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Essay of My Branding

is kinda long [1700 some odd words by the word proessor's count]. It's my "personal thematic essay" for my advanced compostion class. Sorry if you spend a while reading it and then thinks it's really bad.) The most important knowledge I've been told was from my mother's old boyfriend, Jack. "Never be like anyone else; never be an image of conformity." I admired Jack so much and would follow anything he told me as if it was the unbreakable law. Although Jack mostly meant non-conformity of ideas, since then I've wanted something that would make me physically distinct from most people around me. Because I earned A's on all my first semester finals, my mother took me to get my cartilage pierced, a hole I've wanted for 2 years. That's when I truly uncovered the world of body art and changed my appearance for years to come. When I branded myself last winter, it was a self-discovery. The experience left me changed outside, and with willpower and courage to face difficulties inside, all which I carry to this day and will in the future. I spent hours browsing the Body Modification E-Zine, the most complete resource on the web for everything related to body modification. The section on scarification, including brandings, cuttings, and ink rubbings, fascinated me. When I saw the pictures of beautifully healed brands and read the few vivid experiences I wanted one. Scars have intrigued me since I decided, during summer four years ago, that walking on a guardrail was a good idea until I fell and healed with 2 half-inch wide, four-inch long scars on my left thigh. It's easy to forget even those things that are important to us, but I'll never forget about the guardrail or the scar under my eye when I was five asleep on my mother's lap at a dinner party, or the lines of thin scars from falling on the sandy sidewalk when my friend and I were running from a driver chasing us at night this summer. Maybe I chose a brand to test my limits. It's my belief that a person can never wholly live until she knows the extremes of what she can take. A brand could test my physical and emotional limits. A branding was also practical; I had a lighter and could clean everything as well as possible with rubbing alcohol and heat. My father, who, ironically, feels that any preforinked person is destined to flipping burgers at the McDonald's down the street from the cardboard box she lives in, had given me a set of X-acto knife blades along with a variety of other art supplies for Christmas years ago. Among the blades were two square-end blades of different sizes, one 1/4-inch and the other 3/8-inch, perfect for the individual strikes of a brand. I made my decision and now needed a design. I wanted my design to have meaning beyond simply being my first brand, since it would be with me for a good 60 years, probably more. My mother has a good-sized collection of dictionaries of symbols, and I spent hours reading and rereading it looking for the design that had always been under my skin waiting to be exposed. Because the scar tissue can expand 300-500% the width of the actual strike, a brand cannot be complex, so shapes were a perfect solution. The triangle with the point up symbolizes fire and with the point down water. Having one shape and two different meanings attracted me. It made harmony out of the chaos that occurs daily in life both which can take the same shape under different circumstances. I chose on a design of four triangles, two pointed up and two down. The sides of the two larger triangles would be one strike with the larger blade and one with the smaller; and the sides of the two small triangles would be one strike of the smaller blade. After waiting several days to be sure I truly wanted to go through with it, the time was right and I started on my branding. One night, after my mother and brothers had gone to sleep, I gathered my two cleaned blades, the lighter, rubbing alcohol, gauze, medical tape, my design, and a pen to draw on my arm. I wanted my art on my upper right arm. The upper arm was the place it belonged as a badge of my experience, and the right one was the easier arm to do, being left-handed. I still spent a good 45 minutes in front of the bathroom mirror getting the placement on my arm exactly the way it should be. Placement had to be perfect to my eye. In my room, I laid my supplies on a towel on my bed. There's a light next to my bed I could adjust so it shined where I needed it. Trying to relax, I picked up the holder with the larger blade, and flicked the lighter. It didn't light. Undeterred I flicked again and a bright flame shot out. I held the blade in the flame and watched as it became red hot. After a while I pulled the blade from the flame, but took so long moving it towards my skin it cooled down and the color faded to normal. Since a strike with metal that isn't red hot would only be painful and not leave a mark, I heated the blade again. I brought it close enough to feel the radiating heat, lost my nerve, and did not touch my skin. But I had come too far to wake up the next day without the scars I wanted or needed; at this point they both seemed the same. For the third time I heated the blade, took a deep breath and finally made the first strike, applying just enough pressure. The skin burned. It smelled. It popped. There was intense blinding pain for two seconds, until the nerve endings were cauterized then I couldn't feel the pain anymore. Quickly the endorphins hit. Sounds and colors became extremely intense then subsided to normal in waves. I waited a bit to collect myself but continued on the remaining strikes, 18 in all. None hurt for more than a second, none like the first strike did. Suddenly I was done. How long it took, I couldn't even guess. I hadn't looked at the clock when I started, and didn't look when I finished. Time was non-existent during the entire procedure. But I had gotten so into the flow that I heated the blade again and was surprised to see that I had no strikes left. The burns were already forming sticky scabs. I cleaned them with the alcohol and taped on a sterile gauze pad. I put all my tools in a box where all my old jewelry from stretched holes, ink, needles, lighters, and blades that rarely get used are stored, crawled under my blankets, and fell asleep almost immediately. The branding took more energy out of me than I had expected. I woke up the next morning still tired. Rolling onto my right side I felt a shooting pain up and down my arm. Remembering the events of the previous night, I quickly sat up in bed and ripped off the bandage. Even though the brands were bloody, crusty, and scabby, they were the most beautiful scars I had ever seen. Thankfully, they showed no signs of infection and only hurt when too much pressure was applied. During the next few weeks life seemed almost normal, though it was odd caring for a third degree burn no one else knew about. Instead of pampering it to make it heal, I tortured the brand by scrubbing it in the shower, dousing it in hydrogen peroxide, basically doing anything that would prolong healing to promote scar tissue. After about three weeks, my brand underwent a super-healing phase, and in about 48 hours went from a new scab to healed scar tissue. I was disappointed that I could no longer hope for a more raised brand, but excited to finally see the final product of my labor. For about two months after it healed though, my brand was ultra-sensitive and itched to no end. I was constantly scratching my long-sleeved right upper arm to any observer's confusion and wincing in pain because it felt like rubbing grit into an open wound. During the weeks following my branding, I became more vocal in class and on occasion would talk to someone I've never said a word to before, two actions unthinkable just a month earlier. I would tell myself, "Look at what you did, you can handle speaking up in class," or talking to that person, or whatever the problem was. The courage, or stupidity some might say, I had to do by branding amazes me sometimes. I still wonder from where it welled up. But from where it came it hasn't returned. My brands have also caused me to work harder, even when unnecessary. For example, this summer I worked as a junior counselor at a day camp run by the Audubon Society of Rhode Island. The first day the two counselors who ran the camp and the camp director who was visiting us that day questioned me about my brands. I told them and that was the end of it. They didn't tell me to wear long-sleeves the rest of the week, or worse, force me to quit so I don't corrupt the children. Even though I didn't have to, I felt the need to work harder to prove I wasn't simply a walking scar and it paid off. The kids adored me, the counselors adored me, and are willing to give me whatever weeks I want, whenever I want, next year if I work for Audubon again. So far, reactions to my brands have been like the counselors at camp. No one has screamed at me in public, denouncing me as Satan spawn. If they disapprove, people generally keep their opinions to themselves. I've learned from my experience that being physically different from others is not necessarily "a bad thing." Going through the rest of my life, I plan on expanding my small collection of piercings, brandings, and tattoos. I want to be a work of art, a living sculpture of ink, metal, and tissue. With each decoration put into my skin, I also hope to put more under my skin. If even one episode with a needle or blade can give me then what my branding has given me, I will have the courage to face any difficulty in the future.


submitted by: Anonymous
on: 14 Oct. 1999
in Scarification

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Artist: Myself
Studio: My+room
Location: Colorado

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