It was nearing the end of a long day. After the running around, the hop from one tube stop to another, a lull. A conversation over tea. Like many long chats that I love, it was a twist and turn affair - skeins of ideas unravelled, held up to the light, woven into other topics.
I share many interests with Tara - the girl I was talking to - our rambles taking in feminism, Twitter, books, school, identity; the kind of discussion where the edges of the cafe blur, beyond the shared sphere of words. She has an extraordinary mind, a set of perspectives that both inform and challenge my own.
Something else too - a common experience we both know. Spinal surgery. Now even the phrase feels old, well-worn with use. It's part of a familiar narrative: "When I was fifteen, I had spinal surgery..." So begins the tale. Hers starts at an even younger age.
Unless you have had a major operation, it's difficult to understand what it feels like. You can empathise from the outside, but it's something you can only imagine, rather than recall. The intense pain. The potentially life-changing decision to make at an age before you can vote or buy alcohol. The drastic shift from an active body to one that must be looked after by others. These details and more were ones the two of us could share, comparing our respective times in hospital, the feelings beyond articulation - "ineffable", she called them.
Often a memory is accessed in that strange suspended state where details can be described without emotional connection to the event. They can be relayed dispassionately, part of a story now finished or a past state with ends now neatly tied up.
But this time, in the cafe, there was a flashback intensity of how it felt. The sensation of metal in my back; the hurt so deep I could not own it; the way in which each step was an effort. It was like a being a doll, newly put together and not quite in control - a doll who might topple if she did not have others' hands to support her.
I stopped, yanked back into that awareness of a skin not yet mine.
What does this moment amount to? A recollection, a visceral instant. A sudden jolt back into being out of control. I could recall the wallpaper, the smell of antiseptic hand gel, the heavy, heavy, heavy set of shoulders I could not escape.
I laughed - and said, "Oh wow, that was intense". It wasn't that the cafe disappeared or diminished, but that something overlaid the scene and was then pulled away again. We carried on talking, comparing details like how long we'd had morphine for and how we were suddenly intensely envious of anyone who could walk about without thinking of each step.
What's the point of relaying this all here? Partly because my preferred mode of communication is words - both spoken and written. But also, I think, a response to the way in which the last year has forced me to accept something. Or at least made me aware that I must accept something, even if I'm not quite willing yet. It's as simple as this: my spine is with me for life. Scoliosis is with me for life. It is much improved - straighter (than it was) and fused - but its echoes remain.
The other ways it continues to manifest itself are less obvious. It's in the way I see my torso and feel dissatisfied with its wonky edges, its way of disturbing the line of clothes. It's in the knowledge that I do need to do physio and yoga - yet the suggestion that I must once again take responsibility for my body makes me want to cry. Irrational, perhaps, but for rational reasons.
I still say that I "had" scoliosis - it makes it safe, controllable, a thing of the past now resolved. It's easier that way. But I know that it is still mine to own, no matter how much I want to relinquish possession of that word.
The good thing though? At 19 I'm now allowing myself to acknowledge just how bad it was - to say "yeah it was awful and one of the most major events of my life." It wasn't just something I 'got through'. I got through it, but it took time and pain.
I'm oh so lucky with everything else too - lucky the operation was a success, lucky I had the right health care, lucky that I can still lead a normal life. But recognising that luck doesn't mean that I have to shrink down the impact altogether and pretend it didn't affect me - that I was strong, survived, moved on. I did, and I have, but I have my scar tissues - and not all of them are skin.
I made these casts from plaster of paris (using a mannequin with ridiculously tiny measurements) for my GCSE art exam several years ago. You can read the symbolism for yourself in the two forms. I felt they were particularly appropriate to use here, accessorised with two charity shopped vintage dresses from my dressing up box...