Ow, My Back

Age I was given: 15 by Ayeen Karunungan

Where I lived:
My childhood home in Cebu smelled of dust and cake ground into the parquet floors. Out front, bougainvilleas all but hid the front gate. The house itself was old and Spanish in style, with a dirty kitchen and a laundry area housed in a separate building in the back. This tiny structure was the domain of Marco, an ancient box turtle that refused to show any mutant powers despite my brother’s efforts to cover it in radioactive goo.

What I did:
I wore a back brace for my scoliosis 23 hours a day and did not know enough of Frida Kahlo to think that this was cool. Relieved of any possibility of attention from boys, I threw myself into extra-curricular activities like designing subversive bulletin boards, quietly seizing control of the school paper and using my status as the school’s de facto art competition representative to get as much time off from actual schoolwork as possible. My honor student grades did not suffer – unlike those of our valedictorian, who made the critical mistake of becoming my close friend, and under my bad influence, slipped to third in the class for the first time in her life.

What I drove:
My parents mad.

Who had my heart:
I didn’t know my heart enough to give it away. If there was anybody who came close, it would be a boy I met at a leadership conference in Baguio where I, mercifully, was allowed respite from my back brace. He asked me to the Claret prom but I ended up sabotaging whatever was going on in a matter of weeks. I have no idea why, but we’re still friends.

The old house in Cebu has been torn down and the whereabouts of Marco currently undetermined.

I make my living designing and writing higher stakes versions of subversive bulletin boards and school papers. My parents don’t seem to mind except perhaps for the fact that I am forever between one trip and the next and the next — La Union in a few hours, then Hanoi, then Perth, then Sydney. To this day, whenever my travels take me to Cebu, I make time to apologize profusely to our valedictorian for ruining her perfect record.

In the meantime, I live in limbo, otherwise known as Quezon City.

My time sleeping on couches and random beds has not been kind to my back — which, despite the social suicide of the back brace, has remained grossly crooked (though most boys do not notice).

The older I get, the danger grows that my deformed spine will twist my heart into an odd and fatal position. Perhaps I should start thinking of giving it to someone for safekeeping.


This is what happens when you treat Facebook memes like Creative Writing assignments. This has been edited from the original.

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