Growing Up

Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

I can’t feel my legs.

That was my first thought when I woke up in a hospital room alone. I saw red when I opened my eyes; maybe it was the memory of my blood splattered on the car ceiling. Or maybe it was the memory of seeing that bright crimson red spilling over my fingers after I touched my face. Images of the car accident flooded my mind… Being separated from my family, being airlifted to a different hospital, talking to a nurse before surgery… Before I could delve any deeper, the doctor entered my room and gave me the diagnosis.

Forty stitches. My seatbelt had ripped my intestines. My lower L4 backbone was compressed and fractured. I didn’t know what this meant, I only knew this: I couldn’t feel my legs.

Panic started spreading painfully into my chest, forcing air out of my lungs, creating chaos in my head. It was too much for my 11-year-old brain to handle. I let the darkness take over and lost consciousness. When I woke up, the doctors asked me to walk to assess the damage. Sitting up was easy enough, but when I tried to walk I crumbled to the ground, red-hot agony radiating through my legs and back. The nurses lifted me up, “Try again, sweetheart. You can do it!”

It was humiliating. I couldn’t stand, much less walk. I tried again, despite the pain, my eyes filled with tears, but I couldn’t do it. My body’s natural instinct to protect my abdominal injury gave me a slight hunch, which also hurt my fractured lower backbone. No matter what, it hurt to move Just yesterday I could dance skillfully, and now? Forget dancing. The doctor said it would take a year.

A year to walk normally. I felt like I was hit by that car all over again.

A nurse noticed me trembling and came close, “Are you okay?”

“No.” I whispered, “I w-want my mom, where is she?” I wiped my tears, “I n-need her.”

“Just one more night and she’ll be here, sweetheart.” She smiled sadly, “Meanwhile, let’s get the glass and blood out of your hair, okay?”

The next day my mom arrived to the hospital room. I was surprised that she was in a hospital bed like me. I assumed she would walk in, completely healthy and safe–but no. She was wheeled in, an IV in her arm and a haggard look on her face. She couldn’t even muster a smile. I realized then that I couldn’t depend on her like usual. It was time to “grow up” and take care of myself. I weaned myself off pain medication and refused to let my parents quit the medication they were taking; they needed it more than I did. Determined, I tackled occupational therapy to walk again. Day and night, I practiced my exercises with rigor; I had to take care of my family and I couldn’t do that if I couldn’t walk. Weeks later, I was finally able to take a few strides without collapsing. A year of intense physical therapy, a walker, and a back brace later I was walking like I’d never been injured. One year later, I took the stage in my first performance for hundreds of people with my Bharatanatyam Indian Classical dance group and won first place.

Two years after that, I stood teaching eight little girls how to dance.

“Wowwwww,” one girl said in awe after I performed a step, “how did you do that?!” I smiled gently, “Practice makes perfect, sweetheart. You’ll get there one day.” And guess what? They did. And so did I.

Four years after the accident, in tenth grade, I started the Bollywood Dance club at my high school. I wanted to help and inspire others through dance, to teach people how to get back up after being knocked down, to persevere despite everything.

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