8.Knowing What to Say

Distraught by the incident at recess, I spent the entire evening brooding about what I was suppose to say to people when they asked about my condition. Other than telling my family, I didn’t really want anyone else to know. Somewhere inside myself, I was still convinced that one day, I would wake up from this horrible dream I was having, and that everything would go back to normal. I was convinced that if I didn’t really tell too many people, my reality would somehow be more in line with what I was picturing, versus what was actually occurring. My approach worked for some time, but as my curvature grew, the truth became blatantly obvious. And then again, my incident at recess was a striking reminder that I needed to have a game plan.

It was a typical rainy Florida evening in early September. My mama was sitting in the living room dozing off to her new telenovela (novela for short), Esmeralda, and I was pacing around my room contemplating the possible questions I would receive from people. Sandra, my cousin from Colombia, had recently moved in with us, and she was sitting next to my mama watching Esmeralda as well. Sandra is my cousin’s step sister, but due to weird family circumstances, Sandra moved in with us instead of with her father and his family (it’s a long story, for another time). As I paced around strategizing, I could hear their gasps and laughter through the walls as they watched Esmeralda, an impoverished woman from a Mexican slum, fall in love with the rich and handsome Jose Armando. I wanted nothing more than to sit next to them and watch the romantic scene happen. I too wanted to pretend that I didn’t have anything important to do, and sit with them and swoon over Jose Armando’s dreamy eyes. But at that moment, I was too busy figuring out my course of action to step away and join the novela party in the living room.

Though I could hear most of what was happening in the novela, I was preoccupied in my room preparing my go-to statement, something that I could easily say whenever anyone asked about my condition. I needed something simple, so that anyone could understand. After thinking about it for a while, I finally decided that I would simply tell people that I had severe scoliosis. And when they asked “what is scoliosis?” I would respond that my spine looks like a backward S, instead of a straight line. I even went as far as deciding that I would draw it out for whoever needed me to. I wanted to make sure that the people around me knew what I was talking about and would be able to understand. Once I was finally satisfied with my go-to blurb, I laid down in bed and began repeating my statement to myself over and over, until I finally let myself fall asleep.

The next day, though the episode at recess was still prominently on my mind, I felt ready. I walked into my fourth-grade classroom as nonchalantly as possible and headed towards my seat. As I walked through the aisle, I was careful not to make direct eye contact with the kid from recess, not that it really helped much. As my presence became known, the kids began to whisper to each other from ear-to-ear, and soon enough, the entire room fell silent like a morgue. Even as they watched me walked by, it took several moments before I noticed their silence, but even when I did, I just kept walking.

As I inched closer to my desk, I heard my teacher call out, “Miss Velez, can you please come here?” he said, as he looked at me with a welcoming mixture of warmth and concern. I stared back at him with fear and embarrassment. I was completely petrified at being called to his desk.

I walked toward him, but I was so nervous that I could only concentrate on the sweat puddle that was forming on my forehead.

As I wavered there in front of him, twirling my feet with my hands in my pockets, I suddenly felt emotionally naked in front of my teacher and classmates. He looked at me, and I could tell that he became aware of my discomfort, so he whispered, “I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, but I was told by a student that he was concerned about your situation, and I wanted to check to see if there was something wrong.”

My anxiety was creeping up, and all I could do was rub my sweaty palms alongside my pants as I prayed for a miracle. “Well, um. So, I have scoliosis. My spine looks like a backward S instead of a straight line.” I remember the sudden rush I felt as the words were coming out of my mouth. It was as if every word I spoke led to a sudden feeling of liberation. It was the courage I had at that moment that took me away from the fragile state I had been in and allowed me to accept my circumstance for what it was.

“OK, I understand, and I am sorry to hear that. Do you feel like you want to share this with the class?” he whispered.

“No that’s OK. I’ll tell everyone later.” I said, looking down at my feet. “I’m not really ready.”

“That’s OK, but you should do it soon,” he said with a smile, and he never mentioned it again.

Buoyed by my new state of confidence, I made it my mission to share my story with as many people as possible. I had spent so much time preparing for what to say about my condition that I had gathered enough courage to tell everyone in my class and in my life. Though I was merely repeating my regurgitated, memorized blurb about my condition, it didn’t change the fact that I wanted everyone to know that my situation was not a big deal. It was this confidence that gave me the strength I needed to know that I was going to be OK.

Photo Credit: deathtothestockphoto.com

4 thoughts on “8.Knowing What to Say

  1. As a culture, we do have some complex problems which will hopefully be addressed one day. We know that so many people have a wide range of problems…. and yet we feel awkward admitting to being part of that “group”. Part of the perspective is probably simply the “perfection” we are confronted with every moment on the TV, Billboards, and commercial promotions in general. Regardless of whether issues are of sexual orientation; physical handicap; mental handicap; debilitating disease; terminal disease; surgical scars; skin pigmentation …. and so the list goes on, I admire anybody who can muster the strength to “go public”. The more people deemed in a certain sensitive category, the more common it obviously is = the less sensitive it becomes. It is also worth noting that for all the intolerance many people have to those “less than perfect”, there are many more who are compassionate and understanding. Kudos to you! Take care. 🙂

    1. Hi! I completely agree with you. The fact that complex issues aren’t normalize makes it difficult for people who don’t have them to know how to deal with those who do. Luckily, for me, I have experienced a world of compassion and empathy for my situation. Even though I’ve had some challenges along the way, I’ve never lost hope in humanity. I hope that we will get to a point where our differences are admired versus hidden, for it’s those complex problems that fosters the beauty in humanity. Thank you for the lovely comment! Sending lots of happy thoughts your way❤️

  2. I’m different too. I have a stammer. As a youngster I could not get two words out, let alone an entire sentence. I have no idea what it is to be you, or what you have to deal with, but the one thing I learned very early on was that people are different. Accepting that allowed me to accept also that some folks are different enough not to understand. What always pleasantly surprises me is just how many do. I am so pleased to see you see it too.

    1. We are all different and we all have something about us that’s slightly less perfect than what we envision, but it’s through that imperfections that I e realized we are all vulnerable ( some just accept it a little more than others). How are you doing nowadays? Has it gotten better for you?

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