Of course, most people know. From strangers in the street who spot them and give me pitying looks (don't pity me, I swear I'm good), to my loved ones who have heard the stories, most people have a pretty good idea what caused them. There were only ever two people who were really important to me who didn't know how the scars came to be: my two youngest cousins.
A lot of my worst scars were created around the same time, and I always kept them covered. It wasn't until I got a really nasty infection and almost lost my lower right arm that they were really made obvious. For months I had my arms bandaged to prevent further infections and it was then that my youngest cousins, who at that point would have been 7 and 10, started asking questions.
The story I told them was that I was getting something out of the oven and oil splattered up my arm, causing burns. The cuts I had were 'random drunken accidents'. It was all said in a flippant tone and with a roll of my eyes to make them laugh, and that was that.
It's not so easy, of course, to explain away scars to older people. And I never really cared to try. I protected my cousins from the truth because they weren't old enough really to understand, but I never felt the need to lie generally. My family are brilliant in that they've never avoided talking about things, and during my hospital years, both of the cousins I'm talking about came to visit me fairly regularly. I adore those kids. I would do anything at all to protect them. And now they're almost 12 and almost 15 and I still would. But I'm learning they don't need the protection they once did.
The older of the two worked out what the scars were a few years ago. I'm not sure whether she was told, worked it out herself or whether I inadvertently told her myself, but she knows. She also knows she can ask me anything and I will not lie to her. She's the kind of almost-woman who has more kindness and emotional maturity in her at 14 than I could ever hope to have, and who can't stand to see somebody hurt. She's a listener, a thinker. She is one of my favourite people, my little almost-sister, who has had to step in as the big almost-sister to me too many times.
Her younger brother is more like me. He's a performer, the life and soul, but also far more emotional and caring than he usually lets people know. He's the kind of person who will try and fix a problem through laughs and takes on so much pressure to be a certain way without ever letting anyone know. He's an enigma with a golden heart, and not at all what people would expect. He's also one of my favourite people. He's also growing up.
Last week, he asked me how I'd really got my scars. And I knew. I knew that he knew. At the time, we were all sprawled out in his garden and I told him that if he really wanted to know, I'd tell him another time. I bought myself a few days to think about how to broach it, but in the end decided that from the way he asked me, he knew and that I wouldn't lie to him.
As ever, he surprised me. This weekend, I explained that I'd done them to myself, and he asked why. I gave him the extremely sanitised version because there are some things no 11 year old is ready for, and he asked if that's why I was in hospital so long. So I told him it was. He looked at me and just sort of went, 'you've had a bit of a messed up life, haven't you?' and we both cracked up.
I am beyond proud of my cousins. Beyond. I don't know that I'd have been so mature and smart at their ages. And I'm beyond grateful to their parents, because kids that brilliant don't just happen.