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A Buzzfeed Best YA Book of 2021! A gritty, heart-wrenching novel of disability, pain, belonging, loss, addiction, and friendship.
Cold and confused.
Do I feel the tube between my lips? The staples sunk deep into my torso? The bars and screws bolted to my spine? The pain?
No. All I feel is cold.
A warm shadow lingers over me. I hear her. Maybe. Then… nothing.
I dream of soft blurry voices and distant bright lights. Slowly, so slowly, I realize these aren’t dreams at all, but reality flittering into focus.
Everything hazy and high-pitched and filled with beeping and clicking and the whooshing sounds of air.
At some point, they pull the tube from my throat. I think about screaming but then forget.
Nearby, I hear someone calling out over and over. I beg them to please stop—although only in my head—because my voice is off somewhere. Lost.
I see the light of day coming in through a window. And I hear Dr. Sowah, talking, laughing. Where is my mother?
Someone calls to me from a distance, as if I’m floating far away from them.
“’Ey, lazy, open up those eyes. You can totally ’ear me.” It’s Dr. Sowah. His missing h so familiar. He always joked that he left that letter back in Ghana when he came over at age eighteen.
I think I must have smiled because he chuckles. Dr. Sowah is always chuckling.
“That’s right, I know you’re there.”
Am I? Or am I on a river?
Sliding along in the sunshine.
Until he leans over me, blocking out the sun like a rain cloud. “Eve, I’m delighted to report that you are officially nineteen degrees.”
It’s easy to hear his pride in that number.
But I can’t wrap my head around it.… This new Cobb angle measuring the tilty twist of my spine. Large progressive scoliosis meant my forever-collapsing spine was forever producing a new one. Forty-eight degrees… fifty-two… sixty-seven… who could keep track? Although, this one—nineteen—is now fixed to me.
The river spins me. Then stops flowing with a loud snap, sending a searing shudder all along that nineteen-degree angle.
The beginning of the second week in Massachusetts General Hospital is filled with pain, needles, thirst, and screaming—mostly mine.
I am pinned under cold wet skin and bones. I can’t breathe from the terrifying pain, the fear that this bloodied slab is forever on me, in me, is me.
Then… there is the shuffle near my IV. The surge of air deeply entering my lungs. And me, grasping at the nearest scrubs—to let them know they saved me, they have to keep saving me—before I’m floating off again on that river, light as a duck feather.
Sometimes I wake up screaming in the light.
Sometimes I wake up screaming in the dark.
Every time I open my eyes, and even when I don’t, I scramble for the button to my morphine pump and cry out to Martin, the nice nurse, regardless if it’s his shift. And there he is, bending over my arm with an extra dose.
A rush of saliva.
And I hear her again.
“Martin,” I whisper. “She’s here. Lidia.”
“It’s the drugs, baby,” Martin tells me. “No one’s here.”
Red Rover, Red Rover
When I was six years old, I could
not imagine being anything but
strong and fast and tough.
I thought as much about my spine
twisting deep inside me
as I did about the world’s economy
or my mother’s day at work—which meant
not at all.
I wanted to play.
I always wanted to play.
And couldn’t believe my luck
that sunny afternoon
when a game of red rover
began around me.
Hand slapped into
hand slapped into
a human chain. A chain
I wasn’t part of.
Turning every which
for entry—there she stood
reaching out with an arm
that did not end
in a hand.
Not knowing what to do
I did nothing.
But she knew.
I took it.
Clutching the arm where it ended,
a little way up from where a wrist
Our line began to chant.
Red rover, red rover,
send Justin over.
Across the field,
a kid in stiff new jeans
and a Red Sox T-shirt
broke from the line
and started running toward us.
Me and the girl.
Me and Lidia.
“Hold on,” she screamed.
And I did.
“HOLD ON, DARLIN’, I’M ABOUT TO REMOVE YOUR CATHETER,” Martin says. “It’s time to get out of that bed.”
I don’t bother opening my eyes.
“You’re gonna have to move sooner or later, little Evie.”
I feel a dry sting from deep behind my belly button all the way down to my knees.
The sting fades.
I fade with it.
I’m never moving.
But they come.
The physical terrorists.
Talking. Touching. Positioning.
Please. Please, no. It hurts. Please.
Moving my blankets, my gown, my limbs.
No. Please, no. I can’t. Stop.
They don’t stop. They sit my body up. And then they stand it up. While I scream so loud the sound comes out my eye sockets.
It’s like someone has stuck a metal rod straight up my ass, through my torso, and into my shoulder blades. Because they have.
As I choke on a thick mix of sweat and tears and snot, my head rolls about at the end of my neck, giving me a swirling view of ceiling, floor, curtains. The PTs mutter “Shhh” and “It’s okay,” standing on either side of me, holding me upright. Not that it’s a hard job—I haven’t eaten anything for almost two weeks and I’m pretty sure my hospital gown weighs more than I do.
My utter lack of compliance does nothing to convince them to return me to my bed so I try begging—saying the word please so many times it’s really just my lips quivering with fear.
They continue like they can’t hear me. The short woman saying “You can do this,” and the taller repeating “Yes, you can do this,” in an even louder voice over and over. It’s like I’m trapped in some strange torturous pep-talk echo chamber, and I can’t tell if these two are physical therapists or personal trainers.
Together, they drag me across the hospital room while I sob, and the old lady I share the room with shouts, “Jesus H. Christ, take me,” and “Holy Mother of God, shut her up,” in a cigarette-induced Southie rasp.
It isn’t even a ten-foot journey, but every muscle I need to take those steps has been sawed through and then stapled back together.
My mother walks in. Her face drops, and she quickly backs out the door. “I’ll come back when you’re done.”
What? No. Help!
But she’s gone.
The PTs cart me into the bathroom, position my hands on the bars on either side of the toilet, and hike up my gown. Immediately, I remove my hands to clutch at them, pleading through my tears for someone to do something to stop the pain.
Again they reposition my hands and attempt to lower me to the pot, but my gown falls down first. Up I come as they attempt to tie the gown out of my way.
“Just take the goddamn thing off,” I snap.
The tall PT gently removes my gown, and together, they lower my body onto the toilet, resting each of my arms on one of the bars. I beg them not to leave me like this. I can’t do it. I can’t stay here. It hurts too much. Everything hurts too much.
Staying true to their infuriating optimism, they leave me and pull the door closed half an inch—like I need privacy after having just been placed naked onto a toilet.
I cling to the bars, my head dangling from my neck, my rib cage and spine on fire. I’ve stopped crying, and the lingering panting and hiccups send shocks of pain from my knees to my eyes.
Nothing happens. It’s like the pee doesn’t know how to come out of me without a tube.
My physical therapy cheerleading squad keeps up their chanting outside the bathroom, which does nothing to help. Finally, the short PT comes back in and turns on the faucet. As she exits, she pulls the door almost completely closed, and I’m left staring at my reflection in a full-length mirror.
There was a time—called my entire fucking life—when I’d have done anything to see myself in a mirror with a Cobb angle of nineteen degrees, but now all I see are staples.
Large, metal staples.
Many, many large, metal staples. A gleaming railroad track sunk deep into my pale white skin and crisscrossing a thick red slice of open wound traveling from under my armpit, down past my belly button, and around my hip.
What did they do to me? What did they do?
Forgetting I can’t, I jump up and then fall back onto the toilet, hitting the seat hard. The pain is so horrible that I can do nothing but cling to the bars while blood pounds in my temples.
One of the PTs calls my name.
I can’t answer. I’m sliding. Sliding from the toilet. Sliding toward the floor, where my staples will catch on the seat and rip me open. I’m going to be ripped open and I’m going to hurt worse than I do right now.
Fear overwhelms me. And just as my sweaty hands slip from the bar, the PTs rush into the room and grab my arms, righting me.
Nineteen degrees? Who the hell cares.
I’m shouting. Or screeching. My voice needing to mimic the pain.
The PTs try to calm me down as they shove my arms back into my gown. I won’t be calmed. That wasn’t me. How could anyone live looking like this?
The old lady howls profanity while the PTs haul me past her toward my bed. I’m sobbing and hyperventilating at the same time. Every breath yanking mercilessly at my staples.
Martin, the nice nurse, is behind me. He has a needle in his hand. My needle.
When they roll me onto my bed, it feels like someone is ripping my spine right out through my neck. Martin sticks me even as I scream into his face.
I keep on screaming until the morphine turns my screams into hoarse moans, and then finally into nothing at all.
“Martin,” I gasp. “I didn’t pee.”
“Yes, you did, sweet baby.” He laughs. “I’m gonna go clean it up off the bathroom floor right now.”
“Martin,” I say, clutching him. My throat burns. Somehow, he knows, and he shovels in a spoonful of ice chips.
Holy Mother of God, that feels good.
The first time I
officially heard His name
was in school.
The Pledge of Allegiance.
Although I’d certainly
seen churches—for me
they were curious buildings with doors
I’d never walked through.
In this pledge,
which I was asked
to repeat each morning, we were
I didn’t get it, so
I asked my mother.
“God doesn’t like women,”
In my mother’s defense,
I probably asked while
she was in the middle of grading undergraduate papers
composing feminist verse
and I’m sure she didn’t consider
for a second
I’d take her statement
and think about it
for as long as I did.
God didn’t like me much.
The weird thing was,
I felt Him
not liking me.
I was diagnosed with scoliosis at eight.
By twelve, my spine was twisting
into the squirrely shape
of a loopy S.
A band of muscles
was beginning to collect
on my back.
It wasn’t a hump
My shoulder blade
awkwardly stretching my skin tight
in one place
while folding it into elephant-like wrinkles
in another. My rib cage
didn’t scrape my hip. And
my life of being
photographed from behind,
had not begun.
But it was coming.
It was all coming.
And I wanted it to stop.
One evening my mother caught me
in front of my bedroom mirror
standing in my underwear and
holding myself in such a way
that I might look
I tried to explain.
“That imperfect reflection,”
she said, “is
all in your head.”
All in my head?
I thought about Lidia.
all in her head?
But Lidia was missing something.
That was real.
I wasn’t missing anything.
I had a spine.
Two facts Dr. Sowah
gave me when I was eight:
1. In most cases of scoliosis
there is no known cause,
2. In all cases,
there is no cure.
This second part brought me back to
For my spine.
Not her hand.
nothing to do
By the time I turned thirteen,
I prayed only that He stop
And I thought,
Who wouldn’t listen
I always listened
By fourteen, I was begging for a miracle.
Lidia begged, too.
For my spine and
for her hand.
Spines and hands being equal
when it came to miracles, and
breasts and hips beginning to make miracles
By fifteen Lidia said,
I couldn’t help feeling
I once read that females are eight times more likely than
males to progress to a curve magnitude requiring treatment.
Maybe my mother was right.
THE FIRST THING I SEE WHEN I OPEN MY EYES IS THE STREETLIGHT shining through my bedroom window. The second is my mother. She’s holding a glass of water and saying something about running to the office for a couple of hours. She won’t be long.
She slides my phone closer to me on my bedside table while she talks about her staggering workload.
She’s going to work?
How it’s been piling up because of all the time she spent in the hospital.
She’s leaving me?
But it’s only my second night home. I’ll be alone. Though not totally alone. My mind drifts to the box under my bed. But then my mother picks up my orange bottle and my heart jumps along with the Roxanol tablets as she removes the cap and hands me a smooth pill.
Sticking it in my mouth, I sip from the straw my mother holds to my lips and swallow, already caring less about boxes or being alone. The chalky Roxy sticks in my throat for a second, making my eyes tear up. She lowers my shade—halfway, due to her hurry—and I watch her go through a weepy blur.
I listen to her bumping about, getting ready to leave.
The apartment door closes.
A few moments later there is the rumble of a car motor. The crunch of gears. And then her engine fading away.
How long did she say she’d be gone?
I glance over at my phone. It sits next to a bell my mother placed there yesterday so I can ring it if I need her. How many things do I need to call someone who isn’t there?
Reaching out, I pick up my phone, squinting at its bright blue light.
Hitting Messages, I stare at her picture and name sitting second from the top. It’s not at the top because Thomas Aquinas is at the top. Again.
I delete his text.
I should put my phone down, but my thumb hovers for just a second… and then I’m doing it. Typing her name.
And swooshing it out into the universe.
Staring at the screen, I’m not really waiting. I know what will happen. Nothing. Nothing will happen.
Not being able to stand the stillness of it, I press call and listen to it ring. Listen to the mailbox-is-full message.
I call again.
This time, the ringing seems to go on forever. When I hear the click of the robot voice as it comes back on to tell me what I already know, I snap the phone off, not wanting to hear its soullessness.
Instead, I listen to the throbbing of blood in my ears.
I sigh. Just to hear a bit of noise.
It’s not enough.
“Hello,” I say, to no one. To myself… maybe.
Minutes pass. And like butter melting into a warm piece of toast, the Roxy begins to soak through the millions of cell walls throughout my body. The scratchy flutter in my chest settles, but the pain never fully, truly leaves. It’s like a shark circling me in dark water.
I don’t mind that the pain stays nearby. I actually kind of like it. It reminds me how lucky I am to know I’m no longer in pain. If the Roxanol erased everything, I probably wouldn’t appreciate the pills half as much as I do.
Now I lie listening to the nothingness. Unlike the hospital, home is silent. And dark. My toes slide into a cooler spot under my covers while my eyes wander about the room. They stop on my telescope.
It’s not really my telescope. It’s my mother’s. Although I don’t think she’s ever used it. She bought it in one of her fits of feeling like she needed to expand herself—the same way she ended up with the jumble of mountain-climbing equipment still in its packaging in the storage space, or the barely worn martial arts uniform folded neatly on her closet shelf. Or the way she decided to be artificially inseminated to have me.
I rescued the telescope from the hall closet, thinking I’d use it one day. And I do use it. Kind of. To hang clothes on that aren’t dirty enough to throw into the hamper but aren’t clean enough to hang back up.
There are no clothes thrown over it tonight, and the light from the streetlamp makes the black cylinder glow. I stare at the sheen. Slowly, the telescope bends and twists, stretches and turns. And when it speaks to me, I’m not surprised or scared.
“How do you do, Miss Abbott?”
I grin at the extreme formality. It seems like how a teapot should sound, not a telescope.
I’m also not surprised it knows my name. Lots of things know me. Roxanol makes the world come alive with movement, and everything and anything can become animate. In the hospital, the people on my little TV spoke to me all the time. And last night, on my first night home, the stuffed rabbit Lidia gave me for my tenth birthday woke me from a sound sleep and accused me of stealing its house keys. I didn’t steal them, and I didn’t know what to do. So I called Lidia. It was the millionth time I’d called her since that night, though the first time I’d done it at four o’clock in the morning. I knew she wouldn’t pick up. Maybe that’s why I called again. And then twenty or so more times after that… whispering a bunch of stuff that I don’t remember following the beep. I do remember that once I filled her voice mail, I called her mother next. Why, I don’t know. It was four o’clock in the morning, and you always do weird shit at four o’clock in the morning.
- “This searing but gorgeous read entwines poetry and prose in its descriptions of a friendship gone awry.”—Buzzfeed
“Intense, unflinching…a gratifying story.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A devastating and beautiful read that clearly shows the complexities of addiction, fear, love, and friendship.”—SLJ
- "Eve’s physical and emotional experiences resonate, and the supporting cast…are vividly drawn in this hopeful contemporary novel."—Publishers Weekly
“The insidiousness of substance dependency, grief, and pain weave together in this incredibly powerful, all-consuming, captivating novel.”—The Tiny Activist
"Fix by J. Albert Mann is a haunting, heartbreaking story about addiction, internalized ableism, friendship, and what we're willing to do for the people we love. Written in a combination of achingly raw prose and verse, this book will make you lose yourself and then find yourself again in the process. Mann crafts a lacerating picture of grief, addiction, and friendship that will stay with you long after you close the lid.”—Alaina Lavoie, Communications Manager, We Need Diverse Books
- On Sale
- May 11, 2021
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers