I was 9-months-old when my life turned upside down. It was a couple of days before Christmas when a fire started on the first floor of the apartment building my family and I lived in. My mother was pregnant again and worried for our safety. She decided to go thru the emergency door in the back of the hallway.
She was unaware that the door was locked with a chain. She was trapped in the stairway with me in her arms. Thinking only about my safety, she covered me with her body. My mother sustained burns to 95 percent of her body.
As for me, I had 3rd degree burns on 90 percent of my body. My mother, Ma Guadalupe Carranza succumbed to her burns and died on December 29, 1976. She was the tenth person who died from that accident.
As I grew and was able to understand my surroundings, I noticed how people would stare and point at me. One time I saw a boy run scared because he saw me. My dad tried to shield me from the mean people, but he could only do so much. When I started elementary school, kids were scared of me. They didn’t want to play with me because of the way I looked. All of my school years, from elementary on, were full of tears because I was never accepted. They called me names like “burnt potato” and “cockroach.” I was told that I would never be loved because I was so ugly. I was told that no one would ever want to be with me.
I only had a handful of friends who truly accepted me, but I never gave up. I struggled through elementary and in Junior High School I fought to get out of special education. I knew I was capable of attending regular classes. I remember the school system required me to play the recorder, which in itself was a fiasco because I only have seven fingers, but I did it. I had teachers tell me if “you can’t catch up you have to be transferred to the remedial classes” but all that made me say is ” Challenge Accepted .” In high school, I ran for class historian and Vice President, and I was actually chosen for both. I was in the academic decathlon and the prom court, not the prom queen but a princess. I never gave up.
There were people who would try to break my spirit by beating me and calling me names. The reason I would not give in to the urge and take my life was my big love for God and my family.
Through everything, I always had someone to help me see that yes I was burnt but that didn’t make me an extraterrestrial. In elementary school, there were teachers who always spoke to the students about my accident. They had toy drives so when I had surgeries I would be able to play with them and remember all my classmates. In Junior High, I met my very sarcastic best friend who was always one of my number one supporters in all my crazy ideas. In 8th grade another friend stared at me for long periods of time. Then one day she said, “if you would only just add mascara and lipstick you would be beautiful.” That’s where my love for makeup started but that’s another story. High school was a bit harder because I started to believe I was never going to be kissed or ever get married. Everyone had been kissed or had a boyfriend by high school, or so I thought. I decided to study extra hard to take my mind off that.
Throughout all of it I kept on looking for acceptance and love. All of a sudden, after graduating high school, I heard a song that changed my life “when I’m back on my feet again“ I heard it and all I thought was this is how I am. I have to accept my fate and just keep my head up. I understood there is no normal, then I started to think, well, I’m a unique person because there is no one in the world like me and there never will be. My lack of fingers, toes, an ear and skin make it a little harder but not impossible to do anything I set my mind to do. My father was told I would not live to see my first year. I’m almost 40. I was never supposed to walk, and I am walking. I was never supposed to function as a normal person, and I can do anything I set my mind to.
My mantra has always been a bible scripture
“I can do all this through him who gives me strength,” Philippians 4:13. My life has not been easy. First the loss of my mom and unborn brother, the teasing and bullying, the segregation from my peers, and all of my many surgeries. I am persistent knowing that my scars are each unto themselves a victory. Many people hide but I don’t. I walk with my head held high knowing the battle that I survived and all that happened to me only made me stronger. Some people thought that would shatter me, but nope, I’m a fighter and a winner. I always tell everyone I meet who are feeling down, “don’t feel sorry for yourselves, remember you are one of a kind.” From the moment we are conceived we are fighters. There is no one like us, we are “Phenomenal.”
There is no one like us, we are “Phenomenal.”