Gather round, dishearteningly silent (if not plausibly nonexistent) readers, and let The Modern Leper tell you a story. My origin story, so to speak. Only instead of a superhero at the end we just get a guy who hates everyone and would probably binge watch television shows until his muscles atrophied and he died of starvation if there was no one around to stop him.
When I was around seven years old or so I began having these sharp pains in my stomach. I don’t remember them too clearly, but they were pretty bad. I can back this claim up with the cause of the pain, which we discovered only after several previous doctor’s appointments turned up inconclusive. I won’t pretend to remember more than I do from that time, so for the sake of honesty (and in the spirit of making a long story short) I’ll just cut to the chase.
I had a spinal cord tumor.
A tumor, for the less medical-terminology-savvy out there, is defined by Dictionary.com as:
- a swollen part; swelling; protuberance.
- an uncontrolled, abnormal, circumscribed growth of cells in any animal or plant tissue; neoplasm.
It’s like cancer minus the cancerous part, so the growth doesn’t spread all over the body (which is good- er, I mean, less bad). The spinal cord part was serious though, because as we all know, the spinal cord is home to the nerves which connect our body parts to our brain. And that meant that there was a high chance of damage to the nervous system, which could lead to anything from severe pain to paralysis or death and everything in between. Even operating to remove the tumor would be risky, as the surgeons could easily snip a nerve or two in the process, as they don’t exactly come with neon “DANGER” signs.
I could go on for a while about my misadventures in Tumorland, but honestly, like I said before, I don’t remember much from that time. And this story isn’t really about back then. It’s about how back then has affected me to this day.
For the most part, thanks to people far greater than I ever have been or will be, I came out alright.
For the most part.
A decent chunk of the tumor was removed in surgery, and the rest was zapped into remission with some good old fashioned chemotherapy. To be completely honest my experiences from that time haven’t had as severe an impact on me as one might imagine, although I did come out of it with a profound distaste for needles. I could pass this off as a result of my youth, perhaps a failure to fully grasp the gravity of the situation, but I’m sure there are plenty of people who are still haunted by things that happened to them when they were young. If I do in fact bare any psychological scars from that time, I have yet to connect the dots, and their origins remain deeply nestled in the roots of my subconscious. After all, with so many issues I’m sure at least one or two of them must have been born within the walls of that hospital.
All the same I can’t say I was ever profoundly moved by my condition. Not then. If asked to hazard a guess as to why I had been so accepting of such a thing, I would say this: I think, even at that age, that I had already come to terms with my own inevitable mortality.
I think I knew I was going to die, and I think I was okay with that.
But I didn’t die.
They saved me, and I came out alright. For the most part, remember. Only for the most part.
You see, the tumor may have been beaten, but it got the last laugh. Because before it had run its course, its strategic placement in my spine gave it the opportunity to leave its mark on my body.
excessive outward curvature of the spine, causing hunching of the back.
A small price to pay, one might argue, for your life. Just a small price. But you forget, it’s a price I paid for a life I had already given up. So what ended up happening, in my mind, was that I was unceremoniously ripped from the gentle embrace of a death that was rightly mine and given a life I was never meant to have, bearing the mark of my unplanned recovery for all the world to see.
And what a mark it is.
My spine is severely distorted, twisted and bent into a grotesque capital ‘S’. If this is an origin story and I was meant to be a superhero, the S would probably stand for Suicideman, or maybe Self-loathing Man. And here’s where the influence of that time on this time comes into it. I think that one of the most, if not the most significant, sources of all my self-hatred lies within that capital ‘S’. After all, it’s hard to like yourself when you grew up looking in the mirror and seeing a freak staring back at you. I saw an ugly, twisted person, and I tried to fit that profile as best I could. I saw no reason to prove it wrong, no reason to even believe that it was wrong
People tell me that I’m lucky, that I was so… blessed, to have survived it. That I was a living miracle. A testament to the power of bullshit. So why, dear reader, have I never, not once in my entire life, felt lucky? What the fuck is so lucky about being given a tumor and then trading in that tumor for a casting as the modern Hunchback of Notre-Dame?
And sure, I’m not stupid. I know there are people who have it worse than me. But that doesn’t make me better off. If I chopped off your arm and chopped off someone else’s head, does that make you a lucky person by default, just by comparison? Will you thank me for the missing limb, because hey, it could be worse? That’s not how it works. Do you know who’s lucky in that scenario? The one who never lost a thing.
I used to believe in a grand scheme, some kind of master plan to all of this. Sometimes I find I still cling to that belief, but it’s out of anger now; a need to blame someone, rather than faith or hope or any of that other bullshit.
What did that seven year old boy do to deserve this? Why him? Why any of the people who have tragedy befall them? And why should I have to play by the rules of this life, if it never did me the same courtesy?
My condition isn’t just the source of my self-hatred; it’s also the origin of all my hatred for this world. It was my window in the wall that they put up around all of us, the one that has flowers and rainbows painted across it. And when I look through that window, past the peeling paint and cheap imitations of true happiness, I see the world we live in. The real world. And it’s an ugly place.
I don’t blame the tumor for what it did to me, any more than I blame the people who took it out of me. If anyone’s to blame, it’s whoever put it there in the first place, assuming they even exist. My only wish now is that one day it will come back and finish the job it started all those years ago. Because I hate this life; this unpredictable, chaotic, indifferent yet paradoxically cruel life.
I want no part of it.