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.
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