle is so strong, one side is too big, that it does not relax enough to fill the heart with blood, in consequence it has reduced pumping ability. Cells may take on bizarre shapes, and the connections among cells are often in disarray. Myocardial scarring and growth of the collagen matrix also occur. Unfortunately, HCM can also present as sudden cardiac death (SCD). SCD tends to occur in younger patients and may occur during heavy exertion, light exertion, or even while the patient is sedentary. This disorder gets worse with age, and life expectancy is 40 for women and 60 for men.'

Alas my 'expiry date'.

In my case doctors seemed to believe there were no "maybes", so they proceeded to treat me as a guinea-pig. Since the disorder was just recently discovered, they did it all. Open heart surgery at the age of 9, more at the age of 15, alcohol injections and being on a transplant list to this day. I have had in total 23 unsuccessful procedures done. And I have the scars to prove it. I used to awake every morning and look at them, stare to be exact. I hated them. I hated the merciless doctors, the procedures, the world, even my father. To be told at the age of nine that I would certainly die by 40 if not before - maybe even in my sleep that night - enraged me.

The night my parents heard the news, we took off. "We want to show you the world", was what my mother had said, but at the time I was too young to understand this gift. Again I perceived things immaturely and began to judge them, thinking they where taking my world away. Again.

I am no longer 9 nor am I a stupid-immature-16year-old-nihilist-wannabe that values nothing. I no longer rage or rant (well maybe sometimes) about the world around me. I no longer take everything for granted; I no longer ignore the real and long for the indefinable. I do not suffer apathy and disengagement from the world. And I guess this is my way of making peace with what I am. This disorder has haunted my life, all my life, and my attitude towards it, my blaming the world and everyone that had nothing but pure and good intentions towards me, has come to an end... I have been at peace with myself and my body for years now. And this is my dedication to the people involved, to the places I've been and to my BIG heart.

I am grateful now that I have this; it has been a GOOD theme in my life, one that has fueled me around the world, one that has, in many ways, opened my eyes to the world and the people in it. Living in a rush is not all that bad. It has given me victories through might, advancements through bold actions and individual endurance to turn any tide. It is that important.

I have made a conscience decision to put a stop to this, no more doctors, no more procedures, no more attempts to change what I must live with, instead I have been working for years, along side my mother and other knowledgeable alternative doctors, to create a more holistic way of living with it. This last procedure is the lock to any type of intervention I may have done in the future.
I am not by any means giving up on life; I am taking the next step to accepting myself, after all how can I live without MY heart?

The design...

I wanted to create a theme, one that would incorporate everything and everyone involved. This was a challenge. How could I incorporate 14 years of experience into one design that would fit on MY chest (needless to say that the space available is limited ). So I came up with this one (you can see it on my mod-tracker), a line through the middle as an attempt to diffuse the dispersed scars and rash alterations that where there, and take back the flesh that was mine, two lines streaming from each side-representing my father and I and our different paths to acceptance coming from the same place and six dots at the top (initially there where more but as I have said before, limited space) representing stepping stones and viscous patterns
1st dot on either side: challenges-procedures, chemical and pharmaceutical addictions, set backs, physical awareness, etc. 2nd dot: ups and downs of emotions- realization that there is no 'cure' , disappointment, fear, counting every minute...valuing life...the sunrise of everyday we awake. 3rd dot: Search for a better more balanced quality of existence

"...que peso meu coracao..."

The Scarification procedure

I had been talking to Jesse about it for a while until we were both ok with a set date. I have to say that in the morning I was very, VERY, excited but as the hour drew near I was just getting anxious and a bit afraid of what was to come. Jen ( a good friend) who had agreed to come with me, tried to ease my mind by making jokes about me, she's always very helpful. I walked into Jesse's studio, a bit edgy and shaky and was received by him with a nice warm hug and smile. He made me feel so much better from that moment on and just for that, I'll point any person his way. Being a tattoo artist, I know how important it can be to feel comfortable with the person that is about to hurt you for the next few hours!
Jen and I jumped outside a few times because Jesse had a few more piercing appointments before me, so I got to chain-smoke a bit. I don't know if that helped. I don't even know if the numbing agent I was sporting around, or if the 30 coffees (a little exaggeration) helped my mind either, I was all over the place for a while. I've been through a lot of mods, some of my design and some not, but I always get nervous before them, no matter how much I've prepared myself. And to tell the truth, I have always had a problem with taking of my shirt in front of anyone: men, women, friends, family and lovers. It has always been an issue so that kind of made me uneasy as well. The personal discomfort and issues were starting to get in the way (in my head) so as soon as he called us in to place the transfer I looked like the Virgin Mary (which I am far from), who had never gotten undressed in front anyone. But as soon as the transfer was on, I felt different already, in my skin, and the fact that I was running around with no bra-or even shirt- didn't phase me at all.

By the time we started, Jesse had closed the shop and that was a nice bonus, I had been eased into the thought, by Jen and Jesse, with so much comfort (which I thank them both for) that when he said the dreaded words, "Ok, lay down on the table" I wasn't as freaked anymore.

With a scalpel, purple gloves and a mask, he went at it. Starting from the bottom of the design up, he mapped it out with a thin line first. To my surprise the numbing agent worked like a charm. I literally felt nothing, until he got to the very top. Then it hit me all at once and fuck! (pardon my French) It wasn't a pleasant sensation, it shot shivers down my spine. And with every sharp slice, which felt like a paper cut, it just got worse. No matter how much Jen and Jesse talked with me, I couldn't get my mind off it. So I grabbed that table with my life.

Once the design was all lined, Jesse used a wonderful spray wrapped me up with plastic and we took a break for the numbing to take affect, and for a smoke. Now, after having felt it, I was right back where I started, edgy and not looking forward to it... so I had another smoke. But again, to my surprise, when we started the next phase, this time to make the lines deeper and thicker, I felt nothing.

I don't really know how long the entire thing took, around 4hours with two cigarette/spray breaks. But by the time the last few hours came I was so high on endorphins that even though the last spraying didn't take much affect and the pain was DEFINITELY present, I didn't care. I just wanted it to end! No offence to all involved, it was a beautiful experience and I'm glad you guys were there, but I was getting a bit tired and my body was just wanting it to stop! So the last bit seemed endless....

Once all of it was finished I stood up and looked in the mirror, my chest was full of blood and I was very happy. I have a strange fascination for blood, and no matter what anyone says - to be in the BodyMod industry you need to be a bit of a sadist - at least I know I am. Plus the design turned out so perfect that I couldn't get my eyes off it!

The following few hours were great! I had the feeling that I had reached my goal.

But as soon as the endorphins faded, it was a completely different story. Something that comes with this disorder is panic attacks, and I soon fell into that pit. Usually what happens is palpitations, followed by mental depression and confusion, when it is really bad hallucinations become a part of the equation too. This happens when my body has been put under a lot of stress, being hyper-tense, it's 3 times worse than the usual person. I looked down at my chest and all I saw was blood, my heart started to race and all I could think of was, "oh fuck! What have I done to myself! NOT AGAIN I don't want anymore scars...BLAH!" It was a good thing Jen was there, she is amazing! And I will never forget all her support. She jumped in and gave me one of her 'happy pills', talking me through it casually and calmly. Soon after the walls weren't caving in anymore, and all the happy thoughts came back.

It's now been approximately 2 months since the cutting. After scrubbing it with a toothbrush, wrapping it with Vaseline and lemon Juice(I still shudder at the thought of that one), rubbing burnt sage ash into it, I have finally left it alone. The design is keloiding beautifully; I got exactly what I had gone for, and I would do it all again.. I'm sure this won't be the last one. But most definitely it is the most meaningful Body Modification I will ever have. I took back what was mine to begin with and I no longer look in the mirror with the impending sensation of limited days, hours, and minutes. What I see now is a decision I should have made along time ago... I choose to live..


submitted by: Anonymous
on: 06 Nov. 2004
in Scarification

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Artist: JesseV
Studio: Eternal+body+art
Location: Cambridge%2C+canada

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