Scars, Nadia Bruce-Rawlings
Punk Hostage Press, 2014
Reviewed by Catherine Vlahos
As writers and readers and listeners, we all understand the value of sharing the stories of our lives with others. However, sometimes spoken word fails us—our lips tremble, our voices stutter, our brains stumble—so we turn to writing. Nadia Bruce-Rawlings’ poetry and prose collection Scars certainly speaks with a voice as raw and real as if she was confiding in you herself, and she tackles the difficult topic of child abuse with unapologetic and addicting honesty.
It can sometimes be difficult for people to view trauma survivors as individuals who continue on with their lives years after their abuse, but the loosely chronological short stories and poems of Scars largely focus on what comes next. Bruce-Rawlings begins with “Fire,” a surprisingly ruthless piece that captures the sinister, lifelong timeline of child abuse, from its first unsettling moments to a brutal conclusion decades later—a desperate move for closure that many survivors never quite obtain in their own lives.
From there, Scars shifts from narrator to narrator—each a lost soul in their own way, fighting to survive despite drug addiction, poverty, domestic violence, and other struggles. While some themes and elements of Scars are gathered from Bruce-Rawlings’ own past, the diversity of characters and their lives depicted throughout the collection highlight the fact that these issues and the range of emotions that inevitably follow them are universal. This is especially evident in “Same Death, Different Places,” a forthright short story that serves as a memorial to those who lost these battles.
That being said, some of the most powerful moments in Bruce-Rawlings’ prose are not necessarily the most sorrowful. Anyone who knows me relatively well is familiar with the fact that I’m a huge crybaby—sad movie, happy ending, cute picture of a bunny—whatever, I’ll cry about it. In this case, it is, in fact, the glimmers of light at the end of the dark tunnel of abuse that yanked at my heartstrings the most: landing on your feet after years of pain, discovering what it feels like to truly be loved, being accepted as you are without hiding your scars and your flaws, being safe, being okay. While the effects of trauma never quite leave us, Scars pays tribute to the amazing human ability to suffer, persevere, and heal, as Bruce-Rawlings writes in “Seeing Memories”:
“And now…I can’t see my memories when I drive. But they will always be with me, just like my scars, the memories, the good and the bad, have all brought me to where I am now.”