Life Rerouted

Let’s do a family video chat soon,” Mom wrote in her email. “Let’s pick a time when you can all be available next Sunday.”

How lovely, I thought. We haven’t done a group chat with Mom in ages! A moment later, a pang of fear struck me. Something is wrong, my gut warned, We haven’t done a group chat in ages.

Dave chided me for being so dramatic. “She just wants to talk to you guys, is all,” he assured me. “Don’t assume the worst.”

Still, the next day I sent Mom a text. “Is something going on that you need to tell us?” I remembered at Thanksgiving she had mentioned that she and Kathryn were working on their wills. I told myself it could just be an update on that.

Maybe they’re going to take us on an all-expenses paid trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter? I joked with my youngest brother, after I’d stirred up his anxiety by texting him and asking if he knew what was up.

Mom wouldn’t cave under the pressure of my probing texts, much to my frustration. “Tell you what,” she wrote. “If you can wrangle the boys, we can do a call tonight and I’ll tell you what’s going on.”

By this point I knew it couldn’t be good. If it was a benign thing, like going over details of a will, or discussing plans for next summer’s family get-together, why wouldn’t she just say so and alleviate my worry?

After a flurry of text messages between the siblings, we agreed on a 7 pm call. Whatever it is, I hope it’s treatable, I thought to myself.

Just a few months before, Cara’s uncle had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. He went from having a pesky cough to being in the ICU at Dana Farber in Boston within a month. His condition quickly deteriorated and he died the day after Christmas. It was shocking that it happened so fast, and left us all pondering just how abruptly life can be taken away from you and turned upside down for those left behind. This was still fresh in my mind as I fretted over what could be going on with Mom.

At 7 pm, I began dialing and connecting Mom and Kathryn to Kris and John and Nick. We greeted each other cheerfully, happy to hear those familiar voices across the miles. I can only assume my brothers all waited on the edges of their seats, as I did, for Mom to tell us why she’d wanted us all together.

“I have breast cancer,” she said.

“Fuck,” I breathed, my voice colliding with those of my brothers, all of us releasing exclamations of dismay at once. I thought first of my brother John, whose wife had just lost her uncle to cancer, and whose two close friends were also battling cancer. Just a few months before, they’d been talking with some concern about how many people they knew had cancer.

I leaned against the wall and stared at the familiar features of the kitchen, suddenly recalling similar anxious phone conversations with my siblings when Dad had been unexpectedly hospitalized years before. Why are kitchens always places of such intense emotion? I wondered.

We all held it together on the phone, as each of us expressed our concern and our support, and our promises to help out however we could. She explained that they didn’t know much yet, other than that they could tell it was cancer from the x-rays. It had spread to her lymph nodes, but they didn’t know yet if it had spread further. She would be going for a biopsy the next day to determine what kind of cancer it was.

After hanging up, I sat numbly. I knew it would take some time for the news to sink in. Cancer. It’s what I had feared, although somehow breast cancer seemed a little less scary. Breast cancer is so common! Breast cancer is pink ribbons and t-shirts and it’s something that can be beat, right? I realized then just how little I actually knew about it.

The days slowly turned to weeks – each day spent waiting for something else. I can imagine that for Mom these days of waiting were absolute agony. We tried to help keep things light by sending funny text messages and emails, and mailing cards for her.

I cautiously googled information about breast cancer. I remembered a young woman I knew who died from breast cancer in her early 30’s. I reached out to my former boss, who had just finished up chemo for her breast cancer. I mentioned it to a couple of friends and learned that both of them had breast cancer in their families – that their grandmothers and mothers and aunts had gone through chemo or surgery and had come out the other side.

While of course, I still nursed the lurking fear that Mom’s cancer could have spread and become more deadly, or that her particular kind of cancer would be incurable, I did find comfort in realizing just how many women have been through this.

Finally, after weeks of scans, x-rays, MRI’s, blood work and whatever else they could think of to check, it was clarified. Invasive Ductal Carcinoma that had spread to the lymph nodes, but, hallelujah, not anywhere else in her body.

Last week she had a port installed, and tomorrow she begins chemo. She will have to do chemo, followed by surgery and then radiation. I wish they could just do surgery and leave it at that, but I trust that her doctors know what is best. Obviously I don’t, as I literally just learned about breast cancer from Google in these past few weeks.

So, that’s where we’re at right now. I am focusing on keeping a positive attitude about it, and trusting that this will be yet another interesting chapter in our lives. Writing about it is therapeutic for me, but I’m trying to balance it with respect my mom’s privacy, as she is not the kind of person who would blog about her problems and post it all over the internet like I do.

For those of you who know my mom and want to follow her progress, she has created a Caring Bridge page, which is kind of like a blog.  Just go to and type in her name. Or, ask me for a direct link.

Namaste, friends.

Exploring Ectrodactyly with EEC Chick

Fun times in our pool!

Check out my crazy toe!

As the name implies, ectrodactyly is a prominent feature of EEC. Ectrodactyly just means missing fingers (or toes). If you ask me about it, I’ll say that I don’t think about ectrodactyly much and that it really hasn’t been that big of a deal in my life. Which in some ways is true. It has not caused me much physical discomfort, and in general I have not let it affect my self-confidence or social life. I had no difficulty learning to walk, tie my shoes, write, draw, play the piano, sculpt clay, or even type. Ectrodactyly never holds me back! Except that at times, my perception of it does hold me back. I have never had a professional mani/pedi because I don’t want a stranger touching (or even looking at) my feet. I’ve never found a pair of high heels I can walk in without agony. In fact, most ‘cute’ shoes are uncomfortable for me. I’m still timid when it comes to baring my feet in public, though I’m working on that one.

I just walked down these stairs with two different sized feet... no big deal.

I just walked down these stairs with two different sized feet… no big deal.

I was lucky because my ectrodactyly did not limit the function of my hands or feet. I only needed to have surgery on one foot, and that was because the “big toe” stuck out so far that wearing a shoe was a challenge. The surgeries were done when I was really young, before I started school. I have tons of pictures of little me walking around the house with a huge boot on my foot. It’s amazing I was able to walk without tripping, when I can barely do that now without a cast on my foot. . . .

The first toe surgery didn’t work, so we went to another doctor and I had a second surgery. The doctor was really nice and the day of my surgery he actually came into the pre-op waiting room and picked me up and carried me into the operating room. It was much more comforting than being wheeled in on a gurney. That may also have been the time that they offered me different fruity scents for anesthesia. Regrettably, I chose banana.

The procedure was simply to cut a wedge of bone out of the toe and fold the toe inward a bit. They stuck a surgical steel pin through the tip of the toe to hold it in place while it healed. I still have the pins from both surgeries – I’ll post pictures of them in a later post devoted to the various medical paraphernalia I have collected through the years.

I seem to have misplaced my bubble wand.

I seem to have misplaced my bubble wand.

I’m sure I was aware that my hands and feet were different from a young age. I would look at my mom’s long, graceful fingers and wonder if mine would ever look that way. I knew I was different, but everybody was different in some way or another. My hands and feet weren’t a big deal, especially since my cleft lip and palate issues required much more attention.

The first time I remember becoming acutely aware of my hand difference was when I started school. There were probably instances before that where someone might have noticed my hands or feet and asked about them, but nothing sticks out in my memory. What I vividly recall is walking down the hallway at school and seeing kids pointing and staring. It was the first time I saw anyone look at me with fear in their eyes. It hurt to be called names and to be feared by other kids when all I wanted to do was make friends and learn.

Of course, not everyone treated me differently. Some kids were able to look past my outward appearances and were friendly to me right away. Before long, kids got used to me and stopped noticing my hands at all. My feet were always covered by socks and shoes, and so it was easy to forget about them.

Hey kids! Are ya freaked out yet?

Hey kids! Are ya freaked out yet?

One of my favorite places to go as a kid was Sesame Place. I loved the water slides most of all. One year, my cousin Karen took me and my friend Joanna there for my 9th birthday. It was a Saturday, and the park was more crowded than usual. The lines for the water slides were long, and looped back and forth on each other. Karen waited while Joanna and I went on the slides. As we inched our way up the stairs in line, there was a group of boys right in front of us. They were being typical boys, talking roughly and pushing each other around. After a few minutes one of them noticed my feet. “Eww!” He shrieked, “Alien feet!” My heart lurched. The other boys looked and made exclamations of disgust and laughed. They lost interest after that, but this kid wouldn’t give it up.

The line moved agonizingly slow, giving him plenty of time to torment me. In hindsight, I don’t know why none of the other people in line told him to shut up, or why I didn’t use one of my alien feet to kick him in the groin. All I remember is the feeling of shame, that I was gross and scary and shouldn’t be showing my feet in public. When we finally got to the top, I had to get on the slide right behind him. I was so flustered that I didn’t wait for the attendant to tell me to go ahead. I just went, and the cruel forces of gravity pulled me right up behind him. “Eww!” he shrieked again, as my feet brushed up against his back. “Don’t touch me with those monster feet!”  he yelled. Miserably, I grabbed at the slippery sides of the slide, trying to slow myself down somehow. I bent my legs to try to keep my feet from touching him, but our fate was sealed and we slid down together, hating every second of it.


Weeee! (This picture is from a happier day.)

Once I escaped from that nightmare and met up with Karen again, she asked me who the kid was that I’d been talking to. Did I know him from school? I feigned ignorance. I didn’t feel like going on any more slides after that. I dried off and put my shoes back on. We had lunch in the park and then we went home.

I didn’t talk about that moment with anyone after that, but from then on I was hyper vigilant about who I saw my feet. When we went to the beach, I would wiggle my toes down into the sand to shield them from the eyes of strangers. I was embarrassed about the footprints I left in the wet sand as I walked down to the water. I dreaded occasions where I’d have to expose my feet at school. I eventually learned that no one was going to make a scene like the kid at Sesame Place did, but I still felt ashamed and did not want to give people any more reason to think I was creepy.

As I grew up, as a teenager and a young 20-something, I only let a select few see me barefoot. I had such anxiety about my feet that I always kept them covered in public. When I was 28, I decided that I wanted to take swimming lessons again. I’d always loved to swim and thought it would be a great way to get exercise. So I took a class at the YMCA. I wore Crocs in the locker room and on the pool deck, slipping them off for only the time it took to get from the bench to the pool. No one ever commented on my feet, and most likely not that many people even noticed. It helped me build a little confidence, but I wasn’t about to parade around town in a pair of sandals.

It wasn’t until I went to the NFED Conference in 2011 that I really showed my feet to anyone else. I was inspired by the kids I saw running around barefoot or in sandals. Kids whose feet were just like my own. I remembered how good it felt to wear sandals and to feel the breeze on my feet. I went home and bought a pair of flip-flops. I was still shy about showing my feet, so I only wore them around the house and around people I was comfortable with. But it was a start. The next year I brought the flip-flops to the conference and I wore them the whole time. Of course, as soon as the conference was over and I had to return to the “real world”, I covered up my feet again.

Throwing EEC gang signs with my homeboys.

Throwing EEC gang signs with my homeboys.

Each summer I grow a little braver. Last year my company had it’s summer picnic at an amusement/water park (not Sesame Place). I decided to go in the water park. It was the first time in 20 years that I showed my feet (and my thighs) in a really public place. Most people didn’t even notice. In fact, most people were far from perfection in their bathing suits.

It might seem silly that I could be so affected by that kid at Sesame Place. Of course, he wasn’t the only kid who ever commented on my digits (or lack thereof). Maybe he was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Despite all the physical pain I’ve been through with my oral/maxillofacial/dental surgeries and my ear surgeries, it seems like the hardest thing for me in this life is accepting that I look different, and that people notice. It is something I have battled as long as I can remember – this feeling of not looking the way I’d really like to. I have come a long way in terms of accepting my looks, but I still have a long way to go.

I am always grateful that my hands and feet work so well. Not everyone with ectrodactyly is so lucky. I have enjoyed compliments on my drawing and penmanship skills. I can walk for miles and hike mountains without my feet giving out. I am fortunate, I know. Feelings of shame about one’s appearance are incredibly powerful and difficult to break away from. I know I am not alone in struggling with this. I have had friends who struggle with body image for other reasons, and so I know it is a common struggle, especially for women.

So there it is. My experience with ectrodactyly. I forgot to write about being called Ninja Turtle hands or Three Fingered Monster, but the moral is the same. Pick on someone about their looks and they get a complex about it. Don’t do it. Don’t make fun of fat people, or people with crooked faces or disfigurements. They didn’t ask to look that way. Look past whatever outward flaws a person has. You might just find that they are worth getting to know.

Color Me, Don’t Color Me

The year is 1991. Kids really do wear their hair in aqua-net-encased creations of spiked mullets and towering bangs (the grunge wave has not yet reached our suburban landscape). My personal soundtrack consists of anything REM, the Bryan Adams’ single “Everything I Do”, and Disney’s Little Mermaid soundtrack. I think I am turning out to be pretty cool.

This is actually my 7th grade picture, but I had the same glasses in 6th grade so just go with it.

I have just started the sixth grade at Log College Middle School, and while I would never admit to actually liking school, it’s going pretty well so far. One day a teacher asks me to run a note to the principal’s office during class. The hallway is strangely empty and quiet without the usual between-class hustle and bustle. I walk briskly and cheerfully towards the principal’s office, enjoying my few moments’ escape from the classroom. At the far end of the hall I notice another girl walking toward me. As she gets closer I see her face is crumpled in a frown. Her lip curls up in a sneer.

“Why don’t you get some markers and color your hair?”

My heart leaps to my throat. Markers? I am so taken back by her strange statement that all I can do is look at her with a stunned expression. My face grows warm and I quickly turn away and walk faster towards the principal’s office. “Markers!” She yells at my back with a laugh.

Which color should I choose for my hair?

Which color should I choose for my hair?

By this time in my life I am used to kids finding something about me to make fun of, or to be freaked out by. I’ve come to expect it.  For the most part I’m able to ignore the stares and the whispers, but the feeling of being different and weird never really goes away. Still, there is always some hope that I can get through a day without anyone commenting on my looks, or pointing out how I’m different. 

A few days later, I am walking down the hall with a group of friends and I see the girl coming towards me again. I tense up and wait for her to strike. Our eyes lock as she approaches. She wrinkles up her nose and mutters “Get some markers, and color that white hair!” as she passes. “Shut up!” I whisper, feeling embarrassed. My friend Emilee turns around. “Were you just talking to that girl?” She asks. “No, it’s nothing,” I assure her.

Weeks go by and this continues. I don’t see this girl every day, but whenever I do she sneers and says something about markers. One afternoon in the library, I come across the yearbook from the previous year. I flip through and look at all the kids a year ahead of me. I spot her almost immediately, with her jaunty grin and cold eyes. The text beneath the picture says Moonbeam Landingham.

Wait, what? I laugh out loud right there in the library. Her name is actually Moonbeam Landingham. It’s like a made-up name! I am delighted with this revelation.

The next time I see her in the hall, she asks me if I’ve got any markers yet. “No, Moonbeam,” I retort, “Do you have any I could borrow?” Her eyes widen. She scurries up the stairway and I call out her name after her once more.

Moonbeam* never bothered me again after that.


Her name wasn’t actually Moonbeam Landingham, but it was something similar. I always wondered if her parents were hippies or if they were just having fun playing with an unusual last name.

While at the time I passionately hated “Moonbeam Landingham” because of the way she treated me, I have since realized that she probably had issues of her own that she was dealing with and maybe it made her feel powerful to pick on someone like me. With a name like hers, she probably got picked on herself.

What I learned from that experience was that sometimes all it takes to stop someone from bothering you is to stand up to them and show them you won’t take it. In this case, it took me discovering that this girl had a funny name to give me the courage to speak up. I’ve also learned that oftentimes people who are mean to others are really unhappy themselves. Of course that doesn’t give anyone the right to be mean, but it’s a reminder that it’s THEIR problem, not yours.

Full Speed Ahead

Surgery is looming at end of this week like an iceberg on the horizon. (Dramatic, right?)

Scheduling surgery as an adult is a weird thing for me. I had so many surgeries as a kid that I just grew accustomed to being told when the next one was and steeling myself for the inevitable. But as an adult, I’m the one in the driver’s seat. I’m the one who looked at the calendar and said “Friday, November 22nd would work for me! Sign me up!”

I don’t know if anyone ever really wants to have surgery. Even if you know that the results of the surgery will make your life better, you still have to get over the hump that is the surgery itself. Even if you’ve had 20+ surgeries before, there is still a sense of dread at the prospect of putting on a skimpy hospital gown and allowing yourself to be knocked unconscious so a roomful of strangers can poke, prod and cut you open. And I’m pretty sure they peek under your hospital gown and have a giggle while you’re unaware.

The upcoming surgery isn’t a HUGE deal, really. It is an outpatient procedure, which means I don’t have to stay in the hospital overnight. The procedure in having is a revised radical mastoidectomy.


I had the same surgery done last year but recently learned that there is still some disease in the ear which needs to be removed. There two things about this type of surgery that make me nervous: One, the behind the ear incision. If you’ll recall in my last post, I remember all too well how it felt when that got infected and failed to heal properly. Fortunately, last year it healed fine, so I know it can be done. The second worry (this should probably my rank higher than the first worry) is that the facial nerve runs through the surgical site. There is a risk that it could be damaged and leave me looking like a stroke victim. I’ll admit, I am a little vain about my looks. I’ve learned to love my appearance and can see the beauty in my imperfections. But I really do not want to add facial paralysis to my list of issues. Really. Fortunately they use a nerve monitor, which somehow attaches to my face and can sense if the nerve is being damaged. I’m not sure how it works, only that my face was sore from it and I had a bruise for a few days afterward.

Last year I was so elated to be through the surgery that I took “drugged up” selfies and posted one on Facebook. I’ve made a mental note not to repeat that this year.

Post surgical selfie. Not my best work.

Check out my sweet bandage and facial bruise.

Despite having gone through this last year, I am not exactly eager to do it all again but I am going to because it’s the right choice.

This week ahead is very busy, but I expect that even if I fail to post anything else this week, I will have plenty of time to catch up next week. I have a graphically detailed ear-suctioning post in the works which I’m sure you’re all looking forward to. Stay tuned!

Deaf as a post – Part 1

Trying to be enthused about starting 4th grade late.

Trying to be enthused about starting 4th grade late.

For about a week now, I’ve been 85% deaf (as opposed to my usual 50%). I seem to have acquired an infection or a swelling or some thing which has caused my good ear to feel clogged and useless. I’ve been walking around feeling like I’ve just jumped into a swimming pool and the world is muffled.  

My nerves are a little frazzled lately, in part due to this ear thing. If you’ve ever gotten water in your ears, or had your ears pop in an airplane or something, you know how annoying it is when they don’t feel (and hear) right. You never think about how often people speak in hushed tones at work (or should I say gossip?) until you can’t hear them. Sitting at my desk and watching a co-worker mouthing the latest gripes and having no idea what she’s saying makes for some awkward moments. Worse yet is not being able to clearly hear my boss giving direction for a project. 

Ok, who am I kidding, this happens even when my good ear IS working.

So you’re probably wondering what the problem is. Well, ear problems go hand in hand with cleft lip and palate, thanks to improper Eustachian tube function. Since infancy I had frequent ear infections. Every time I’d have surgery on my mouth, they would pop some tubes in my ears in an attempt to alleviate the ear issues. The tubes would always work their way out a short time later and the infections would return. Over time, my ear drums became heavily scarred from all the tubes and all the infections and subsequent ear drum ruptures.

When I was 9 years old, I had surgery on my left ear. I had been suffering from a chronic ear infection for years before that. I’m sure there was pain and hearing difficulty during those years but all I remember was the frequent dosing of antibiotics, or “bubble-gum medicine” as we called it, because it was bright pink and candy-flavored. So I was 9 years old and I had this surgery which was supposed to be an outpatient procedure. I think it was an exploratory surgery because the doctor we were going to couldn’t figure out what my problem was. So when they went in, they discovered that my inner ear was full of cholesteatoma, which as I was made to understand at the time, is basically a tumor made of skin. They opened up my ear from behind and removed all the cholesteatoma, along with bone and parts of my inner ear.

I woke up from the surgery with an incredibly sore neck. My head was wrapped in what felt like an enormous, heavy bandage. My parents were really upset and they told me then that the hearing in my left ear was gone. I don’t recall being sad about it. Considering the amount of cholesteatoma and the extent of the infection I had at the time, I probably hadn’t been able to hear well from that ear anyway.

A few days later we returned to the doctor so he could remove the bandage and take a look at my ear. I sat on my mom’s lap as he began unwrapping. As he pulled away the last bit of gauze, a gush of smelly fluid came out from behind my ear. Mom exclaimed concerns about fainting and the doctor exclaimed too – something along the lines of “Oh crap, that’s not good.” The incision had become infected. Back on antibiotics I went, and home I went with a hole in my head. It had to remain open until the infection cleared up.

Part of the infection-healing process was that my dad had to apply antibiotic ointment to the incision every day. My mom couldn’t bring herself to do it (and I don’t blame her). It was a hideous experience. When he would get home from work in the late afternoons, I would lie face down on the bed while he took a Q-tip and gently applied the antibiotics to the back of my ear. I hated every second of it and just thinking about it now makes me queasy.

Ultimately that infection healed and the wound was closed up. I missed the first week of 4th grade and, as you can see in the photo above, once I did return to school I still had the cotton ball and ointment going on for a while. Plus I was exhausted.

Sadly, that was not the end of the ear problems. The following summer I had to spend a week in the hospital for an intravenous antibiotic treatment to clear up further ear infection. By then we’d switched to another ear doctor because my parents were horrified that the previous one had missed the signs of cholesteatoma until it was nearly too late. For several years I had regular visits to the ENT to have my ear “suctioned”, which as you can imagine is not the most fun process. After a while, it was determined that my ear was okay and I could stop using ear drops and eventually I stopped visiting the ENT.

For the most part my ears were okay throughout my teens and 20’s. The occasional ear infection or wax buildup in my “good” ear would sent me to a doctor for treatment. It wasn’t until my 30’s that I finally decided to find a good ear doctor and find out what was going on in both ears.

Stay tuned for Part 2 – my adventures in ENT issues as an adult.

H-A-double-L-O, W-double-E-N, spells Halloween!


Do i look sufficiently excited?

Halloween has never been a favorite day of mine. As a little kid I was unsettled by the fake tombstones and cobwebbed skeletons that adorned my normally pleasant-looking neighborhood. Even now, I don’t understand people’s fascination with death and gore, like the current zombie craze that affects some of my coworkers. I have lived through experiences where I felt like a zombie. Remembering my own face colored in various shades of bruise, blood leaking from my nostrils, or the corners of my mouth after surgery, and remembering just how awful it felt, both mentally and physically… I just don’t understand the appeal of pretending to be undead.

Masks are also unsettling. The frozen expression, even if it is a jolly one, hides the real emotions and intentions of the person wearing it. Even characters at theme parks have given me an uneasy feeling and I never rushed to be photographed with them. Who knew what kind of creep was lurking under that cheesy grin and oversized head?

Surgeons wear masks.  The second surgery I ever had in my life was on October 30th, 1980. I was only 4 months old at the time so it is unlikely that I consciously remember any of it, but I wonder sometimes if my aversion to Halloween comes from being in the hospital over that time. Undoubtedly the children’s ward was decorated for the occasion.  Or maybe my aversion comes from the simple fact that every time I saw people with their faces covered by surgical masks, I was having an unhappy experience.

When I was really young, I enjoyed dressing up like a princess or a ballerina (which sadly I can’t seem to find pictures of!).  In the snapshot above, I’m wearing a homemade scarecrow costume. (Thanks, Mom!) Not once did I want to dress up as something frightening.

As I’ve mentioned before, my technique for surviving at school was to blend in as much as possible.  While Halloween could have been a really fun time for me to experiment with crazy costumes or even disguise myself completely, I almost never did this.  By 4th grade, Mom had apparently grown tired of making homemade costumes and instead bought me a cheap clown costume.  It was a hideous one-piece polyester affair, with a wire hoop in the seam between the pants and the shirt which made it look like I had huge hips.  As I was just entering puberty and beginning to feel even more self conscious about my body, this was not the greatest choice.  All day I bumped those awkward hips on chairs, desks, fellow students – you name it.  By the time I boarded the bus home (where I had to turn sideways to make it down the aisle), I was ready to burn that stupid costume and never dress up again.

As often happens in childhood, the thing you hated and passionately swore you would never do again is soon forgotten about. The next year, I dressed as a witch, complete with a long black wig, green face paint and a fake nose.  It was the first costume that really disguised my true identity and let me blend in with the other kids.

In 6th grade, my middle school put on a Halloween dance. Everyone was to go in costume. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t be caught dead going to a school dance, where I envisioned myself sitting alone on the sidelines as everyone else had the time of their lives. However, remembering the anonymity of last year’s witch ensemble, I decided to check it out. I dressed as a fortune teller in a dark dress with a sparkly shawl and the trusty black wig. I wore false eyelashes and bold lipstick. At the dance I hung out with my little group of friends but as I walked among the other students, I held my head high and once again felt liberated from my usual bumbling, apologetic self. Some kids even peered at me and wondered who I was. “I sit behind you in algebra!” I said to one girl, who had apparently been unaware of my existence until that very moment. After the dance (at which there was little to no actual dancing), I was high on adrenaline from having just accomplished a social milestone- my first school dance- without having felt ostracized or awkward or even a little bit self conscious. The power of a costume!

Fortunately as I’ve grown up, I have learned to be much more comfortable in my own skin, helped by little bits of “costume” that have been added along the way, like all the surgeries that have reshaped my face, the dental work and artistry that created my smile and the makeup I wear to accentuate my eyes. Most everyone has some means of improving their natural looks to make themselves presentable.

I’m still not a big fan of Halloween, though!