Titanium Rod

Part of an Instagram Art Show


Inserted November 1, 1995 at Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio, TX. Removed July 28, 1997 at Presbyterian Hospital, Plano, TX.

My femur broke into three pieces when I was hit by a truck in 1995. All of my injuries were severe, not least being two skull fractures, but the broken femur had the most impressive x-rays. A cast would’ve done nothing to help the bone, so surgeons at Brooke Army Medical Center—the army’s largest, busiest, and premier medical institution—inserted a titanium rod down the shaft of my right femur to hold it together. Later x-rays show a mass of bone where the breaks had occurred, a bulge where it would normally taper, strengthening the bone against further breaks. The rod did its job, and I had it removed right before my 17th birthday.
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Engagement Portrait by Charlie DeBus, Spring 2007

Part of an Instagram Art Show

Every January since we’ve lived in South Carolina, Joshua and I take a weekend to go on a Vision Quest. I got the idea from our small group leaders back in Dallas, and from the Comanche nation I learned about while working at the Trinity Trust Foundation. It’s a time to go away together, to seek God for the year, to plan, to dream. Last year we didn’t go at all, because Joshua started a new business, and I was pregnant with our second child. We didn’t know what life would hold.

Our goal in 2017 was to pay our bills and have another baby. Check! We did those things, thank you Jesus. Vision Quest 2016 transformed into a staycation that got truncated and forgotten because Etta was one year-old. Vision Quest 2015 didn’t happen because we were in the NICU with a 34-week preemie. This year we’ve decided to spread out Vision Quest over the whole month of January. Kids, y’all. I am currently sitting in my bedroom, rocking Moses in my lap, furiously typing on a phone, because his nap is over, but I want to finish this task.
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Cousin Roy’s Paternal Grandparents, circa 1998

Part of an Instagram Art Show

When I was in high school, my Aunt Connie gave me a stash of black and white negatives to play with in our darkroom at school. Before Instagram, before Flickr, even before digital photography, I took photographs on film. I started taking photos of pigeons on family vacations when I was six because I loved Bert on Sesame Street. Then when I was sixteen, I stepped into my first darkroom. Hank Harmon showed our class how to roll black and white film onto canisters; taught us about f-stop and shutter speed; and showed us the magic of developer, stop bath, fixer, and a finished print. I was hooked. For the next ten years I spent most of my artistic life focused on photography.

This image is of my Uncle Roy’s parents, known as Grandpa Willie and Grandma Dora. I printed it from some of those negatives Aunt Connie gave me, painting photo emulsion onto construction paper, and experimenting in the darkroom. Cousin Roy liked a grouping of nine of the pictures so much, I offered to give it to him. Ever a patron of the arts, he insisted on paying me. It was the first piece of art I ever sold. I was eighteen.
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Self-portrait, Spring 1996

Part of an Instagram Art Show. Originally from TCA senior art show, 1999.

This piece is another homage, alluding to Andy Warhol’s 1962 and 1967 silk screens of Marylin Monroe. Except, rather than printing the same image repeatedly, my portrait shows a transformation. Long-haired, emaciated Mandy changes to pixie-haired, healthy Mandy. The quote is from Dante’s Purgatory (also referenced in T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland): “Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina”(Dante, Canto XXVI). Then hid him in the fire that refines them.
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Spaceship, 2nd grade

Part of An Instagram Art Show

I vaguely remember making this picture. I think it was a somewhat collaborative piece with a teacher, because I recall getting it back and wondering why my other planets looked more oblong than round. As an adult, I think the finished product looks better than what I must have intended.

The last few days have been incredibly hard. I’ve been mostly without words, trying to figure out what I’m feeling, wondering if verbalizing it will make things better or worse. Joshua came home from the hospital a week ago. Changing his IV bag ourselves has been terrifying. I wept all Saturday afternoon when family was at our place for a postponed Thanksgiving dinner. Today Etta threw the worst tantrum yet, and I had to physically restrain her for more than twenty minutes. Moses has been the only consistent factor in our lives, ready for snuggles, diaper changes, nursing, and naps. It feels like we live on a different planet than three months ago, before the hospital visits and personality changes and extreme weight loss and exhaustion. I was so hopeful then.

1 Peter talks a lot about suffering, and I don’t like it: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13).

I do not know how to rejoice in suffering. I do not know how to look forward to revealed glory that seems infinitely far away. I want to be comforted by God’s promises, that “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you (1 Peter 5:10). But I am weak and angry and confused. My desires feel inconsequential. My hopes unattainable. I don’t know how to move forward. All I can think to do right now is mumble scriptures I know, praying something will make sense, move me from wallowing in sadness, into something less black.

Jumbled Eras, 9th grade

Part of an Instagram Art Show

The year we had the accident, I went through an identity crisis. I’m not sure anyone noticed, or they didn’t mention it because my injuries and coma had been so catastrophic that Mandy Is Alive was all anyone talked about. Before the accident I was a typical, if prudish, 15 year-old girl. Had a three-year marathon crush on some boy in my high school. Wrote cryptic poetry. Watched My So Called Life to feel better about my own small woes. Then the accident broke me, literally and emotionally. (more…)

Monkeys Aloft, 7th grade

Part of an Instagram Art Show

I made this print in my first class with Mr. Millet. I was 13 years old, and so, so late with my assignment. I picked an incredibly complicated National Geographic photograph to carve into X-ray film for my first try at printmaking. Perfectionist Mandy could not work faster, or leave the project incomplete. I think Millet deducted 10 points for turning it in two weeks late, but he let me turn it in nonetheless, and apparently skip the other work that I missed while finishing. Grace from a teacher is one of the best things for a young heart and mind.
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