Summer Project (or #scoliosiswarrior) – Sylvie Pingeon

Everyone in the world besides me seems to be in New York and they are posting stories on Instagram like…

“it’s not even two pm and we’re already drunk”

and it’s not even two pm and I’ve already taken valium twice today. I’m only awake because there are literal sheep baa-ing outside my window and their whining keeps waking me up.

In my journal, I write that I want to go home. I write that while I’m lying in my childhood bedroom filled with my childhood relics. I write it to the sound of my dog pawing at my door and my mother stomping around downstairs. She’s mad because I took her earrings so now she’s rattling the house. I must write the home thing as a force of habit like the way I used to say I was hungry or tired or cold when really I just felt the need to fill the silence. I’m already home. I’m not hungry. I can’t be tired because I’m already asleep.

I didn’t want this to be my summer of Rest and Relaxation but then again I don’t really have a choice. I just got two metal rods put into my back and I’m not allowed to drive or twist or bend so what am I supposed to do but count the sheep outside my window?

In the hospital, before my surgery, the doctor asks me how I’d slept the night before. I tell him I didn’t sleep at all. He smiles smugly and says I have a great team of anesthesiologists. His voice is Southern and syrupy and his hair is wet with too much gel.

“Cunt,” I think, and I will the words towards him. I’m ten years old again, practicing telepathy.

My Great Team of Anesthesiologists asks me what music I want to listen to. I tell them I don’t care. I’m fighting unconsciousness and I literally won’t hear the music but they keep prodding. “Lana del Ray,” I say, just to shut them up. And then I am asleep.

Almost instantly, I’m awake again but I don’t feel rested. Still, I cannot sleep. My hospital room has paintings of fish in the place of windows, and a curtain in the place of a wall.

My roommate is eight, or maybe fourteen. She looks like a child, all baby-voice and scrawny legs. But when she’s discharged, the nurses warn her to stop vaping and her mother asks if she ever plans to take her boyfriend’s sweatshirt off.

Her room is full of siblings and grown men and voices, voices, voices. In the middle of the night, her singing wakes me up: “I got hoooes in different area codes.”

The nurses whisper apologies to me even though I have not complained. “It’s fine,” I say. “She’s cute.”

The mother keeps going on about how her daughter almost died. I find myself wishing that she had because then maybe I’d have a roommate who’d occasionally shut up.

But I go home after just two nights. I am so fine and it barely even hurts, more feels like a constant stretching in my back. It’s really not that big a deal.

When I get home, I brush my hair. It’s easier than I thought it would be, both the of lifting my arms and the combing out of tangled knots. When I undo my braids and begin to brush, the strands separate with ease. It feels almost ritual, this brushing long hair in the bathroom mirror. When I finish, the sink–as always–is covered with sprigs of broken hair. Split ends and tangled knots. But this time, flakes of dark dirt speckle the sink as well. It looks as though I’ve shaken out my hands from gardening. Soil everywhere. The sink, the floor, chunks still settled in my hair. I’m confused. But when I turn on the faucet to wash it all away, the water runs red, and I realize the dirt is actually blood.

I am so fine. I just can’t pick things up or walk very far or stay awake very long. But I go to the movies and out to dinner and I try to walk three miles every day. In between these bursts of motion, I sleep and sleep and sleep.

I keep finding needle-holes scattered on my skin. One on my left palm. One on each inner thigh and one on each outer too. One on either side of my belly-button. It’s like a treasure-hunt, finding all the places where they pierced my body while I slept.

In my journal, I write that I want to start a project. I write that I want to read The Waves by Virginia Woolf and I want to finish the first Proust book and then I make a joke about being pretentious so that when I read back, I’ll know I’m self aware. Most of all, I want to sleep but I don’t write that in my journal. I don’t think I’ve ever been so rested.

There’s a whole scene on TikTok of self-proclaimed #scoliosiswarriors. These girls (they always are girls) pose with their braces and show green-screens of their x-rays. It reeks of desperation and I wince. You’re not a warrior, babe. You’re filming TikTok Q&As with the beauty filter on. But these girls get thousands of likes and they must be making money from it and I am so asleep.

I google things to do when bored. The internet tells me to forage or to build a rocket. My dad is a forager; he brings home mushrooms and orach and ramps—or whatever that trendy plant Michelin restaurants make pesto from is called. My dad also built a rocket once, I think when he was like eight or nine. He built it from gun-powder he found lying around his house. When he launched the rocket, it exploded in his face. He lost his eyelashes and eyebrows and his skin was charred black. He had to go to the hospital, and I’m pretty sure his mom called him a “fucking idiot.” My mom already called me a thief today; I don’t need to add “fucking idiot” to the list. Besides, we don’t have gunpowder in my house. And I can’t become a forager because I can’t bend down to pick things up.