My avatar across the web: a photo of my feet in grey-white socks and brown sandals.

Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

Battle scars

My tape measure

Some people I know lead off their blog posts with massive photos of the minute and the mundane, photos that set the mood for the entry that follows. So I'm going to be a copycat and do the same. Muwahahaha.

There are some objects that, against all odds, manage to stay with us through childhood, adolescence, and into our adult years. These objects acquire and then store memories for us, exceeding their original purpose as they become receptacles for our past. And they acquire scars, reminding us that we can't travel through life unscathed, but we can always somehow emerge OK. In a society renowned for its throwaway culture, these objects might be old, battered, and bruised, yet we keep them still. They have more than a material worth. At the same time, however, they might not have much sentimental value--that is, they haven't survived all this time because we're overtly fond of them. They've just stayed with us.

This tape measure is one such object--and a surprising one, at that, considering I'm not especially handy nor prone to measuring things. All the marks on its body tell me a story about my past, and about who I was. I don't remember who gave it to me or when, but I obviously put it to good--and not so good--uses. The missing pieces at the top are probably the result of one or many ill-fated drops; stress-testing just doesn't account for the overzealous measuring abilities of a 12-year-old. The black splotches along the top and side appear to be paint. I don't remember what I was painting, or indeed if I'm even the one who was using it at the time. This tape measure has made its rounds through my immediate family, so I can't take responsibility for every little scrape and scar.

The shark sticker, though, is all me. I went through this phase where I obsessively decorated my possessions with stickers--I think, even then, I didn't like acquiring stuff I wasn't going to use, and I had all these stickers . . . and one thing led to another. Every so often I'll come across an artifact of my stickering phase.

But most quixotic and endearing is the fact that this tape measure isn't particularly valuable, isn't precious or handmade. It was made in Taiwan, in fact, one of many tape measures identically mass produced. Handmade objects are exquisite, but if there's anything mass production reminds us, it's of how quickly two identical things diverge and become unalike. No doubt this tape measure's extant brothers and sisters have acquired their own battle scars. I hope some of them still have owners who, like me, are grateful more for what they remember than what they measure.

Do you have an object that bears your battle scars?