“I had decided early on that if I couldn’t dress elegant, I’d dress memorable.”
― Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees
Scoliosis. It’s a word resonant of the mouths of snakes that slivers down the spine and stays there, tangled and permanent. For years of my adolescent life, I felt hounded and haunted by it, and though everyone has her or his own story of discontent with pubescence and coming of age, we oftentimes are too absorbed in our own shells to realize that the majority of the outside oyster doesn’t really give a crap. But at the time, it doesn’t seem that way.
So, for the two and a half years of wearing a back brace through junior high and high school, I tried to hide the fact that I was tightly bound in plastic from buttocks to boob. Several petrifying moments occurred including sneezing during a read-through of a play in seventh grade and the Velcro straps that cinched my brace together severed their secured connection and exploded open (luckily my sneeze was just as loud as the ripping Velcro the and the extra large t-shirt I wore didn’t expose the loose brace to the untrained eye). Or in eighth grade, walking down the steps that passed by high school study hall (seniors and all!), and just sat down when my legs gave out for no reason, my very hip-to-the-max navy and red “Scholastic” bag that held my algebra books tumbling down next to me. The latter had nothing to do with the brace, but it added to my mortification.
Luckily, I had someone at my side who could reconnect my Velcro and laugh about the dork who had fallen on the steps. Having a twin sister (identical? Maybe. We look a lot alike, but have never done the blood work), who is in many ways much stronger than I, changed everything. Looking back at my life, I know it is because of her that I ended up with any sort of confidence whatsoever. Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees has a protagonist, Taylor Greer, that reminds me of my sister for many reasons. Not for the fact that Taylor is from Kentucky, a bit rough around the edges, and a tad too trusting of strangers, but rather I sense my sister because Taylor is strong, honest, and resolute in what she knows is right. I see Sarah, and that’s what is memorable to me. She was and still is the wick to my flame, the Green Knight to my Gawain, the Louise to my Thelma, the Tony Wonder to my Gob. Admittedly, we’re both introverted at times—me the more—but when we’re together, it’s like all is right with the world, and even the stupid things I mumble are funny because she makes them seem that way.
The quote that prefaces this musing, when Taylor references the way she dresses in bright colors to make herself stand out next to the other girls’ plain and boringly expected tans and light pinks, reminds me of Sarah’s and my childhood. We had our fair share of matching sweats (mine in teal and Sarah’s in pink), dresses, and windsuits (me-purple, Sarah-pink, once again). 90’s fashion was ostentatious at times (you dressed us well, Mom! Don’t think this is a criticism!), but we were memorable not for our bright colors, but for our alikeness, our same faces. So when we wore back braces and wore large clothes to cover up the hard body Tupperware, it didn’t really matter. We couldn’t dress “elegantly” as our peers did, but we were still memorable because there were two of us. At a certain time, we both probably resented this. I don’t mean we took each other for granted or anything, but we liked to be recognized as separate entities, separate hearts and minds. A select few—mostly family, friends, and our volleyball coach—did this anyway. Now that we live in separate towns, I wish more than anything for someone to call me “Sarah” or “one of the twins,” just to have the taste of what it means to be memorable once again. I don’t dress “elegantly”—and who knows what “elegant” means on a day-to-day basis?—but being memorable has a new meaning for me now, and it is something I must find on my own.
Having lost the back brace to a storage room in my parent’s house and traded up (not necessarily willingly) to titanium rods in my back, it is always easier to find clothes that fit when Sarah is with me. No matter what voice has taken control of my head that day or how I may vent about my physical attributes and put myself down, Sarah brings me back to Earth with a call of logic or a complaint of her own about herself, which I am quick to deny, just as she is mine. Knowing I can call her up and tell her anything oftentimes gets me through a less than peppy day, and though I don’t necessarily believe in ESP, I know so much of what I feel in life mirrors what Sarah feels. And remembering that is greater than any outfit I could put together.
It is nice to say I have grown more confident in who I am despite my deformity, occasional adult acne, and larger than average derrière, and I have accepted these things. Time and age can change so many wanton beliefs of oneself. But ultimately, people change us the most. For me, the best part is getting up in the morning and knowing that somewhere, not especially far away, someone who looks a lot like me is up too, ready to take on the world.