Over the following months, life returned to normal. I went to school, like I always had, and continued to religiously attend my appointments with Dr. Gray like I was instructed to. In fact, everything just continued as if nothing had changed. For the most part, I barely thought about my scoliosis progressing, and I just went about my daily life as if nothing was different.
In fact, I even started going to a Taekwondo class. A new academy had opened up in the Winn-Dixie plaza in Southchase by my house, and it gave me the perfect opportunity to do something else with my time. My Taekwondo teacher was an American man, who had spent over 20 years practicing Taekwondo. He was so integrated into the culture that he was determined to speak Korean to us. And although his abilities were limited, he insisted on yelling out the same five commands he knew in every class, and he forced us to do the same. But Taekwondo gave me much more than the ability to learn the Korean numbers—it gave me the ability to prove that I was just as good as everyone else.
My first visit to the Taekwondo Academy was the one that had me convinced that it was for me. I walked into the class, as nervous as could be, and made my way to the very front row, where I sat there with my legs crossed, watching as my teacher demonstrated how easy it was for him to break several pieces of concrete with just one motion. The force, strength, and power in his punch was out-of-this-world, and I just knew that I had to figure out how to do the same. I wanted to be able to break concrete, because if I was able to do that, I was able to do anything. Of course, it took me several months before I was even able to break a single piece of plywood, and I never did conquer concrete, but it came naturally for some people in the class. There was this one kid in my class named “David”—he was not only very skilled, but he was also pretty strong. David was able to conquer the concrete after that first day, and all I wanted to do was be better than David, which never did happen, but it didn’t mean I didn’t try.
On one occasion, I decided that the best way to show that I could be just as good as David was to spar with him. We stood in the ring with both arms in the guard position, bouncing back and forth as if we were pretending to be professional boxers. I glared into his eyes trying to decipher his next move, but his eyes were void of any clues. Then, just like that, everything went black in my mind. With one swift movement, he had struck me, and I had just stood there, motionless. I took in the full impact of his punch; as the air escaped my lungs, I felt winded. David walked around me, waiting to see if I had had enough, or if we were going to continue dancing. But for me, the match wasn’t over yet. I assumed my starting position and prayed that I could, at the very least, get one punch in. I was focused and hyper-alert to his every move, determined to foresee his next move in advance. But as soon as I blinked, the next blow came directly to my head, and I doubled over and called time. I wanted to continue. I wanted to prove that I could be better than him, but I was caught in the middle of my limitations. And just like that, our match was over.
Right after the match had ended, David came up to me and gave me a high-five, and told me I had done a good job. I knew he had kicked my ass, but he was the person to beat, and I had failed, and I felt so defeated. At that moment, I think he could tell that I was struggling with what had just happened, so he put his arm around my shoulder, and we walked away and sat down to watch the next sparring match together. As I sat there, ready for the next sparring match to start, it was as if I suddenly realized that this hobby wasn’t going to last, as if I had suddenly become aware of how different my body was. All I could think about was the pain that was trailing down my spine. I stared at the clock, trying to catch my breath, but I couldn’t. I was trying hard not to be disrespectful to my classmates, but it was impossible to concentrate on their match. I kept looking back at the clock, praying for time to pass, but the seconds crept by and time was dragging, and all I could think about was running out the door and never returning.
When class was finally over, I was so thankful to see my mama outside waiting to take me home. Together, we walked to the car, and in that time I felt every single emotion pass through me. Like sadness: I wanted nothing more than to be like everyone else, but I knew that was never going to happen. And fear: If I could not do this, what else was I not capable of doing? And lack of motivation: I wasn’t able to do something I loved, and I didn’t care about trying to do anything else. And yet, I also felt relieved: I was so thankful that I was no longer in that class, and that I no longer had to go.
Taekwondo had left my life as fast as it had entered. It was like a sudden hurricane that came and left before I could even realize it was there. But, like the winds of a hurricane that leave a trail of debris on the path, Taekwondo left its mark on my life. For a while after that day, all I wanted to do was sit on the floor of my mama’s master bedroom, eating cookies and watching The Golden Girls. I stopped caring about playing outside with my neighborhood friends. I didn’t want to join the hide and seek games or scavenge the new homes for plywood to build a fort. I had no desire to explore the woods or go fishing; all I wanted to do was sit there. It didn’t bother me that my phone rang endlessly, or that I could hear the kids playing outside. I had lost so much motivation that all I honestly wanted to do was sit there, and that’s what I did.