The Country Club display was more reliable but harder to view. Although the location and date are fuzzy in my memory, I remember watching one of these displays from the backseat of my mom’s minivan when I was thirteen.
Curled in the seat with my face pressed against the window to watch the crackling colors light up the sky, I scarcely imagined that it would be nearly impossible to sit in that position for the next year. I did know that the next day I would be put in a back brace I had yet to see, and I tried to ignore the niggling worries lingering in the pit of my stomach by distracting myself with the display before us.
I thought of that last, back brace free night often in the months to come, that moment when I was ignorant of what I was about to face. To correct my kyphosis (a curvature of the spine that made me look like I was always slouching), the doctors gave me a brace that extended from my collarbone to my hips to wear everywhere except the shower and P.E. class.
The brace was bulky and uncomfortable. Three Velcro straps crossed the front of what looked like a plastic cast crossed with Swiss cheese. It was impossible to pull my legs up at farther than a ninety degree angle to the rest of my body. Thinking of the way I had been sitting to watch fireworks the night before, the contrast between the symbol of freedom and my restricted movement was unbearably ironic.
Over time, however, I began to realize how many other things I was free to do. Family was invaluable in this process, for as history shows, freedom is bought with sacrifice, whether it be the heroism of our troops or the little things a family does to help each other. My dad, for instance, might make a joke out of stubbing his finger when he went to poke me in the ribs, which freed us from a potentially depressing interaction. My mom was tireless in getting me the best care, so I could receive effective treatment and stop wearing the brace all day before high school. Even my little brother pitched in by treating me like he always had. He allowed me the freedom to be myself and not just my condition.
I began to realize that I was still free to do many of the things I loved (reading, for instance) and with the people I loved. It may seem like I was pulling a bit of a Pollyanna, but once I accepted my condition and accepted my family’s help to work through it, life became enjoyable enough for me to look back on that year as one of my favorites, minus a few bumps in the road.
As this Independence Day rolls around, I am thankful that I now feel free to talk about my experiences, and I hope that anyone else in a similar situation learns the value of sharing the burden with those around one. Families can always avoid the monkey wrenches life throws at them, but they can certainly ease the burden of coping with the impact.