I never saw myself as a writer—not a natural one at least. There are those people who are born to write. You know, the ones whose every word reads like butter to your mind, smooth and effortless. That’s not me. Every word takes time. Every sentence requires pre-meditative thought. I have to go back to that time. I have to remember the events. I have to see myself as a child. Smell the muggy Florida air. See the blueness of the Orlando sky. I have to pretend that I am there. I have to envision myself in that time; feel what it felt like. And every step of the way is challenging. It’s not easy to relive some of these memories that I’ve tried so hard to ignore. But, I can tell you that as I remember and write things down, it’s like a weight is lifted. It’s almost like I needed to tell you. I need you to know what it’s like. So that when you see someone who is silently suffering, you can relate, you can understand what it feels like. I suffered silently for years, and in many ways, I still do. I’m trying hard to accept my invisible disability, to embrace the pain, to understand that it’s a part of me, but that’s not always easy to do. It’s been 20 years of my life that I’ve lived this way. Silently in pain. Secretly uncomfortable, while always trying hard not to be an inconvenience.
School was where I always tried to blend in, to camouflage, to pretend that I was just like everyone else. Some days were harder than others. Some days, I couldn’t focus. There were some days I tried so hard to listen to the words that my teacher was saying, but his words would jam together in my mind to the point where I couldn’t even hear him, couldn’t understand what he was saying. It was as if I was listening to someone speaking a foreign language, or even worse, like listening to Charlie Brown’s teacher in Peanuts. I wanted to listen to every word he was saying, but the pain would take over. As he spoke, my thoughts would wander to my desk. It was made of wood, plastic, and some cheap metal. Kids from previous years had started a chewed-up gum collection on all four corners underneath it, and there were days I forgot the gum was there and would accidentally touch a piece of it, old and hard, that had been there for god knows how long. It was so gross. Yet, that didn’t stop me from contributing to the collection. I added my fair share of chewed-up gum to the corners underneath that desk.
My desk was by the window, which was a luxury and a distraction all at once. But on the days that I had a hard time focusing on what the teacher was saying, the window provided an escape. A small peek-hole into the outside world, a tiny solace where I could drift away and forget. It was my way of escaping. It was those days, the really bad ones, that the window helped me escape. I would look out the window and stare at the trees blowing in the wind, and sometimes, if I listened intently, I could hear the birds chirping, and if I allowed myself to drift far enough away, I could smell the freshly cut grass. Previous kids, who sat at my desk before me, were probably not as lucky to have a window to escape. The signs of boredom and utter distractions were written all over the inside of the compartment of my desk. Pencil scratchings garnished the entire top compartment, leaving no sign that the inside was partially made of wood. I occasionally tried to stick my hand in the compartment and erase some of the markings, but my hand would always come out so stained with gray pencil markings that I eventually gave up.
But it wasn’t like I had the luxury of escaping in my thoughts all the time. In reality, it was seldom that I was able to fully escape through the window. Most days, I resisted the temptation of drifting away. I would force myself to stay seated, even though all I wanted to do was stand up and stretch because I couldn’t get comfortable in those chairs. I would shift and turn, lean back, lean forward. But nothing helped. The longer I sat there, the more I could feel the muscle spasms collecting on the right side of my ribs; it was agonizing. I tried to stretch out the right side of my body by moving my shoulder up and leaning to the left side. But when I would do that, I would get cramps on the left side of my abdomen, and then I would feel trapped in my body and stuck in my chair.
The worst part of it all was that sitting in a chair highlighted my deformity, and I would obsess over it. I could feel the unevenness of my spine, and it bothered me that I couldn’t sit with my back flat on any chair. I was like an uneven piece of wood, where one side was higher than the other, and it drove me crazy. My back was never flat against the back of the seat. The right side was always touching, and the screw heads that held the seat together would be shoved into my ribs. The left side of my body seldom touched the chair. Most of the time, I would place my left hand underneath the left side of my body; this would even it out and alleviate some of the stress that was placed on my spinal protrusion. The longer I held my hand behind my back, the more numb it would become. Sometimes I would leave it there for so long that it would fully fall asleep, and I would have to bare through the tingling feeling of waking it up.
This could have been easily avoided. I could have brought a pillow to school. I could have asked Dr. Gray to write me a note allowing me to randomly stand up in class. I could have done so many things to solve the problem, to avoid the agonizing pain that I lived through, but I didn’t. The detrimental combination of my pride and the shame of my powerlessness wouldn’t allow me to change the situation, to speak up for myself, and instead, I sat there in silence, pretending that everything was okay, even when it wasn’t.