My Body: Nip. Tuck.
I am climbing an everlasting staircase—twisting, turning, following a circuitous route. My last thoughts still grounded in this world are of the intensity of the light burning above, frying my retinas as if I have gazed into the unforgiving glare of the noon day sun. And of course, the BEEP of the heart monitor measuring the strength of my life.
My body functions have been reduced to a tangled maze of wires attached to whirring machines operated by aliens swaddled in scrubs, only their eyes peering behind clear plexiglass face masks offer me a trace of human kinship. One last shallow breath and I give in, I jump. Nip. Tuck.
I wake up. Once. Twice. Over a dozen times and counting. Each time, my nose was a little less long, my lip was a little more symmetrical, my face has been chiseled into something resembling modern day beauty standards instead of the gargoyle I have been convinced I am. 2019 is a different year and body positivity movements and inclusivity are all the rage, but in middle school in rural Indiana there was only the popular table, and the rest of us disfavored finding solace where we must.
Born with a genetic facial birth defect, I learned to never rely on my looks. Always the third wheel to dances, never had a boyfriend until college, and went on a total of two dates with two separate boys (they do not deserve to be called men) in high school. Looks, indeed, were not something I could rely on. My body, however—that was.
One of my earlier memories is of a gym teacher after I beat all the boys in a footrace in class wearing a dress and kitten heels, “Diane, you REALLY must try out for the track team once you get to middle school.” Sweat crawled down my back causing my black velvet dress with the three purple flowers across the chest to cling to me. And so, I joined the track team, one thing led to another, and I never lost a 100m dash during the regular season for the next seven years.
The stench of burning rubber rises from a track, scorching my knees and baking my fingertips as I crouch poised in sprinter’s starting blocks. Veins run up my arms creating highways to my heart and surging blood through my body as the gun fires. It seems fitting that in the end, the worth of my young adult life was chopped into fragments of glory less than 12 seconds long. As a child I never could control my temper, and in those few breaths I could outrun Atlas’s weight upon my shoulders.
My coming of age story is of a girl who would cry herself to sleep, spend hours in a weight room, and run away to New York City. It is of a young woman who is far from perfect, but now, when she looks in the mirror—all she sees is strength.