6. The Fork in the Road

It all happened so suddenly. No one gave me a warning. No one told me in advance so that I could prepare. But I am pretty sure I know what happened. I am pretty sure my mama received some letter in the mail from Allstate Insurance informing her that our benefits were ending. I am assuming it was a perfectly written letter on Allstate letterhead, written by some asshole in the Accounts Department, who was just following protocol by letting her know (in English, which she didn’t speak, much less read) that Allstate would be discontinuing our benefits. It probably said something like:

Dear Mrs. Velez:

According to your policy XYZ, you have received the maximum allotted treatment of six months and your coverage will be ending on some randomly selected date. Thank you, and we hope you’ll choose us next year for your continued coverage.


-A complete jerk with no empathy.

Regardless of how it happened, I wasn’t prepared for Allstate to discontinue their coverage, because without Allstate, my options were limited. It meant that as an uninsured family we had to pay for all treatment out-of-pocket, or worse, I would have to stop seeing Dr. Gray altogether. And for me, not seeing Dr. Gray was not an option.

It was not an option, because I had such high hopes for what Dr. Gray could do for my scoliosis, what he could do for me. Perhaps I should have never placed such high expectations on him, but he was so convincing. With his reassuring words, I felt confident that I would one day be just like everyone else. I didn’t think I had anything to worry about. I believed him when he told me that I shouldn’t worry about my scoliosis. I never questioned the fact that maybe he couldn’t really help me. I never stopped to think that perhaps my condition was too advanced and I needed another type of treatment. I never doubted his abilities, because I didn’t know there were other options. I didn’t realize that there might be others who could help me. At the young age of nine, I placed every ounce of hope I had for my future well-being in his hands. With his adjustments, I saw my perfectly straight spine come to fruition—I just had to have patience (these things took time).

And despite the fact that he was a bit monotone and kind of lifeless, I looked forward to seeing Dr. Gray during my tri-weekly appointments. His perpetual optimism towards my condition made me feel as though his hands held the cure to scoliosis. But all that faith came crashing down the day he informed me that my car insurance would no longer be covering my chiropractic visits. He stared at me without the familiar optimism and said, “We received a letter from your auto insurance and it looks like the coverage is ending next week. I won’t be able to see you, unless you pay for treatment out-of-pocket.” He said it so nonchalantly—so casually. I could tell that he was completely unaware of the expectations I had of him. With that one statement, it was as if everything else was meaningless. In that moment, I felt lost and completely confused. I didn’t understand how he could completely disregard the promises he had made to me or how he could be so oblivious to how much his words crushed my soul. He looked at me expectantly, and all I could say back was, “Okay.”

I walked out of the room, my mind drifting off. I couldn’t help but think about how fast the time had gone. Had it really been six months since my car accident and my diagnosis? I wasn’t ready for the end; I wasn’t prepared for another option. All those endless daydreams of a perfectly straight spine felt like such a waste of time now. They were dreams that would never come to be. My world seemed to be crashing at a million miles an hour, and I had no way of stopping it. In my mind, there was no other option. He held the cure to my scoliosis. He was there to make me stand straight. To fix my issues. But the end of coverage meant the end of treatment, and the illusions I had formed about one day having a straight spine were gone too.

And just like that, I felt like I was doomed to be curvy forever.

I stepped out into the waiting room numb to what had just happened. I didn’t understand why the insurance didn’t want to continue paying or how Dr. Gray could dismiss me so easily.

My mama was sitting in there dozing off to the sounds of Toy Story in the background. “Mama, vamonos,” I greeted her, telling her we should go. Her tired and watery eyes looked up at me, and I could see the confusion in her face as I woke her from an all-too-deep afternoon nap. As she scrambled to stand up, picking up her water bottle and reaching down to grab her purse, she said, “Que paso?” My mama could sense my state of mind. I told her that the coverage had ended and that we would have to pay out-of-pocket for any future treatment. I remember my mama saying that I shouldn’t worry about it, that we would fix it, that everything in life had a solution. And that was it; we drove home in silence.

Throughout my childhood, we didn’t have health insurance, so naturally, payment arrangements were not foreign concepts. For years earlier, my brother and my mama were forced to deal with making payment arrangements for my father’s illness. My brother was just a kid at the time, but he was the oldest, the most responsible, and the male of the family, and because of that, he held the torch and was forced to deal with all bill collectors and making all payment arrangements for the family. I was still a baby when all of my dad’s issues went down, but I still remember a lot of it, and every time I think about it, I wonder how they survived both my father’s illness and death, and my battle with scoliosis.

It took a week after my last appointment for my brother to contact Dr. Gray. If he was uncomfortable or upset by the situation, he never showed it, he never told me, but I am pretty sure it was all too much for him. As a sixteen-year-old kid, he was determined to find a solution that worked for everyone. I think about it now, and I do not know how he knew what to do. But at sixteen, he was pretty fearless, and it was probably his determination that drove him, his fearlessness that fueled him, and his persistence that made him unstoppable. In the end, he was just a child, and dealing with this was not something he should have ever had to do. But there was no alternative. At least that’s how it seemed. If he hadn’t done what he did, I am not sure who would have.

By the end of it all, my brother had arranged for me to go get chiropractic adjustments twice a month, and massages once a week. The compromise significantly reduced the amount of adjustments I was receiving. I had gone from twelve adjustments a month to two adjustments a month—it wasn’t the ideal situation, but it was all we could afford.

I realize now that this break in insurance gave us a window of opportunity to look for alternatives, but we didn’t take it. We could have sought other opinions, different doctors, alternative medicine—anything else. But I didn’t believe I had other options; I thought Dr.Gray was the only solution to my scoliosis. It was this fierce belief in him that made it extremely difficult for my mama and brother to see the fork in the road as an opportunity, instead of a doomsday scenario. I sometimes wonder how different things would have been had we had some guidance along the way. Perhaps we would have sought some alternative treatment that specialized in scoliosis or even gone to see an Orthopaedic Surgeon. Oftentimes, though, we aren’t ready for alternatives. All too frequently, I think we want to believe in the familiar, because it’s hard to seek novel paths and walk into unknown territory.

In the end, though, it was my extreme tenacity that drove my family and I to continue treatment with Dr. Gray. As it was, he was the one person I believed could cure me, and I wasn’t about to let that go.

5. Mirror Mirror

Have you ever cut your finger and not realized it? Somehow, when the adrenaline kicks in, you are completely distracted and unaware of the pain you should be in. At least that’s how it goes for the first few moments, but as soon as you look down and see it, as soon as you become aware of the blood gushing out, you feel it, and it’s usually all over from that point on. Once you’ve seen it for yourself, the pain is usually incomprehensible, and you can’t help but wonder how you didn’t notice it earlier.

I sometimes feel as though that is exactly what happened to me. As if I wasn’t fully aware of the problem I had until I really saw it for myself. I obviously knew I was in pain – I could feel it – but what I didn’t realize was the extent of my deformity.

You may argue that I didn’t want to see it. I often tell myself that. But to be frank, I had no idea until that one day when the giant wall of deformity hit me across the face, and I’ve never really been the same since. For me, seeing my deformity fueled my self-esteem issues, promoted my insecurity, and fostered my desire to hide from the world. It caused so many other issues that I kept hidden, that I kept to myself.

It all happened on a gorgeous morning a few weeks after Claudia had stopped taking me to Dr. Gray’s office. The sun was peeking out through the gaps in my blinds, and the temperature was a comfortable seventy degrees outside. I was awake and ready for the day. I jumped out of bed without a care in the world, stretching my arms up high as I tiptoed to reach the sky.

I could hear the morning Florida frogs chirping outside my window, alongside the sounds of my mama ruffling the pans in the kitchen as she prepared breakfast.

“NANA! Levantate! Vas a llegar tarde!” She yelled in the background for me to get ready so that I wouldn’t be late to school. Nana is my nickname. It’s the nickname I gave myself as a toddler, and it’s still what my entire family calls me.

I walked out of the room and stepped into the kitchen to say good morning to my mama and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Buenos Dias, Ma.” I groggily walked away toward the bathroom, humming along to Aaliyah, which was playing in the background. My sister was obsessed with the song “The One I Gave My Heart To,” and during this time period, it was basically the soundtrack to my life because it was always there—forever on repeat.

That morning, like every other morning, I chose to shower in my mama’s bathroom. Her bathroom was a magical sanctuary for me. It had three giant vanity mirrors stretched across the entire wall, a standing shower, a bathtub, two sinks, and an enclosed toilet. I loved every aspect of her bathroom. Except, of course, for the pepto bismol pink vinyl that covered the countertops. I know what you’re thinking. Pepto bismol pink? Yeah, it’s the best way to describe the color that garnished so many aspects of my house for several years. The color was chosen by my sister and I when we had the house built back in 1991—naturally, a giant mistake my mama made (if you’re ever considering it, don’t let your four year old pick the color of your home). But, even with the awful pepto bismol pink countertops, I loved showering in her bathroom. I felt like a real adult whenever I did. And during my childhood, all I wanted was to be a real adult.

I stepped into the bathroom, about to get ready for my shower, and took off my Tazmanian Devil pajamas. As I stood there staring at myself in the mirror, I realized that I hadn’t really looked closely at my reflection. I had no intention whatsoever to examine my scoliosis. I don’t know why I did it. But that was the moment that I wanted to look deeper, the moment that I decided to see it all for myself.

I twirled from side to side, observing every move I made. I looked at my right shoulder and it seemed so rounded and pushed forward. I wanted it to look a little more like my left shoulder. My left shoulder wasn’t rounded like my right one. Why was the right one rounded? I grabbed it and tried hard to push it back so that it could be aligned with my left shoulder. Why wouldn’t it stay back? I tried hard to move my right shoulder into a different position so that it would stay back, but it wouldn’t stay. As soon as I stopped pushing it back, it just popped right back into place.

I then looked at my left shoulder, and though it was the ideal shape (in my mind), it was slightly higher than my right shoulder. I wanted it to be even with my right shoulder, but there was no way for me to push it down. Are people actually made to have even shoulders? I thought to myself. I tried to push it down. But it too wouldn’t stay.

I couldn’t understand why I was unable to keep my right shoulder back or push my left shoulder down. Why wasn’t I balanced? I was so annoyed with myself, so uncomfortable with my reflection,that I gave up—it was too much effort to try to rearrange my shoulders. My shoulders just had their places and didn’t belong in any other position.

But I kept staring at myself. There was still more to uncover. I put both hands on my waist, noticing how the left side had a nice indent like “normal people,” while the right side was so straight. There was no indent. I didn’t have a pretty hourglass shape like the girls you see in the magazines or in the movies. All that was there was a little extra fat. I rubbed the right side of my body, trying to move the extra fat so that the indent would show itself. It had to be underneath the extra fat I had on the right side. But the more I tried to rearrange my fat, the more discouraged I became. Instead of finding my hourglass shape, I found my ribs inching closer to my pelvis. They were so close together—almost attached. What was happening? Was this really my body?

I kept exploring.

I turned to the left side and looked in the mirror. It looked so strange. As if my entire body was being pulled to the right side, like a wave of muscle, tissues and bones all being pulled away from where they should be and forced into a different position, a different direction.

And then I turned to the right side and stared at my profile.

That is really when I saw it.

From my shoulder all the way to my mid-back was this giant protrusion. An elevated hump soaring above. A giant deformity. It was just like what my great-grandmother, Andrea, had. It was clear. I could see the enormous deformity of my rib cage. The bulging protrusion that caressed the entire right side of my body. The cause of all my other issues was there, right in front of me. My hands slowly started to shake as I twirled from side-to-side. The wind was sucked out of my lungs as I evaluated every angle, every side. My eyes were moist with held-back tears as time passed by, slower and slower. I held onto my deformity, as if somehow my hands could erase its presence, as if somehow I could unsee what I just saw. But I couldn’t. It was impossible to unsee. Once I realized it, once I saw it for myself—it was too late.

I stared at myself with the understanding and realization that this deformity was the cause of all my problems. It made my right shoulder higher than the left. It was why my right shoulder was rounded instead of straight. It was because of this deformity that my waistline was offcentered. he reason why I looked the way I looked. Deformed.

“Nana! Apurese!” My mama yelled in the background for me to hurry up. In shock from what I had just seen, I grabbed my school clothes and put them on. I didn’t shower. I didn’t brush my teeth. I couldn’t think.

I hurried out of the bathroom, grabbed my backpack, kissed my mama on the cheek, and ran to the bus.

I have no idea how I went to school that day, but I did. I went in and pretended like nothing had happened, and I never told anyone.

4. Old-Dixie

A few weeks went by and the car accident, meeting Dr. Gray, and telling my family all seemed like a distant dream as I woke up, ready and content to conquer the world. The night before, my mama had told me that because Claudia was going to the same place I was, she was going to start taking me to my Chiropractic appointments.

My mama had been taking me to Dr. Gray’s office three times a week. Every appointment looked and felt exactly the same – nothing ever changed. The days I had a Chiropractic appointment, I would wait in the “car riders” line after school. I felt so cool being a “car rider,” instead of heading to the dreadful, sweat-stained, yellow school buses where the older kids would try to bully the younger ones around. They learned quickly that they should never mess with me. One day, many years before, one of the older boys had come up to me and tried to push me around, but I wasn’t about to take crap from anyone. I was nearly five inches shorter, but that didn’t stop me. I tiptoed to appear an inch or so taller, grabbed his shirt, and said “don’t ever mess with me again or you’ll regret it.” The next day, I was so nervous heading towards the bus. My pseudo confidence had melted down by that point, and all that was left of me was the raw innocent version. I thought for sure I was going to be in so much trouble, but he never acknowledged my existence again. And just like that, I was untouchable.

As I stood there, in the single-file car rider’s line, with my backpack to my knees (because that’s how all the cool kids wore it) waiting for my mama’s car to show up, I usually daydreamt about what it would be like to be straight one day. You know, daydream of what it was like to have a straight spine. It was a constant daydream of mine. I had these elaborate visions of one day miraculously being stretched out like spaghetti, and just like that, I would be straight forever. It was always such a happy dream of mine – to be straight one day. But every time my name was called – “Miss Velez, your mom is here” –  I would be sucked away from my dreams and placed back into reality.

My mama would always bring me a Zephyrhills water bottle and a snack for the 20-minute ride down Orange Ave towards Dr. Gray’s office. I would sit in the front seat devouring my Nature Valley honey crunch granola bars and space out. Every appointment was exactly the same. My mama would drop me off and leave me there while she went to run errands. So most of the time, I would go into Dr. Gray’s office alone. Since I had been going for several weeks, the ladies and the Border Collie all knew me well. I would always patiently wait in the waiting room, and when my name was called, I would head back for a chiropractic adjustment. The entire adventure usually took no more than 20 minutes, but it was still rare that my mama would wait for me.  Thinking back to that time, I realize how difficult it all must have been for her. I don’t think her absence was intentional, but I do think it was all too much for her to deal with, so instead of being there to support me, she sought solace in other activities.

But then again, it really wasn’t unusual for her to leave me places for extended periods of time, and I was always so embarrassed when she did. This one time, many years before my scoliosis diagnosis, she dropped me off at the pet store so that I could walk around and see the animals. This was one of my favorite things to do. I would walk around and stare at all the displays. I loved being with the animals, and it was something my mama didn’t really enjoy doing with me. So instead of walking through the pet store with me and waiting until I was done exploring every new pet they had recently brought in, she left me there. Alone. For about two hours. I remember pacing back and forth throughout the pet store, not knowing what to look at and not wanting to get in anyone’s way. I didn’t know when she was coming back – all I could do was wait. The owner of the store kept staring at me until he finally asked me if I knew my phone number. I called home and got the answering machine. When she finally came back, the owner of the store was so furious that my mama had left me there, he took it upon himself to tell her that his shop was not a daycare, and that next time it happened he would have to call the authorities. Needless to say, we never went back to that pet store, and my mama just laughed it off as if nothing really serious had happened.

Still, it’s hard to really blame her. My mama had been through so much in her life that dealing with my scoliosis was just one more thing that I am not sure she was prepared to handle. It’s for that reason that I wasn’t really surprised to be pawned off with Claudia. I am not sure whether Claudia offered to take me or if my mama just asked her to do it. It didn’t really matter to me; I was thrilled that I was going to get a chance to hang out with Claudia. At that point, I would have done anything for a good role model.

Don’t get me wrong, being the baby of the family came with so many role models. I always had Farith and Naty, who were both ahead of me by several years. Their life choices, personalities, and mistakes were laid out for me to copy from, emulate, repeat, change, and recreate. I had two life paths, molds if you will, that I could choose from or just change and make my own. Through their lives, I had the advantage of knowing what do with my own life.  My reliance on copying my brother and sister meant that I had a hard time knowing exactly who I was, because I was always too busy trying to be like everyone else.  But even with them in my life, I realized that I was still missing the type of role model that I wanted, so I was delighted to have Claudia in my life. It meant that I would have someone older who could be my friend.

I was so nervous the afternoon that Claudia came to pick me up. I had gotten home from school at 3:00 pm, and my appointment with Dr. Gray was not until 4:00pm. From 3:00pm till 3:30pm, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I stared intently out the window, I went to the bathroom a million times, I paced around in circles  by the front door. I didn’t want to miss it when she first arrived. I wanted to make sure I was ready to go as soon as she got there. What if she didn’t like me? I paced back and forth a little more. What would I talk about? I nervously rubbed my sweaty hands along my jeans to wipe them off. What if she doesn’t come? I thought to myself, while I kept dancing around the front door – until, finally, she was there.

Without hesitation, I gave my mama a kiss on the cheek, and she made the hand motions to bless me on my journey to the chiropractor. As I ran to Claudia’s ever-green Honda Accord my mama waved and yelled “echese la bendicion.” I am not really Catholic, but I am Hispanic, and blessing people comes with the territory. Any time I got into a moving vehicle, I had to bless myself so that God would be with me during my journey. To this day, these mannerisms are hard to escape. They are so engraved in who I am that I feel strange when I don’t do it. I opened the passenger-side door, slid into the front seat and leaned over and gave Claudia a kiss on the cheek. We started pulling away from the driveway and my mama was still watching and waving good bye, while Julian was in the backseat hanging out making weird baby noises. He was Claudia’s six-month-old son.

In many ways, Claudia was my hero for a few short months. She gave me the support that I needed during a really difficult time in my life, and I couldn’t help but look up to her. Claudia, was about 24 years old at the time, maybe 25. She was talkative, outgoing, and a really confident person.  She had been working at Red Lobster as a hostess for several years and would always bring my mama some of their wild rice – she was obsessed with it. In the car ride to the Chiropractic office we would always listen to Puff Daddy’s No Way Out cassette. Just like my sister, Claudia loved to listen to it on repeat – it was her favorite – and in the end, it ended up being my favorite too.

I recently played the album again on Spotify to reminisce about those days. I hadn’t heard the songs since the days I hung out with Claudia. As soon as she stepped out of my life, so did Puff Daddy. But, when the song “Victory” came on, I felt the bass take me back to the days when I sat in her Honda Accord, marveling at the way she drove a manual car. Hanging out with Claudia was like having a big sister who liked hanging out with me too – I loved it. It was a nice, needed change. We drove to Dr. Gray’s office together for a month or two listening to Puff Daddy until Claudia started feeling better.

The last week of going to Dr. Gray’s office together, Claudia took me to eat what she called “the best fried chicken in Orlando.” Old-Dixie is a little shack-like place located right on Orange Ave near Pine Castle. It’s still there, if you ever get the urge to try it. The place was decorated in 70s decor with brown and yellow plaid tiles on the floor – I am pretty sure it still looks the same. We sat down in the side room on the left-hand side. Our table had just been wiped down, but the vinyl was still sticky from all the old spills. We were the only people eating at the restaurant, and I didn’t understand why they were still in business. Maybe it was the giant chicken display they had outside that drew people in, or maybe it was the charm of the decor – maybe it took them back to a different time like a time capsule. Normally, I would never go to a place I didn’t know or hadn’t been to before. I was such a picky eater and didn’t really like exploring with my food. I basically only ate cheese sandwiches and strawberry yogurt, so it was a big deal for me to step outside of my comfort zone and join Claudia in a deep-fried chicken basket. It was one of our last days of hanging out together, and I didn’t know what to say. In my mind, I didn’t see this as the end. I thought it would be like this forever, but it wasn’t.

Once we were done eating, Claudia dropped me off, and that was basically it. The many afternoons we had together were memories I cherished, and still cherish. It was nice to have her in my life for a little while. She filled a void I had, and for a small period of time she was the friend I had always wanted.

3. Facing the Truth

I’ve talked to so many people who barely remember their childhood, so many people whose memories escape them. Their childhood didn’t entail an array of constantly relevant memories, and just like that, it’s like those events never happened. In my case, my memories are at the forefront of my mind, so much so that I can tell you that I still remember being a one-year-old kid. I had recently learned how to walk and my mama, her friend and I were walking back home after a long day of shopping. As soon as we made it to the block where the apartment building was, “la vientiuno,” I immediately decided that I was going to make a run for it. I wanted to beat them to the door. But my attempt to outrun them with my suave steps didn’t yield the results I had expected. A few steps into my grand adventure, I face planted on the ground, scraping my knee and landing on the dirty, grind-filled Union City cement. I still have the scar on my knee to prove it. I cried when I fell, and my mama picked me up and yelled at me for running away.

Sometimes, I wonder if I would remember that memory as well as I do if it weren’t for the physical scar. Scars, whether they are physical or emotional, are there to help us remember. They make it easy for us to never forget.

It was still early when we stepped out of Dr. Gray’s office. I ran to the car, eager to sit in the front seat, while my mama wobbled her way to the driver’s side door. She unlocked the car with the automatic lock, which was a hot new item at that time. Only luxury cars had automatic car locks, so I felt like I was in a rented Rolls Royce. I put on my seatbelt and rolled down the window. I loved the feeling of having the air blow on my face, and I loved sticking my hand out the window so I could chase the air. In the background, Selena’s “Amor Prohibido,” was playing. I sang along to the lyrics. She was my favorite singer, and naturally, I knew all the words. I would close my eyes and really get into the song; you know, I’d pretend that I was her, pretend that I was a rock star singing in front of millions of people. In the middle of my ultimate musical performance, my mama interrupted me to have a conversation about what had just happened at Dr. Gray’s office. She was probably concerned or thought that I would be devastated or something. But I hadn’t thought about it. I was busy singing to Selena, and nothing else really mattered. I hadn’t reflected on how it made me feel, so naturally, everything seemed normal. After 20 minutes down Orange Ave., we were finally inching closer to the house.

We made a right on Wetherbee Rd., and that’s when my stomach sank. Those three long blocks before Isle of Wright felt like I was in a haze. Time was moving backwards. I could feel every breath I took. The air burned through my lungs as I forced myself to inhale and exhale. My eyes filled with tears, but I held them in. I never cried. Not in moments like this. I was always taught to be strong, to be tough. I was always taught that I shouldn’t cry. So I didn’t. I just held back the feeling, swallowed my emotions right along side the fear of facing the reality. The closer we got to the house the more nervous I became. I was about to face my reality. I was about to share my recent diagnosis with the rest of my family. How did that make me feel? I was petrified. I wanted to be just like everyone else, to blend in, camouflage. I didn’t really want to be different. I didn’t really understand what my difference actually meant, and I was going to be forced to share it, and explain it, when I myself was still coming to terms with it.

This emotional scar is there like all the rest. It’s filled with the fear of facing my own reality, the desire to hide from everyone, and the inability to accept the truth. I didn’t want to highlight the fact that I was different. I didn’t want to share the news with everyone.

I didn’t want to face this reality. Because as soon as you share something, it suddenly becomes more real. Had I kept it to myself, maybe I could pretend it wasn’t really true. But in this case, I had no option. Whether I shared the news, or my mama shared the news, the family had to know what was happening

My mama pulled into the driveway and walked out to open the garage. We didn’t have a garage door opener, which was a humongous pain in the ass. Every time we arrived to the house, we had to step out of the car and open the garage, then get back in the car and drive into the garage to park the car. It seemed like a lot of work. I never really had to deal with the garage, but I always noticed the struggle my mama went through as she tiptoed to make sure the door was pushed open thoroughly. And the times she didn’t do it right, it would fall all the way back down, and she was forced to try again. As she took care of the garage, I looked outside the window to the small patches of St. Augustine grass my mama had recently planted. It was really expensive to buy full pallets of the grass, so instead of doing that, my mama bought a few pallets and cut them into tiny little pieces and planted them randomly throughout the yard. My front yard looked like it was suffering from measles, with tiny chunks of grass spread throughout. Much like the Corolla, my mama was in LOVE with the grass, and she still very much is. She hated when we walked on it; she religiously watered it and spent countless hours tending to it. The grass was a very big deal in my mama’s life.

After fiddling with the garage for a few minutes, my mama wobbled back to the car. Once inside the garage, I stepped out of the car and slammed the door behind me. I walked towards the door, and I could feel every breath I took. It was daunting. I turned the knob and opened the door. It was like a scene from a scary movie, like the part where the stupid girl goes into the haunted house by herself. At that moment, I felt like the girl. Lucky, I wasn’t met by villainous serial killer trying to chop me up.  Instead, I was met with the typical icy cool air and the pungently penetrating smell of bleach.My mama insisted on keeping the temperature at arctic levels, and bleach was the only thing she ever used to clean everything. If you’ve ever seen the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, my mama is like the dad in the movie who is obsessed with Windex, only in this case, it’s Clorox.

I walked past the laundry room and was met by Micha, my cat, who was sitting there patiently, waiting for someone to feed her or let her out. Micha hated everyone, and I was not in any way an exception. I ignored her and went to the kitchen. I needed to eat something, anything. Food was always a big comfort for me. It had a way of making me feel better. So in times when I didn’t know what I needed to say or do, I would eat, and this was no exception. I grabbed a bowl of mini Chips Ahoy! chocolate chip cookies and filled it to the top with milk, and that’s what I ate – a giant bowl of chocolate chip cookies and milk. It was my cereal. My comfort and my escape. Food provided a sense of pleasure that nothing else provided, and I loved it.

While I was busy eating my bowl of “cereal,” my mama walked around the house calling out “Farith – hijo”  and “Naty”, but no one responded.

My brother wasn’t home. He was usually out and about pretending he was a “thug” or something like that. At the time, my brother had a fully shaved head, wore baggy shirts, plaid boxers (which were usually visible), and baggy pants right below his butt. He had the “thug” look down. He hung around with the older kids in the neighborhood who were probably not a good influence on him. But that was life. I am sure he was also trying to escape. We all were trying to escape, in some way.

Naty, my sister, was home, but she was hiding in her room, like she always did. At the time, my sister spent most of her time in her room or at the gym, working out for hours at a time. She dressed like a typical Latina teenager in the 90s. She wore big hoop earrings, maroon lipstick and clothes that were either way too tight or way too short. Like my brother and I, she was also trying to escape, she just had her own way of doing it She loved to be alone in her room and blast her favorite music at full volume, putting her favorite song on endless repeat. It was really annoying for everyone else in the house.

“Naty – salga,” my mama yelled.

I stared out the kitchen window, eating, while my mama tried to get my sister out of her room.  It was the early evening, and the sun was about to set. I loved looking at the sunset through my kitchen window. The deep orange and pinkish colors of the sun were colors one could only experience in Florida. The vastness of the sky and the deepness of the hues as the sun made it’ way closer to the horizon stretched throughout my backyard, giving a luminous glow to my house. It was so calming.

My sister came out of her hole and adjusted her shirt as she walked across the living room to meet us in the kitchen.

“What do you want?” she said, as she looked down at me to hurry up and tell her whatever I had to say. She was always super abrasive about everything, especially towards me.

I don’t know what I said. I don’t know what she said. I don’t remember if I told her or if my mama told her. I do remember that it all seemed so light. As if I had just told someone I was wearing a pink shirt or I was walking through a park. I don’t remember it ever being a big deal. Maybe it shouldn’t have been, but maybe it should have been. Maybe it was perfect just the way it was.

Eventually, my brother came home from whatever he was up too. I immediately stopped what I was doing and aimed for the door. At full speed I wrapped my arms around him and launched my entire body toward his. This was something I always did whenever he came home. My goal was to give him the biggest hug in the world, every time. I held him as tightly as I could. I never wanted to let him go. He was my big brother, and all I wanted was to be a part of his life, even if it was just for a few minutes a day. As soon as the hug experience was over, my brother asked how it had gone. And just like with my sister, I don’t remember who told him or what was said.

We all stood in the kitchen in awkward silence. No one knew what to say except my mama. She would always break the silence by rambling about everything and anything. She retold the day to my siblings and told them about our Great Grandma, Andrea, who also had scoliosis, and she pulled out the really old family albums so we could all see and compare.

I held the old photo in my hand and scrutinized it, detailing her posture. It was clear that she was humped over and looked old and tired. But, in my eyes, I looked nothing like her. I was like everyone else – I was sure there was no difference. I couldn’t tell that I was curved, and there was no way I had a hump. I couldn’t tell that there was anything wrong with me. In my eyes, I didn’t look like her.

The only problem was the pressing concern that maybe one day, I would.

2. Meeting Dr. Gray

Since my dad was dead, and my mama didn’t speak much English, it was up to my brother, sister and I to conquer all the ups and downs of life.  This particular situation was one that required all hands on deck.  At the young ages of nine, thirteen and sixteen, we were all mini-adults, well trained in dealing with things we really should have never dealt with, but that’s life. Looking back, I realize that it was probably too much responsibility for us, but in life, you have to play the cards you’re dealt and deal with the issues that come your way – you know, survive when it counts.

I am and always have been a survivor, determined to fight. But there I was: nine years old and in extreme back pain, and I didn’t think I needed to survive this one. But the reality was that I really had no idea why I was in pain or where I should go to fix the issue. No one in my family really knew. My brother and sister were both a little older, and they could have helped me figure it out, but at that point, I don’t think anyone was thinking it was a serious situation that really needed urgent attention. At that point, we all just thought “the pain will pass, it’s only temporary.”

In search of a solution, my mama called Claudia, my third cousin, because she had heard that Claudia had recently had a car accident and was seeing a chiropractor. They spoke about how Claudia was feeling, and how much better things were getting for her, and that’s all it took. After that conversation, my mama was convinced that I should see him too. A few days after my mama spoke to Claudia, I had an appointment.

I remember the first time I walked into Dr. Gray’s office. It smelt like mildew and wet dog. The walls were covered in old, gray, textured wallpaper, and the magazines were all ripped in the corners. The 12-inch TV was in the left-hand corner by the window of the waiting room, and if you peeked into the check-in office area, there was usually three women and a Border Collie sitting around all day, waiting for patients to come entertain them. Dr. Gray’s two daughters worked for him as the office masseuse and office assistant. He always brought his dog to work, and the dog would run around the office, chasing the air. I don’t remember the third lady too well. I want to say her name was Susan, but it might’ve been Nancy. Regardless, it’s not important. I was more interested in hanging out with his daughters, because they were both young and fun. Tracy and Cindy were both blonde, tall, and heavier-set women. If you didn’t know they were all related, you would never have been able to tell. Dr. Gray was short, with salt and pepper hair and a giant mustache. If you have ever seen the show Parks and Recreation, he was Ron for sure, and his daughters were two Leslies. Dr. Gray always wore chinos, a brown belt, and Sperrys, and his polo shirt, decorated with palm trees, was always tucked in. His personality was less than thrilling, but his daughters had enough charisma to get people coming back – I’m not sure if anyone would have returned just to see him.

My first visit to Dr. Gray was nerve-wrecking. Since we didn’t have health insurance, we had to make sure that the car insurance covered all of my medical expenses –  I think my brother even had to call in advance to make sure that everything was covered – he was always the one taking care of those types of things. But the memory is foggy, and I haven’t taken the time to ask my family what specific role they each played in getting me to the chiropractor. When we arrived, the women behind the counter handed me a mountain of paperwork to fill out, and since mama didn’t speak English, it was up to me. You know, at that age, being handed a ton of paperwork was like being handed a mountain of homework – who really wants to do their homework? I wanted to watch the movie that was fading in and out on the 12-inch TV or flip through old magazines or run around the waiting room pretending that I was a magical Doctor that was there to cure everyone of all their pain. I didn’t want to sit there filling out paperwork. But that was life. That was my life.

So I sat there, patiently trying to get to the end of the paperwork, ignoring my urges to be distracted. I remember getting to the page with the outlined body, where I had to draw in the type of pain I was experiencing and where I was experiencing it. It was the first time I ever had to fill that sheet out. Now, almost 20 years later, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve filled out that sheet – it’s been many, many times. When I finished all the paperwork, I handed it to my mama and pointed to the line where she needed to sign. She placed her signature on the page, and we walked up to the counter together to hand over the paperwork.

A few minutes later, my name was called: “Miss Velez”. Miss Velez was what all adults called me when they had no idea how to pronounce Eliana (for future reference, it’s pronounced Eh-LEE-AH-NUH).  My mama and I stood up and followed Tracy,the younger of the two daughters, who was guiding us to a room right past Dr. Gray’s ‘’official office.’’ Dr. Gray’s official office is where he kept his degree, pictures and war-time memorabilia. He had been in Vietnam when he was younger, and I don’t think he came back 100%. One day, many years after that first visit, he told me his wartime story about how he had gotten shot in the head, and then he proceeded to show me his helmet. I remember thinking of Forrest Gump when he told me that story and how he was like the real-life version. I didn’t know whether to believe him or not. He was the kind of person who would make things up just to seem more interesting. I guess I’ll never know.

Tracy guided us to the room and handed me a gown. Dr. Gray wanted to take X-rays of my spine, and I needed to remove all my clothes and jewelry(though I was allowed to keep my panties on). My mama sat in the chair, staring at me while I undressed. My mama pretty much always wore the same thing shorts and a tank top. Her hair was really short and super curly, and she would blow dry it to try to get the curls out. As she sat there staring at me, her legs were crossed at the ankles, and she was holding her purse with both hands on top of her lap. She asked me about what the lady had said and what was going to happen. I stared back at her in bewilderment, almost like I didn’t understand what she was asking. I was trying to multitask, and it was proving to be more difficult than it probably should’ve been. I desperately tried to answer her while figuring out the jigsaw puzzle gown I was handed. Does the opening go in the front or the back? If I put it on in the front, I can tie it myself, but if I put it on in the back, no one will see me through the holes. I always wanted to do things myself. I didn’t want anyone’s help – ever – and this, like every other time, was one of those times. But the dilemma was that I also hated being naked in front of people I didn’t know. I didn’t want anyone to be able to see me, even if it was just a tiny hole. So naturally, I opted for putting the gown on with the holes in the back and, because I refused to have my mama help me, I scrambled around to figure out how to tie it myself.

Tracy came in a few minutes later to guide me towards the X-ray room. It was a small office, and the X-ray room, was literally at the end of the short walkway. As I walked into the X-ray room, I looked at everything around me. This was the first time I had ever been inside an X-ray room. It looked and felt just like a laboratory. The air was stale and dry, as if life itself had been sucked out of the space. The giant machines lined the center of the room and the right-hand wall. In the right-hand corner of the room was a small space, where Tracy could stand away from the radiation that was being emitted through the machine.  As soon as we walked in, she guided me to the left-hand side wall, where an X-ray machine was ready to take my images. She then told me that she was going to go get the machine ready and I needed to stand against the wall with my arms up perpendicular to my body. She grabbed the camera and placed it close to my body and explained that when she tolds me to, I would need to hold my breath and stand really still and not breathe. She went on explaining that if I didn’t do it right the first time, we would have to repeat the process, so it was super important to be really still. She ran into the small space and set up the camera and said “Ok, are you ready? Now, hold your breath.” The machine started making weird noises, and I wasn’t sure if it was normal. I had never had an X-ray before, and it didn’t feel like it was a good sign. I stood there holding my breath, wanting to move around. It was so much pressure to stand still and not move. I remember how agonizing it felt to hold my breath for ten whole seconds and remain that still.

“OK, you can breathe,” she said. I gasped for air. Man, was that brutal.

A few seconds later, she came up to me and removed the film from inside the machine and added a new film into it. I moved around, twirling my feet and playing with my gown as she placed a tiny magnet along the wall so that everyone knew it was my right side. The process was then repeated, but this time, I had to face the other wall.  When it was done, Tracy told me to go back to my room and explained that she was going to review the images and would let me know if we needed to take more x-rays.

Tracy wasn’t married and didn’t have any kids. She had recently graduated from college and was working for her dad, because it was the easiest thing to do.

 I walked back into the room and sat next to my mama. She looked at me, took out her hair brush to comb a stray hair she thought she had, and asked about how it went in the X-ray room. I went through the story really fast. I’ve never been one for too many details. I wanted to get to the point and move on. She didn’t have much to say and quickly started talking about something else as we waited for Dr. Gray to come in with his master plan on how to make my pain disappear.

Ten minutes passed, and we were still waiting.

Had he forgotten about us?

He hadn’t forgotten. He walked in moments later with my X-rays in hand and looked armed and ready for battle. He immediately shook both our hands and introduced himself. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m Dr. Gray.” My mama’s limited English often paralyzed her, with the exception, of course, of those times she had to introduce herself. It was her moment to shine. She proudly put her hand on her chest – the universal sign for me – and said “Yolanda.” At that age, handshaking seemed so awkward to me. Like, who would actually want to shake my hand? I didn’t really understand the etiquette behind proper handshaking – so either Dr. Gray got a super intense “it’s nice to meet you”  type of handshake or I handed him a dead fish. Hopefully, it wasn’t too bad.

He then turned around and put the X-ray up onto the illuminated wall – the place where the X-ray could be projected, before turning around to stare at us both. I just didn’t know what to say or what I was looking at. I was so confused. Why was he staring? My mama’s eyes had opened wide, and she knew immediately that something was wrong. I didn’t understand what was happening. I thought humans spines looked different than what I was looking at. Why were there such weird curves? Was that normal? A million thoughts trailed in, and I think he could sense my confusion. He knew the fear in my mama’s eyes. He looked at me and quickly broke the silence by saying, “You have scoliosis.”

“Scoli – what?”

“Scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine”

He then grabbed an image of a normal, healthy spine and explained to me what a normal spine looks like, and told me that my spine was not like that. My spine had a 45-degree curve and a 20-degree curve. He went on to tell me that it was not deadly, and that I was going to be just fine, because I had gone to the right place. He had fixed his daughter, Tracy, who also had scoliosis, and he would do the same for me. He assured me that there was nothing to worry about. All I had to do was go see him every week, and with his adjustments, I would be back to normal. He was going to fix my spine.

I felt so fortunate to have found him. I thought I was so lucky that I had a doctor who knew how to fix me.

Confident in his ability, I told my mama what he had said, and told her that it was going to be fine. Dr. Gray knew how to fix me.  She looked at me and made weird noises, the I’m-feeling-sorry-for-you kind-of-noises, and then said, “Oh, no. Everything is hereditary. Your Great Grandma, Andrea, had the same thing.”

After Dr. Gray’s lesson on scoliosis had passed, he laid me down with my right side on the medical bed and my left leg curled up. He grabbed my left leg and pushed on my hip, and it cracked. It was such a relief. Then he told me to flip around, and he did the same thing to my right side. Wow. I had never felt better. He then had me lie face down and told me to take a deep breath, and as I exhaled he cracked my spine all the way down. It felt amazing. I didn’t want to move. The last and final thing he adjusted was my neck. I needed to lay with my face up, and relax. He grabbed my head in his hands and, with one swift motion, cracked my neck. I thought I had found heaven. This chiropractor was amazing – I was floating.

We walked out of the office, and I thought for sure I would be fine. I thought I would go visit him for a few months and he would make my spine go back to normal, just like he said he would.

But that didn’t happen. The road ahead was much longer than I could have ever expected or imagined. I just wish someone would have prepared me for this lifelong battle. I wish someone would have prepared me for the harassment I faced at school, for the rejection, for the long-lasting feelings of deformity (thinking that I would never be normal), for the strength I needed to have. For all of it. I really wish someone would have told me that I would be dealing with this forever, and that it would only get worse.


1. The Defining Moment

One defining moment changed my life for the good, for the bad, and most importantly, forever.

It’s funny how memories work. Sometimes, when you want to remember, you can’t, and other times, when you want to forget, all you can do is remember, over and over, like a carousel. Your mind is trapped by the memory, trapped by the defining moment. Tirelessly repeating. Endlessly searching for other options.

It’s funny how that works, as if your mind is searching for options in retrospect. You know, like when you have an argument and that witty comment comes to you a few minutes after the heat ends. But there is no way of going back and in time and changing what you you said or didn’t say. When the argument is over, it’s over, and all you can take from it is knowing that you should have said what you didn’t say or maybe the opposite, that you should have never said what you did. It’s the same with a defining moment, only the repetitive nature lasts longer; sometimes, it never leaves.  After this major life event, there was no exit, no solution. I can tell myself I should have done that, or I shouldn’t have done that, but in this case, it wouldn’t have made a difference.

Thinking back to that morning, before it happened, nothing stands out really. It was a morning just like every other morning, one I would normally forget. I didn’t wake up on the wrong side of the bed, and nothing was particularly wrong. It was a day like every other day, except for one important fact: that morning, I was running late. Maybe it’s not even worth pointing that out. I ran late often. I still run late often.  I am my mother’s daughter, and tardiness is second nature to me.

In those days, when I was running late, my mama would drive me and my cousin Clara to school. Clara was in middle school and would get dropped off at our house early in the morning, because the schools in my neighborhood were better than the ones in hers, and her parents wanted the best for her. Since I was still in elementary school, my bus would leave way before she got dropped off. But this particular morning, I was running super late and I had missed the bus so my mama was going to take us both to school.

I remember it still as if it just happened. It’s sharp, clear as glass. I grabbed my backpack and my shoes and slid into the front seat of my mama’s everest-green 1995 Toyota Corolla. The car was almost brand new – it couldn’t have been more than a few months old. I remember how much she loved that car. She’d had a Chrysler Caravan prior to purchasing the Corolla. It was a nasty maroon van, the kind you see in those old movies where families pile into their minivans and no one is particularly happy about being there. It was the same for us. No one liked the minivan, and my mama hated driving it.  So when she got the Corolla, it became the light of her eyes – she honestly loved that car and never really minded driving it as much as she did “La Van”, as she called it.

I sat next to my mama as she drove us to school. Like usual, she talked about pretty much everything on the drive. She repetitively spoke about my tardiness, and I zoned out. She’s always had a way of repeating herself, so there was no real need to listen to every detail. I sat there, scrambling around my seat, looking for my socks. I couldn’t find them, so naturally, I unbuckled my seat belt. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking – how was that a good idea? It wasn’t. It was not a good idea, but I did it anyway. I squirmed in my seat and managed to put both socks on, and then I bent over to tie my shoes. I guess I was bent over too long. Maybe, if I had been sitting up straight, I could have helped somehow. But really, there was nothing I could have done.  When I made it back up, it was too late. All I could see was the car heading right toward us. And it all happened so quickly. A quick blink and BAM. My blood pumped through my body like a hurricane swarms through water, fast and steady. My legs were shaking; my palms were perspiring. Our car was smoking, and the other car was in the middle of the road. My ears were ringing. Was I alive? Was everyone else alive? Could I move? My family was fine. I was fine, or so it seemed. My mama stepped out in a panic. Clara was sitting in the back seat, still in shock. I got out of the car and circled around, not knowing what to do.

Clara stepped out, and all three of us stood outside by the Corolla, watching as the ambulance took the driver of the other car away on a stretcher. I felt so lucky. There we were. We had just had a major accident, and all three of us walked away from the accident scene without a scratch.

From that point on, I can’t remember much. My brother came to the rescue and I got dropped off at school. The rest of the day is a blur. I continued my life as if I had just ran over a tiny bump in the road.

Somehow, that accident became such a defining moment in my life. It became life before the accident and life after. I know now that life is filled with defining moments, filled with madness and craziness that comes in so many different ways, from so many different directions. But at that age, I hadn’t had too many defining moments other than the death of my father, so a defining moment like this one made a huge impact on me.

Two weeks after the accident was when everything started. It was then that the pain came crashing down like a million tiny needles hitting my entire spine. It was then that I realized I had trouble sitting in a chair for too long. It was then that my physical body was letting my mind know that things were off. I went from the age of nine to eighty in a split second. I couldn’t run during P.E., because my body ached all over. I felt like I was dying, or maybe like a train had just crashed into me at full speed. Every ounce of my body ached and I didn’t know what to do. I thought for sure that the accident had ruined my life and that I would be in pain forever. Somehow, I was right – I would be in pain, forever, and I would never be the same.

Do You Know Your ABC’s?

Do you remember learning your ABC’s?

Man was I mess! I ele-meno-peed it for a while, not quite understanding that L M N O P, was actually more than one letter. Thank goodness for my first grade teacher, she did wonders ☺ On the topic of the Alphabet – I would like to thank Nissi Knows and ABC Spirit Talk, for giving me the ABC Award.

According to Nissi these are the rules for the award:

To ‘accept’ the award you just add the ABC Award logo to your blog. Then you share something about yourself with your readers and then pass the award on to other worthy bloggers. There’s no limit to how few – or how many – other bloggers you can send this to.

To share something about yourself – you will need to go through the alphabet and choose a word or phrase for each letter and use that to describe yourself, it might be something about you, something you like, or a place or thing you dream about.

Athens is where I met Adam.
Born in New Jersey.
Colombia is where my family is from.
Donuts are what I am craving!
Eliana is my name.
Florida is where I grew up.
Guam is where I’ve always wanted to go.
Hanging out with my family is what I miss.
ICE is everywhere in SWEDEN.
Jumping is often painful for me.
Kiruna is where I tired to see the northern lights, and failed…
Lugano is where I finished my B.A.
Montana is where I almost went to school. I can just image how different my life would be.
New Zealand is where I dream to be.
Orlando is where my home is.
Pork is not something I eat.
Qatar’s airline is something I’ve been really curious about trying. I’ve heard really great things!
Rome is where my favorite ice cream is – Gelato!
Scoliosis is what I live with.
Time passes waaay too fast.
Uppsala is where I live.
V – is for my last name ☺
Wish I could teletransport anywhere in the world. There are so many places I would go.
X-rays I’ve had sooo many!
Yellow is my favorite color.
Zambia is where I first saw the heart of Africa.

Now I must, say it was actually quite difficult going through the alphabet and finding something about me, for each letter, but here it goes, I hope you enjoy, and I can’t wait to read yours.

VeehCirra, BETWIXT AND BETWEEN, The Shyness Project, Belle of the Carnival

The Lovely Blogs

Gifts come in many different packages, and in many different forms. A gift can be as simple as a perfect quote that you simply needed to hear, or as extravagant as a fine diamond necklace.

Throughout my life I’ve receive many gifts, sometimes they are in material form, but more often they are just simply thoughtful acts. Yesterday, I received a very special gift from Believe Anyway, who gave me the gift of One Lovely Blog Award, and I would like to give the gift back to some very Lovely Blogs.

Belle of the Carnival’s Blog

Lupus Chronicles


Love is the Answer

Cosy Travels of the Viking and his Kitten

Sharing From The Heart

Blog awards are interesting, aren’t they? For a second in time you feel… special. As if somewhere out there, someone actually reads your writing. A few days ago, I received the “sharing-from-the-heart,” Candle Lighter Award, and it made me feel all warm inside. I want to give a special thanks to Kana, and Youasamachine, and  I would like to give the Candle Lighter Award to a few very inspiring bloggers:

Right Angle Girl

Poetic Journey 251

The Way To Full Consciousness



The Versatile Blogger

I want to thank VeehCirra ,Warrior Trophies and Believe Anyway for giving me the honor of this award! It has made me so happy to receive it.

The rules to be followed when accepting the Versatile Blogger Award are:

1. Thank the blogger who nominated you.

2.  Nominate and inform 15 fellow bloggers.

3.  Share 7 random things about yourself.

4.  Add the Versatile Blogger Award pic on your blog post.

My Favorite Bloggers:

1. Just Being Thoughtful

2. Belle of Carnival

3. Talinorfali

4. Chicpress

5. Where Do Gaybies Come From?

6. You As A Machine

7. Ber’s Bella Blog

8. Bears Beats and Battle Star Galactica


10. Love is The Answer

11. The Tale of My Heart

12. Couple-Tastic

13.Over The Edge

14. I am Lauren Leonardi

15. The Daily Post

Seven random facts:

1. I love cheese, my favorite is vasterbotten (amazing Swedish cheese).

2. If I could live anywhere in the world, I’d live in New Zealand.

3. My favorite writer is Paulo Coelho.

4. At this moment, I wish I could be on my couch, drinking hot chocolate (with marshmallows), and cuddling with my love.

5. Currently, I am unemployed but if I could work for anything, I’d work for a cause, so that I can feel like I’ve made a difference.

6. I love making desert, there’s nothing better then warm chocolate chip cookies, YUMMO.

7. I love to see acts of humanity, it’s honest and pure. To me we are born alone and we will die alone, but while we are, we are all here together.