I have several major scars on my torso. One is about the size of a silver dollar and is just under the bottom of my lowest left front rib (my brother used to say I had two belly buttons). Another is basically an arc-shaped fold of skin, about an inch long, just under the right scapula on my back. The largest scar begins just below and to the right of my right nipple and extends in a roughly straight line under my right armpit around to just above and to the left of the scar near my scapula. Anyone who has ever seen me without a shirt on has seen the scars. When I was younger, I used to enjoy telling tall tales about the origins of my scars. I told people it was a shark attack, a gang fight, or my personal favorite, “Dude, I got it in ‘Nam.”

The current scholarly consensus is that I got the scars from surgery in 1964, on the day I was born. According to the narrative espoused by the Williams family, the scars are consistent with major surgery to correct a birth defect, tracheoesophageal fistula. Whenever I have an X-ray, it’s obvious that every rib on my right side has been broken, and the breaks line up in a clean line, suggesting that they were cut during surgery. I’m sure any number of physicians could confirm that the scars look exactly like what you expect from someone who has had corrective surgery for that birth defect.

However, there are significant gaps in the historical record. Neither of my parents kept a journal, so there is no written contemporary evidence from the family. As far as I know, the only documentary evidence for the surgery from the family is a life history of my uncle, which he wrote in 2001, many years after the alleged surgery. And unfortunately, the hospital where the surgery was performed has long since closed. The only evidence that supports the consensus–besides the scars themselves–is oral history, and obviously memories and motivations can be suspect. If we are going to uncover the real origins, the ones we all want to believe in, we need to consider alternative theories.

Given the paucity of incontrovertible evidence that is available to the public, several alternatives are possible: the knife fight, and so on (the ‘Nam theory is intriguing but ultimately can be discounted because I was 8 years old when the war ended). But someone could easily speculate that the injuries could have been sustained in a car accident. Suppose they learn that, around the time I was 17, I didn’t work during one summer, several high school acquaintances died that same summer in a terrible car accident a few miles from my home (police reports could not determine who was driving), and the car my grandfather had given me–a 1971 Plymouth Valiant–suddenly disappeared from in front of my house at roughly the same time. Is such an accident a plausible explanation for my scars? I suppose it is. I could explain the real origin of the scars, but this theorist could just as easily say I have a motive to lie about not being in a car accident because I don’t want to admit that I killed 7 people on the Pacific Coast Highway. And besides, how could I confirm that I was operated on as a newborn, as I obviously have no memory of the surgery? And there are other, unexplained scars that do not fit the “surgery” narrative: one on my chin, another on my upper left back, and a small, barely noticeable one on my nose. All of these might be consistent with injuries sustained in an automobile accident, but not with the alleged surgery. Also, several years later I had a stress fracture in my femur, which could have been weakened in the accident. Clearly, then, it’s just as plausible to believe I was in a car crash at age 17 than it is to believe I had major surgery the day I was born.

Imagine that I ask this theorist to provide some documentary data to support the theory: an accident report, hospital records, a family member or anyone else placing me at the scene of the accident. I would think I’m well within my rights to ask for some evidence beyond speculation.

Suppose, then, that the accident theorist asks me for more “data” to prove I got the scars from surgery. I’m not really sure I could prove it to anyone’s complete satisfaction. It would take me some time, but I could probably locate the note the surgeon gave my parents the day I was born. I saw it once about 20 years ago, and it consists of a diagram showing the extent of the defect and an explanation of what the surgery would do. It’s probably in a closet somewhere in my parents’ home, but it would take some digging to find it. But then it’s jotted in blue ballpoint pen on a scrap of lined notebook paper, and it would be impossible to substantiate its authenticity, unless of course you can trust me or my parents (would they have a motivation to lie, as well?). There’s no date on it, there’s no way to authenticate the doctor’s handwriting, and besides, he’s been dead for more than 15 years. As far as I know, that is the only documentary evidence of the surgery in my parents’ possession. I would also assume there are medical records somewhere, but I’m almost certain my parents don’t have them. I’m not sure how I would be able to find anything contemporary to the surgery that is verifiable. I don’t have any photos of me as an infant without a shirt on, so that’s out. I could probably find a photo somewhere in a closet in my parents’ house, but then again, my mom is a bit of a hoarder, and it might be hard. But before I bother with that, I think it would be reasonable to ask the theorist to provide some evidence to substantiate the assertion that I was in such an accident.

What if there were even less compelling evidence that I was involved an accident? What if it was known only that I had received the Valiant sometime after high school and that I no longer had it in my possession sometime before I turned 19? What if I had met some of the accident victims only a couple of times during high school but had no established history? What if I could show that the stress fracture to my femur was probably related to doing too much running and occurred many years later? What if the theorist couldn’t show that the other scars I have are contemporary with the surgery scars?

What if there were no documentation at all? No accident reports, no medical records, no bill of sale of the Valiant? What if all we had to go on is oral history from me and my parents? Would it make sense to accept the accident theory and then interpret the rest of my life based on the belief that it actually happened? Why or why not?


25 Responses to Scars

  1. CAB says:


  2. yaanufs says:

    This accident theory is a red herring.
    You got the scars in ‘Nam, the warm fuzzy feelings confirmed it to me. Now I have my firm and unshakable conclusion, based upon incontrovertible feelings, I’m going to make the evidence fit that narrative.
    What, the evidence we have suggests otherwise? I’m sure I can selectively choose what evidence I like, and ignore the strong evidence I don’t, and confirm to myself the ‘Nam version is correct.

    • CAB says:

      See the reality check below.

      • yaanufs says:

        You are delusional!!
        We have first hand testimony from Runtu himself that said he got the scars in ‘Nam.
        Why are you making up facts and a narrative about a person and events. You must have an agenda that requires he saves a widow.
        I look forward to your chart though, it might be some compelling evidence to convert me to your way of thinking. Although I need to feel the warm fuzzies to be really sure you are right. That and a few ‘facts’ would be good for me.

  3. CAB says:

    No, no NO!!
    MY hero, Runtu (ROOOntooo), never went to ‘Nam. He was a conscientious objector and innocent of anything which might make me feel uncomfortable.
    Those scars are badges of honor. He acquired them when he was risking his own life to save the widowed mother of 14 children when she fell off an embankment walking home from the store to the small cabin where she and her children lived.
    I am a female, trained chart-maker and professional obfuscater. I am working up a chart of events and persons which has numbers, arrows and symbols and will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that what I claim is true.

  4. Jeff Seaman says:

    No, he got the scars during an attack by three men as he was carrying golden plates he would later translate into “Harry Potter.” Obviously.

  5. Can I just tell you how much I enjoy your writing? It has been particularly fascinating over the past week or so – just beyond belief what some people try to “prove”…based on – well, not much of anything. Thank you for your insights. This post said it all.

    • runtu says:

      Thank you. Just to be clear, I’m not trying to prove anything, just trying to explain why I find it problematic to make conclusions without evidence.

      • yaanufs says:

        Evidence? We have your written statement that you got the scars in ‘Nam. That’s enough evidence for me. The rest of the evidence, that I’m sure is out there, can catch up with my conclusions later.

  6. CAB says:

    You and you and you are frightened by my superior female intellect and logical mind and feel threatened. However, I am accustomed to such smallmindedness and childish behavior. I will not be deterred.

  7. CAB says:

    yaanufs, I gottcha’

    • yaanufs says:

      You got me? How so?
      You thought I didn’t understand your sarcasm?
      Or you thought I wasn’t being sarcastic in reply?

      I’m confused now. It must be small mindedness and childish behavior that is causing me problems again. I just wish I could grow up.

  8. Xentius says:

    Brilliant exegesis all around (I always wanted to use that word) on the ephemerality of clouds and scars and shadows. The older I get the less I know, and more more I realize that I am living on faith alone. I’d better work hard on that faith — it’s all I have.

  9. steelhead says:

    I think Runtu got the scars fighting orcs in Lemuria, with his bare hands. Btw, Zarahemla can be found smack dab between Atlantis and Lemuria.

  10. yaanufs says:

    After yesterday’s entertaining comment section. I just wanted to add a little to show where I was taking some of my random thoughts.

    In the UK, there is an old joke about ‘Nam. People say “I got these wounds in ‘Nam, Dagenham” It helps if you can pronounce Dagenham like the locals. (silent ‘H’)

    Anyway, my point is that Runtu claims he got his scars in ‘Nam, but obviously not the Asian country. So therefore I can use my cunning knowledge to assume he meant Dagenham, which is not such a stretch. Perhaps his family went on vacation to England when he was 8. Perhaps he was actually involved in a car accident while there, after all they drive on the correct side of the road, which confuses our former colonial cousins.
    So I can make up a bunch of sh!t based upon what I already know, and a few random ‘facts’ cherry picked from his blog, and I can make it sound plausible in my head.
    I was determined to make Runtu have an injury in ‘Nam, and I even managed to do so using the story in the rest of his blog. I’m feeling the warm fuzzies, so it must be true.
    And if he bought a classic British meat pie from a bakery while on his vacation, he engaged in meat commerce too.

  11. Conclusions about history are as problematic as conclusions about a person. Neither that person nor those around them truly understand who that person was, who they are at present, or who they will turn out to be in the future. History eludes those in the present of all the nuance of the past. Therefore, conclusions are for the short-sighted.

    • runtu says:

      People who avoid conclusions are pretty short-sighted, in my view. It’s best to face the uncomfortable head on.

    • yaanufs says:

      It sounds like you are stating history is pretty worthless. That it can’t tell us much.
      I’d suggest conclusions are actually important for the scientific method to follow its natural course.
      A person makes a conclusion, puts forward their evidence, and that conclusion is then challenged. If all a historian can do is put forward a bunch of nebulous, competing suggestions, then how can others try and figure out what the real meaning is, and what they are really trying to understand?
      Knowledge is fundamentally advanced by people making a conclusion based upon evidence.
      The people that don’t like that conclusions can be drawn from evidence, don’t typically like where the conclusions are headed.

      • runtu says:

        Life is pretty easy if you don’t ever have to follow the evidence to its logical conclusion. It’s not a rewarding or honest life, but it’s pretty easy.

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