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It was a warm September evening, one that I had come to love because it allowed for me to sweat more when I took my evening walks on the treadmill my grandparents had in the garage. I could smell the oil burning off the engine of my uncles truck as he headed off to work. Currently I was living with seven other people in a small three bed one bath house in the dead center of Pasadena. My grandparents house was now the community shelter that their kids flocked to when in need. My mom was working through a third divorce, my uncle suffering through his first and my grandparents worked to make sure the transition was as easy as possible for them.
Along with my uncle came his two children, my cousins, Teighlor and Hunter. Teighlor was only six months younger than me and often looked up to me as her older sister rather than her best friend; and Hunter was only a year older than my brother who had just turned four. That night was a typical school night dinner in the Hudspeth house, a hearty meal and small talk before the family split off for their own nightly activities. My grandparents retired to the living room where my grandfather would watch the news and my grandmother would crossed stitch, my uncle took my cousins to see their mom as it was her respected date and my own mother kept to the dinner table to play catch up on the work she had missed during court hearings. I took this time to escape to the garage, with my brother waddling behind me on his pudgy toddler feet.
Once the door was closed I started my daily routine: sit Andrew on the floor a few feet away from the machine so I could watch him play as I walked, secure my shoes to my feet, and pray to God that I wouldn't cry this time. Since my mom decided to leave my brothers dad, her anger and verbal attacks on me became a daily routine. Her favorite subject, my weight. Being only 9 years old I still had a good amount of baby fat left one me, I had a good diet, and I loved being outside during recess to play in the annual game of tag. However, my mothers verbal abuse was enough to make me want to be like the girls I envied so dearly. The ones who didn't have to wear a training bra yet, and who's jeans could still be found in the kids section at GAP, compared to the junior sized jeans I stuffed myself into everyday.
So I mounted the machine, ready for the tedious task ahead of me, and began my daily mile. I never went to fast, only about three miles an hour so I could still maintain a rhythmic heartbeat. During my hour I listened to my brother babble to his toy soldiers, the mechanical whirl of the gears pulling the mat beneath it, and the slight pant that would break from my chapped lips. Yet this evening would end like none of the others had, and I never thought my life would be forever altered by a long walk towards a better figure. My palms were sweaty but I was happy, the calorie counter read 300 and that meant I have three hundred calories closure to my goal. Now, this next part is still and will probably always be a blur to me. I reached for the glowing red stop button, eager to tell my mom of my accomplishment so she would as proud of me as I was myself, but my hand missed.
The sweat gathered on my palms pushed my hand towards the speed section and suddenly I was thrown into the wall behind me. The space between the end of the treadmill and the opposite wall was only a few inches apart, successfully trapping me between the rubber mat that was now going a total of ten miles per hour. I remember pulling my lips into my mouth because if my face was going to burn, my lips would be safe. Minutes later my mom came running into the garage and pulled me off the machine by my arm, and all but dragged me into the living room before backtracking and grabbing my brother. She had heard my brother screaming, I can't remember his screams, just the glassy tears that filled his eyes in fear. Upon inspection of my body it was clear I needed to go to the hospital, my grandfather stayed home and my grandmother drove us.
I was fascinated with my hands. The burns had created giant blisters on my palms from where I attempted to push myself up and off of the mat, chunks of skin were hanging off in agony. Everyone looked at me in pity, no matter where I went. The nurses cooed sympathetically, the doctors whispered in hushed tones so I couldn't hear the trauma I had caused my body. My grandmother didn't leave my side until my dad and stepmom walked into my room, my mother ignored them and continued to coddle Andrew. Everything's better with my dad around. He always knows how to calm my anxiety, in this situation it was oreos from the vending machine outside my room. It wasn't until midnight that I was finally able to move into a private room in the burn center. After another agonizing hour of being poked and prodded I was finally told our plan of action.
I suffered third degree burns on my hands, forearms, both legs, and my ankles. My cheeks and chin had nasty second degree burns that required a fishy smelling ointment to be slathered on it hourly to keep them from scaring. However, the rest of my body was less than lucky. The next morning I was scheduled for surgery; my burns needs skin grafts in order to properly heal. I was never afraid. Hospitals were calming to me. The cleanliness, the constant attention from the attending nurses and the casual guest, not to mention the gifts I got from friends and family. The next morning I was brought into the operating room with my hello kitty doll wedge into the crook of my elbow. The last memory I have before the anesthesia pulled me under was the image of my doll falling to the floor and a dull burning in the back of my throat.
When I awoke my dad had gone to work, leaving me with my mom. My arms and legs had been wrapped in layers of gauge and bandages and everything hurt. And it never stopped hurting. Because if the pain wasn't from the burns themselves, it was from the emotional pain they caused me. I was released a week later. My doctor made it a point to stress how important it was for me to always have a hat on, and to be covered from head to toe when going outside; if I didn't the burns would scar and my face would have harsh red stripes painted across it. This led to a perpetual fear of the sun. Instead of recess I spent my afternoons in the library, helping shelf lone books and checking in the large stacks that loomed over the desk. And when my family enjoyed evening dinner in the sun, I stayed inside the screen door locked away from the fun. School was no longer my safe haven, rather yet another place I wanted to hide from.
What I didn't know at this time was that my accident was really a miracle in disguise. Although I lost my freedom, and my insecurities still ate away at me, I was able to learn new things about myself that I had never saw before. I learned that my true friends were those who stayed with me while I healed, I learned that I loved to bake more than I loved riding my bike around the neighborhood, and I learned that my grandparents weren't as boring as they let on. Without this accident I would have lost these moments that I have come to love. And even once I was healed, and the bandages came off, I continued to help in the library, and to bake, and have those long talks with my grandparents after dinner. I may still fear the sunlight, and yes, treadmills still give me anxiety; but I would go through it all over again if it meant that I would get to keep these lessons learned. I am not defined by my scars, rather my scars are a roadmap of my past and are my hope for the future.