“What the heck is wrong with your back?” he said to me, with such shock in his voice that I didn’t know how to respond. What was I supposed to say to him? I had no idea how to react. I had never had anyone ask—not so bluntly at least. So I stood there, secretly hoping he would just walk away. But he didn’t; he stood there with a strong stance, hands in his pockets, staring right back at me. Unfortunately for me, his inquisitorial glare penetrated my soul and took with it all my words—literally, it felt like it sucked them right out. The more time passed, the more space the silence held. I could feel myself searching for answers, searching for the best response, but nothing came out. Kids can be so persistent—he just stood there, staring at me, waiting for a response. Then he said, “There’s gotta be something wrong! When you bend over it’s all weird back there. Did you know that?” And of course I knew, but at that moment, I pretended I had no idea what he was talking about, as if there was definitely something wrong with him, not me. “Ugh, yeah, I don’t know,” was all I managed to regurgitate.
“OK, whatever,” he said to me as he gave me a you-are-so-weird kind of look, and ran off.
Meanwhile, I, of course, just stood there, watching as he went off to play during recess. I wished so badly I could have said something. But it was difficult to say anything. I wasn’t prepared for questions. I hadn’t thought about what I should say when people asked, and because I wasn’t prepared, I froze. I wish so badly that wasn’t the case. I wish, sometimes, that I were one of those people who always know what to say—but I am definitely not. When things get tough, I freeze. I just stand there. My body becomes motionless, as if my entire being was made of bricks, and every second that passes it gets heavier and heavier. And that is exactly what happened during recess. I just stood there, motionless, replaying the moment over and over.
I kept coming up with different scenarios, different endings to that same event. In one of the scenarios, I was this super brave nine-year-old girl, who would immediately respond, without hesitation. And, to be honest, in this scenario, I was of course super cool and popular. In my super cool and popular way, I would immediately say, “I have scoliosis and I’m wearing a brace and it’s totally not a thing,” and then he would look at me and say “Scoli, what?” and then, I would give him the pre-WebMD explanation of what scoliosis was, while still maintaining my super cool and popular status (of course). The other popular scenario I replayed was that I would go rogue, and when he asked me, I would immediately be like “What’s it to you, anyway,” because to be honest, it was none of his business what was going on with my back.
But alas, nothing ever came of my endless replays. It’s not like I chased the kid down to explain, and he never asked again.
To rewind, the little boy was definitely not crazy. There was something weird going on with my back, or should I say, weirder. Once Dr. Gray realized that my car insurance policy was no longer covering my chiropractic visits and that I didn’t have health insurance, he took the liberty of ordering me a brace, which I wanted no part of. But what was I supposed to do? Say thanks but no thanks? That really didn’t seem like an option, not then, not at that age. At that age, I would have done (or more like accepted, and then lied about) anything the doctor told me to do. So when Dr. Gray handed me the white brace and told me I had to wear it every day, I nodded and said, “sure.”
“I think you should try it on, just to make sure it fits,” he said to me. So I went to the bathroom to try it on. I held the brace in my hands. It was a soft, white, elastic device that looked very much like those braces that factory workers wear to support their backs, with the exception that this brace was intended to cover the majority of the back instead of just the lower back. I removed my shirt and unbuttoned my jeans. As I slowly undid the straps, I thought about my situation. I couldn’t really believe this was my life. I didn’t understand why this was something I had to go through. But I kept unfastening. Once the brace was unfastened, I looked at it and felt completely lost. I had never put something like this on—I didn’t know where to begin. It was covered in straps, and it looked so restraining. I wrapped it around my torso and it felt like it didn’t fit. It was so tight on me. I fastened the bottom strap, and it sucked my entire body in—I couldn’t breathe. I kept fastening the straps, and with each one, I felt like I lost part of myself, part of my innocence, part of my childhood. But I kept fastening. By the time I reached the last strap, I was completely numb. I couldn’t feel anything. It was as if I was no longer at Dr. Gray’s office, and this situation was not really happening to me. I was watching it happening to someone else.
I stepped out of the bathroom and walked over towards Dr. Gray. “Does it fit?” he asked. Even though it was way too tight, I didn’t tell him. I didn’t really say much; I was lost in my thoughts, far away from that moment, drifting to somewhere else. Somewhere where this situation was not real, somewhere where my reality looked different.
Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to give the brace a chance. I wanted to try to be obedient and wear my brace every day, just like Dr. Gray had told me to. But as soon as I tried it on, I knew that there was no way it was going to work. Even still, I wore it to school the very next day. And during recess, it all happened. “What the heck is wrong with your back?” he said to me, with such shock in his voice that I didn’t know how to respond. What was I supposed to say to him? After that, I went to the bathroom and took it off, and I never wore that brace in public again.
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