The “S” Word

Marlena Chertock

I am eleven
and my spine has grown too fast
for my body to keep up,
for my vertebrae to arrange comfortably
I’ve developed the “S” word,
the doctors point to my X-ray on the board that lights up,
my spine curling like a seahorse’s tail.
What if it twists so much I forever look like
a tree in the wind that snapped
and mom pulls the straps of my brace tighter,
forcing my breath away and coaxing my spine to straighten.

I have to learn how to breathe less,
so the brace can enclose me more every night.
My room has become a museum,
the braces lined up along my wall,
varying sizes of me in plastic,
they mock and work to align
but really they make it harder to eat,
to wear cute clothes,
the brace jutting out from under my shirts,
making me seem boxy underneath
and mom pulls the straps tighter,
making it seem like my spine is being pushed
out of me.

Nobody even hesitates to tease,
“What’s that,” or “she’s stuck in her shell,”
I should have voiced my motto to all of them,
weaknesses should be considered strengths
because in getting over them you grow stronger.
Why do I have to wear an exoskeleton,
something that makes me even fatter,
when I grow will my spine align
or will I have to be surgically straightened
and mom pulls the straps tighter
for four years, until my spine curls
forty-four degrees on top, forty-four degrees on bottom
a balanced “S” within me.

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