• Alicia Assad

Shirtless and Courageous

I wish there weren’t moments when I still feel a desperate urge to fix William. But there are many of them, especially as he grows and becomes more aware of his appearance. William has started to notice the way others react to him. Helping him manage socially is the most recent step in his recovery. At the beginning of the summer when I knew William was going to be changing in the locker room at camp around a group of mixed-age boys, it was clearly time for him to have the right tools to cope in a situation where he could not conceal his scars. I started researching the best way for him to handle the attention we both knew his scars would get. The Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors has been a valuable resource for this.

I watched a webinar about a teacher who learned how to cope with scars from a severe burn injury she suffered in a car accident. She explained that she dealt with social situations by being open, honestly answering questions, and quenching curiosity. So when William came home from camp one afternoon in a mood that clearly signaled his scars had been an issue that day, I had something concrete to tell him. “William, when someone asks about your ouchies, just tell them you were burned by hot water and you have scars. If it is no big deal to you, then it will be no big deal to them.” I caught his skeptical glance under his long droopy eyelashes but finished it off with “Please try it. I think it will work.”

A week went by with no discussion about his ouchies until the afternoon we were heading home with new swim team uniforms. William was insistent on participating along with Catherine in the swim meet that very night. I was proud of his determination to jump in the pool and swim a whole long lap in front of a crowd. But then, he said something that terrified me:

“Mom, I want to swim without my swim shirt tonight just like the other boys.”

To which I replied, “William, if you swim without your shirt, everyone will see your scars. Are you sure about that?”

“Yes, Mom. A boy asked me about them today and I told him about my ouchies just like you said. Then he left me alone. So I can swim without my shirt at the meet.”

This is when I started to panic thinking this is too much too soon.

What about the crowds….everyone will see him…he doesn’t know how much attention he will get….but goodness, he is being brave. Clearly, I need to find some courage myself, so I replied,

“Of course William. If you do that, I will be so proud of you.”

All afternoon, I had a knot in my stomach. I gave him plenty of reasons to back out of the race or swim with his shirt on. I wasn’t completely confident when I assured Eddie about letting him go shirtless for the first time in front of a crowd of people. But I said, “We can’t squash his courage, regardless of how scared we might be.”

The long and short of it is that this happened: