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short story/autobiography/I don't even know by Stardust

I wrote this in a very introspective mood, when I just felt like reflecting on the state of my life right now. I'm honestly not sure what this is - a vent? a short story? - but I just wanted to put it out there for other people with scoliosis.

That's pretty much it. As you can probably tell, my introspectiveness has evaporated by now.

Thanks for checking this out, no matter how cringeworthy this is <3


In fourth grade, I learned about symmetry. It is defined as "the quality of being made up of exactly similar parts facing each other or around an axis." If a shape has a line of symmetry, one side is able to be folded over and mirror the other side exactly. We spent only a week on it before we moved on to parallelograms, looking at examples of symmetry in famous paintings and sculptures. We were taught that symmetry is the backbone of beauty, that things that look perfect should be perfectly neat and aligned. Little did I know how important this would be in my life.

In fifth grade, I learned about scoliosis. The doctor explained it to me clearly and in depth, though I barely understood it: idiopathic scoliosis is a condition that causes the normally-straight spine to curve in on itself. Usually, there would be one bend, but in my case, I had three. I stared at the x-ray, fuzzy white shapes on a black background, waiting for the truth to sink in as the doctor droned on about various treatments that really didn’t make any difference. And when it did, it hit me like a punch to the stomach. I was no longer the perfect little girl I had longed to be for all my life. I was weird, I was defective. I was a freak. And the worst part? There’s no cure.

In sixth grade, I learned about physical therapy. My parents took me to an office twenty miles away from our house. The lady I met was nice enough, but the exercises she put me through might as well have been torture. Every week, I was sent to therapy and bent and twisted into poses that felt like mockery in hopes that it would heal my warped self. Every week, I came back tired, aching, and oh so embarrassed. Embarrassed about my asymmetry, about my oddness, about the fact that I needed therapy for something nobody else that I knew struggled with. I felt like a broken watch, something that people would look at with a clinical gaze and go ‘oh, how do we fix it?’ But they couldn’t. No matter how many gears they tried to turn, how many levers they tried to pry into, I remained offbeat.

In seventh grade, I learned about bracing. The curves had gotten worse, they said, and I was very likely on the road to surgery. When they closed the hard plastic shell around my torso and pulled the straps tight, all the air in my body disappeared as I fought for oxygen. I cried, hot tears streaming down my face, and I gasped for breath but I just couldn’t get it in. I tore wildly at the plastic encircling my body, my fingers fumbling clumsily with the straps. I fell and I sobbed and pleaded with the doctors, but the one thing I couldn’t seem to do was breathe. After just a few seconds they took it off, but I felt like I had run a marathon. How could I do this every day for years? How could I live like a normal person when wearing this made me feel like anything but?

In eighth grade, I learned about hiding. I slunk around corners and kept my head down, trying to keep the fact that I wore a back brace a secret to everyone. I was afraid of talking to anybody about my personal life. When people got within two feet of me, I flinched away. Only a few people knew about my scoliosis - my family and my doctors. Too often, I had wild nightmares about what would happen if my school found out: rejection, laughter, teasing. Irrational anxiety ran rampant through my thoughts, filling me with self-doubt about everything I did. Don’t bend over or people will see your back. Don’t run to your next class or the brace will show through your shirt. Conversations were a struggle, physical contact made me panic. Confidence was nonexistent in my last year of middle school - hearing people jeer about scoliosis and “broken backs” only reinforced my negative thoughts. There was something wrong with me, and there was nothing I could do about it.

In ninth grade, I learned about healing. I started high school with paralyzing shyness, freezing up whenever someone talked to me and responding with an awkward remark. The belief that I was messed up held me back from doing anything I wanted to do. I couldn’t play clarinet to my full potential because I couldn’t draw in enough air. I couldn’t walk around the school and get to know the campus because moving too much left me winded. But when I was introduced to a new friend group, they adopted me like one would adopt a wounded puppy. They invited me to their houses, to parties and gatherings. I couldn’t believe that people would want to spend time with me, and I’m still astonished today. Slowly, I began to branch out and talk to new people more. Short replies became sentences became excited chatter - finally, I felt like I could let down my guard around people I could trust. For the first time in my life, I felt comfortable showing others the flaws I tried so desperately to hide.

And now, in tenth grade, I’m learning about myself. I’ve always known how one shoulder rises higher than the other and how my head bends to the right side because of my third curve. How my ankles collapse in on themselves and how my jaw is twisted to the left. I lack a line of symmetry, which sets me apart from other people. For six years, I longed for a vertical line to be held against my body and mold it into something perfectly symmetrical. To fix my shoulders and ankles and jawbone. To make me look like everyone else.

But it was only this year I chose to believe it’s asymmetry that makes something beautiful.

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