Climbing Barefoot

“And the Emmy Award goes to…” The announcer slowly opened the golden envelope, partially to add suspense and also to give him more time on camera.
“He always was an arrogant little twerp.” I thought.
“Ana Gombierez!” he exclaimed with artificial joy and clapped in my direction.
(That’s me.)

The audience cheered as I gasped, in feigned surprise, and sashayed up the famous chrome steps to receive my award. I proudly paraded the sophisticated celebrity wearing a long, flowing, midnight blue gown made from Egyptian silk, dotted with shimmering silver thread that resembled the stars in the sky. I could not help flipping my gorgeous jet black hair at Angelina Jolie as she slumped in disappointment. As I looked into the audience, I froze, instantly turning into the shy, self-loathing little girl who used to wander the streets of Chicago barefoot because she could not afford a decent pair of shoes.

I was always poor as a child. I grew up in ‘the hood’. My mother and I usually ate one meal a day; we could not afford much else. She slaved every day at the laundry mat, sometimes working up to fifteen hours a day; however, she barely made one-hundred dollars week. When I was eight, a cluster of middle school girls from the nicer part of town cornered me in an alley. I was thrilled that they noticed me. ‘Middle class’ girls had always fascinated me. They each had their hair neatly tied into symmetrical pigtails, their school uniforms were crisp and dry cleaned, and all of them wore shiny black Mary Janes, except the one in the middle. She was wearing a beautiful set of sparkling ruby red Mary Janes. It took everything I had in me not to bend down and touch them, just to see if they were real. "They're so pretty." I breathed out loud. I immediately blushed and covered my mouth in embarrassment. The middle girl ginned. My heart leaped.
“They like me!” I thought, “I might get to hang out with the rich girls!”

For about twenty seconds, I fantasized about being able to play with new, unused toys, play in a yard with a picket fence or in a real house, and maybe borrow some of the nice dry cleaned clothes the middle class girls wore. Maybe her mom would wear a fluffy dress and high heels, and smile as she made chocolate chip cookies in a shiny oven like the moms in old movies did. Maybe her dad would come home and cheerfully read the newspaper in an overstuffed lazy chair. Maybe they even had a dog. My hopes quickly shattered when the girl shoved me against a wall and sneered.

“What are you gonna do? Steal them from me, ghetto girl?” All of the girls laughed. They jeered me and my limp, ragged clothes. They said I was hideous, would never amount to anything, and claimed that I was going to grow up to be an uneducated laundry woman, just like my mother. But I refused to cry. I didn’t want them to think I was weak. I just stood there silently and let them have their fun.

Eventually they got tired of ridiculing me, and decided to leave. But not before the girl with the red shoes picked up a handful of dirt and threw it at me.
“Ha! Look at that. Your clothes are so dingy I can’t even see the dirt on your shirt!”
“Hobo!” another one called, as they walked away giggling. Once I was sure they were gone, I dropped to my knees, curled up into a ball, and sobbed. The people walking through the street didn’t notice me. One man tossed me a dollar, but that was the closest got to sympathy. Eventually, I cried so hard that I passed out. I woke up at home. Mom had gone looking for me and found lying in the alley. After that, decided I was never going to let that happen to me again and that I was going to be rich and famous when I grew up.

When I was seventeen, I left home and came to New York, going to multiple auditions every day and sleeping on street corners at night. Homeless shelters were a load of crap. I would have been safer in prison than in one of those. At least if I went to prison I wouldn’t have to deal with all those faces full of heartless pity that thought they were doing something heroic when they gave me a couple bucks. Or the arrogant conservatives who assumed I was a drug addict and said I should get a job like they did and not waste their time by getting ‘easy money’. And of course the,
“You’re not getting any of my hard earned money. My tax dollars are going to help people like you.”
‘People like me’? You don’t even know me. Living on the streets is not easy, Mr. Lexus Driver, and I don’t get health insurance or paid vacation either. So go ‘work hard’ in your office with central heating and your comfortable office chair. I’ll just take it easy, sitting on the cold concrete sidewalk, in the snow, at risk of being beaten and raped.
Sorry, I digress…

On my twentieth birthday, I auditioned for the musical Les Miserables and immediately got the role of Cosette. After that, it did not take long for me to become a Broadway icon. My face was plastered on almost every billboard in the state, and every show I was in sold out in one day. They even started selling ‘Ana Gombierez’ Halloween costumes. (I’m not sure how I should take that.)

Last year I got a call from Tim Burton. He asked me to star in his new movie Hamlet: Revised. I accepted immediately and boarded the quickest flight to Los Angeles. I didn’t even bother packing. The movie was a huge success. Now I had been awarded this funny looking statue called an Emmy in front of millions of people. I had no idea what to do next.

Everything was one huge blur. I could not even remember my name. Completely dumbfounded, I stood at the podium with my mouth opened. I blinked, took a deep breath, and thought of my mother. I hadn’t spoken to her in over ten years. A huge lump formed in my throat as I imagined us making potato soup together and her reading me the same story every night. I blinked back hot tears and I felt words coming out of my mouth. I have no idea what I said during my speech.

Instead of staying for the after party, I bolted to my hotel room, grabbed the phone, and my fingers flew across the keypad. It felt like an eternity before someone answered.
“Hello?” The voice said. Hot tears in the back of my eyes threatened to flood the room.
“Mamá?” I croaked.
“Ana!!” She squealed. “I just saw you on TV!”
I laughed for the first time in years and instantly turned into the sweet, innocent little girl who used to wander the streets of Chicago and climbed her way to success with no shoes on.





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