THE SKINNY: Sickly winged senior has a new strategy for winning at Ancil Hoffman

Jacqueline Chao
Seniors on last year’s Black Team celebrate at the annual Ancil Hoffman picnic after their win.

I heard a quick gasp.

“Whoa. What the heck is this?”

I was sitting in a desk in history teacher Sue Nellis’s room a couple of years ago when a fellow freshman discovered my wing. My wing had been balancing on the top of my desk chair, and its tip was resting on the desk behind me.

The freshman grabbed my wing and pinched.

I turned around just in time to see him grimace and let go.

“Uhhh, are you okay?” he asked, embarrassed. “I mean, that doesn’t look right. What happened?”

Man, where do I start?

I have always had ailments. Internally, one thing or another has always gone awry.

One of my earliest memories is sitting on my parents’ bed while watching the TV channel Noggin and eating watermelon on a school day. I wasn’t at school because I was sick, just like the day before, and the day before that, and probably the day before that.

I constantly got ear infections as a child. I remember waking up in the morning to find my pillow covered with a yellow stain and my ears encrusted with amber-colored crystals. I would shrug it off as normal and go about my day.

Before you start feeling too bad for little Sonja, my mother discovered that I have a pretty high pain tolerance.

Every day I would play with my dolls or read in my room, and my mom would come to check on me.

“Hey, sweetie,” she would say. “How are you doing? Do you want to eat lunch soon?”

I wouldn’t turn around to face her.

“Sony?” she’d ask. “Do you want something to eat?”

Still nothing.

“Sonja, are you all right?!” she’d say as she approached me.

When she would finally reach out and touch me, I would jump all of a sudden and turn toward her with a surprised smile.

“Hi, Mommy! When did you get here? Can we eat lunch soon?”

I never complained about my ears and was a little on the quiet side, so when those incidents would happen, my mom knew that my infection was severe and that my ears were so clogged that I couldn’t hear.

Thank goodness that all ended when I got pneumonia.

I remember feeling really sleepy one day when I was 5 years old, so I decided to take a nap before dinner on our couch in the living room. When I woke up, I was in the hospital next to a nurse who was preparing a syringe for me (exactly what every child wants to wake up to). It turned out that my lungs weren’t getting enough oxygen to my brain, resulting in me feeling drowsy.

I spent a week in the hospital, where I was diagnosed with reactive airways and given an inhaler. Since receiving the inhaler, I haven’t had an ear infection and I get over colds faster.

And then something else went wrong. Yippee.

At some point along the way, my toes started to curl, a trait I inherited from my dad, along with his poor sinuses and stunning mane of hair. I also inherited my dad’s preference for flip flops since normal shoes constrict my toes that insist on intertwining and zigzagging out of my feet.

My half brother once described my dad’s toes when they were watching TV and had their feet side by side on an ottoman.

“Dad, your feet look like mine exploded.”

I don’t think that my feet have reached that level of disfigurement, but when I walk on the beach, the footprints I leave resemble a pterodactyl’s, so they’re interesting enough to keep people looking.

“Ahem. My eyes are up here, boys,” I say as I try to draw attention away from my toes.

It does no good. Because on top of my toes’ resemblance to a curvy, twisty modern art fixture, they also feature a built-in light show.

When it’s hot outside, my feet turn pink or red. When it’s cold, my feet turn dark purple and the toes turn black. Even if there’s just slight air conditioning, my feet start to think “Oh no! We’re in the Arctic now! It’s time to die!” and then shut down.

There are a few seconds during the transition between these two settings when you can see my true skin color: glue-stick white.

My feet will also return to normal if I keep them elevated. However, the administration hasn’t returned my calls about replacing the classroom desks with beds, so keeping my feet level and white at school isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

Multi-colored toes not enough for you? Well, how about eyes scarred from a possible chemical fire?

The first time I went to an optometrist, my whole family went, just to get it out of the way. The doctor came back with our results and told my mom and me that he had found “tumor-like objects” on the backs of our eyes. After more tests, he asked if my mom and I had been in a chemical fire. Upon further inspection, he had discovered scratches on the backs of our eyes.

Jacqueline Chao
Patricia Jacobsen, high school dean of student life, starts the game at the 2016 Ancil Hoffman picnic.

Neither of us remembers being in a chemical fire. But if I had been in one, shouldn’t I have some superpowers by now? (And, no, I don’t count having colorful toes as a superpower.)

Speaking of superpowers, I should probably finish explaining my wing.

I have scoliosis, so my spine has three curves: one at the base of my neck, one just below my rib cage and one in between the other two. These curves cause my right shoulder blade to pop out.

Many people have noticed or commented on my wing. Most of them have asked “Why don’t you just stand up straight?” A couple times people have even grabbed my shoulders and jerked me upward.

“If you had better posture, you’d get rid of this nasty bump!”

Trust me, I didn’t get this way because I slouched too much or ate too few vegetables or refused to exercise or got vaccinated or spent an excessive amount of time soaking in the fountain in front of the lower school.

The only way to fix my wing would be through surgery that would fuse my vertebrae together forever. Every teenager’s dream – immobility and the chance of accidental paralysis!

I personally prefer the medieval method of tying my limbs to horses, working the horses into a frenzy and then sending them off in a gallop with the hope that my spine will self-correct through blunt trauma.

Anyway there is a point to these revelations: I should not be expected to sprint for flags, chase after sophomores or really be depended upon at all during the capture-the-flag game at the Ancil Hoffman picnic on Friday, Sept. 15.

The strategy that I came up with is to lie on the ground and wait until someone athletic trips over me. Go, Black Team.

—By Sonja Hansen

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