In The Dark

I squeeze my eyes shut, traveling far away from the voices around me, to a world of my own. In this world, I’m not treated differently. I have a friend with blonde hair, Phoebe, and together, we bike to the ice cream shop after school, then ride home, one hand on the handle bars, the other, grasping the cone as cool chocolate melts onto our fingers. I am the fastest runner in the whole sixth grade, and can beat anyone in a game of checkers. During circle time at school, I braid Phoebe’s hair into two long manes, trailing down her back, and then she braids mine. We have staring contests till our eyes overflow with tears, and we’re wiggling on the floor in an eruption of laughter. When my friends and I play hide and seek on the playground during recess, I am always the last one found, ‘cause I know all the best hiding places. In this world of my imagination, people like me. They’re not afraid.

But outside of my fantasy world, no matter where I am, I’m alone. I don’t have any brothers or sisters; it’s just my mom and me. Mom tries so hard to be there for me, giving me whatever I want, in place of what I can never have. I think that I’ve made her sad, ‘cause even though she loves me a whole lot, I’m not the daughter she dreamed of having. She wants so many things for me, a carefree childhood that I’ll never have, dreams that can never come true, miracles that are impossible. She doesn’t know what to do when she can’t give those things to me. I’m only twelve years old, but I already feel like my life is over. I’m the child no parent wants, the girl no one will befriend, the stranger no one will approach.

The kids at school, they talk about me as if I can’t hear. “Make way for the freak,” they say when I walk by on my way to my classroom. “I wonder if she knows how creepy she looks,” they marvel aloud to each other. I never will know, I think to myself, but I can only imagine. “I hope she never talks to me,” one girl says, “’cause I don’t have anything nice to say to her.” It’s like I’m behind a thick glass wall, so close, but I might as well be miles away. I’m right there with all the other kids, hearing what they hear, feeling what they feel, but it’s not close enough. The pounding of my fist on the glass is drowned out by their taunts.

My best friend has always been my dog, Apollo. I call him Pollo for short. With him I don’t have to know what the color purple looks like, hunt for four-leaf clovers in a blanket of grass, or be the best double-Dutch jump roper in the sixth grade. I don’t have to wear clothes that match, write my name in perfect cursive, or look him in the eyes. I don’t have to do things that I can’t do. With him, I can just be me.

He snuggles with me, warming my body from the cold sadness I get when I’m lonely. All the other kids don’t come close enough to know me. They’re scared to look past my outer shell, and see what’s inside. I’m much more than what I can’t do and what they see. My name is Ruby and I am twelve years old, I want to tell them. I like listening to Jack Johnson sing and play the guitar, feeling the snow freeze my body as I make snow angels in the winter, and telling ghost stories under the covers, as I lie awake at night. I stuff my mouth full with marshmallows and play “chubby bunny”, even though my mom says not to, and sing “Tomorrow” from the musical, Annie, whenever I’m sad. I dream about traveling the globe to far away places, and sometimes I imagine what it would be like if kids ruled the world. If they really knew me, I think they’d like me. But no one cares.
Apollo loves me like I’m normal, like I can love back. And I do. So much. And even though we can’t speak with words, or with our eyes, we talk by touch. In the feel of his warm, scratchy tongue on my soft cheek, or my fingers resting on his wet nose, we share our sadness, joy, and dreams. I know that he loves me, and he knows that I love him. He listens and understands better than anyone else. Pollo, like the Greek god I named him after, is a beam of sun in my world of night.
All the time, I wonder what the world around me looks like. The pictures I create in my mind are beauteous and magical, full of wonder and goodness. There’s no evil, or ugliness in my world, but I know that’s not realistic. Even in my limited view of people, there’s hatred. I know, ‘cause I’ve felt it. It’s nastier than anything I could dream up in a nightmare, and overshadows all the good. But that’s what people like me do, we envision the unknown. Even though sometimes, reality disappoints, I would give anything to be freed from this curse. ‘Cause under this curse, there’s no freedom. No freedom in my life now, or in the years that lie ahead. No freedom to show people who I really am and what I can achieve.
And, every now and then, when my eyes are tightly shut, keeping my “good” world from leaking out, I feel hope. Maybe I’m naïve, as my teacher often calls me, but I still wish with every speck of hope left in my heart that one day, my real world will radiate light.
I open my eyes, but I’m still in the dark.





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