The Boiler

Naomi Washer

TENSION AND RELEASE: 
DIFFUSING PRESSURE POINTS IN THE ABNORMAL ADOLESCENT

The hospital: Here are some pictures of normal kids like you with scoliosis: doing gymnastics, playing sports. You can’t even tell! We can fit you in a brace right now, today. Or you can make an appointment for a surgery.
My mother: I think we need to think about it.

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My spine did not cause me pain. My body never felt wrong until they said it was. The brace forced me inwards, yet pushed me out of my self: an inanimate body forced upon my failed one. Inside it, I could not feel a thing. At twelve, I lay on my back as two friends knelt over me, holding a rubber ball. They wanted to know what I would feel if an object hit the plaster. They dropped the ball. We laughed. I felt nothing.

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The chiropractor, neurologist, physical therapist, nutritionist: Sleep on a flat board. Lie on your right side over a plaster block while watching TV—this will elongate the S curve. Wear the brace to ballet class. Only remove it for one hour each day. Take these five supplements. Try to keep your shoulders in proper alignment. Notice how your eyes drift off to one side. No more dairy—from now on, only soy cheese.

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Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis has no known cause or preventative measure. It is comparable to balding. Once your genes tell you that you are going to be bald, you have no choice but to wait for the time it happens in order to control it. Likewise, in scoliosis, your genes are in control. You have no escape if your genetic construction tells you so.

There are thirty-three living vertebrae in the spinal column—seven cervical, twelve thoracic, five or six lumbar, five sacrum, and three secrets. Bones in the body hold roughly fifteen percent of a person’s body weight: a body that weighed one hundred pounds would be harboring fifteen pounds of secrets.

There is no cure for scoliosis. There are forms of physical therapy available as treatment, such as electrical muscle stimulation, in which small pads are attached to the patient’s back. These pads have connecting wires that hook up to a machine on which the therapist will choose a level of pressure and a length of time. The adolescent, lying face down, will feel the back muscles clench for as many seconds as the therapist chooses to hold.

The procedure is designed to strengthen back muscles, in hopes that the body will learn to align on its own, but the patient may feel as if the doctor is doing their best to rid the body of an evil spirit.

The medical books: Scoliosis is an abnormal curve in the spine.
The chiropractor: There is no reason to not feel normal.

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I learned how to put on socks. They were the final challenge each morning, after buckling the brace and molding clothing on top of it. I became stiff. My torso could not bend over in a comfortable curve to slip socks onto pointed toes. Everything took twice as long. I held socks by the heel and heavily pulled each one over the bottom of my foot. Outside the brace, the entire process of putting on socks takes all of three seconds and zero seconds of planning. It is different every time, but always involves a contraction of the pelvis, and maybe a little jumping on one foot. Inside this device, I stood upright, praising my ballet balance, and drew my foot slowly upwards from the floor, my ankle sicled in an angle possible for my hands to solidly wrap the cloth around the skin.

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Him: It’s not that I feel inhibited. It’s just that you don’t seem fully there.

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Taking off the brace at any time was a breach of contract. Anything that could not be done inside it should not be done at all: dancing, eating cheese, having sex.

At nineteen I tried out meditation, searching for my spirit animal. On my back in a field, I found it was a bobcat. Eyes closed, grass prickly beneath my arms, legs and neck. In my imagined forest, in my woods that only exist for me, a bobcat appeared from behind a bush. It did not speak, but it told me plainly: keep your silence and secrets.

That was autumn, and by spring I should have known better. On my back on a green hill, in not-quite spring, I should have known.

No one’s around, he said. Let me hear you, he said. But I didn’t speak.

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A shift occurs after your first adolescent relationships, when the sickening bundle of insincere endearment becomes too difficult to hold. I could never hold another body for too long. When I was fifteen my boyfriend was older; he wanted to lie together in the cool dimness of his basement with our clothes off, feeling the places our skin would touch and form together. Another living body forced upon my own. I could never hold another body for too long.

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The chiropractor always asked me to hold my breath when he took the x-ray. I never knew if this was a necessary part of the procedure or not. I would take off my necklace, belt, and any other metal on my body. I would press my back against the x-ray wall as he stepped into the next room to flip the switch.

Hold your breath, he’d say. Then we’d wait.

Sometimes, I didn’t hold my breath. I let the spine escape through my mouth.


Naomi Washer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Ghost Proposal. Her work has appeared in Essay Daily, Blue Mesa Review, Split Lip Magazine, TYPO, Passages North, and other journals. She holds an MFA in Nonfiction from Columbia College Chicago and teaches writing and literature from her home in Vermont, below a mountain, between two rivers. Find out more at http://www.naomiwasher.com