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How the Book 'Wonder' Taught Me to Embrace My Hydrocephalus Scars

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I was lying in a hospital bed three years ago, alone, on the 25th day, on the verge of crying. Then my phone pinged. I wiped my eyes and looked at my phone. It was a text from my friend Liz. It wasn’t a grand 500-word text, it was just very simple, 10-word text that said, “What can I send you? I feel so incredibly helpless.” As I attempted to put my thoughts together to answer her, I was thinking, “What do I need? I need to get out of here, but I know you probably couldn’t swing that.” I sat there for a second thinking, and then it popped into my head: Something to pass the time.

I texted her back and said, “Something meaningful that will help me pass the time and forget where I am. I’m so sad when I look around and see these four encased walls of my room.”

She said, “OK, I have some ideas.”

Four days later, my nurse came to my room with a package in hand, and said, “My dear, you are getting popular. What is this – like three packages in one week?” and I just said, “No, it’s just because I’ve been here too long.” I opened the box, and this sky blue jacket of the books with a big eye in the middle was staring at me. And the title of the book illustrated perfectly what I was feeling at that very moment: “Wonder.”

I wondered a lot. I wondered if I was ever going to get out of the hospital. I wondered if I was ever going to be considered healthy again, I wondered if my friends at work even remembered me.

Immediately I took a picture of the books and sent it to her with the biggest thank you I could find in my gifs, and about 20 heart emojis. Then I asked her which one I should read first. She replied, “Whichever one you want.”

As I was reading this book, I was absolutely awestruck at how pure Auggie’s and Summer’s friendship was. And then it hit me. Everyone is nice to start, it’s the trials in life that either make them better or bitter.  But it seems as though, all children are inherently nice, and undeniably innocent. And that is what I love about Auggie and Summer’s relationship.

When I first read this book, it talked a lot about how Auggie looks different, but that doesn’t seem to matter to Summer. That seemed to me to be the premise of why the book read the way it did. And then I thought about my scars. And immediately, a thought engulfed my entire brain. It was a comment on an operative  report from when I was only a few months old, and it more or less said, “This baby has hydrocephalus and the operations don’t seem to be working. We have come to the conclusion that she won’t live very long, and so we don’t have to make the scar ‘pretty.’”

And trust me – they sure did not make the scars “pretty.”

There are those scars, which I call my Korea scars, and my newer scars that I call my Chicago scars. I have had the Korea scars my entire life, so why did they bother me so much? Just because something becomes a part of who you are, doesn’t necessarily mean you like it.

As I went on in the book, it amazed me at how strong Auggie was, amidst all the adversity he experienced.  The entire book mirrored my life in so many extraordinary ways, even though I was an adult and he was a child. Every unsure feeling that he had walked with me as I had that unsure feeling. Every doubt I had reflected back to every doubt Auggie had.

I loved how the book had different chapters in the point of view of the different characters. That was what made it seem more “real” to me. As you read the book, you get to hear opinions from what seemed to be “actual people.” I also loved the way this book wasn’t so stereotypical. It chose to “go there” when no other book out there went there. It chose to dive into the subject of bullying in such a way that it grabs you as a reader, and you are almost forced to keep reading. It’s not the stereotypical story where the bully beats up on the little guy and then he gets punished, so now the story is over. It chose to dissect every single character no matter how small, and tell you why they were the way they were.

I also saw my family in Auggie’s family. I saw my sister in his sister, in the ways her needs and wants were sort of tossed to the side and seen as not as emergent as my needs were at that very moment. I saw my mom in his mom, and how she fought for me, and how she asked so many questions – not because she was deliberately trying to be annoying, but because she wanted me to go through the least amount of pain possible. And I saw my dad in his dad. The quiet, sort of by his mother parent, who didn’t say much, but what he did say stuck.

So many of the different things Auggie likes were things that I liked for the same reasons and that actually sort of surprised me. Even though I am an adult, I have both childish likes and adult likes. I love staying in, but I also love parties with my closest friends. I love puppies and I love candy. I love Halloween when it’s not too cold, which it always is. And so does Auggie.

Why does Auggie love Halloween? Because he can pretend he’s something other than himself. I feel like I play almost an adult version of “dress up” every day. I get to go out into the world and “pretend” that I’m not as sick as I really am.

When you think about it, Auggie is really a simple character, trying to teach simple lessons. It’s the trials of life that make them difficult to learn. Nobody has an easy life. No matter how much money you have, or how good of a job you have, life’s always going to be hard in one way or another. It’s what you do with that difficulty that determines the type of person you are meant to be.

Auggie sets out to prove that he’s exactly like everyone else, but what he proves is far beyond that. And then I realized what my mom had been telling me all along had been true – just because someone says you can’t do something, that almost always means they want you to prove them wrong.

When I got home from the hospital, I felt like a broken, tired, worn out version of myself. I didn’t recognize who I saw in the mirror anymore. This had been the most trying hospitalization that I legitimately remember every part of. I felt broken. The more broken I felt just seemed to be a catalyst to cause me to dive deeper into this book. This book was so healing to me in so many different ways. Auggie doesn’t realize it, but he’s teaching everyone how to be a better person just by being himself. Here he was thinking he was just going be a burden on everybody at “normal school,” and he’s teaching the other kids how to be good people. Even the mean kids. The kids who are the meanest to him, end up coming and defending him.

This book taught me that wounded healers are not born they are made. It’s their experiences through life that create themselves through conquering what they thought they couldn’t, or when they were too afraid to take another step. Yes, my scars may not be the prettiest things you’ve ever seen. But they also tell a story that I would never be brave enough to tell on my own. Now when I look down and see my scars, I don’t think, “Oh my God. They’re so ugly.” I think they’re proof that hydrocephalus tried to kill me, and it failed. Now when I look in the mirror and see my scars almost staring back at me, I don’t think they’re ugly. I think they’re proof of what I’ve been trying to prove my entire life. That I am brave, and I can get through something that seems infinitely hard — just like Auggie.

Follow this journey on Blessings in Hydro.

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Image courtesy of the Wonder Facebook page

Originally published: December 1, 2017
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