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Kelly would waltz through the vacant lot with her chip-on-the-shoulder look. You didn’t dare cross her, or she might throw rocks at you. She was a ten-year-old tomboy, who lived in the poor apartments. She had short brown, tousled hair, and a tan from being outside so much.
Mr. Gazman, the old man who lived next door, knew everyone who was poor, on welfare, or being evicted. He constantly gossiped about them to us children.
I was ten, too. I think Kelly favored me just because I was the only girl.
When she approached, we would stop the baseball game and ask her which team she wanted to be on. If she sensed any mocking in your voice at all, she would run at you and slug you. And she could hit hard! We learned quickly to defer to her.
Her father was out of work, and never home. “Out drinking – an alcoholic,” Mr. Gazman would say. Her mother was left home to tend four children. Kelly was the oldest.
Even though I was a deaf girl, she never made fun of me. She came right up to me to speak to me, and looked right at me so I could read her lips. She learned a few signs right off, like hi, run, come here, and going home.
Contributing to my mother’s mortification, I invited her over for Sunday dinner. “That rough girl!” she exclaimed. “You invited her over here?”
But my Mother couldn’t stop it. Her Japanese traditions could not refuse a guest.
Kelly showed up in her best dress. I saw that it had a stain on it, and she tried to cover it with her hand. Her shoes were scuffed and worn. Father put his newspaper away, and came into the dining room to say hi to her. He shook her hand, and was very friendly.
I could see that Mother was looking at her shoes and her dress. My sister, Shannon, was bringing in the roast beef and mashed potatoes. Tammy was sitting at the table tapping her spoon against her plate. My brother Nathan was at a friend’s house.
I sat directly across from Kelly so I could read her lips. Everyone stopped talking so that Father could say the prayer.
Kelly was very polite, very shy. Her gung-ho vacant lot attitude disappeared. Her fingernails had dirt under them, but I saw that she had washed her arms and hands. I kept my eyes averted from her so as not to be rude.
She only spoke to Mother and Father when they spoke to her. She didn’t look right at them, but kept her head bowed slightly. It was hard for me to see what she was saying, but I think they were asking her questions about her family.
Since she was my guest, I was excused from after-dinner chores. Kelly and I went up to my room to play. When she entered the doorway she looked around at my canopy bed, my desk with the computer on it, my dollhouse with the miniature figurines inside, and my window with the lace curtains tied in a bow. At first I thought she didn’t like my room. But one look at her face and I realized that the opposite was true.
She was in awe that a girl my age would have all those things, let alone her own bedroom.
We played on a computer game site. Then we played with the dollhouse, although we were both outgrowing it.
Kelly told me that she had never met a deaf girl before, and that I was very nice. I used my notebook to talk back to her, since I had never learned to speak.
She said that she would like to invite me over for dinner sometime, but she couldn’t. She didn’t look at me. She seemed very embarrassed when she told me her parents were getting divorced.
I tried to imagine living in a small apartment with three other sisters. I wondered where they slept. No wonder she was mean when she came out to play with us.
That summer I developed a strong emotional bond with her, more intense than I ever had with any girl. I insisted that she come over for dinner often; she was over about twice a week. Mother stopped looking at her shabby clothes and realized that she was just a poor girl who didn’t have much. Father sent us to movies and roller skating.
When she came out to the vacant lot to join us in baseball, she wasn’t as mean anymore. The others saw her as my friend, and began to give her the same respect as they gave me.
Once in my bedroom something unusual happened. Kelly and I were sitting on the floor, sketching on my art pads. She was trying to draw a horse. Suddenly she leaned forward, grabbed my hand, and then kissed me on the cheek. Tears were in her eyes, but she fought them back.
Her lips were trembling. She used the back of her hand to wipe her eyes. She told me that she couldn’t see me anymore, because the next day her family was moving to Albuquerque to stay with relatives. They didn’t know where her father was. They would ride out on a bus.
I hugged her and kissed her on her cheek. I started to cry, and I couldn’t stop. She stood up to go, but I grabbed her arm and made her sit back down again.
It took a while for me to stop crying, and I started to feel sick to my stomach. I gathered up the art pads and colored pencils and got a big sack from the hall closet to put them in. Then I went to the dollhouse and collected ten or twelve dolls, and some of the tiny furniture, and put them in the bag. I thought maybe she could give them to her sisters.
I walked with her to her apartment, trampling through the weeds of the vacant lot, and pushed down the barbed wire fence so we could cross over it. I snagged my Levis as I did.
Her mother was busy putting clothes into old suitcases and boxes. She stared at me blankly. I don’t think she knew who I was, because I had only been over there once or twice.
Kelly and I gave each other one last look, and one last brief hug. I left quickly so I wouldn’t start to cry again.
The next morning I went to see her off on the bus, but she was already gone. The manager was cleaning out the apartment.
Kelly never wrote to me, and since I didn’t know her address, I couldn’t write to her, either. I was very sad and moody for the next few weeks. I would usually sit on the couch, pretending to read a book. Father tried to cheer me up.
But mother made a curt comment, “You never should have gotten involved with that girl anyway.”
I was so angry! I picked up a dish from the table, and examined the silver rim and the little flowers on it for a moment. It was Mother's best china. Then, with all my strength, I threw it at her. It missed her head just slightly, and shattered against the wall.
I yelled – the words came from me so deep and powerful – and I kept yelling and hollering until I collapsed on the floor in tears. I hadn’t said anything for at least two years. My arms flailed back and forth wildly. Then I pounded my fists on the floor until I felt pain going up to my elbows. I couldn’t stop! I still kept screaming. Father rushed in and grabbed my arms and tried to calm me down. I fell into his chest and wept.
Mother stared at me. She leaned weakly against the wall. She stood in her pink slippers amidst the shattered remnants of the plate. Her eyes were fearful and vague.