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I have always been different than others, in an obvious way. You see I cannot walk and always have to use my walker. The kids always laugh at me. I can feel their judging eyes on my deformed legs. My family has a farm and everyone has to pull his own weight. The only thing I am good at is painting, which has no use in a farmer family. I can hear my parents arguing every night about what to do with me as I lay in my bed, feigning sleep.
After school, I go into my secret meadow with the softest shades of purples and yellows. I live to stare at them and watch them sway gently in the breeze without a care. I know that this is the only thing I can do to help my parents, staying out of the way. I would rather be ignored then be shunned for what I can’t do. My teacher is the only one who cares. She always finds an excuse for me to stay inside and help with something instead of my disabilities becoming obvious during kickball. She helped me to discover my love for painting.
Yesterday, after I finished staring at the flowers I wish to paint, my parents were staring accusingly at me as I sat down for dinner. I gave them the same excuse that my legs weren’t feeling well. Today was the worst day yet. Dad kept saying that I should come home sooner. He said that they wished they could send me someplace for my legs. I finished dinner regularly and then that MAN that I call father said, “Look at her. She doesn’t do a thing for us, and here we still feed her and cloth her. She is a useless girl!” He clenched his huge fist, slammed it into the table, and stormed off.
I finished dinner quickly and went to my room as I fast as I could with my lame legs and felt the humiliation course through me. I moved my walker to the side and fell on the bed like a bag of potatoes. I stared at my legs and felt the sting of the tears welling up in my eyes. They dropped on to me, small, silver jewels. I clenched my shaking hands into fists. I promised myself, “Don’t let them get to you. Try to be strong.”
The next day I slept in and woke up startled, “Oh no. I have to go to school. Ms. April was going to let me borrow her art supplies.” Then I realized it was Saturday, and I would have to wait longer. I then rose from my bed and reached from my walker. I thought, “Well. Why isn’t it there?” I kept moving hands and didn’t feel the worn oak wood of my walker.” I then felt the anger bubble in me, the thought of my siblings playing a trick by stealing my walker. Then I heard the door slowly creak open and my younger sibling, Mary, came in; she was about to reach under my arms. I flinched back from her sweaty hands, and said, “What are you doing?”
She looked right into my eyes, and I that moment I think for the first time, that she actually had a conscious. Mary mumbled, “Mum and Dad sold your walker away to Mrs. Brown next door to help her walk and to get more money.”
I felt violated and said, “They have no right to sell that. They don’t even want to help me at all, and they told me the only reason I got the walker was so I would stay out of their hair!”
Mary looked again in my eyes, and I felt that she had no conscious, let alone a soul. They say “Eyes are windows to the soul.” I looked in and I saw emptiness behind her eyes, not even a flicker of life. Mary then proceeded to say, “Actually they do. They have to pay for everything that you do, and you can’t do a single thing to help them. How are you supposed to pay them back? You are the one who should be happy that you can help them out of these hard times this time.” I then drove my eyes downcast, because deep inside me, I knew she was right.
After Mary got me down the stairs, she told me to do something because some people have jobs to do. I didn't have anything to do, and I was thinking about why they my parents had to sell my walker. It wasn’t worth much because it was made in a rush by my father. The day went on monotonously, until I was taken back to bed by Mary. Before I even lay down, I heard the rising tones of my parents. What I heard put a river of shock through me.
Dad said, “We don't have any money anymore!”
Mom then threw back at him, “Well, that isn't MY problem.”
“Yes it is. We could have harvested more but there aren’t enough workers!”
“So? Why don't I just ask my mother for some money?”
“See. This is why I hate your family! Up to their necks in money and not doing anything to help us. They are all a bunch of stuffy businessmen! You all solve everything with money and don't even have to work hard to get it! “
“You say that because your pride is too high to borrow from my parents. It is your job to provide for us. They were smart and ACTUALLY learned to make money! And this time it is about money because we need it NOW!”
The rest became indistinct as they realized there were other people in the house. I tried to fall asleep, but I was too uneasy and kept tossing and turning.
On Monday, only I went to school. The rest had to help out at the farm. There were only three other kids at school, too young to be of any use to the farm. Today we had a substitute teacher because Mrs. Damen was sick. I kept looking back to the clock, wondering why the long hand was taking so long to move. As soon as the bell rang, I decided to go to the field of wildflowers. It was the only comfort I had right now. I started at the soft hues of the many little flowers and got lost in them. The circles became blurs, and I fell asleep from the exhaustion of not sleeping enough.
When I opened my eyes, I was wondering where I was. I quickly cleared my head and realized that school had probably already let out. I went home as quickly as I could. I could hear the yelling before I even arrived.
“No! You can't do that. Please just give me one more week to give you back the money. I promise please! Where will my family live?”
Curious, I peered through the bushes that were my disguise. Papa was screaming at people who were taking everything in the house. “Why are they stealing that stuff? That's Mama's prized china!” Then yesterday's argument had more clarity. We were bankrupt. In school, they were saying how people were becoming bankrupt, and the bank could take everything in the house and sell it to pay off the debt. The people in families that were healthy and could work were taken to a workhouse. The male and females would be separated. Most of them didn't survive. I tried to get to my parents. I didn't want to be left behind again. Stumbling on a rotten log, I fell face first into the brown grass.
When I raised my head, Mama, Papa, and the rest of them were being led into a truck to be “delivered” to the workhouse. The truck sped off into the sunset and I bit my lip to keep from crying, but it was no use. The tears overflowed, faster and faster they spilled onto my cheeks, creating little rivers. I kept crying until I felt exhausted and could cry no more. I suddenly realized that my parents forced me to go to school because they knew the debt collectors were coming today. They were trying to… protect me.
The night finally reached the earth, and I fell into a deep sleep. The next days were a blur of slipping in and out of darkness of my own mind. I crawled on the ground just trying to find shelter before I blacked out again. I thought I was dying. Before the darkness came again, I wished I could have painted just once with colors and a paintbrush with thin soft bristles on a white piece of paper.
I awoke to find a blur of a shape before me. I yelped and felt the scratchiness of my throat crying out for water.
“Calm down, Sara. It is me, Mrs. Damen.”
The blurs finally became the shape of the young face of Mrs. Damen. She then went out to say that she needed to get a bowl full of water in case I was thirsty later. When I was fully awake, I peered around at my surrounding. The room was large, with rays of sunlight coming through the one big window filling the entire room in a warm yellow blanket. It looked like a young girl lived there. The drawers were overflowing with little dolls with china faces and fancy dresses made of lace and an array of different colors. The room was painted with little yellow stars on a bright blue background. The sun was centered on the ceiling, like it was watching over whoever was in the room. It caused me to smile, even though I was 13 years of age. The clothes were hanging lazily on a hanger on the white, painted closet door. There was a cute red dress with puffy sleeves and a red bucket cap on the left shoulder.
“Can I see her? Can I, Can I?” came through the thin open crack of the painted door. The voice was high pitched and was unfamiliar to my ears.
“You'll have to wait, okay, honey?” Mrs. Damen's voice carried into the room.
The door then creaked open, and there appeared a young girl's chubby face. She then wobbled over to my side. I could see her clearly. She had a head of unruly dark hair that was a mix or brown and black. Her cheeks were a wine red. The eyes were what caught my attention. The left eye was as blue as the sky, and the right was green like newborn grass in the meadow during spring time. The odd thing was that her blue eye was sort of tilted to one side, like it was a marble that moved around.
“Oh, it looks like you are awake. How are you feeling? Sorry about Mary. She is quite excited about meeting you.”
“I feel better, but who is Mary?” When Mrs. Damon spoke of Mary, I thought of my own sister. They looked alike except for the eyes. It brought back the tears, the memories of what happened playing in my head like the black and white movie ads I always saw in Pearl's Everything Store. I hastily wiped my tears off on the back of hand and sniffed as quietly as I could.
“I know what happened has hurt you badly. You are welcome to stay here with me.”
“But there is no way I can pay you back. And what happened to my family? I need to know!”
“I am sorry but I called the bank, and they said they don't know where they were shipped.”
“Are you sure? Maybe they made a mistake. They probably misheard you! Please ask again. I am begging you!” I then turned hysterical and continued to cry. The tears from my family leaving, the house gone, and the scariness of the future I would have to face alone without anyone's help.
“Listen to me clearly okay? I am sure. All the bank does is contact the people to collect the things, but they don't know where the people go. The bank only receives the money after everything is sold. That is what they told me. You can stay here to recuperate and pay me back by watching Mary.”
“Are you sure? I can't do much. And pardon me for asking, but is Mary your child?”
“Mary is a child who I adopted because my husband died soon after we were married, and I was getting lonely. Rest now. You can live with me.”
“Okay.” That was all I could say for this was the first time someone treated me with kindness. All I have ever known was the teasing from my peers.
I continued to live with Mrs. Damen and Mary. Living with them was one of the best times of my life. Memories of my real family slowly disappeared, but sometimes when I looked at Mary, I thought of my own sister and family. That happened less and less as the years went by.
My life was filled with happiness and laughter with Mary and Mrs. Damen. I was finally able to paint with her paint set. At first, my hand was shaky and the drawings were not very good. I continued to practice and perfect my drawing skills while still going to school. I graduated from high school with a diploma. Mrs. Damen made a new dress just for that occasion. I was very happy, but inside, I wondered how I would be if Papa didn't rack up so much debt and accepted Grandpa's money.
After high school, Mrs. Damen encouraged me to apply to college for arts. I denied her request for I knew I couldn't get in, and I couldn't afford the tuition. Mrs. Damen told me that if I continued to practice, I could send my drawings in and maybe I could get in for a scholarship. This fueled my engine, and I was painting all the time. I decided to submit the painting of the meadow with the small flowers that was my secret place that provided me with comfort.
My nerves were a wreck. Everyday for weeks I went to the mailbox to see if there was a letter with my name on it. The week that I sent applications out for colleges, people started to treat me differently. They treated me with respect now for I had actually turned out alright despite my background of coming from a poor farmer family. Pearl from the general store told me that I have blossomed wonderfully under Mrs. Damen's care. I knew that it was because of her that I was doing so well, but I still wished that I hadn’t come to live under her roof due such horrible circumstances.
One day, as I was about to step out of the door to go to the post office, I saw Mrs. Damen coming through the gate. She saw me and hurried forward.
“I have the mail! The college has replied! Hurry up inside and let us see what they said!”
I stood there in shock for a couple of seconds, unable to process what has just happened. Then I hurried inside and watched as Mrs. Damen grabbed the letter opener and carefully opened the letter with the greatest care. She slid the letter out, her hand visibly shaking, and gave it to me.
I was scared to read the letter at that moment. What if they didn’t want me at their school? It was too late for that, I thought, and I unfolded the crisp white paper and read the first three words. I gaped at the words and stared.
“Well, what does it say, Sara? Sara?”
“It...it...says that I was accepted with a full scholarship!!!”
“Oh my. We need to celebrate! This is absolutely wonderful! Goodness. I need to make you new clothes that you can wear there and buy a new suitcase. You will need a suitcase.”
“You are more excited than I am. I still can't believe it though.”
My life became a whirlwind of events. People all over town congratulated me on earning a full scholarship to college. Almost no one in town went to college; it was quite a privilege to be one of the few to go. The day I had to leave, I was fashionably dressed with a blue suit and a white blouse. There was also a little white ribbon tied around my neck. “It is the latest fashion from the lady’s magazine!” Mrs. Damen laughingly assured me. Tearfully clinging to Mary and Mrs. Damen, I suddenly felt all alone without them.
“Don't worry, Sara. I will take care of Mama for both of us. Don't forget to write to us. And remember to make new friends.”
I suddenly realized that Mary had grown up. She was now 10 years old. I quickly pulled her into a tight hug. I had never called Mrs. Damen “Mother” because I had always wished my own would come back for me. I knew Mrs. Damen wished for me to call her that, but she never pushed me. I knew my own mother could never come back for me, but it was what I always wished for. I think it was finally time to look at reality and finally decided that it was time.
“Mother, I wish you the best and will come and visit you as often as I can.” She looked surprised for a second then happily pulled us all into a big hug. She held us then pulled apart to look at her watch. She dabbed her eyes with her pale pink handkerchief.
“You know how I hate to be late. It is time for you to get on that train and on the way to your journey. Remember to write and do your best at college. I love you.”
“I love you and Mary. And Mary, make sure you continue to do well in school okay? I have to leave now and get on the train before I am late. Bye!”
I hurried onto the train through the open doors just as they began to close. I sat on the stiff leather seats and waved through the window at them, and I continued to wave until Mary and Mrs. Damen became little specks.
I turned forward and leaned back into my seat. Going into the new phase in my life sure was exhausting.
After entering college, I met a boy who was shallow but saved me from some tough situations. While I was in college, I often visited the town in which the college was located. One day, I met my family working at a family owned store. They ran away from the workhouse and were now make a living. I visited them once or twice a week. Rob changed for the better after meeting me. Rob and I ended up getting married and had a pair twins, a boy named William and a girl named Rebecca. After college I continued my education and received a Master of Arts degree.
My career as an artist is very successful. Ms. Damien and Mary come up every couple of months to visit me. Mary follows in her mother’s footsteps and is now the new school teacher.