Battle Scars

Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Of all markings that can grace the human body — above moles, freckles, or even tattoos — scars hold the most meaningful anecdotes. They display proudly won battles and mistakes on the individual who bears them. I have a few scars myself, the most prominent bisecting my dorsal side like the equator. Each time someone catches a glimpse of it when the back of my shirt falls below the nape of my neck, he inevitably asks, “What is that from?”

My mother is surprised that I’m never insulted when people ask; after all, scars aren’t a sign of beauty by our cultural standards. However, I am pleased that people wish to understand me better. So I gladly tell them the story of my battle — my struggle with scoliosis. The fight I fought from second grade until seventh grade, when the problem was finally resolved, leaving my back scarred, but straight. This issue resulted in many x-rays (so many that sometimes I feel radioactive), many visits to the orthopedic office, and many years of wearing a back brace, a correctional apparatus that resembles a Shakespearean-Era corset.

When I first wore my brace to school, it was a game. I would coyly approach unsuspecting third graders and say, withholding a smirk, “punch my stomach.” They would giggle, and then happily oblige, only to be left with bruised knuckles and an unmistakable air of confusion. Throughout elementary school, my classmates perceived me as a superhero, able to conquer any foe with my plastic and Velcro armor. This view shifted dramatically with the end of innocent play and the beginning of middle school. Like vultures honing in on wounded prey, middle-schoolers quickly noticed my odd duck walk. Instead of allowing their offensiveness to weigh me down, I utilized it to build my inner confidence.

That inner confidence was tested upon the discovery that I would need spinal fusion surgery to combat my aggressively curving back. Few can comprehend, and certainly I couldn’t at the time, having two metal rods screwed into the backbone, forcing it vertical. I did understand, however, the frightened look plastered like an ancient Greek tragedy mask on my parents’ faces.

After we set the date with solemn attitudes and shaky hands, the wait proved tricky. Bitter thoughts ran through my mind, looming constantly like rain on an unblemished summer morning. When the day finally arrived, I went into surgery a frail, crooked, and terrified seventh grader who could not imagine why this was happening to her. I wanted to back down, even if it appeared cowardly. Whether by divine facilitation or an inner strength even my subconscious was unaware of, something kept me in that doctors office. My body remained strong throughout the procedure but it was my spirit that grew tenfold.

When I look in the mirror, I think of how proud I am of my seventh-grade self. She illustrated the beginnings of virtues that would later become very important to me. She showed me the strength within a human heart: the natural instinct to keep fighting in spite of obstructions. This has made current adversities in my life seem smaller by comparison to what I have already surmounted. She taught me never to indulge in self pity; it is not fair to those who are fighting far more dangerous battles. She revealed to me the strength of compassion and the futility of frustration and anger. Perhaps most importantly, she helped me to love my scars, because they’re mine. They imprint upon me a visible reminder of the scuffles I’ve overcome, there to strengthen my character. Besides, if you escape life unscathed, you did something wrong.

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