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On Time



Statements like,


You are amazing,

a hero,

so brave,


always befuddle me. As though they belong to someone else.


I am just hustling for my next breath, swallowing the prescription I’d been written.


I had found a rhythm everyone could be satisfied with, and it would be pried from my cold dead hands. But I encountered a problem that would remain unsolved for at least two more decades. The better I perform, the worse my body feels. The frigid ache more often feels like acid carving through my veins.


Adamant to get me up this mudslide, eager doctors filled my hands with pills and planned the next surgical solution. My family flew over the coast the summer between junior and senior year, so that I could heal from a world class spine surgery before school resumed.


I wouldn’t miss a beat.


In Miami and a million miles away from the Magic City, I am wheeled into an operating room mostly naked and shivering.


Mid hand wring, my parents understood the delay as my surgeon stepped off the elevator, ashen and tear stained. After hours of carefully removing scar tissue, mysterious masses, and stabilizing vertebrae, he told my parents to expect me shortly. Hanging up the phone, he began his routine check of work, coaching my body to move its parts. A state of horror descended upon the operating room as arms but not legs showed movement. He remained in focused terror for two hours before he could exhale relief.


Choked, he tells them, “I thought I paralyzed her.”


Meanwhile, I am willing my dry eyes to blink open. Groggy and flooded by every fiber sliced by the scalpel. Alone, in pain, immobile. Without my high-correction glasses, the wall-less room is a living piece of impressionism, gurgles, pumps, and beeps are the grace notes in sterility.


This is the worst part.


There was a fleeting moment during recovery in Miami, laying comfortably in a lounge chair to watch 4th of July fireworks from the beach. An overwhelming sense of light filled my chest as the bombs exploded, pounding us with extraordinary chaos.


My body so light it melted away as my soul expanded into the eternal, dancing with the glittering shards in the sky. It was an exquisitely foreign experience until I was slammed back to earth by a terrestrial sense. My focus pulled to Mom squealing in relief to see awe, joy and a smile across my face.


She is unaware of the cost of the unseen crossing over. Unwittingly, I had disobeyed the order, allowing my feet to lift off the prescribed path.


The amuse-bouche of… something else, still tingled.

Something more, different, and uncharted.


I receive a get-well gift at our Miami hotel room from a favorite teacher that remains in my life decades into the future. I first encountered him standing tall next to his door, sentineling the hallway between classes. A sense of calm emanates over his wing, like a weighted blanket, as he sturdily greets his students. The contrast of sensations catches my attention, frenzied to calm to frenzied again. It is like swimming through a cool patch in the pool. The power of it fascinates me. I sense that he too walks in two worlds.


A smile creeps over my face as I study the box, he had ensured delivery by writing the hotel’s address in the return and sender spots. I burst with love and laughter finding a framed motivational tablet of Abraham Lincoln inside. Feeling his urgency to celebrate the persistence and resiliency he saw him me. For me to know that I am seen through his own love for pillars of history. Little loving details weaving together as reminiscent of that something-else place.


A decade and half later, he expressed his awe of my performance in the local newspaper. My heart broke open in the shock that he chose to, maybe even was compelled to, focus his energy in this way. A glimmer of realness. Someone else can see the unseen.


And yet, a line sunk its teeth in,


“Strong character is the relentless quest to conquer adversity.”


Ingesting the impressive litany of evidence he stewarded, I start to wonder,


What is the virtue of a conquest?


to defeat?

to annihilate?

to vanquish?


Which affliction was I master?


of mind?

of body?

of soul?


I anxiously returned to school in September with cliff noted AP summer homework in my backpack and a garish cervical collar around my neck. I dreaded facing those halls as a visible outlier.


But you know what? No one said a word. Not even with their eyes. It was as if that brace was invisible. I was invisible.


Confused and relieved, I sprinted through the finish line of my senior year unimpeded.

Homecoming

SATs

College Applications

Prom

AP Exams

Class Ranks

Class Superlatives

Senior Day…


I graduated on time, in sync and on pitch.


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