She traced the ragged lines over his shoulders, across his sternum, along his hip, down his outer thigh.
His body was beautiful to her.
He was strong, but not gym-strong. He had worked hard from an early age on his family farm, moved straight into the military at eighteen, and when he finally retired, he started a construction company and worked alongside his boys putting up walls, laying concrete, hauling shingles.
His skin rippled like patchwork, so scarred and abused that sometimes she struggled to look at him.
Some of the scars were small and insignificant, silver lines around his knuckles, his palms, and arms. A working man’s scars.
Other scars were long and ragged, skin tissue so thick he couldn’t feel her touch even when she dug her nails into them. A puckered star just below his collarbone on his left side, a raised arrow shape on his left hip pointing upwards, two rough yet shiny patches of skin the size of her hand on the back of each calf, a long line on his back from his right shoulder down to his last rib on the left, and the worst was a two inch line between his third and forth rib that almost took him from her.
He had never cared about the scarring. Said the pains done to his outside were the least painful moments of his life.
She remembered the day he told her he would be gone awhile. That he was going into town to get tattoos.
She had been surprised by this, confused, but he wasn’t the type of man to do anything on a whim.
So she just nodded and watched him walk out.
When she got back from work, he was sitting at the kitchen table, a finger tracing the grains in the wood table his mother had given to them as a wedding gift. His eyes followed the finger but didn’t seem to see it.
She leaned on the door frame and quietly watched him.
Eventually, he blinked and looked up at her with an expression so full of pain, it was blank.
She crossed the room and knelt at his feet, quietly looking up at him. He lifted her hand to his mouth, kissed it, and held it against his cheek. His stubble rasped against the back of her hand.
He stood and pulled her to her feet with him.
Gingerly, he lifted the corner of his shirt and pulled it over his head. She helped him peel it off his elbows and chin when it caught.
First, he gently lifted the tape from the bandage around his upper right arm to show a white scar-shaped tattoo wrapping around his entire bicep.
Then he gave it a name.
His best friend who had gone into the military with him but never came back out.
The next was the bandage curling around his right hip. Another ragged white scar.
A young man straight out of training that he had taken under his wing and lost during the boy’s first tour.
The third went from his right pectoral up over his shoulder and curled under his shoulder blade.
A comrade he had gone on three tours with who was taken as a hostage and later killed.
The last curved under his collarbone like a smile.
His younger brother who idolized him but couldn’t join the military because of the seizures that eventually took him away.
Once the tattoos healed, she spent hours tracing these new scars.
Those scars still woke him in the night with cold sweats and shaking limbs and heaving breaths.
Those beautiful scars ripped into him but did not destroy him.
These scars that once broke him now hold him together.