I stared at the prosthetic arms, legs, and other fake body parts displayed in the shop’s front window beneath the steady glow of a neon sign advertising: ARTIFICIAL LIMBS.

Mama and I walked through the front door of the shop. A short man dressed in a white jacket approached us. He was a hairy man; hair was sprouting above the top button of his shirt, and his arms were hairy all over. His name was Leroy Cook.

I was in this house of horrors because I had been diagnosed with scoliosis—curvature of the spine. An orthopedist had prescribed the treatment, a Milwaukee brace, a monstrosity of metal bars, screws, belts, pads, and hard plastic. This thing would be my closest companion 23 hours a day, corseted tightly around my hips and pelvic area with anterior and posterior bars attached to a circle of metal outfitted with a chin-rest in the front. My head would be thrust upward and backward, changing my field of vision.

Mr. Leroy led us back to a space resembling a large garage. Artificial flesh-colored body parts were resting on workbenches. Pails the size of paint buckets sat in the corner.

Mama and I followed him into an examining room. Mr. Leroy asked me to hop up on the table covered with white, crinkly paper.

“I don’t want to embarrass you, but you have to undress and put this on, so I can make an impression of your body.” He handed me a long length of stretchy material the color of an ACE bandage. “Pull it up under your arms and pull it down below your bottom,” he said, “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Mama turned her head away while I undressed. The mini tube dress accentuated my flat chest and protruding shoulder blades.

Mr. Leroy re-entered the room and instructed me to lie down on my back. He held a fancy ruler and a Sharpie-like pen. He gently explained what he had to do. Inked marks were drawn at the lowest part of my abdomen, lower than the waistband of my bikini underwear.

The next step in the process would be the plastering. It would be spread over my body like smooth icing. I would hold my arms over my head while keeping a firm grip on a metal bar to ensure a full extension of my torso. The plaster would dry while I stayed in the stretched position. A small round saw—it would not cut me—would cut the cast. It would come off like a rigid dress, and Mr. Leroy would make my brace using the sculpture of my body as his guide.

I looked at my mother at the end of the table. I will not cry. I will not cry.


It took Mr. Leroy two weeks to complete my Milwaukee masterpiece. I spent a second morning in my underwear in his exam room learning to slip on the brace like it was a casual piece of clothing. Arm to the left. Arm to the right. And the wide, rigid bar in the middle separating the two “armholes.”

I learned to secure the Velcro straps, linking the back bars to stabilize my corset. I was stuck.


The Captain D’s restaurant was bustling with the lunch crowd. It had been a difficult morning, and Mama wanted me to enjoy my favorite meal: fish and chips. Perhaps, she thought it would be a good place for me to experience my first public appearance wearing a brace. School was in session; there was little chance I would be seen by one of my classmates.

The hot and flaky fish refused to stay on my fork, sliding down my chin onto the cold metal bar jutting out from beneath the top of my blouse. When I lifted my drink to my lips, I couldn’t maneuver the straw to get it into my mouth. I was thirsty. The straw could not bend, and neither could I.

Pushing back hard from the table, I rocked front to back, plastic on plastic, attempting to propel myself from the unforgiving chair. I pitched forward, hit the edge of the table, and wobbled backward into the chair.

I shoved my food tray to the floor. Fish and french fries flew from their paper basket. Coca-Cola spattered on my pants. Mama grabbed napkins and knelt to soak up the Coke. She looked up at me.

“I want to go home,” I pleaded.


I flopped down on my bed, relishing the feel of my green, chenille bedspread beneath my back like a cat rolling around on a warm, asphalt driveway. The late afternoon sunshine filtered through the sheer window curtain splashed with orange, green, and pale pink flowers, creating a kaleidoscope of shapes on my wall.

I caught the glint of light off metal. My hour was up.


photo by Lisa Phillips

16 Thoughts.

  1. Thank you, Kristin. My adolescence was not easy, but whose is? I have a tender place within me for young girls experiencing pain, rejection, anxiety and low self esteem. But, our afflictions can reap joy and peace.

  2. You brought us into this sweet girl’s story in a way that evokes empathy and admiration, not pity. What a tone you have created! I’m so glad you have shared this here with us. Many blessings on your good work! <3

    • Thank you, Michelle. Your love and encouragement are so appreciated. Many blessings on your good work, also.

  3. You are my hero, forever and ever. And like I said on facebook, the bravest person I know. Honored to call you “Moo.”

    • That young girl’s story would not have been written if it wasn’t for you. Dear daughter, you put the pen in my untrained hand, and told me to write. Thank you.

  4. Oh, Lisa. Now I know an even deeper reason why I treasure your sweet friendship so much. I cannot imagine your experience but I am so grateful you are willing to tell your story. Your candor is a gift to us all. Thank you for sharing. Love you. Suzanne

  5. Ah, Lisa, this one brought tears to my eyes. How hard. How hard to be cast into an unyielding, ugly, metal prison like that — and for your own good, which almost makes it worse. Thank you for this glimpse into the physical world of your girlhood. We need more writing like yours — to teach us to see others’ hardships, yes, but also to teach us that beauty and strength can go hand in hand with them. Your loveliness shines through every word.

    • Thank you, Stacy. I am honored and humbled that you read my words. My experience as an adolescent with a deformity was instrumental in my spiritual formation. I learned that God dwells in tight, crooked places. And I forget, so I write to remember.

  6. Wow, your description of what you saw and physically felt drew me right into your experience. What an artful way of ending it, you made me long for that hour to keep going. This gives me a new appreciation of the freedom I have to move and feel. Thank you for writing it.

    • Thank you for reading, my friend. I write with the hope that I can draw my readers into my experience, connecting with them in a way in which they don’t feel alone and isolated. Yes, and we all need the freedom to move and feel.

  7. I remember the first time I saw you with that brace. I wanted to cry but my Mother had instructed me to not stare and to not treat you any differently. I never remember you whining or complaining . You were laughing and cheerful. I admired your strength and your ” gumption”. I still do.
    Love you Cuz..

    • Thank you, dear Bo. I don’t remember you treating me differently for which I am thankful. You have always had a sensitive heart. I always looked up to you.
      Thank you for reading this piece. It means the world to me.

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