The X-ray must be wrong! The machine was glitchy! The operator was drunk! I was standing on one leg! The moon was still out! It couldn’t be 46 degrees. These were the things I told myself as we drove to UCSF.
The Specialist reminded me of Stephen Fry, all jolly, with foppish hair and St Bernard eyes. When I told him how I had last had an X-ray in my 20’s, pre-children, and it was only 24 degrees and now somehow the curve was 46 degrees which must be a mistake or somehow the pregnancies had put everything out of whack, he nodded.
“That’s right,” he said. “One to two degrees a year your back will continue to curve. Quite normal with a scoliosis like yours.”
“But,” I stammered, thinking how my back doesn’t curve in and out like a slide down a hill, but more like a rollercoaster ride sideways, “That means when I’m 80 I’ll be at right angles!”
I’ll be the little crooked woman in the little crooked house with the little crooked cat and little crooked doorframes that have holes cut out of them so I can fit through.
“That’s right,” he said again.
“But can’t you fix it?
Those St Bernard eyes crinkled up a fraction. He’d obviously heard that question every day of his working life. “An operation would fix it, putting a rod down your spine.”
I leaned forward, eager. I could live with a rod, I wouldn’t even see it once it was in there. Then I wouldn’t be a freak when I’m older. Well aside from the crazy glasses and purple hair I’m planning on having, I wouldn’t be a crooked freak. “OK,” I said.
“But we only do that in acute cases, when the quality of life is greatly reduced by pain. Are you in pain?”
I wasn’t in pain. I used to have a lot more but ever since the babies I hardly feel any. Not unless I do something stupid like a drunk cartwheel.
He could tell I wasn’t in pain anyway. “No,” I admitted.
“Good, well do plenty of yoga or pilates, work on your core, don’t get fat, don’t smoke, and take care of yourself. “
That was it. They were my instructions for a crooked life. Not feeling ready to leave the best back department in the United States I loitered and asked his assistant whether she knew anyone who’d had an operation.
“I did!” she said. “It’s marvellous, I’m much taller now.”
That’s the other thing with scoliosis: we shrink faster than normal because of all the sideways growing.
“But,” she paused and almost winced with the memory, “the pain was excruciating, I had to do something.”
We drove away in silence as I digested it.
I’ve always made jokes about my quasimoto-ness but I’ve always been able to hide it. Mostly. I’ve heard gasps from well-meaning mothers when I’ve walked in my bikini to the ocean’s edge. Apparently I run like I’m permanently about to head around a corner, but my scoliosis has been my thing to show or hide. When I’m 80 there’ll be no hiding it. The only thing hiding might be my head and shoulders over on the other couch.
“I’ll need a double zimmer,” I moaned to my husband. “I’ll be like a puppy with my head out the window of the car when I’m driving!”
“You might be able to see around corners,” he said. “Which could be a bonus when the kids are teenagers.”
At least he got a grin out of me. “And think how gangster your lean-to dab will be!”
I practised my head-over-on-the-other-seat move and kissed him. If I’m not in pain then I shouldn’t care. But I do care. I look at hunched up old women and men and don’t want to be like that, forever studying the underside of my handbag. Except I’ll be studying the woman next to me’s handbag.
Once home I went for a walk in the forest.
Meandering away from my usual path I came across a tree that was not tall and not straight. It came up out of the dirt, then, as if it had changed its mind about being a tree, grew parallel to the ground for the length of a bench seat, then shot back up in the air again.
The trunk felt strong so I climbed up and sat on top and it was freaky how it held my weight. It was also a freakin’ marvel how it managed to keep growing upwards towards the sunlight without giving up with a sigh and slumping along the ground like most of us would.
It was crooked that tree. Just like me.
The energy involved in keeping any spine upright is incredible, but scoliosis backs even more so because they have the instructions in their DNA to grow sideways, yet the head knows it needs to be on top and level for all sorts of safety reasons, so the spine does everything it can to adjust, to make the eyes straight. Often the ribs and even the organs move to accommodate it all.
I realised as I sat there swinging my legs, my trunk is a freakin’ marvel too.
Its carried a couple of babies including the epidural only working on half my body when we tried to get the first one out. Its jumped out of an aeroplane and arched in panic while I plummeted to the earth with a broken leg strap. Its walked me to the front of the hall while my stomach’s screeched GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE. Its stood tall when I was called fucking crazy by an ex boyfriend in New York, and when I shouted NO into that greasy guy’s hair and sprinted through the Meat Packing District while he held onto my pink g-string. Its swaggered onto dancefloors not caring that one hip is curvy and the other is straight. Its melted into the couch when I needed to hide from life and eat twenty three donuts, then helped me pick myself back up again when it was over. Its backed me when I’ve been scared shitless about quitting, jumping, diving, taking off. Its endured my bad puns. Its been on this mad journey with me from the beginning when it was young and straight before puberty, and now when its not straight and not painful.
My spine may be twisted but like my mind, its all mine.
I’m not the only one either, us crooks are in good company with Laura Dern, Isabella Rossellini, Linda Blair, Harry Styles, Chloe Sevigny, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Liz Taylor, John Lydon and Kurt Cobain all having scoliosis.
Here’s to being crooked. And awesome. In fact, crookafuckingawesome.
And double zimmerframes (can somebody invent one please?)