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Everything That Makes You(4)

By:Moriah McStay



"Deep tissue?" her mom repeated, flipping through the brochure.                       
       
           



       

The Scar Doctor nodded. "It uses a significantly thicker segment of  skin, giving the muscles a better opportunity to grow together. The  aesthetic results are quite good."

"Thicker?" Fiona asked. She already knew the downside of the  graft-they'd have to cut and scar one part of her body to fix another.  What part was she supposed to sacrifice?

She opened her pamphlet cautiously and nearly vomited at a post-op picture of someone's angry, raw thigh.

"Yes," Dr. Connelly was saying. "After removing the entire damaged area,  the surgeon will replace it with the healthy transplant."

My entire damaged area. "But . . . where will they take the new skin from?"

"A donor."

Fiona imagined Ryan having a chunk of flesh cut out of him. "Who's going to volunteer to do that?"

"No, Fiona," he said. "You'd receive it from an organ donor. We'd put  your name in a registry and when a suitable match becomes available . .  ."

Fiona's eyes widened. "Oh."

"Of course, the wait can be quite long." Dr. Connelly looked over at her  mom and dad. "Especially since Fiona's not in a life-or-death  situation."

"Who do we need to talk to?" asked her mom.

Fiona didn't pay much attention during the rest of the appointment, not  that her input was ever requested. Her mom certainly didn't need it.  Without even inspecting the brochure, Fiona knew this deep tissue  transplant was the answer to her mother's prayers. It offered the best  promise-even if only a "reasonably exciting" one-of making Fiona  presentable.

Like Fiona, her dad said little during the appointment. He asked his  usual questions. "What are the real risk factors here, Stan?" and "What  kind of recovery time are we looking at?" He focused on totally  different details than her mom did.

On the drive home, none of them spoke for the first few miles. Fiona sat in the backseat and waited for the inevitable.

"So that was interesting, don't you think?" her mother said, starting the sales pitch.

Fiona shrugged.

"The things they can do now. It's a miracle."

"Well, I wouldn't go there yet," said her dad. "There's still a lot we don't know. We need to understand the risks."

"Of course. But there's no reason to think she wouldn't be a great candidate."

"There's no reason to think anything. We don't have any information."

The discussion-debate, argument, whatever-happened every year, and was  always the same. Dr. Connelly would tell them about "the cure of the  moment," her mom would get all excited, and her dad would try to squash  each option dead.

Fiona normally agreed with her father, but for different reasons. While  he cited terrifying statistics about general anesthesia and infection,  she was just unimpressed by any of the options. Major surgery, pain,  forced bed rest-and she'd still have the scars, just in a different  place.

This time, though, Fiona was surprised to realize-gasp-she might agree with her mother.

When they pulled in the driveway, her parents were still doing their  annual "Well, yes, of course, dear, but what about . . ." thing. Fiona  left them to it and went to the backyard, where she knew she'd find her  brother.

"Watch this," he said when he saw her. She sat down on the back porch  steps, and Ryan juggled the soccer ball between his feet, knees, and  thighs. Several minutes later, he finally dropped it. "Shoot. How many  was that?"

"Was I supposed to be counting?"

"Had to be eighty." He cradled the ball on his foot, tossed it up, and started again. "How'd it go with the doctor?"

Fiona shrugged. "We're meeting with a surgeon in a few weeks. New thing. Skin transplant. From a donor. It's kind of freaky."

"Will it be nasty?"

"Which part? When somebody dies and they cut him into chunks, or when they sew it into me?"

Fiona got a sick pleasure watching her brother squirm, knowing he  couldn't tolerate anything the slightest bit gory. As he turned green,  she said, "Sorry."

She stood up and stretched before coming down the steps to stand a few feet from him. "Pass it."

He studied her before he obliged. The two kicked the ball back and  forth, though it was obvious Ryan was holding way back. Eventually he  got lost in it, though, backing up a little after each pass. Fiona  warmed to it, too, getting more comfortable with her footwork, tapping  the ball between her feet a few times before sending it on.                       
       
           



       

"Good move!" Ryan said.

They scrimmaged for a few minutes, Ryan running past her with the ball,  Fiona trying to steal it. She'd snatch it every once in a while, but  Ryan was good-the star on the school team, a top player on the travel  team. She knew he was taking it easy on her.

He always did.

She tired well before he did and plopped on the grass. "All right, I give. You win."

"Nice footwork. Too bad you can't play-the girls' team needs all the help it can get."

"Take it up with Mom and Dad."

Although what was the point now? When she was in elementary and middle  school, Fiona pitched a fit every fall, begging her parents to drop the  rule about no contact sports. But her parents and doctors would never  give the all clear. "Fiona, what if you got hit in the face?" was the  main argument.

Fiona's normal side, her left, was 80 percent of her mom, with some of  her dad's distant Irish genes sprinkled in-fair skin, reddish-brown  hair. But given the train wreck of her right side, it hardly mattered.

A ridge of scar tissue allowed only limited peripheral vision in the  right eye. Healthy muscles underneath pushed while the stiff skin on top  pulled, so she winced constantly. Tight, shiny skin, forehead to  cheekbone, pulled all the non-harmed bits of her-nose, mouth,  eye-off-center.

As far as getting hit in the face went, she'd argued it couldn't get any worse.

"Oh yes it could," they'd answered.

"Everyone has that risk, not just me."

They'd shake their heads. "Everyone else has skin that can heal. You do  not." Then, patting her back, they'd say, "What about golf?"

She'd say, "I'll find something else to do, thanks."

"They don't really have a choice," Ryan was saying now.

"Yeah, I know." She shrugged. "I'm not a jock, anyway."

"You would have been good, though." He pointed up at a cloud. "Chicken chasing a duck."

"I'd have rocked," she said. "Dinosaur on roller skates."

"More like a turkey." He was quiet a minute. "Do you ever wonder? If it never happened?"

Fiona could go days without even thinking about the scars-she avoided  mirrors, so that helped. Yet, her scars never seemed far from Ryan's  mind.

She'd catch him looking at her sometimes, his expression almost as  stretched and pained as hers. When they were little, he ran a lot of  unrequested interference, standing up for her in the cafeteria or  playground if anyone tried to tease her. Everyone at school was used to  her by now, but still he had this way of treating her-like she was  breakable. She loved his attention. But hated the way she got it.

"I should get to my math," she said.

Once in her room, Fiona plopped down on her bed and picked up Dr.  Connelly's shiny pamphlet of promises. She squinted her eyes so the  photos morphed into colored blobs. She didn't understand most of it-what  was "debridement" anyway? But the numbers seemed good. Seventy-eight  percent. Eighty-six percent. Ninety-two percent. She was still  clueless-but with better odds.

The odds look good / Though I got no clue.

Fiona picked up the closest Moleskine, scribbling the rest of the thought:

Would it make me / Enough for you?

Yet another set of lyrics-poems, whatever you called them-that she'd  never share. Ryan, Lucy, not even Mr. Hernandez, her guitar teacher, had  never heard a note written here.

Everything she played for others belonged to someone else. Someone  else's songs, someone else's words, someone else's fears and hopes.

Her great irony: the pull to create her own music versus the push to hide it.

There was an "outside" part of her music she couldn't hide-her songs  filled a dozen notebooks; guitar-string calluses covered her fingertips.  But the "inside" part? It was like her music was stitched through her  system, like tendons or blood cells. All of it-the rhymes, the  chords-performed a vital function.

Revealing those very truest bits, opening herself up to others' opinions  and criticisms, would be like going inside out. She might break apart  completely.

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