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Learning to Stand
“How is she doing?” I asked when I saw a white-haired nurse come into the room.
“This child is recovering remarkably well,” the nurse assured as I put on my clinic volunteer badge. I smiled at her assurance as we walked through the hallway. Just as the last door in the corner of the hall came into sight, she turned to me and smiled, “She’ll be excited to see you again.”
“Good morning, Audelia,” I greeted as I swung the door wide open. The next second, the twelve year old was wheeling towards me with a big grin as she reached up for a hug. I bent down and smothered her in my embrace.
“What have you been doing?” I asked as I glanced at the book left open on her lap.
She held out the leather bound scrapbook with a smile. “I was reading all the quotes you compiled for me.”
I laughed. “I brought you another one,” I said as I slipped a square sheet of paper out of my purse, just as I did on every visit.
“Forget all the reasons why it won’t work, and believe in one reason why it will,” Audelia read as her lips stretched into a wide smile. “I love it! You always pick out the best quotes, Aimee.”
As she pasted her latest quotation into her scrapbook, I stared at a blank canvas that sat on an easel standing next to her desk—cluttered with art supplies as usual.
“What are you planning to paint?” I asked.
“I’m not sure,” Audelia replied.
The next morning, as I walked down the hallway with the nurse, I spotted a figure lingering in front of Audelia’s door, as if to peer through the slender rectangular window.
“Excuse me, do you need help?” I asked. She jumped, as if I had startled her. A slender woman whose eyes were concealed behind dark sunglasses stared back at me. She shook her head vigorously before scurrying away.
I glanced at the nurse next to me, “Who was she?”
The nurse was quiet at first but then replied, “That’s Audelia’s mother.”
“Why didn’t she go into the room and see Audelia?”
“Audelia’s mother hasn’t visited her daughter since she was admitted to the hospital and then transferred to this clinic,” she said quietly.
The nurse looked around, as if to check if anyone was nearby. Then she leaned in and whispered, “Audelia is in a wheelchair because her mother’s boyfriend assaulted her.”
Shock overcame me to think that someone would hurt such a sweet and fragile girl like Audelia. “What kind of assault?” I asked.
The nurse shook her head. “No one knows, but the ex-boyfriend fled after the incident and there’s no lead as to where he is now.”
Suddenly, a neighboring door opened. “I would like some assistance,” the patient croaked.
“Coming!” The nurse gave me a nod and hurried away.
I walked into the room and saw Audelia sitting in front of her canvas with a paintbrush in her hand.
Anger and resentment clawed at my heart.
How could that woman abandon her own daughter, who suffered from such fragility? Anger and resentment gripped my heart.
How could she abandon Audelia?
Noticing my presence, the little girl turned around and smiled. “Hi, Aimee! Come over here and look at my new painting!”
“What are you painting?” I asked as I observed a painting of a female figure standing atop a hill, her arms outstretched towards the sky.
Audelia paused with her paintbrush in midair. She didn’t answer but asked, “Do you think I’ll ever be able to walk again?”
With the most optimistic smile I could muster, I reassured her: “Of course—all it takes is a lot of hard work and confidence.”
She set her paintbrush down and pointed at the figure that stood on the tall, green hill in her painting.
“Me,” she said. “That’s going to be me.”
* * *
The next morning, I found Audelia’s mother speaking quietly to a nurse. When the nurse saw me, she motioned me over.
“If you want to know about Audelia’s well being, she’s the best one to tell you,” the nurse said, nodding at me. I tried not to glare at Audelia’s mother. “She is our clinic’s volunteer and has the most interaction with her.”
Audelia’s mother smiled at me. “Hello, I am Karen Allen, Audelia’s mother. I would like to know how she’s feeling these days. Is she happy? Cheerful?”
“She’s fine,” I said in a tone that was perhaps ruder than I intended. I examined Mrs. Allen and saw that she and her daughter shared the same striking blue eyes. I felt the anger claw at my heart again. “But to be completely honest, I think that she’d be better if she saw her mother for once.”
After my remark, there was a long silence that hung in the air. The nurse fidgeted nervously, not knowing what to do as I stared disapprovingly at Ms. Allen.
Mrs. Allen cast her gaze onto her feet and quietly said, “I know…I know that I shouldn’t be shying away from her. But all I can do is look into her progress because I’m too afraid to face her after what happened.”
She looked up at me with a shameful look on her face. “I know. I’m a horrible mother.” Then she glanced at the nurse and gave her a weak smile before walking away.
I stared at her back as she went down the hallway. Her figure seemed to be more fragile than I had noticed before.
“Please understand,” the nurse began quietly. “That Audelia is not the only victim in this tragic crime. Audelia’s mother is too.”
“How so?” I questioned.
“I just know that she’s been visiting counselors and therapists almost every day,” The nurse shook her head. “That woman is a mess right now.”
* * *
The next morning, I walked into the room and gasped.
Audelia was sprawled on the floor with her arms outstretched, struggling to push the rest of her weight off of the ground.
“Audelia!” I exclaimed, sweeping onto the floor next to her. She tried to stand up again but her legs remained motionless. Tears streaked down her cheeks and her eyes were red from crying.
“What were you doing?” I stared down at her as she was panting from her exertions.
“I thought that….i-if… I w-worked hard….I could finally walk again,” she replied, as I brought her into my arms. “Then I can find mommy.”
I held her tightly in my arms, speechless and feeling utterly helpless. I didn’t know what to do.
Her fingers curled into a fist. “It’s not fair…I w-want to see my m-mommy!” she wailed. “I want to w-walk again. …I want my l-legs to work again!”
She violently writhed in my arms, as if her anger and her grief were too great to be contained in her small body.
“Audelia!” I exclaimed, forcing her to look at me. “Your mommy will come back to pick you up and your legs will work.”
“No they won’t!” she cried, pounding her firsts against her motionless legs. “Mommy’s boyfriend took my legs away from me. Now I can’t walk. I hate him, I hate him…I…I hate mommy!” Her wails were so loud that I expected someone to barge into the room any second.
“Don’t hate your mommy,” I said in the most soothing voice I could muster. I didn’t know what to say to calm her. I held onto the little girl who was trembling and hiccupping with tears. In the midst of it, I thought of her mother. I thought of the fragile woman who was suffering from a pain that was beyond my understanding. “Just as you’re recovering from being hurt, your mother is too. Give her some time, Audelia.”
For a moment, Audelia was quiet. Then she replied, “But she wasn’t hurt. HE didn’t take her legs away from her like me. She can still walk.”
“Not all pain is visible,” I hugged her tightly. “Give your mommy some time, alright? She’ll come for you when she’s better.”
Audelia’s fingers uncurled from a tight fist. “But I want to walk again.”
I gazed down at her tear-streaked face and then her lifeless legs. Such cruelty it was to put sweet and innocent Audelia through so much pain and suffering. Where was the justice in that?
Stroking Audelia’s hair, I smiled. “Okay, let’s find someone to help you get back onto your feet. Just promise that you won’t do anything reckless anymore.”
* * *
The next morning, I came in and Audelia wheeled over to me as soon as the door opened. “Let’s start, let’s start!” She tugged at my shirt excitedly.
I laughed. “Okay, but first…here.”
She took the sheet of paper from me and read, “Sometimes you just have to take the leap, and build your wings on the way down.”
* * *
Several months later, the news arrived. Audelia and I sat on the edge of her bed in silence.
She stared at the bare desk and the folded easel that sat on top of her suitcase.
“I won’t be able to see you anymore,” Audelia mumbled. “And I won’t receive any quotes that inspire me and make me smile.”
I patted her on the head. “Stop by the clinic anytime,” I said. “I’ll still volunteer here.”
She nodded. “Thank you for visiting me almost every day these past months.” She rested her head against my shoulder and closed her eyes. “I’ll miss you, Aimee.”
I felt a sharp sting of sadness. The countless hours we spent together—the hard times when we’ve cried together and the happy times when we’ve laughed until our stomachs hurt—have created an incredibly close bond. It was painful to acknowledge the fact that I would not be greeted by her contagious smile and her warm hugs each time I visit. But for the girl who had become the little sister I never had, I managed a smile.
“Here’s your last quotation from me,” I said, holding back my tears, as I slipped a sheet of paper from my pocket and handed it to her.
“She is clothed in strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.” Audelia read. “Will that be me one day?”
I smiled. “It already is.”
Suddenly, Audelia jumped off the bed. She slowly walked over to the side of her bed, where she pulled out a canvas.
She handed it to me. “For you.”
I gazed down at the canvas that had been slipped into my fingers.
In beautiful strokes of colorful paint, a female figure stood on the top of a hill with her arms outstretched towards the sky. Next to her was another girl.
Underneath the sky they stood, and with their fingers intertwined, they reached for the vast heavens together.
“She is clothed in strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.” –Proverb 31:25 from http://julietravels.tumblr.com/post/7919269428/she-is-clothed-in-strength-and-dignity-and-she-laughs
“Sometimes you just have to take the leap, and build your wings on the way down.” -Kobi Yamada from http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/show/17374
“Forget all the reasons why it won’t work, and believe in one reason why it will,” –Unknown Author from http://www.searchquotes.com/viewimage/Forget_All_The_Reasons_It_Won't_Work/27/