In the bathroom of our swanky Merida hotel room, I peeled the clear waterproof bandaids from the incisions above each of my hips in preparation to take a shower. Though the surgery had taken place two weeks prior to my vacation, I was still a tad nervous about my little scars. Not that they were ugly – though they each measure less than an inch, I’ll be honest; I didn’t love the dark slits on my abdomen – but I worried that they would get infected. If you can’t drink the water in Mexico, surely you shouldn’t let it get into any open wounds.
So I peeled the bandaids from my body, and went about my ritual of inspecting my wounds. The incision on my right side was a little bigger, a little more raw than the other one, I fingered the scab forming and turned my attention to my left incision. Smaller and healing better, it only needed a second of inspection before I moved onto my belly button.
My belly button had been the unfortunate loser in the surgery situation. It was allergic to the tape they placed over my incisions, it was red and itchy and the most uncomfortable of all three points of entry into my abdomen. I was under instructions to slather it with Cortizone to alleviate the itching and redness. So I hunched over and took a gander at my poor little belly button, checking out the healing progress. I saw what I thought was a scab, and touched it; Sharp and clear nylon, it was no scab – it felt like fishing line, and it was coming out of my stomach.
Naked, I ran out of the bathroom and to the bed, where Billy was lying watching Spanish television. “There’s a stitch,” I said, pointing to my belly button. “I didn’t know I had a stitch! It’s coming out! Cut it off!” I shook my hands like I’d just touched something hot, squeezed my eyes closed like I’d just gotten soap in them. I was in full-on grossed-out mode.
Billy sat up in bed, and reached over to turn on the bedside lamp. “Let me see,” he said, pulling me closer to him by my hips. “Yuh, yeah. There it is. I see it.”
He looked up at me, his eyes chuckling at my reaction. “’Get it’?”
“Yeah,” I replied, my word coming out as sort of a half laugh, half sigh. “I don’t want it to get caught on something or, I don’t know, fall out or anything. Just trim it down so it doesn’t get caught on something.”
He grabbed the nail clippers we’d just purchased downstairs in the lobby. “Hold still,” he said through lips pursed in concentration.
I tensed my whole body, my whole face squished closed and turned away, certain that he would miss the clear film of the stitch and clip at something vital – like, say, my skin.
“Did you feel that?” I heard him say. I felt him back away from my body, so I relaxed my face and opened my eyes.
“No,” I said, looking at him. He sat on the edge of the bed, clippers squeezed shut, holding up the silver grooming equipment triumphantly.
“I pulled it out.”
Eyes suddenly wide, I focused more intently on the clippers. Sure enough, in the light, I could make out the slight curve of the stitch, it’s clear fiber arching into a perfect, clean half circle.
“I didn’t even know I had stitches,” I said again, squatting to examine the object. “They never told me.”
“How did you think you were, you know, staying closed?” He asked, smirking.
I glared at him from the corner of my eye, then stood up straight. “I don’t know,” I said assuredly. “But that’s not the point, anyway. I just didn’t realize I had stitches.”
A week later, back at my doctor’s office, I related the story to the very doctor who had placed the stitches in my body. “Yes,” she said in her thick Romanian accent. “Dey are suppozed to dissolve, but soometime, de body pushes zem out.” She took a look at my belly button. “But I put dem in verry deep, so you can’t even see dem.”
I nodded, looked at my belly button again. “Well, it looks good now,” I said, pulling my shirt down to cover my exposed belly.
But my belly button proved to be the slowest to heal. Still, after now almost a month, it is still healing and itchy. I have some dry skin in my button, that I am for some reason inexplicably forced to play with and pick at. If I know it’s there, I must touch it.
Billy, who up until the end of July, had spent a great deal of time with his hands on my belly, finger sometimes resting in my belly button (Why? I have no idea. Maybe because it made me squirm?), has been dying for me to get back to normal so that he could once again poke at my belly button while we watch TV or talk or stand around.
Last night, while we laid in bed, he attempted to touch my belly button. “Don’t!” I squealed, sitting up. “I have a scab or something in there. And I don’t want any scars, so I want to leave it absolutely untouched.”
“Let me see it,” he said, sitting up and leaning over my midsection.
“No,” I whined, pulling my shirt taut over my belly. “It’ll hurt.”
“I’m just looking.”
Years ago, when I was getting my wisdom teeth pulled, I made the international sound for “Stop! That hurts!” when your mouth is filled with instruments, hands and to people are preparing to rip a tooth from your skull: “GRRMMPHHHMMMGGGMRRR!”
“You’re numb,” said the doctor, her masked face looking down on me disapprovingly.
I squeezed my eyes shut and shook my head from side to side, as much as I could. I couldn’t afford to be put completely under when they removed my impacted lower wisdoms, so they shot my mouth full of Novocain and gave me Nitrous Oxide. I mumbled something again, to confirm my pain.
She reached behind her, grabbed the needle she’d use to shoot the Novocain into my gums, and jabbed me in the lower lip with it three or four times. I didn’t move. “See,” she said. I could see the movement of her mouth through the green mask she wore. “You’re numb.” She seemed pleased with herself. She wiped away the pinpricks of blood with a square of gauze. “It’s not that it hurts you. I think you’re just anticipating the pain. You’re scared of it.”
And that was the reaction I had last night as Billy threatened to poke around in my belly button. I knew it probably didn’t really hurt, but I was afraid it would. So I clamped my hands over my belly and said no.
“Just let me look,” he said. His eyes smiled and pleaded at the same time when he said it, so I had no choice. I released my hold and let him look.
A minute or two passed. “Are you done yet?” I said, looking down at him. His longer fingers held my belly button, well, open, while he peered in.
“It’s a stitch,” he proclaimed. “Where are my nail clippers?” He seemed excited.
“No,” I said, pulling my shirt back down. “No way. This one is deep, and you are not pulling it out.”
“Oh, come on,” he said, getting up to get his clippers. He searched around the dresser. “Where are the clippers we got in Mexico? Those were awesome.” His voice was distracted, rooting around in the mess of our belongings. He shrugged. “Oh well. These’ll do.” And he came back toward me, shiny silver nail clippers in hand.
“No,” I whined. “Billy, it’s so deep in there. You can’t get it out. No.”
“What do you think will happen?” I could see that he was getting frustrated with me.
“What if my whole belly button unravels and my guts fall out? Huh? What then?” I thought I was funny. He did not. He just looked at me, angry that I wouldn’t let him go exploring.
He rolled his eyes at me, like he thought that I was serious about what I’d just said. “Would you stop being a baby, please, and just let me get it out of you?”
“It’s my body,” was my feeble attempt at a retort.
He let out a disgusted sigh. “Clearly your body is trying to get that stitch out of you. I’m just trying to help. Now stop being a baby and let me.”
He was furious with me. “Stop being so ridiculous. You are acting like a child. Just let me take it out.” His words were sharp, forceful.
“We are done with this conversation,” I said, now hurt by the edge of his voice. I thought we were having lighthearted banter. He was being serious. And I really was afraid of being hurt, and now upset that he didn’t respect that. I snatched the clippers from his hand, set them on the nightstand and looked at the TV.
I could feel his edge retreat. He sighed and turned to face me. “Don’t you know that I’d never hurt you?” I looked at him out of the corner of my eye. “Seriously. I would never hurt you. When are you going to trust me?”
“I do trust you,” I offered, still covering my belly with my hands.
“Then just let me take it out. It needs to come out.”
“Because my body is trying to reject it, or because of some morbid need you have to yank it out?”
“Both. And because I want to be able to touch your belly button again. It’s not going to hurt, I promise.”
A few minutes later, he produced not one, but two stitches. One came out complete with the knot.
“See. Did that hurt?”
“It pinched a little,” I said.
“Did it? Or are you just saying that because admitting that it didn’t hurt would be admitting I was right?”
“No, it did pinch a little.”
“Right,” he said, smiling and examining the last of the two stitches.
Actually, it didn’t hurt at all. But I couldn’t tell him that.