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As I write this, I think of how lucky I am. I must admit, I feel slightly undeserving of writing this. Those who have suffered more should take my pen. They should be telling their brave stories; they should be at my place. Yet somehow, here I am, sitting at my shabby desk, my thoughts forming words that spread across the fresh white page, telling a story that I can barely claim as my own.
NINE MONTHS AGO
The waiting room is stuffed. People with broken limbs, neck braces, and crutches fill the spotless chairs and stare numbly at their feet, out the lofty windows, or at other people’s casts and wheelchairs. Some people, mostly teenage girls like me, are sitting in chairs with their moms, and nothing appears to be wrong with them.
People stare at each other. It’s rude. But it’s hard not to. One woman seems to be wrapped from head to toe in casts. Maybe she fell off of a building as tall as this one.
I desperation to block out the sad scene, I stuff my brazenly hot pink earbuds in my ears. I don’t want to be here. Who does? I scroll through my albums of music that most would call lame or boring, but I can’t pay attention. My stomach is cramping from nervousness, and it makes me feel pathetic. Just as well; a few seconds later, a nurse that I will come to recognize leads me away.
I shove my iPod in Mama’s purse before I go. She readjusts her purse after I touch it. She just sits calmly, chewing her spearmint gum, her makeup and clothes perfectly matching, wearing those sparkling earrings that I’ve grown to hate. These things don’t make her pretty. They make her disgustingly beautiful. I love her without her makeup and gum and cute clothes. I love her in shorts and t-shirt, her hair flopping crazily, improvising on a recipe over the hot stove.
I jam my hands in the pockets of my fat jeans and mumble something that sounds like ‘meh geh fur,’ when the nurse leads me away with her warm smile and friendly gaze. I don’t look back. The nurse throws some questions at me. ‘Jewelry? Necklaces? Belt?’ I pull off the bracelet that my friend gave me and drop it in the nurse’s hand. Then I follow her into the dark x-ray lab.
This routine is one that I will come to learn too well.
‘You have a mild case of scoliosis,’ the doctor informs me. I’ve not visited him enough times to call him ‘my doctor’, so he dutifully remains ‘the doctor’. He observes the glowing x-ray of my laterally curved spine. The curves are marked in hasty, indistinct writing that all doctors seem to share. ‘Your curves are at T: 6 and L: 24. We recommend bracing at this stage.’
After that, I don’t listen. Mama chews her gum and asks questions in her perfect, polite voice, writing the answers down in her organized schedule book.
Is that what I am? A schedule, placed in her notebook by her flawless blue pen? ‘Oh, she got scoliosis on time. I scheduled for her to be diagnosed today. Did you know?’
EIGHT MONTHS AGO
‘Hey, it’s kinda warm,’ I protest kindly as Dr. Vahl (known also as ‘the brace guy’) wraps the Plaster of Paris around my torso. I’m virtually a very toasty mummy. I clutch the exam table in front of me, bending my knees slightly as instructed. The black leotard I’m wearing will be ruined, but it’s a small loss. Some of the hot plaster drips onto my bare feet, and my toes grip the newspaper that I’m standing on.
‘What color do you want your brace to be?’
I’ve grown to abhor that word. Brace. Boston Brace, TLSO.
‘Blue,’ I answer, regrettably, as the plaster grows uncomfortably hot with my body heat.
I’ve also grown to dislike blue now, for the same reason I dislike the word ‘brace’.
SIX MONTHS AGO
‘Are you wearing your brace?’ my doctor asks with warm indifference. I make a nasty face at his turned back. The nurse holds back some laughter.
‘Yeah, eighteen to twenty hours every day,’ I say gloomily, scuffing at the spotless carpet with my old tennis shoe. My doctor swirls around on his swivel stool that matches the room. Everything matches. Everything’s sterile and clean cut. I bet they Clorox wipe the wax plant in the corner.
I find this ironic. Everything in this place is clean and perfect, but in this same place, people are diagnosed with scoliosis or kyphosis, they are told that they need a spinal fusion, and so many more things that I don’t know about. It’s numbing, really.
‘The brace isn’t working very well, then. Your curves are now at T: 10 and L: 31.’
After that, I don’t listen. Mama chews her gum and asks questions in her perfect, polite voice, writing the answers down in her organized schedule book. I look away and talk to God.
THREE MONTHS AGO
My pillow is being abused. I’ve cried all over it, and it’s becoming a little soggy. Disgusted, I push it away, and cry into my sheets. Why do I want to muffle my tears? Why? Why shouldn’t she hear them? Why can’t I have the guts to tell her what I think?
‘Oh, we’ve got to go ‘back’ to the doctor, haha, get it?’ Yes, I get it, Mama. It’s a sick joke that for some reason I don’t find witty. ‘You’re crooked! Haha, get it?’ Yes, Mama, I get it. Do you even wonder why I don’t laugh? Do you even notice?
I don’t like this kind of mom. Where’s the Mama that would get into soap fights with my brother and I when we were doing the dishes? Where’s the Mama that would have sock wars with us and break a picture with a badly aimed throw? Where’s the Mama that would get into tickle fights with us?
Maybe it’s my fault. I think I know this, down deep, that I’m the one dissipating with a hiss and not her. I’m drifting away. But then, perhaps it is both of our faults. I loathe her pity, the compassion that she scrapes up for me. I picked up the phone, and this is what I heard, and this is also why I cry. ‘Oh, well, she’s got scoliosis – yes, my daughter. Poor thing. She’s got to wear a brace, oh it’s just awful, and it’s so hot and painful, and for twenty hours every day!’ ‘Well, we’re going through only a fraction of what you’re going through. Oh, I didn’t tell you? Yes, my daughter has scoliosis. Isn’t it awful?’ She moans with pity and sympathy, ‘Yes… twenty hours every day!’
It makes me sick. But how can I tell her that? I wish I was brave enough.
I pull my black and gray cat onto my lap and open my Bible. ‘The LORD is my strength, my shelter in the times of trouble…’
My brother. My brother and my friends. They are the only ones who treat me normally. Mama makes me sick. Daddy nags me when I don’t have my brace on. But my brother Daniel and my friends understand. They understand that I don’t want pity. They understand that I hate the jokes. They treat me normally, as if nothing has changed, and I love them all for it. I don’t deserve their kindness. What would I do without them? My brother, my friends.
ONE MONTH AGO
‘Your curves are holding at T:12 and L:31. That means the brace is working.’
After that, I don’t listen. Mama chews her gum and asks questions in her perfect, polite voice, writing the answers down in her organized schedule book. I find this amusing.
For the first time while leaving the hospital, I smile to myself. It’s a good day.
Again, I must remind you that I feel acutely undeserving to write this. Who am I to speak of the troubles that plague me when others have suffered so much more; when others have much worse fates to be told? My story is a mere trinket.
I hope that someday, this will all be a wisp of a memory. But it is my memory, my troubles, my story. I have scoli, like so many others.
I am CURVED.