Now You See It, Now You Don’t

Now You See It, Now You Don’t

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Be The Best You Can Be

Now You See It, Now You Don’t

One is taught by experience to put a premium on those few people who can appreciate you for what you are.

~Gail Godwin

I could hardly wait to get to school and see my friends. What would their reactions be when they saw me? I didn’t know, but I was sure it wouldn’t be like it was the day when I had started school there three years before.

On that terrible day my stepfather, Buddy, had to take me to school early so that he wouldn’t be late for work. When he stopped in front of the school, I didn’t want to get out of the car. I looked out at the small group of students standing outside the building and suddenly felt sick, but it was too late to back out now. Swallowing hard and trying not to cry, I slowly opened the car door and pushed myself around to get out. I felt awkward and ugly. The body brace I wore held me so stiffly that I couldn’t move very easily, but at last I was out of the car. Buddy said good-bye, then drove off leaving me standing there alone.

I felt abandoned. I didn’t know anyone there. I wished I were still in my old school with all my friends. My old friends knew all about my brace. They had also known me before I got the brace, so they knew I wasn’t really this… this… monster that I felt like now.

Some of the kids had gathered near the front doors, which were still locked. I didn’t have to look at them to know they were staring at me. I could feel it. And who could blame them? I was sure I had to be the ugliest, strangest thing they had ever seen. So let them stare, I thought defiantly. I’ll just ignore them. I turned my back to them and sat down stiffly on the steps that led from the sidewalk up to the school. Hot, angry tears fell on my new dress, but I quickly wiped them away.

I looked down at my dress. It would be a pretty dress — on someone else. The brace ruined everything. I felt like a freak. I wanted to cry, to run and hide so no one could ever stare at me again. But I was trapped. Trapped inside this hideous contraption made of leather and steel. The leather wrapped around my middle and rested on my hips. Two narrow metal bars ran up my back. A wider bar came up the front to support the neckpiece, which held my head in place. The only way I could turn my head was by turning my whole body.

That morning though, I didn’t try to turn my head. I didn’t want to see the curious stares of strangers. I should have been used to it. People were always staring at me, or worse, asking me what was wrong with me. I hated being different. And the brace made it even worse. There was no way to hide the ugly thing. It just stuck out there, inviting everyone to gawk.

As I sat there on the steps, I didn’t think I could be more miserable. I was wrong. Even though it was September, the weather was still warm and as the sun rose higher, the shade disappeared. I could feel the sweat begin to trickle down my back and under my arms. Great! Now I would smell sweaty on top of looking weird. I wanted the earth to swallow me up right then and there.

But, of course, the earth didn’t oblige by swallowing me up. I managed to get through that day, and the next, and all the days for the following three years. In spite of the horrid brace, I managed to make friends, once everyone got used to seeing it. I still felt awkward and ugly most of the time though, and I could hardly wait to get the brace removed for good.

That day finally arrived, one rainy Thursday in spring. I remember being so thrilled when the doctor said I could leave the brace off that I threw my arms around him and gave him a big hug. I told him I would always love rain from that day on. I was free at last!

At first I was going to call my best friend and tell her what happened, but then I decided just to surprise her at school the next day. I could hardly wait for the oohs and ahs that I expected to hear from everyone when they saw me without that dreadful brace. I danced up the stairs to the school building that morning. Just wait until they see me, I thought. Just wait!

And so I waited. In my first class, no one said a word. What was the matter with them? Couldn’t they see how much I had changed? Maybe they were just too surprised to say anything. Probably in the next class, they would notice. Again, I waited. Still nothing. I was beginning to feel awful. Maybe I was just as ugly without the brace! Or maybe my friends just didn’t care as much about me as I thought. Then on to the next class, where I waited again.

By the end of the day, I was feeling hurt and confused. Even Danielle, my very best friend, hadn’t said anything, and she knew how much I had hated wearing the brace. I didn’t know what to think. I at least had to know what Danielle thought. I was spending the night at her house, so I decided to bring it up if she didn’t say anything about it by then.

After a few hours at her house, she still hadn’t said a word. At that point, I chickened out and asked Danielle’s younger sister, Ann. “Ann, don’t you notice anything different about me?” I asked her cautiously.

“Did you do something to your hair?” she asked.

“No. Not my hair,” I said impatiently. “It’s the brace. The brace is gone!” I turned in a circle and nodded my head up and down to show her. “See? It’s gone!”

Ann just looked at me and shrugged her shoulders. “Well, I kinda thought something was different, but I just didn’t know what it was!”

It wasn’t until later that I realized my friends had long since accepted me for who I was, and they simply didn’t notice the brace anymore. With or without the brace, what they saw when they looked at me was their friend.

~Anne McCourtie

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