Something To Hold On To

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Faith. Dictionary definition: A confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing. Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence. My definition: the last scrap of being in the lonely child's heart, the parachute that the homeless man clings to as he hits rock bottom, the spark of determination that moves the misunderstood teenager. The knowing that life can, and will be better. Having faith is a common factor among humans; it exists in all of us. For some, it is less apparent. For some, it likes to be the silent hero. But for others, it is their focus. It is life.
Over the past month, faith has moved out of the shadows, to the main stage in my life. No experiences have truly left an indent on my being quite like this one-Like the footprint of a six year old girl, left on my heart.

It was three in the morning, and the night was a black quilt, sewn into my shoulders. Cold, invigorating fear pulsed through my veins. And I was alone. As voices of days gone past whispered into my ear, I ran away from the life I had led, and stepped into the unknown. Street signs and dark houses whipped past me. One particular name caught my eye. “Rhodes,” it was a street that I knew and loved, though it wasn't my own. No, I lived many blocks away, but this was my fantasy street. Where I longed to be. The houses were pristine, the lawns shaved immaculately, and sports cars were left shimmering in the soft moonlight. If only, if only. Tears blurred my vision, but I trudged onward. To where, I did not know. But why, I was certain. I had to leave the beatings and horrors of my home behind me; I had to escape. The last words of my own mother as I fled through the cracked screen door rang in my ear:
“You can't escape fate! In five years time, you will be back again. Just you wait!”
The likeliness of those words scared me. But I couldn't think of those then. It was time to run. I ran until my feet formed blisters, until the blisters broke and blood soaked my thick white socks. Finally, I could run no more. I stopped at a playground in a poorer section of town where the once-jolly colors of the play set had faded to browns and grays, and the swings had all but rusted away. But still, it was as good a place as any to rest. I crawled into a bent yellow tube, and was about to lay down when I heard a small voice.
“who are you?” a wide eyed little girl in a pink nightie asked. I was so startled, that I could barely stutter my name. The girl continued with a certain air of confidence “I'm Joanie, and I'm six.” I chuckled. I knew we would get along just fine.
“Now tell me, Joanie, why are you here at a playground, in the middle of the night?” I inquired. Joanie proceeded to tell me about the love and care she received in her home, and of the friends she made. I was beginning to wonder how she could ever run away, until she told me of the later events.
“a while ago, I started getting real real tired all the time. And my eyes were puffy too. So my momma took me to the doctors. They put a lot of needles in me before they told me that I had something called Leukemia. Do you know what that is?” I nodded stiffly, a little stunned. “well they told me I had that. So I was in bed a lot, and I couldn't play outside with all my friends. But that was okay because my daddy would stay inside and play with me. But...then daddy started coming less and less. And when he did come, he was all...wobbly. And real mean. I don't know why.” Joanie's voice cracked a little at the end, and she started sniffing. “Then one day he came into my doctor room, and took out all the little wires they had going into me. He picked me up and brought me home. Then he...” She broke off her sentence and started crying uncontrollably. I had no idea why until she lifted up her arm. I didn't notice it before, but the forearm was scabbed over with blood, and it was obviously broken in at least three places.
“he tried to shut me into the fridge, but my arm didn't fit,” she managed to gasp out before succumbing to a fit of tears. I held her in my arms and knew it was my duty to save this broken girl. Hours later, she finally fell asleep.
The steady buzz of traffic woke me from my dreamless sleep. I gently pulled at Joanie's hair until she stirred. Half asleep, I carried her down the street and to the nearest hospital. The arm needed to be checked out first of all, but also she had been, from what I gathered, stuck in that park for a couple days. That couldn't be good for her. We reached the emergency room doors, and finally made it inside. Nurses tended to her arm as I filled out paperwork. I wasn't a legal guardian, but who's to know the difference? I checked off boxes, wrote in comments, and signed my name at the bottom. I called myself her aunt, on her mother's side of course. Not to be associated with the father. They questioned me about him, very much so, but I didn't give any information, for I knew none. They accepted that fact, and continued to work on poor Joanie. I watched with a brave face on as they stitched and re-set her arm, careful not to flinch when I heard the crack of bone. I had to be strong. As they rolled her into a hospital room, they informed me that for the next few days I could not speak to, nor visit Joanie. They couldn't verify the cause for her injuries, so I was to stay away. It hurt me, but there was nothing I could do. As we said our goodbyes, Joanie whispered into my ear,
“keep your faith, and your faith will keep you” it was something she said that her mother told her on many occasions in the hospital. But coming from her lips just then, it was like I heard them for the first time. I choked back tears, and uttered a simple
“I love you”. I had only known her a day, but of that I was certain. Then I left.

The weeks following were nothing short of pure torture. I visited every day, although I could never see her. The absence of her father made sure of that. But I did check. Luckily for me, the nurse took pity, and updated me every day. Sometimes it was “Joanie asked for you today” or “Joanie ate some more today.” But then, subtly, it changed. It became more of “Joanie slept all day today”, or “Joanie couldn't eat today.” She was getting worse. I could tell by the look in the nurses eyes when I asked for her condition.
One fateful Thursday, I decided to sneak in and go see her for myself. I walked in, but instead of going up to the nurse, I walked over to a group of people celebrating a baby being born. Amongst the balloons, I was lost. I waited until they finally went in the elevator, and followed. Then came the easy part. I knew Joanie's floor and room number by heart. C187. I walked down a long hallway, and there it was. A few more feet...then just inches. I grasped the black plastic door knob, turned it, and thrust the door open. I stepped inside with a huge grin on my face, waiting to greet the only person I had ever connected with. But...where was everyone? My eyes swept the room, but it was empty. I was so confused. My head spun. I ran blindly out of the room, down the corridor, and back into the reception area. I demanded why she wasn't in her room, and the nurse responded with a quiet,
“Joanie...passed away this morning.” the words stung. A crushing wave of denial washed over me as I yelled at her, calling her a fake, a liar. But in my heart I knew it was true.

Her funeral was on a cloudy Sunday. It was ill-attended, but I sat back in the shadows nonetheless. The sermon was unfeeling and dry, and was soon over. As the last of the people left, I stayed behind so I could plant one daisy next to her small tombstone. I walked over, and the flower dropped from between my fingers. Until the very moment that I saw her grave, this wasn't real. In my mind it simply didn't happen. But all at once, reality came crashing back down, and I fell to my knees in the mud as fat rain droplets pattered into the soil. Her last words to me flooded my memory, and I listened. “keep your faith, and your faith will keep you”.
“I have my faith, Joanie” I whispered to her as the sun set, and night blackened the sky.





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