I tripped over a table leg as I was setting my tray down, nearly spilling all of my lunch on the table. Lifting my head a little higher, I practically slammed my stuff down as I ignored the giggles I heard from people all around me. Sitting cautiously on the cold crumb-covered chair, I tucked my bothersome bangs behind my ear and sighed. Being a new student at a huge high school is one thing. Being a very klutzy student at a huge school was another. I had moved here with my family a few weeks back. Dad had lost his job and had to find a new one. This was probably the twelfth time we’ve moved, and I hated it.
I took one bite of the pizza in front of me and practically gagged. I guess I could go without lunch for one day. Pushing my try away, I just sipped the Dr.Pepper I got that morning by the bus stop. I resorted to simply listening to those around me. A group of boys around two tables away were talking about some recent ballgame they had. A few feet away and to the right was a cluster of girls gossiping about a boy.
“I can’t believe they let him back to school so soon,” whispered one of them.
“Yeah! I mean..spray painting the principle’s office? Come on! He should have been expelled, not suspended,” piped in another.
“Well, he said he didn’t do it” shyly answered a quiet voice.
“Denial!” The rest chorused.
“Honey, who in the world would actually admit to doing that?”
The bell rang, breaking me from my eavesdropping. I made my way to my lab class, but not without lots of shoves and pushes. To my dismay, Mrs. Collens announced that today we would be dissecting a lamb’s intestines. I started to feel faint, but I pushed that feeling away. Now was not the time to get weak.
“Everyone has their lab partner?” called out Mrs. Collens. To my utter embarrassment, I realized my lab partner was missing. Hearing a few giggles, I cleared my throat.
“Oh, Miss Denise,” she called out to me, “your lab partner will be here shortly. He is always running late.” She said with agitation clear in her voice. “Well, let’s get to work.”
Tired was not even close to describing how I felt after only ten minutes. Sweat had begun to appear on my forehead and above my upper lip. I was just about to cut the intestines of the unfortunate mammal when a rough voice scared me out of my wits.
“Excuse me,” was all he said but it was enough to let a small squeak escape from my throat. “You’re my lab partner?” he said.
I could tell he was disappointed. “What does it look like?” I said through clenched teeth.
“It looks like you have everything under control here,” he said, sarcasm accompanying his words. I could smell alcohol in his breath and stepped back, not caring what he thought.
“Maybe it’s because somebody wasn’t here when he was supposed to be,” I spat back.
Ignoring my comment, he sat down and got to work. Huffing impatiently, I joined him and proceeded to cut the poor lamb’s innards apart, a very risky thing for a clumsy person to do. At the end of class I started to gather my things.
“Stephen, by the way,” I heard his voice whisper behind me.
“Denise,” I replied, facing him. He was a good-looking guy around six feet tall. He had light hair and bright green eyes.
“See ya tomorrow,” he said over his shoulder.
“Yeah, ok,” I said with no enthusiasm. For the next several weeks, I got to know Stephen. From what I observed, he had piercings on his left ear, was always late, had a flashy hair style, and always talked like he was hiding something. We ran into each other often, but I tried to avoid him. He wasn’t a good type of guy to have as a friend. Who knew what kind of trouble he had gotten into and what he was like with his other friends (wherever they were). I noticed that whenever I met up with Stephen, he was always alone. Oh well, I thought; a guy like him deserves to be alone. One day, after school, I walked to the library to find a book on science. I was already confused with the first lessons on physics, and had no desire to start the year with failing grades. Finally finding one, I sat down at the café and started reading.
“Fancy meeting you here,” I heard.
“Stephen! What are you doing here?” I asked.
“Do I not have a right to be here?” he questioned back.
“No, it’s just,” I struggled for the right words. “I didn’t expect to see you here...at a library...studying.”
“Oh...you think I’m just the kind of guy who parties all the time, gets into drugs, and doesn’t give a care about school huh?” he snapped.
“I didn’t say that,” I replied defensively.
“No, but you were thinking it. All you people are the same, judging people when you just met him, not even giving a guy a chance to prove himself.” I could feel him glaring at me.
I was taken back. Never had anyone talked to me like that. I could feel the warmth creeping up my face.
“You have no right to talk to me like that!” I seethed.
“I have every right!” he said, obviously trying to hold back his temper. “You know, Denise, just because you have your own set of problems, doesn’t mean you’re the only one who has them in this world.” He was breathing hard now. “Other people are hurting too.” With that, he marched out of the café.
I felt my cheeks getting wet. I had not realized I was crying. Wiping them away, I gathered my bag and ran home as fast as my feet could carry me.
The next day, as I was sitting at the lunch table, Anne, a new friend, came and sat by me.
“Why the long face?” she asked, stuffing a tuna sandwich in her mouth.
“What’s the truth about Stephen Rhane?” I got right to the point.
Anne was at first surprised but quietly answered my question. “He has a single mom. His dad was arrested for robbing a bank a few Christmas’ ago. He got into drugs and a bunch of other not-so-good stuff and went to Juvi for a few years. He came back this year, and it’s obvious he’s trying to do better, but old habbits die hard you know? It doesn’t help that everyone treats him like a murder.” She mumbled.
It took some time to absorb it all, but when she was done, I asked her how she knew all this.
Smiling a sad smile, she said, “I’m his sister.”
“What?! Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
“Because Stephen said that if I ever told you I was his sister, you wouldn’t be my friend. But he said to go ahead and be your friend, because that’s what you needed most right now.”
I was speechless. Had I really been that heartless and judgmental? In my heart, I knew the answer. I had only looked at his bad side and never took the time to see the good trying to come out. What a selfish fool I had been! I put my head in my hands at wish I could run to him now and apologize. I wish…wait. Something was being said over the speaker.
“Anne Rhane, will you please come to the principle’s office.”
Anne looked at me; she looked worried. I followed her to the office and waited outside the room. Not long after, she came bursting out of the room, hyperventilating.
“Denise…oh, no. This can’t be happening. It just can’t!” I could hear desperation and tears in her voice.
I grabbed her buy the shoulders. “What happened?” I calmly asked her though her shaking shoulders were starting to worry me.
“Stephen. He got in an accident.” The news made my legs wobble, but I forced myself to be brave…for Anne, for Stephen.
“Mr.Orel is gonna take me to the hospital. Denise, come with me please.” She begged.
I looked at Mr.Orel who nodded his head compassionately. We got to the hospital within twenty minutes and sat in the waiting room as Stephen was cared for in the ER. After waiting for what seemed like years, a doctor came out.
“Mrs.Rhane,” he said, addressing Anne’s mom, who had arrived shortly after we had. “Your son will be fine, but there is something I need to talk to you about.”
He said we could see him for a few minutes. I waited outside his room till Mrs.Rhane and Anne were done. Then I went in. When I saw him, I almost broke down. Bandages covered most of his body, and a bandage covered his eyes. I choked back my tears and made my way to his bed.
“Go away, Denise.”
“I have something to tell you.” He didn’t respond. Swallowing, I pushed on. “I’m sorry.”
I felt inclined to go on. “I was judgmental and uncaring. I wasn’t willing to look past the outside to who you were in the inside. That was wrong of me. I’m sorry.”
Stephen reached out and I held his hand. No words were needed. I was forgiven.
“Denise, I’m blind.” The words hit like a cold bucket of water. Blind? But why? What had Stephen done to deserve this? I squeezed his hand harder and cleared my throat.
“It’ll be alright, Stephen. That’s what friends are for.” I tried to encourage him, but it was obvious he was struggling to control his emotions. From that moment on, I knew that I would try to be the best friend he could ever ask for. I’d be there for him through thick and thin.
Years passed and Stephen and I became the best of friends. As I look back over those years, I thank God that I got over my attitude of being judgmental and cynical. Similar to Stephen’s blindness, this attitude of mine kept me from seeing the good in people. But this was worse than Stephen’s blindness; this different kind of blind could eat at the soul, and while physical blindness can be used for good, and can be dealt with, this different kind of blind could only be used for evil and hurt.