XXX-Rated X Rays: My Life As A Radioactive Centerfold
Sex, Scars & a Superheroine with Scoliosis
Glow-in-the dark brooches were a precious commodity amongst us kids. Full of phosphorous, they absorbed light then emitted a dull greenish-yellow glow in the darkness. Grandma told me this is what human bones did at night in the graveyards. The first of March was typically celebrated by giving away red and white string to symbolize health and the arrival of spring. The tradition had evolved with all sorts of designs emerging; usually colored plastic shapes of animals, guitars, flowers and even people. We looked forward to the end of winter because this season was always raw and bitter, even though it was breathtakingly beautiful. Behind our block of flats, what was supposed to be a common garden with neighboring flats was, in fact, a rubbish tip full of mountains of garbage. In a small town like ours there was little efficiently functioning infrastructure, except for the remnants of the communist regime. Thus, if you had a van and a microwave, you had a burger business with two sought-after capital assets. A photocopier was a money machine both literally and figuratively as it guaranteed a death-announcement service business, which was bound to boom — it goes with the heavily fatalistic, pessimistic, hysterical nature ofthe Balkan people, who howl morbidly at graves and wear crow black for life after a relative dies, not to mention use the cemetery as the set for family reunions and extensive socializing.
Repetitive routines are rather misleading as life is all one-off randomness in reality.
This avalanche of ventures produced plenty of garbage, which was disposed of in the back alleys and gardens. Thus, our backyard was a constant construction site doubling as a rubbish tip. We all played among huge packs of stray dogs sniffing out the stacks of steaming waste. But there was bizarre beauty to behold in this backyard dumping ground. Amongst the toilet bowls and cattle skulls overgrown with weeds there was a slide and a climbing globe. It is fair to say we were all on top of the world, literally and metaphorically as we did what children do best; create the carefree, carelessness of childhood, even though Chernobyl was simmering practically next door. These run-down pieces of playground equipment formed the frames of cubby houses we built using cardboard boxes from the market and tree branches we peeled with broken beer bottle glass. The playground equipment pieces were also an asylum from the rabid packs of stray dogs populating the town. This was the principal place where my pristine childhood played out. My best friend was a butch, tough, street-smart “bad influence” girl burdened with the responsibility of looking after her younger brother and sister. She had astonishingly adult instincts of protection and self-awareness and just as well, because her brother was especially bratty and troublesome — he would sit in the middle of a dirty puddle squealing like a semi-slaughtered pig, refusing to budge. The more Grandma voiced her disapproval of Rebel Ringleader, the more determined and intense my desire
became to collaborate and co-conspire in her misadventures. She was the kind of girl who played with knives, told extremely tall tales, wore dirty socks as gloves in the winter snow, and levitated with excitement each time she was about to implement a new venture — and grated on the nerves of nervous parents, whose children were her fascinated followers.
She was known to smuggle out her younger brother and sister via the balcony, like a cat collecting her litter. It was this tomboy balcony escape that would earn her even greater notoriety, as well as the very-hard-to-earn respect of the crème-de-la-crème of the neighborhood hooligans. “Let’s make rose oil!” she exclaims on a whim, and I go along for the ride immediately, eternally grateful for the break from midday boredom. The treacherous trek to retrieve the roses involves sneaking into overgrown gardens. The rusty barbed-wire
surrounding them is no obstacle compared to the thorny tentacles of waist-high weeds within. But in the middle of this jungle of botanical booby traps is the holy grail of the mission — a single rose, not yet in full bloom. The thorns tear at our scabby scratched knees as we wade through the weeds, holding our breaths in high alert
silence, overcome by the meditative excitement of this clandestine excursion.
At last we see it. Its deep blood-burgundy petals exquisitely warmed by the sun are thick and velvety with
heavy rose aroma.
Kidnapping this queen of the garden means lengthy negotiation with its thorny guards. While we have the stolen flower in our hands, we discover that the obstacle course is far from over. Some of the old residents spot us on our clandestine mission and wave their canes in vain after us. We rush to leave and embark on our quest for escape down the dusty streets. Once we are safely out of reach, we tear off the petals and stuff them in an old jar with a piece of wood then leave it in the sun. Needless to say, no rose oil eventuates out of the sour rancid mess we’ve created. Undiscouraged by the venture’s failure but already bored by it, Rebellious Ringleader and I climb a tree to hatch our next up-to-no-good entertainment. I agree to collaborate with her on an elaborate scheme to get her
would-be boyfriend to go out with us on a mission to retrieve some stray puppies from an abandoned basement — and also get a ghost thrill while we are at it.
“We’ll use my brother’s karate video as an excuse to go and talk to him,” she strategizes. “There’s no way he’d go out today. He would be studying now because he wants to get into the French school for talented kids, remember?” I respond pragmatically, being the voice of reason for once. During the simmering summer the tiny market bustled with the buzz of bees and people, philandering flies and the mingling smells of rotting vegetables, dead decomposing cats and the artificial mouth-watering forbidden watermelon flavor of Turkish chewing gum. This may or may not have been part of the sunny shop window display since the Roman Empire, since its use-by-date was well and truly overdue by a century or two. Gypsies from the Northern regions would come on trucks and unload a mountain of watermelons in the middle of the marketplace. For the next month or so, they would sleep, breed, piss and generally live on blankets chucked over the watermelons until they sold out. In the end, only the cracked rotting leftover fruit
would remain behind.
Irresponsibility is to unconsciously choose freedom.
I was fascinated by their filthy hands, henna-dyed tangled hair, leathery aged dark skin and wide green eyes. The women were adorned with silver coin jewellery, which amplified their ragged ancient aura. They were the real-life version of my grandmother’s gypsy painting. The painting depicted their mysterious vagrant lifestyle in a single moonlit campfire scene of dance, humor, black magic and wisdom. The gypsy market departure signaled the arrival of the auburn-haired autumn, whose ghostly barefoot steps
could be heard crunching crisp dry leaves in the park and whose paintbrush was responsible for some of the most magnificent flaming hues. This was soon followed by the crisp icy breath of the winter queen, whose intricate crystal designs on the windows were accompanied by the most brilliantly incandescent snow. This snow covered the garbage, transforming the wet grayness of bare late autumn into a winter wonderland of still silence and crispy cold.
Grandma’s effortless affinity with metaphors would prompt her to compare the snow to rice pudding with a
spicy sprinkling of cinnamon, the exotic spice being the ash from her sister’s ancient fireplace. In no time, the fluffy snow became the colorless muddy sludge of a melted multi-colored 7Eleven Slurpee. Then the sun’s spring glisten would dance through the diamond razors of the icy roof drips, their doomed droplet drone only interrupted by a huge chunk crashing down spectacularly from the roof.
With spring approaching, the festivities of the Couckeri would start. It’s a time of thawing frostbitten toes and a primal pre-Christianity peasant parade of fur and feather masks and costumes. It’s about bouncing about in a Roman-style rhythms trance with huge bell belts, spewing forth plenty of crap and guzzling home-brewed grape spirits in a boisterous attempt to boo off and blast away disease, demons and the token evil spirits. “Look ma, that woman is a guy!” I point out my discovery to mum as a particularly hairy transvestite sways past, high on heels, the celebratory spirit and the bottle of spirits he’s clutching. My mother has always been open-minded — maybe thanks to her punk past — hence she doesn’t flinch as she matter-offactly fields my questions about homosexuality. “It means that a man marries another man,” she explains suitably simplistically. Then I whine for her to buy me a pink waffle from a food stand. “They are full of artificial dyes that cause cancer.” This is mum’s way of discouraging my demands, Grandma-
This is my cue to blackmail her into buying me yet another surovachka, which is essentially a bare tree branch covered in colorful paper and foil roses to symbolize the spring blossoms — yet another innovative piece of spring market merchandise. The final farewell of these February festivities is the March ritual of red and white strings and the image of the frozen flowering of the brave and symbolic but delicate lily of the valley celebrated and immortalized in glow-in-the-dark plastic brooches. This was also my cue to glow in the dark because every few months I absorbed my standard dose of radioactivity so my scoliosis could be monitored. Rundown and rattling, the X-ray machine was a relic from the crumbling concrete of the Communist regime. Although I knew that all it did was create an image of my bones, I was apprehensive about being left alone with its robotic presence as the operator hid in an isolated room to press the button. As the machine moved towards me, it looked like a crusher press in a car cemetery with a life of its own. We take our dependence on machines entirely for granted until they malfunction and thus temporarily erase our arrogance. I could never quite trust its mechanic mobility. Even years later in Australia, when X-rays were once again a routine part of my treatment, I remained respectfully apprehensive of the universal nuclear sign on the X-ray laboratory. But my radioactive X-ray trust issues got pushed into the background when, after approximately six months at the insulated English language center, I moved on to high school. At the English language center, the kids’typical cruelty and cliques were neutralized by their speaking difficulties and culture shock shyness, but high school playground politics was a whole new ball game. Entering high school in Australia was the most surreal experience; peppered with extreme contrasts. It was punctuated by a floating sense of fatigue, fear, frustration and formality, but conversely was the source of the profound affection, fun and fondness I now feel for these times. Simultaneously, the alienation was somewhat alluring, resulting in the most rewarding broadening of my horizons. My learning curve there was not solely academic; its nature was nauseating yet natural. Although it was a public school, it had the most extraordinary awards night. The night was infiltrated with age-old rituals, complete with royal blue school uniforms with ties. The credit for this classic atmosphere must go to Principal Power who was an influential public speaker, feverishly and fervently committed to appearances, reputation, authority and tradition. Community service is an attitude, a frame of mind, a way of life. It can’t be taught by textbooks, it can only be demonstrated by example. So I struggled to find my place in this environment, which was both unsympathetic, harsh and unforgiving, and oddly caring, empathetic and motivational. The early years of high school were a surreal sink-rather-than-
swim experience where survival intensity was compounded and complicated by my scoliosis corset. Making the conscious decision to stop wearing it despite the risks involved, confirmed my common human desire to be accepted and my extreme adolescent fear of rejection. However, I found out the tough way that fear frequently tempts fate, especially when you are in a foreign country. A common complaint about overcoming stagnation is the difficult step outside your comfort zone.
At 14, my comfort zone was completely removed by circumstances and I found myself without any cushions to soften my crash into the reality of having an accent at a public school. This was a time of thorough stress, which was both invigorating and addictive. When you hit rock-bottom, be grateful for firm ground beneath your feet as you could have been sucked down by quicksand. Being alone was arguably my most awesome method to regenerate the brain cells I assassinated with overdoses of adrenalin during any given day. I was extremely content with invisibility and craved it constantly, but being the new kid on the block creates unwanted attention from the pack determined to pick on those they
perceive as powerless.
This is why I savored the strict teachers who conducted their classes in a controlling manner so everyone was forced to sit quietly. I actively despised and dreaded those who found themselves defeated by the students
and let them run wild without interfering. Although my accent difficulties were debilitating, academically I thrived because I threw myself into the work as a method of looking busy and thus buying myself invisibility. Loneliness has nothing to do with the physical state of being by one’s self. Mostly my invisibility method worked, but other times it made me even more of a torture target.
I am sitting on the wooden stairs of the portable classroom’s side entrance in a panic at the end of recess, counting the seconds until the teacher arrives and restores some sort of order to the over-exposed chaos of my existence at school. Teachers tend to create a sense of supervised discipline that I so desperately need as insulation from the kids that are starting to assemble for class. To combat the clock’s backward ticking, I get so engrossed in scribbling stuff in my book that I fail to immediately notice the semi-circle of shadowy figures that has formed around me. “And what do YOU think, YOU are doing?!” sneers the huge gothic girl and her enormous entourage of hyena cronies, who tend to specialize in solitary targets. She accompanies the rhetorical question with a swipe at my books but by this point I am on high alert, holding onto it tight enough so that she fails to grab a proper hold of it. She snatches my pink pencil case instead and gleefully dumps it in the bin with a thud. The skinny cronies, who have found safety in numbers from their own extreme adolescent insecurities echo the sniggers and make the most of this feeding frenzy. I rapidly sum up my situation in my mind, seeking opportunity for immediate retribution. I desperately want to grab Goth Girl’s pencil case covered in dodgy Death Metal graffiti, open it and empty its gothic paraphernalia contents in the main dumpster. That would be great revenge but rather unrealistic logistically, I reason with the expert strategic street smarts of a seasoned outcast. There’s far too many of them and certainly not enough of me to face up to the mountainous stature of Goth Girl alone, if a fight unfolds. So I direct my concerted efforts to achieving faux invisibility and fishing my pencil case out of the bin instead. Although these were times of troubling alienation, I recall them with great affection due to the addictive adrenalin and life-altering lessons they generated for me. The experience was curiously contradictory; I experienced overwhelmingly obnoxious optimism at the atomic level and the most crippling and corrosive kind of numbing insecurity and insomnia.
To sleep through life defeats the purpose of death.
These two states of mind may seem mutually exclusive, but in fact, they complemented each other. My sore cynicism masked my more intimate innocence and idealism. These characteristics mingled with the school-snapshot sights, sounds and smells of what now seems like an irreversibly distant universe. As profanely profound as they are episodic, specific incidents saturate my existence, ensuring I entertain ownership of their essence. Like my first cosmically comic encounter with soon-to-be soul mate, Sexy Scientist.
All else being equal, probability favors losers that keep playing hence to win you must lose, lose, lose.
I’ve always been an absolute sucker for cringe-worthy situations of extreme embarrassment. There is supremely unsurpassed sexy excitement to be achieved from assuming the role of the savior messiah in such situations. Getting my first glimpse of Sexy Scientist was ironic in that sense. As a self-exiled outsider, I watched a school masquerade contest from the distant shadows of my antisocial
sanctuary. A cavewoman came first, closely followed by a cute blue-eyed rotund medieval monk. But the most bravely individual thing about him was the fact that he had shaved his head Roman-monastery style for the role. I am sure this extremely endearing dork endured dozens of sensational shit-giving sessions from the rascal school
kids as a result.
The insidious satisfaction I felt as a result of being thrown into the twister turbine that is high school left a
bitter-sweet and sour-tangy aftertaste in my mouth. I think it was all in the steamed dim sims, rock-hard toffee apples and comforting simple magic of the amateur school-canteen hot dogs and iced-coffee-flavored Big M milk. These were bought with coins carefully counted with my manicured nails painted with glitter polish. My fingerswere adorned with cheap rings from the Chinese trinket store I frequented before going home to unwind alone.
There, I watched cheesy Mexican subtitled soaps from the 1980s on our tiny TV propped on cardboard boxes in the empty kitchen, while eating equally cheesy snacks such as bacon balls; their greasy processed orange flavors stubbornly sticking under my nails and the grooves of my teeth. By doing these things, I had subconsciously created relaxing, comforting routines to cope. But the sensation of school associations wouldn’t be the same without mentioning the rotten citrus smell of supermarket turquoise Impulse deodorant; it mingled with the push-and-shove stench of rancid food scraps, trapped and forgotten in crooked rusting lockers amongst the clank of padlocks, school kids screaming and locker-bay cages rattling. For me, this kind of mayhem ensured much sought-after anonymity, but it also created imminent ammunition since if any of them decided to turn on somebody, there was a rank of innumerable others
to draw extra put-down fire power from. My instincts made me ensure it wasn’t me.
Peacekeeping is the art of saying “Nice kitty!” to a tiger
— until you can reach for the tranquilizer gun. Escaping the school spotlight at all costs couldn’t always be achieved quite according to plan. Slotted into the netball class, it is fair to say I absolutely dreaded the weekly sessions with those adolescent girls. Their drastic dramatic determination to win meant that I couldn’t just dodge the ball and fly below this dangerous radar, as it detected my lack of sporting prowess and tendency to drop the ball.
Thus I was extremely surprised that these dreadful sport double periods where the clock ticked backwards would become the setting for the most improbable and profound moment. Sitting on the asphalt before warm-up in my ridiculously overpriced and not quite compulsory stiff sports uniform, I am extremely conscious of the ground’s rough hard surface and the sunny circular dome of the sky above. Usually acutely aware of the others around me, with constant fear of peer punishment, at that instant I somehow switch off. This results in the rarest of realizations — at this very instant in time, the girls around me were incredibly tolerant. The global gravity of this surreal migrant experience quietly reveals an unexpected glimpse of the truth about my situation. I became an out-of-body observer and at that moment I felt none of my usual fear of confrontation. I feel the most overwhelming sense of appreciation for not being picked on, despite having the spotlight on me while sitting in the coaching circle. They are neither purposefully ignoring me, nor attempting to converse. They are quite simply allowing me to just be; to calmly and serenely exist in their presence. This kind of quiet acceptance and innocent tolerance had a cosmic quality because it was incredibly subtle in its honesty. If they had set out to be friendly, by smiling at me or making conversation, I would have most certainly interpreted the gesture as a phony, intimidating, and insincere act of fake friendliness to be mistrusted and questioned. It is because of many moments like these I have phenomenal affection for this freedom-infused, laid-back island continent that has so thoroughly, unselfconsciously and casually embraced me. It is amazing and astonishing how the years sieve the grit with perspective and in the end you are only left with gorgeous golden memories at the bottom. A breezy blessing indeed, because it certainly takes plenty of psychological, philosophical and spiritual struggles to blossom. While experiencing the occasionally incandescent moments of extreme spiritual revelation at school, I accumulated an incredibly thick portfolio of scoliotic X-rays mapping my disastrous deterioration. In reality, I was a radioactive centerfold, but in the small slippery shower of our flat, I was busy feeling and breathing a vague dream of famous glory and critically acclaimed achievements and accomplishments. Releasing an X-ray centerfold calendar seemed to be a good start.
Titanium Rods Are A Girl’s Best Friend: Intangibility Ignites Inspiration
The orthopedic surgeon was from the planet of luxurious suits and strand-by-strand squeaky clean combed-back blonde hair, tanned-skin glow and professionally detached expressionless compassion. He was the man who would alter my destiny with the magic touch of modern medicine and he certainly looked the part, which was extremely comforting. He was reluctant to communicate the extent of my scoliosis, but as a man of few explanations and mostly action, he announced the necessity for urgent surgery. “Look … um … there is an urgent need to operate …” He struggled to find his words. My slot was scheduled. I sat staring numbly at the orange-and-black matrix of our ancient computer’s screen as I fought denial and fear by playing electronic games. Thanks to my sullen sulking, the matter was not discussed until the day of admission. Mum tried to be nice, but her nervousness made her snappy as the long wait for an operation-theatre spot started. The trauma of having a ‘before’ topless photo taken for hospital records outweighed all the radiation paranoia of previous X-ray sessions. Once on the trolley, I knew I had reached a point of no return and was about to cross a line. The risk of paralysis was certainly there, but the mindless cheerful chatter of the nice nurses masked the raw reality.
Everyone has a mission on Earth and some appear more pointless than others.
Customary anesthetic chit-chat demanded I name my favorite TV show. My sheepish doped-out reply was Wheel of Fortune, even though I had only ever watched it once. Thus I was knocked out with the smug vintage smirk of the Wheel of Fortune host Burgo Baby John Burgess spinning me in celluloid circles. The excessive seriousness of some things serves to create a serious temptation to joke about them. Ironic, indeed considering the wheel of my personal fortune was about to take an Elizabethan-era turn.
Any problem-solving super-strategy is surpassed by some semi-decent magic.
Returning from the treacherous trance of the anesthetic, I was greeted by unsettling nausea and a voracious tsunami of vomit. I experienced the suffocating frustration of being mentally awake while my body was immobilized, still trapped by the muscle relaxant.
If it’s broken, take it apart then put it back together shabbily so the person who touches it next gets the blame for it breaking.
As I drifted in and out of distant deafening consciousness, there were the occasional agonizing jolts of the trolley as my fresh steaming wounds and I were wheeled through corridors and elevators. I heard the high-pitched echo of the nurses’ shrill military counting. “1, 2, 3 LIFT!” they ordered. The yells and the piercing pain provided clues I was to be lifted onto the X-ray table for a post-operative look at the immediate results of the surgery. Thankfully heavy sedation ensued and I was left hovering between reality and hallucination.
What is the word to describe a fear phobia?
The procedure I had just undergone was as fancifully named as it was painful. Posterior spinal fusion with instrumentation basically involved insertion of titanium rods secured with screws into the spine and sealed with a bone graft carved out of the pelvic bone. The device acts as a vice designed to hold the spine straight. Daily drudgery tends to dim the fact that one’s existence with all its circumstantial coincidences is extremely fascinating. Its structure screamed complexity bordering on science fiction, but I was too preoccupied with the pain to
ponder the pure perfection of the procedure just performed.
Even endless possibilities have a possible end.
Titanium – the Twisted Truth and the Textbook Facts
1. It is a lustrous silvery gray metal, which is one of
the transitional elements of the periodic table. As
you can tell by these facts, I earned my dux-
worthy success as a science student.
2. Titanium is literally a space-age super-material.
It is abundant on Earth and has been detected in
meteorites in our sun, moon, other stars and
other heavenly bodies — such as mine in the
form of a structural spinal implant.
3. It was first discovered in 1791 in England by
clergyman and amateur chemist William Gregor
— this goes to show the importance of passionate
pursuits separate from one’s day job. He named
4. Eventually the professional prevailed and
triumphed over the amateur by collecting all the
glory and publicity. In 1795 renowned Berlin
chemist Martin Heinrich Klaproth confirmed
that Gregor had indeed discovered a new
element and changed its name from
5. Surprisingly, the modest scientist resisted the
ego-inflating temptation of calling the element
Klaprothium after himself, opting instead for the
much more enduring, universal and romantic
name Titanium after the mythological Titans,
first sons of the Earth.
6. The fact that the complex process of converting
titanium ore into metal only became
commercially viable a mere 30 years before my
birth — after spending about 200 years in
obscurity — is too scary to contemplate; without
it, crippling scoliosis would not have been
contained as successfully as it is now.
7. Titanium’s outstanding, almost supernatural
qualities include incredible resistance to
corrosion, neutrality, non-magnetism, and the
fact that it is half the weight of steel while
replicating its strength. All this means that I
don’t need tetanus shots due to rust dissipating
in my blood, pin magnets don’t mysteriously stay
stuck to my bare back (contrary to popular
belief), and I can’t legitimately use my spinal
implant as an excuse for excessive body weight
measured by bathroom scales.
8. Titanium’s physiological inertness makes it
technologically superior to other metals used as
medical implants and is the only known material
living tissue will attach to without the immune
system rejecting it.
9. Its melting point of about 1700 degrees Celsius
(more than 3000 degrees Fahrenheit) means it is
almost twice the temperature reached in modern
cremators (about 900 degrees Celsius), so I am
certain that the result of my eventual and final
trip to the crematorium will be an intact
titanium structure stuck in a pile of ashen
10. Titanium’s applications are found in the aircraft,
jewellery and medical implant industries, but its
qualities have been life-altering in my case.
Recently, however they have taken a somewhat
trivial but trendy turn, with many celebrities
becoming obsessed with titanium wedding
As I nursed my bionically enhanced body, I shared the adolescent ward with two anxious anorexics whose angst-ridden antics helped them usurp the authority of the nurses. They indulged in torturous clandestine exercise sessions at night and tucked their food in socks and slippers while I put up with putrid sponge baths, TV commercials of Christian communes with Queensland PO Boxes and snappish physiotherapist sessions. Painkillers and a plush puppy toy provided comfort, along with my tired but utterly relieved mother who refused to leave my bedside as I reluctantly suffered through my ordeal. Her typical action-and-results-oriented approach was a much needed reminder of normality, which I severely craved.
Preoccupation with the future poisons the present.
Delivering this “woe is me” diatribe would definitely not be complete if I didn’t address the wicked-ass physical discomfort that followed the insertion of the hot rod. Extreme spinal rigidity and immobility were frustrating, but the worst aspect of the device’s manifestation was the steel breathless tightness I felt in each vertebrae.
The art of taking nothing for granted guarantees the greatness of every day.
My desire to somehow loosen the screws and thus find relief from their titanium jaws, resulted in a certain necessity for opiates, which gave me occasional breaks from this body’s burden. My torso restrictions troubled me since they reduced all my movements to a stiff Frankenstein-style ghostly walk of a few stilted steps at a time. Each of these steps cost dearly because the fire in the hip graft flared up without fail with each attempted forward move. Despite this, my fear of the stern but scrappy physiotherapist found me frequently faking physical fitness before collapsing in shards of pain as soon as she finished the session.
To think you can is the most important piece of information necessary for success.
As unbalanced and as unorthodox as it may sound, my attitude to the agony was pretty positive and optimistic. The reason for this was certainly not due to a sudden spiritual turnaround or any such supernatural occurrence born out of adversity. In fact, for the first time I was free of the fundamental futility that has always accompanied my scoliosis. The concepts of time and physical pain were thoroughly turned around thanks to altered perception. My daunting deterioration doubts and the psychological paranoia of the ticking clock disappeared altogether. This meant my physical discomfort was much easier to cope with, simply because the fear of uncertainty had dissipated. It had been replaced by the most emancipating type of gratitude and the realisation that time was on my side, aiding a permanent recovery. In other words, this was a welcome kind of physical discomfort because time worked for me. Mum pointed this out to me; she was in justifiably high spirits on her own, but mostly on my behalf. Arriving home after my hospital release, I experienced a happy period where I appreciated the simplest of things normally taken for granted.
Here is what we know for sure about the meaning of life and the secret of the universe — they are both still unknown.
I got a bed frame, since I could no longer sleep on a mattress on the floor the way mum and I had for many migrant months. Once I was at home, Mum was of course still sympathetic, but she allowed herself the occasional boisterous demand — a sure and somewhat welcome sign that things were officially going back to normal. She’d attempt to nag me encouragingly. “Try and put on your socks yourself. Don’t be scared, it will aid the
recovery of your independence and will make you feel better.”
If you can hobble, you can skip; if you can skip you can somersault.
Being spoiled and molly-coddled was something I was definitely starting to get used to, but as much as I adored dissolving in this lack of responsibility, the time of returning back to school was starting to creep up on me. I was in a desperate need for time to stop and stand still so that my vacation could be extended indefinitely. I wished to be trapped in some mysterious time warp but of course nothing could alter the insidious inevitability common to all dreaded events; I would have to succumb to post-scoliosis surgery school attendance. My unexpected return sparked some initially interested interrogation from those few who had a vague recollection of my presence. Turned out most of them had thought I had left permanently. This was not a surprising assumption considering that my stint pre-operation was hardly a resounding success in the popularity stakes.
The 3 L’s of life — laugh, love, learn.
In my accented explanations, I opted for a cop-out involving a curiously questionable story about a car-accident-induced coma.
My naively transparent version of events was received with plenty of suspicion from my Physical Education teachers. They reluctantly relieved me of performing PE activities, but frowned upon my semi-legal lack of participation, which I both feared and relished. Eventually, the suspected-fake medical certificates lost their weight and I failed the sports subject three years in a row, making for a rather unconventional school report accentuated by some pretty severe extremes.
The key to a successful lie is consistency.
While most other kids’ reports were either all bad or at least mediocre across the board, mine was characterized by extreme academic excellence coupled with dreadfully colorful sporting disgrace. This was brought about by my almost criminal inattendance of the physical education classes, and a compulsive, committed quest to avoid PE almost at any cost, including expulsion. As an atypical extrovert of a school outcast, I was treading on brittle tribal terrain of closed cliques, lengthy loser lunchtimes and impenetrable, impregnable groups. There I was always going to be an intruder. I felt the fear of uncertainty and desire for invisibility due to my misfit status, but I attended every day, reluctant to take days off despite the nagging nervousness. In a misguided attempt to find some sort of textbook acceptance, I tried to join a deceptively non-threatening group of three girls.
Nothing arouses suspicion more than when things go well.
Although I initially felt as though I had achieved the reinvention I had been seeking, the situation soured predictably as I became systematically excluded from the circle. One day I walked over to the group at lunch as I had been doing for the last few weeks. The girls were standing suspiciously close to each other whispering as I approached then one of them turned around and said to me with some satisfaction: “Please, go away now because we are having a private conversation.” To me that was not at all surprising since I was never stupid even though I was vulnerable. And that was that. I walked away because I was fully aware of the futility of my efforts to fit in so far. I was upset but preserved my composure since there was the realization that resilience gives rise to regeneration. I was also relieved because the tense internal dynamics of their clique had always made me consciously nervous and uneasy.
If you want to be adored, be careful who you make feel ignored.
This was typical teen stuff, but school is a microcosm of society and these were identity-forming times. I carved out a secret identity for myself — not that there were many people to actually hide it from — and I found an addictive sense of independence in my outcast status. Having no peer group to answer to was astonishingly liberating. I saw the social structures and the treachery clearly and they were unworthy of my efforts.
I enjoy the quiet of this room,
As my bridges flame in bloom,
As my enemies splutter and choke
On the intoxicating smoke.
I came to the conclusion that acceptance was a fickle and futile ambition and one that was no longer a worthwhile goal. So I embarked on a journey where much strength was generated internally as well as the attainment of a thoroughly mature attitude and dedication to my studies. Mum made many attempts to offer words of wisdom and thus protect me from the rejection, but the truth is, as young as she was, she was still on the other side of the chasm, safe in adulthood. “One day, you will remember these times and laugh at yourself for being so silly to worry about such miniscule concerns,” she told me. “Believe you me, in the grand scheme of things, these sorts of troubles mean nothing.” She would say it with honest conviction and sometimes I would be convinced myself for a split second or two. I remember making the very conscious and courageous decision to quit my persistent efforts to win the favor of the girl group I had singled out as my fantasy friends.
When people throw mud at you, make yourself into a sex symbol by starting a mud-wrestling match.
My turning point materialized the day I threw out the piece of string I had been tying to my nerdy undershirts. It had so far served as my bra strap — something for me to show when the others talked about and displayed theirs.
To convince them lie, deceive, or at the very least alter the truth.
The fake bra strap had been my phony admission card, which I had obtained by deceiving myself out of my true identity. My true identity, of course, was an underdeveloped girl who didn’t even own a bra. So I fatalistically set fire to my bridges in the most dramatic fashion possible and I wasn’t particularly tempted to regret it. Once again, I wholeheartedly threw myself into my work; it served to tackle the backward ticking of the school clock, as well as mask the fact that I was back at social square one. My taste of academic success made it an addictive substance, with its external and internal rewards, as well
as fuel for my rebellion against the social side of school.
Education is not unlike a chemical compound — it is the precipitate of experience when all the book knowledge has evaporated. What I didn’t realize was that being a rebel was an extremely lonely predicament, because you automatically, permanently and unequivocally give up your right to belong. Everyone else belonged to a common rebellion cause against a central authority. (But, after all, even this organized rebellion was a form of conformity). As I sought out the sensation of academic success, I also found out that it was accompanied by insidious isolation. I was constantly surrounded by clusters of kids at school, but I was completely on my own. Oddly, my status as a migrant misfit was the best position to appreciate the protective centralized authority of the school, which had created this untouchable community that I desperately desired to be part of, but had to be content observing from my dark introspective corner.
My way is the only way.
I was mesmerized by the organ-pipe formal magic of the school’s Annual Awards Night ceremony. It had a true mystically motivational power — on the night, the headmaster was able to achieve the carefully created and
nurtured community spirit he had been striving for with his guilt-imposing assembly speeches throughout the
year; it came to life in magnificent motion. The spirit of my university graduation was extremely reminiscent of
those nights of magic. There is a Renaissance-style mystery, symbolism and grandeur associated with traditional university graduations – it’s the oh-sointellectual organ music, the unashamed worship of academic knowledge and of course the tasseled, elite extravagance of the academic robes.
Everyone seemed somewhat nicer to each other on the night. My theory is that it must have been the official spotlight glow of the stage lights; the whole Oscar ceremony feel punctuated by the majestic strains of the John Williams movie classic scores, such as Jurassic Park, which the orchestra still partially stuffed up despite having practiced it all year. For me, those nights were the ultimate approval and praise, combined with the closest I could ever come to belonging. And the most magical movie soundtracks played in the background of
my overwhelming pride.
Listening to praise is never tiresome, regardless how repetitive.
Unfortunately, the sustaining power of this experience had limits. As soon as its glitter dissipated, it was once again time to get back to business. For me, this meant a new school year of seeking silent sanctuary in the cool dark library corrals, while the hot luscious lethargy of a summer lunchtime lingered outside.
The most effective way to defeat your enemies is with fame and fortune.
The success of my scoliosis surgery was what kept me grounded. It prevented me from becoming preoccupied with my school misfortunes and misadventures. I had made it, and nothing else mattered; all perceived problems from then on would appear petty and insignificant. The universe was beaming smiling sunlight upon me. My appreciation for my new lease of life at that moment was unquantifiable, unquestionable and utterly eternal. This triumph of my lifetime made me realize that I had unlimited potential. Although my back still felt numb and stiff, I knew the problem had been eliminated. I quietly enjoyed the curious cheerful calm the thought created as I stared at the library décor; a 40s and 50s glamour Hollywood shrine, with black-and-white portraits of Marilyn Monroe. At that time diamonds were certainly a girl’s best friend, but today, titanium rods were this schoolgirl’s bosom buddies.
About the author: "My inspiration is the obscene horror and hilarity of life. My version of the truth is the view offered by everyday voyeurism. My canvas is virtual reality."
Writing has always been the means to an end for me, but never the end itself. I've been known to use it to obsessively pursue academic excellence or "scam" my way into other kinds of questionable so-called success — as well as use it as an attention-attraction device.
It did not occur to me to write for the sake of writing until I found myself in a corporate career at age 20. I am 23 now and have lived in Australia for nine years — my family settled in Australia after immigrating from Bulgaria when I was 13 (in 1995).
Thus as a result of my mother's crazy courage, I found myself as a migrant in a contemporary metropolis such as Melbourne. To further spice up my life story, I was also diagnosed with rapidly advancing scoliosis just prior to arriving in Australia. But the bizarre twists and turns didn't end there because I met the love of my life at just 15 while we were both still in high school. It is these bitter-sweet and retrospectively exciting experiences that were the inspiration behind, and served as the setting for, the fictitious accounts in Sex, Scars & a Superheroine with Scoliosis.