Rubbing my hands to stay warm, I sit staring at the posters on the wall. My eyes wander in an attempt to gloss over the one with the diagram that labels all your lady parts by scientific names.
“Fallopian tube,” I say out loud with a shudder.
I settle on the cupboard and think of how weird it is that they store filaments, lube and kidney pans in that order in that one cupboard. Hospitals must throw some kinky parties.
I give up on trying to endure the wait without whipping out my cellphone. With a sigh, I begin punching in my passcode. The door knob suddenly turns and I nervously drop my phone like I was just busted surfing ebay for cute kitten sweaters while on the clock. Not like I do that, who does that? Do you do that? I don’t do that.
“Just Jackie is fine, doc.”
“So we’re here to discuss the results of your MRI.”
We proceed to look at some images. Where he barrels on to explain the anatomy of my neck. I feel like I’m sitting outside of myself watching myself try to keep it together in slow motion. I conjure up an image of my spine as a conduit cable encasing all these fibers called nerves.
“So right here,” he says as he circles three vertebrae at the base of my skull, “aaaaand right heeeere,” he says circling an odd indent near my throat, is the source of all your pain.
“The bad news is, that since the pain is in your bones, and not in your muscles, it’s hard to say if physical therapy would result in much relief. Basically the only way that you can realign your bones, is neurosurgery.”
“Oh…okay,” I say, pretty confident that I was pulling off looking like I was cool, so cool, so totally fucking cooool.
“…that would entail fusing certain parts of your spine together to bring back the natural curve and also to push out this indentation. That would fix your alignment, the caveat being that after that your neck will not have full mobility and you will be stiff.”
“You mean, while it’s healing?”
“I mean, like, always.”
“So you know between that and chronic neck pain, if the pain is registering at 3 most days with a spike some days, I’d probably choose that over surgery.”
I always found it odd when people used breakneck speed to describe something fast. In my mind I always imagined that people with broken necks surely could not move about with any sort of speed. I think back to the hot summer day when in my cramped apartment I mastered my first inversion after coming home from yoga, determined to do it. I nearly cried. It was a milestone for me, because earlier that year, I was so out of shape I could barely do a 10-second plank without the assistance of at least 5 curse words.
I thought of the first time I whipped my hair in a pole dance class and actually felt desirable. Like for the first time it was kind of okay to do that without laughing and saying that I was just copying something I’d seen on instagram.
I thought of the first time I ever took an MMA class, and how wonderful it felt to do something I never thought I’d ever do.
Then I thought about the months I spent in pain. Unable to breathe as my back would spasm. Tension headaches so bad I was afraid to sleep and never wake up. Shooting pains and numb fingertips. Pain killers and drowsiness. The pounds I worked really hard to keep off gradually pile up as every exercise session became a gamble, a compromise, of how much pain I’d be willing to be in afterwards for an hour of exertion. I used to be the girl who broke boards and smashed planks, and practiced sparring drills for hours and now I think if someone punched me, my neck would snap in half and I would literally die. Inversions are risky. Hair whips make me see stars. Trying to pass someone’s guard leaves me in agony for days.
I was the fat kid for most my life. We used to do laps at school to collect popsicle sticks–by the end we were supposed to have 16 total. I would always pray to be at least second to the last to finish. That if I were second to the last it wasn’t as bad as being the absolute worst. I was always the absolute worst. I lost every game of chicken on the playground, and whenever I fell people would pretend to fall over from an earthquake. I was the one member of the family who was highly encouraged to just stick to the salad at a buffet and by “highly encouraged” I mean that my father would promise to leave me at home if I didn’t do exactly that. I grew up placing limitations on myself until one day I started working to shatter those limitations. I was a late bloomer to discovering that I was capable of more than I thought.
It’s so hard to describe the feeling of loss after realizing I worked hard to climb to the peak only to find out that what awaits is just another valley. It’s not really me moving at breakneck speed, but everything I’ve worked for, enjoyed and looked forward to wooshing by like a single train in an empty station. A love of challenges replaced with fear. Gone in such breakneck speed, you question if it was ever really there.