Around the age of 14 I remember being in math class and a girl that was always really nice to me sat behind me. One day she was rubbing my back during class and said, “Sean, you have scoliosis.” Scoliosis? I had no idea I had scoliosis. Sure, I had occasional backs pains, but I had never looked at my back. The next day I left a note for my father, telling him about this possible scoliosis (I left a note, because at this point, I never saw my dad because he worked evenings and my step-mother was away in Texas on her military grind). He took one look at my back and took me to the hospital. After some examinations, it was officially determined that I had a severe case of scoliosis that could only be fixed with surgery.
I remember the doctors being so astonished that my parents hadn’t noticed this before. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to all, I was afraid I was going to be punished for it. When I was 8 or 9, I burned a 2 inch line across my stomach while ironing my school clothes (ironing clothes was added to my list of chores at the age of 7). This wasn’t the first time I burned myself, it was just the biggest burn mark, but still relatively small. A few days later my grandmother took me to the hospital for a regular checkup and the doctors asked about the burn and she of course mentioned this to my father. When he came home he asked why I never mentioned the burn and then beat me for not telling him. I remember being so confused my this punishment and then being angry when, after the beating, he actually looked at the burn and said, “Oh, that’s really small.”
It took months of doctor appointments to get ready for this surgery. This surgery I was frightened of. Around this time, my mother came back into the picture. At this point, I think it had been almost 2 years since I had seen my mother. She started a new life with her new husband in her new house in New Jersey. At this age, I thought nothing of all that. My mother was still the same angel I remembered when I was 6 years old. Sure, I asked repeatedly for my mother to let me live with he and she always said the same thing, “I’m sorry sweetie, I can’t afford you.” That was always the answer. I remember calling her to ask about visiting, but she, my sisters and her then-boyfriend were going to the Poconos. I asked if I could come. “I can’t afford you, sweetie.” Always the same answer.
I cried so much wishing I could go back to my mother. Some days I would sit in front of the window thinking she would just show up and take me back. I developed superstitions. If I saw more cars that were the make and model of her car, that would mean she was coming to get me. I started counting everything, all the time. If I looked at the clock I would have to add up all the digits, multiply them, divide them, find a pattern they shared, etc. In my mind, if I didn’t do all these things it would mean my mother was never going to take me back. I placed my shoes facing North, in the direction she lived. I had to touch everything a million times until it was just right. I was obsessive compulsive.
When I told my mother about my scoliosis, she and my my stepfather FINALLY agreed to let me live there! I thought my offer to God was working, that my superstitions were paying off. My mother wanted me to have the surgery in New Jersey. I felt alive for the first time in years. My mother contacted my school to inform them of the switch. It was finally happening. Until a package arrived. It was custody paperwork. At this point, my parents had joint custody, but my mother and step-father claimed they had to have full custody in order to add me to their insurance. My father declined. He didn’t like the idea of them having full custody and they were unwilling to compromise and just like that, my dream was shattered. The only thing I had been dreaming about for years; going back to my mother, living with my sisters again…. gone. All because adults couldn’t find a way to make things work in the best interest of a child.
I probably would have tried to kill myself again if I wasn’t already so afraid of dying from the surgery. They had to cut open my back, place a metal rod along my spine and sew me back up. I was frightened. The warned me of all the possibilities; paralysis, coma, death. I thought my mother was going to fly down for my surgery, but she didn’t. Not only that, but she didn’t call. I waited and then ended up calling her the night before. I was 14 and I wanted my mom. I was fully conscious when they rolled me into the operating room. When I got there I saw at least 10 medical professionals bustling around, making me more nervous. I remember this man appearing, he was calmer than everyone else and more pleasant to look at and he spoke to me. “I know you’re scared. You’re going to have surgery for the first time, you’re pretty much naked in front of a group of strangers for the first time, but everything is going to be okay. I’m going to give you something that will make you fall asleep. The next thing you will know, you’ll be in a hospital bed in your own room, watching TV.” I loved that man, I loved when adult strangers spoke to me in a comforting way, it made me want to cry. After connecting to the drugs to put me under, he told me to count to 10, I remember getting to 4