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I gently tap my fingers on the crimson knit sweater Mrs. Monroe wore. Her gentle snow white curls turned away with the wind and I meet her dark lonesome brown eyes. Deep wrinkles stretch across her fair skin, her pink rose lips push together, while her eyebrows furrow with curiosity. I expected questions about myself like who I was and why I was here on a Tuesday night. Since, my visits are always on Sunday mornings. I pulled up a cream iron garden chair, resting my back on the hard surface and gently stroked my blonde wisps of hair.
“Who are you?”
“Hi Mrs. Monroe, It’s me, Lola.”
“Oh honey, I knew you looked familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.” Giggling she rested her fragile hands on top of mine. They looked so tired compared to my moisturized fingers. My heart felt so loved with her hands grasping mine. It reminds of when I was in first grade, sitting on the torn up reading rug and there she sat in her antique chair. They way she read the stories it seemed as if I was right next to the funny children’s book character. Now, with her Alzheimer’s I was the one always reading her the stories on my weekly visits. “What are you doing here? It isn’t Sunday already, is it?”
“No, not yet. It is just Thursday, but I rushed over here because, I want to your story. The Story you have never forgotten.” I squinted my blue eyes to make sure she was processing what I was saying. This is no ordinary story it is the journey Mrs. Monroe suffered, when the Nazis came to her town and took over. It has made her who is today and I am ready to know how.
“Why?” She pulled her hands back from mine leaving me bare and hollow. “Tell me the reason why you want to know today.”
“Well, today in ligature class we have been challenged to write about someone we admire and I choose you.” I smiled sweetly showing off my pearly whites.
“Why.” She didn’t question me but she needed a reason.
“You are so strong. You have fought for who you are and not forgot your faith. Every time I have came here since the 6th grade you haven’t given up. You always try to remember your loved ones, memories, or what you even had for breakfast. The past 3 years I have grown to love you deeply in my heart and now, I know I can handle your story too.” I took a big sigh, I had so many thoughts jumbled in my mind that it was hard to spit them all out but I think my point came across to her.
“O Lola,” Saying my name, it sounded as if it was sung by an angel. “Look at me, yet you are so young but so mature and beautiful. I believe you are ready to here it to. Before, I reveal my story I need to take you somewhere.”
I came to my feet and, grabbed Mrs. Monroe’s bejeweled silver walking cane. Her memory may be fading but her sense of style lives strong with her. She gave me a slight grin and snatched her cane from me to gain balance.
“So, where are we going?” The question startled me. I am still not able to understand her condition of Alzheimer’s.
“You said, that you were taking me to somewhere” The word somewhere seemed to hang on a cliff in my mind. Where could she want to take me?
Mrs. Monroe was yammering on about ridiculous reality stars and how they shouldn’t be famous! Don’t get me wrong I totally agreed with her opinion on reality shows, but how could I focus on a stupid T.V show? I was focused this story of hers.
The first time she mentioned it to me was back in fifth grade. I was crying in the back of library, millions of books surrounded me and I had a stack of about ten classics in front of me. Wiping my tears with my pink silk scarf, she stood above in a emerald satin dress shimmering in the light, it satisfied her petite figure.
“You will be strong, I had to fight too. “
“But, the girls they are so mean.”
“That is because they know that you are stronger than them. You just have to stand up to them.”
“How do I do that? They will just attack me with words. I don’t think you know what I am going through” I snapped… I was a very feisty little girl.
“Once, I tell you my story you will understand the power you have when you are confident.”
Swiftly Mrs. Monroe turned and left me to bury my nose in the ancient books I was about to read. She left me reading and didn’t tell me to go back to class because; she always said a good book can heal the wounds formed by others. Since then, I have found that to more than true…
I snapped back to the present time and before I realized I was just about to run into the glass sliding door.
“Wow, there little lady.” Mr. Hanson’s arm reached out in front of me covered by a yellow green pin-striped shirt.
Mrs. Monroe chuckled under her breathe, her cheeks were rosebud red. Lifting her bedazzled cane she lightly hit me in the back and that told me I looked really stupid right now. Mr. Hanson was smiling nicely flashing his bright white dentures. I seem to run into him every time I am here. He is a very rich old man but his family never visits the Southwood Retirement Home. So, I always try to make small talk with him, but today I am in a hurry.
“Need a ride?”
“Yes actually…” Mrs. Monroe turned to him and whispered into his hearing aid but, all I can make out is. “Hurry, I don’t want it to be closed.”
We scurried into his beat up sliver Cadillac and off we went to somewhere…
Somewhere turned out to be my old school library. Were I spent my days crying in the corners from the mean girls, where I disappeared into story books,and the ice cold days Mrs. Monroe and I would giggle about the latest fashion trends and sip on her delicious hot coca. This is where she would tell me the power of confidence, why I admire her so much and I was ready to hear it.
Entering the school brought back so many memories but the clicking of Mrs. Monroe’s high heels made them fade away, we passed by my old classrooms, and a few teachers still were slouching in their desks with papers to grade and they slurped down their black disgusting coffee that was supposed to be keeping them awake.
We finally reached the antique doors to the library; they towered above us by about 2 feet. A dark feeling came off from them, but that didn’t seem to affect Mrs. Monroe she reached for the golden knob and twisted till there was quick click. A roar of emptiness came from the opening of the doors and Mrs. Monroe trotted into her old home.
The aroma of cinnamon overwhelmed me and I crinkled my nose. Glancing around each corner of the library nothing had changed a bit. 6 aisles of books, a counter with laptops and of course, the torn up reading rug. It was more beaten up than I remember, but the stories she read where fresh in my mind. Mrs. Monroe was admiring the reading rug too, gliding her hand across the rough fabric; she chuckles at her own thoughts. She glances up at me, scratches her white curls and fidgets her fragile fingers.
“What did you need, Lola?”
“O,” I say a silent prayer that she won’t forget me someday.
“Well, actually you brought me here to tell me The Story.”
“Yes… The Story.” Her eyes glimmer like twinkling stars and a giant smile spreads across her face. “Help me flip this over will you?”
“Of course.” We flip over the dusty brown rug but, I am suspicious to why we are doing this. What does this have to do with her story…The question pondered in my mind but not for long. Looking down to the spot where the rug lived revealed cream torn paper, each sheet had cursive curly words printed on them and to my surprise their were small books too. Carefully I bend down, to get a better look at these mysterious sheets.
1942 November 10,
My eyes widen, jaws drop and my heart skips a beat. Looking up at Mrs. Monroe her hand is over her heart.
“It’s hard going back to the past but, I know you can handle it,” She sighs “pick a page from my diary and I will tell you everything I remember from it.”
Thousands of pages are scattered across the ground, each sheet is a different story and a part of Mrs. Monroe. Scanning the ground my eye catches one with water splotches splattered across. Along with the perfect cursive writing, I hand the fragile paper to her. She bats her eyelashes, plops back into her old antique chair I strongly remember from elementary school. Fastly she finishes her old diary entry looks up at me and quickly back to the diary entry. While I set back the old reading rug in its place, Mrs. Monroe mummers something to herself.
Mrs. Monroe takes me back to 1942 to her little classroom in a very small town on the outer egde of Germany, She opens her mouth closes her eyes and begins.
“I perfectly remember this day. Sitting front row in my one classroom with my shoulders rolled back, nose high and eyes sharp ready to learn. Looking to right of me sat the only empty desk of Lucy Grossman, my best friend. Well, my old best friend and I clenched my jaw to hold back the tears of her memory. I wondered why she never said goodbye... The Grossman family fled our small town without a word and disappeared with the only other two Jewish families exactly 5 months to this day. I no longer enjoyed the laughter of the other children but I hid my thoughts with writing and reading and I only laughed with my mother and teacher, Ms. Lehrer.
Since the disaster the Nazis have caused Ms. Lehrer always keep me motivated to learn and told me to be grateful that Lucy left before they could get her. I wasn’t sure what “get her” meant at the time because our town wasn’t very exposed to all the nonsense of Hitler and his followers. The memory of Lucy distracted me more than every that morning, Her high pitch laugh jumped in and out of my ears, how her beautiful blacks curls bounced side to side as we skipped to the towns bakery and when she smiled her naturally perfect teeth glistened in the sun. The clatter of Ms. Lehrer’s wooden heels echoed throughout the room, and silenced the annoying happiness of my classmates. Her eyes stared deeply into the creaky, oak floor boards and a slow tear trickled down her splotchy pale checks from her sky blue eyes. Her sorrow came to me and I knew she was about reveal something to scare me. She preached up her face showing her glowing blonde hair which was pulled back into a tight but at the moment she didn’t dare look me in the eyes.
“You are all dismissed from school, you will be taking a vacation for awhile and your parents will tell you when to come back.” Ms. Lehrer bit her lip fiercely obviously holding back tears from flowing out of her. Loud whispers haunted my own thoughts, the eyes of other became larger than the moon, jaws instantly dropped but all I did was stand.
“This was the last strong part of me.” I protested.
“O Mary you will be okay if you stay strong I know of it.” She grasped me tightly into a hug. I felt her cold breathes glide on my neck down my stiff spine.
“I believe you and thank you,” I whispered in her ears and I spilled out the last words I could speak to her. “Good bye.” I had no confidence to look her in the eyes so, stumbling I grabbed my belonging and began to run. I felt the darting looks of the kids, the gasps and confused faces, but no one didn’t even think to stop me.
I had pasted almost every little store we had in this overlooked town and very so often there would be people but I didn’t look back. Soon, I would have nowhere to go but home but I keep running. After every few strides I would stumble to my knees and sob in my arms but the dusty dirt would overwhelm my mouth and I would heavily cough. That would make me stand up again and to my realization my knees were deeply scrapped, my heart heavily scared and my mind was nowhere to be found.
Where was I going? I didn’t know, I was a mindless 10 years old. So, I let my heart lead my limbs to the abandoned library. My heart rests and my limbs fall heavily on the cement steps in front of the beautiful wooden doors leading into the library. They soared high above my limp breathless body and with all the strength I had left I fiercely pounded my fists in to doors. they didn’t react but I still heard the silent cries of the hidden books inside.
What is going on in this world, why has all my enjoyment been shattered since the rule of Adolf Hitler? I was absorbing all my different questions including why Lucy was in such a hurry to leave Germany. Than the bitterness of the cold seem to cast in. Causing wonders of how to get inside to run in my mind.
Slowly I gathered myself to a slumping position yet I wasn’t standing. I was more to close to the dirty steps that were splotched with my dried blood from my knees than to the wooden detailed doors. But then a metal frame outlining a window started glistening in the corner of my right eye. So, I check both ways to make sure I wasn’t going to be caught sneaking in the old library that was forbidden to anyone. So, once I dragged myself to the window I just stood and stared. If I was to be caught what would I lose? My best friend? She is already gone! I screamed louder than a dying cat, hoping that my cry would be heard by God and he would send angles to rescue me and Lucy from whatever what was separating us.
The window was only a few inches taller than me so, it was an easier reach and my young body fit threw perfectly but I lost my balance on the edge and tumbled onto the floor. The hard but so warm floor seems to cradle my body back and forth in a swarm of books that surrounded the outer edges of me.
Shifting to my right side away from the brick wall were two feet covered in wool stockings… Feet, which means there are legs attached to a body. Than that means I’m in deep trouble Every inch of my body froze in a tiny ball position and all that broke the lingering silence was the thunderous thudding of my heart. Than the voice I never expected to her again, rang threw my ears and danced back in. Until it fit me like a punch in my gut. Releasing a vast breath all my lost energy was restored into me. I jolted to my feet into the weak arms of Lucy.
Lucy’s crystal green eyes were wide in shock. “You scared me! I thought you were a Nazi.” She giggled her high pitch that I loved and she explained her whole situation. I fully understand the disaster we were living in but I couldn’t stay long. That could cause danger for the Grossmans and any other hidden Jews. So, once most of questions had the answers I was searching for ,I kissed Lucy on the check and whispered… ‘I will stay strong but only for you.’ Lucy dashed off into the mysterious library. 3 more glorious days Lucy hid in the library until word of Nazi came and off they fled. This time we had a goodbye but it was sorrowful and a secret Till now.” Mrs. Monroe never flinched once when revealing her story. Now, she looks at me with wondrous eyes waiting for me to respond.
I slip out the word ”Wow,” I elongate it, since I truly have to many thoughts, responses and questions of my own to ask.
“All I need to know for today is two things, Did Lucy survive?”
“I don’t know.”That’s all she said I don’t know. Mrs. Monroe sat there on the edge of her antique chair looking at her weary hands and to my surprise I saw a weakness in her and my heart sank. My hero had been defeated by me; she let me inside of her own thoughts and worries. Now, she had nothing else to hide from me.
“So, how did you survive?” I know this would probably be a story for another time but this is a answer my mind is demanding!
“Um..” Mrs. Monroe’s face went white like a ghost and her lower lip quivered. “I. Don’t. Remember….. Remember.” Finishing the sentence she began to burst out into tears of disappointment in herself. “All I can make out is that we traveled away from Germany about a month after I found Lucy but, my mother would never allow me to talk about the past.” She sob so more, sniffles and tears came out of her for about 5 minutes and I didn’t think that it would be so hard but it took a incredible amount of confidence to do that.
“Thank you,” I stand up, rest my hands on hers, “That took a great deal of strength to tell me and I admire you more now, than I ever have before.” I giggled a little to release the tension between us. “I defiantly will be getting a 100% on this essay!”
“You better or else I will hunt down your teacher!” We both burst out in joyful laughs that you only share with a friend… “Let’s gather up all of my diary entries and books and get out of this joint.”
My time was up for tonight but till another day I rest and wait to go back and live her story. I embraced Mrs. Monroe in a tight heartwarming hug. Leaving her in the warmth of Southwood retirement home, I enter the cold starry night and wrap my pink sweater tight to my body. Thinking about the power of confidence, I will never let anyone push me to my weakness but stay strong like Mrs. Monroe did for Lucy.