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It's Not Broken If It Can Be Fixed
Do you ever have those moments when you look at someone and see a reflection of yourself? It could be someone you would have never thought twice about, but all of a sudden your both seeing yourselves in each others eyes like a repercussion of mirrors at a fun house, until you can't be sure what's real and what's an illusion anymore. If you asked me, not that you did, I think that's how love starts out. Sometimes it works because you know you've found the one person on the same side of the tracks as you are, but other times it doesn't. Because maybe what you're seeing in the other person is the exact thing you hate most about yourself. Having your worst quality out there on display is like a slap in the face. It makes you realize what an ugly person you just might be.
Last period English is the worst class to be in when you're trying to keep your mind distracted so it doesn't sink into a deep, unforgiving depression. As our teacher tries to keep us aligned with whatever lesson he's trying to cram into our heads before finals, the class has turned into a zoo. The football team is throwing a ball around that's dipping in dangerously close range to the heads of the rest of us. The girls in the back wearing mini skirts and carrying around the smell of perfume like a spreading rumor are taking pictures of themselves with camera phones. Someone shook up a bottle of cola and exploded it, leaving a sticky minefield all over the floor. I can hear the distant hum of an iPod rolling in the distance and bleating out obscenities about who knows what. I'm sitting at my desk playing with a strand of my tangled hair and trying to separate myself from the chaos.
Suddenly, the secretary walks in and says something that washes out the noise in the room like a tide. I didn't catch it the first time, but all of a sudden people are swapping words like “amputated” and
“infection” like trading cards. I finally catch a piece of the conversation that makes sense, the name, Peter, a boy in our class whose been out sick all week.
“He lost his all his arms and legs from some kind of disease!”
“He'll never walk again!”
“Is it contagious?”
“That's too bad. He was such a great runner.”
“Probably would have gone pro.”
“Not to mention the scholarship money. I would have killed for legs like his.”
Abruptly I feel my thoughts shift their weight to the other foot. Ever since what happened to me, I've been using all my time and energy feeling sorry for myself, staying in bed with the covers pulled tightly over my head for hours, not doing my homework, putting the thermometer up to a light bulb to fake sick again, saying less than ten words a day. Now I feel the guilt swallow me whole, not just for these things, but just for being alive and healthy when some people would give anything just to taste sunlight or run toward an open sky again. The card everyone is signing lands on my desk and I scribble my signature and a heart on it. What do you say to someone who just lost all four limbs?
“Who would like to deliver the card and flowers to Peter?” our teacher asks and silence falls around the room like a sheet. As much as you can preach your sympathy and act like your heart is aching just as surely for someone as theirs, as much as you can pretend someone else's pain is your own, when it comes to taking on the front lines, no one steps up. Everyone knows that pain is contagious and if you get too deep into a situation you might not be able to find your way out again.
“Well, isn't that a shame,” she says shaking her head sadly. “I would think at least one person would step up. He could really use a friend right now.” her words prick into me like thorns. Even though I didn't really know Peter, even though none of this has anything to do with me, I feel like she is looking right at me.
Maybe it was through fate, bad luck, or pure stupidity that some impulsive force of the universe drove me to raise my hand.
Her face lights up like the sun. “Thank you, Lacey. I'll give you the directions after class.” I stand up stiffly to retrieve the card and vase of wild flowers from her desk and the class erupts into a round of applause. I can practically hear the breaths of relief being released as I walk by like a great gust of wind.
The sound of the bell floods through the classroom and people start trickling out into the hallway. Once the room is empty I walk up to Miss Lewis' desk.
“I wanted to thank you again, Lacey. That was a very mature thing to do.” she says pushing her rhinestone glasses up over her nose.
My insides freeze up. “Actually I think this might be a mistake. I don't think I'm the best person to do it.”
“All you need to do is be yourself. That's all he needs right now. Besides I was going to ask you to do it anyways.”
“Huh?” I say.
“Your grades have been falling farther and farther behind. Maybe being around someone worse off than yourself will inspire to start working harder in school.”
I stare at her blankly. “You have know idea what I'm going through!” I cry even though she's my teacher.
“Neither do you,” she says. “You haven't been living. If you do this, you can write an assignment on it and I'll give you some extra credit.”
“Here,” she says as she starts digging around her drawers. She plucks a a report out of a folder in the filing cabinet and hands it to me. “Maybe this will help.”
I feel a shiver ripple down my spine. It's a report by Peter entitled “Running through Space.” I open it up and read the first sentences. When I run I feel the wind through my hair, the ground tearing away beneath my feet, my legs moving like lightening, my arms pumping like a well-oiled machine. When I run nothing else matters.
“He was one of the best writer in my class,” Miss Lewis murmurs. “I just hope you'll find it in yourself to do this.” I nod and gather the flowers and card in my arms. How can I say no?
I manage to walk to my locker without dropping anything, but I can hardly see through the thick jungle of flowers blocking my view. I crane my neck around and see the long, spidery legs of a girl with her head buried in her locker. Maybe this is my last chance.
I set the flowers down in front of her. “Um, this is kind of an odd request, but I'm supposed to deliver these today to Peter Reese, but I have a doctor's appointment,” I lie. “I was wondering if you could do it for me?” The girl ducks out of her locker and turns to face me. Her eyes are swollen and tears stain her cheeks. Her blonde hair is mussed and black rings crawl around her eyes as if she hasn't slept in days. I open my mouth to say something when another fat tear rolls off her face and plops on to the floor. Then I make the connection. It's Naomi Reese, Peter's sister.
“I'm so sorry,” I whisper, silently cursing myself. I grab the flowers and go to turn away when I feel her hand brush my arm.
“I haven't even seen him yet,” she says letting her hair fall into her face. I can see her eyes glow from beneath the curtain of hair, two enormous pools of blue swimming with regret. “Will you tell him?” I nod, locking this silent agreement between us, this brief exchange where the words hide behind the
expressions of pain, too afraid to come out just in case they're wrong. I walk toward the exit of the school. Tell Peter what?
I hate hospitals. Just the smell of them makes me feel sick, scrubs and rubbing alcohol. The stiff pulled sheets, the immaculately white hallways, the tiny windows that if you peek into you might just get a glimpse of a horror movie. People limping around sipping coffee and apple juice, tubes running over them like tunnels, needles catching the light filled with mysteries and ready to stick you.
“I'm looking for a patient. Do you know where Peter Reese is?” I ask the receptionist who throws me a dirty look over her computer. It's a Friday afternoon, so I have no homework, but I wish I did.
“Can't you see I'm on the phone?” she asks even though she wasn't. Her fingers snap over the keys like firecrackers. “He's in the recovery room. 36D.”
I thank her and pick up the flowers, which have gotten quite bent now after I ran into someone on the elevator with them. A small trail of yellow petals falls behind me as I walk. It takes a lot of navigating and stair climbing, but I finally reach the recovery room on the third floor. Unfortunately, finding a room is a little bit trickier.
“Excuse me?” I ask a nurse wearing pink Hello Kitty scrubs. “Do you know where room 36D is?” She turns and her golden locks bounce like sunlight streaming in through a window. “What's the name?” she asks.
“Peter Reese.” Her eyebrows fly up and she nudges the nurse next to her.
“Of course! Right this way.” I follow both nurses down the hall as they giggle and smile at me.
“How long have you two been together?” the brunette girl asks. Suddenly it clicks. They think I'm his girlfriend.
“It's so sweet that you're coming to visit him in the hospital!” the blonde chirps.
“He's not my boyfriend,” I say. They stop in their tracks and then burst out laughing. “Yeah, okay,” the other one says sarcastically. “By the way I'm Sarah and this is Phoebe,” she says motioning to the brunette. “Just tell us if you guys need some snacks or an extra pillow or something.” Sarah waggles her eyebrows at me and they both strut back down the hospital wing.
I notice the open room in front of me, 36D, and am suddenly hit with the realization of the moment. I grip my fingers so tightly around the vase that I feel my knuckles go white. Reluctantly, I creep into the room, forgetting to knock. I try to backtrack to avoid startling him, but accidentally walk into a bedside table and feel a bruise blossom on my hip. The clatter makes Peter turn around and I notice him for the first time, he had seemed to disappear into the sheets of the bed.
I don't stare, but it's impossible not to look at him without seeing. Instead, I concentrate on his eyes, boring into mine, but the damage is already done. The image of the stubs ending at the elbow and knees, of where arms and legs should have been are fastened with clean bandages and keeps seeping into my mind begging for a second glimpse to make sure I am seeing right. I have never seen anyone missing all their limbs before and I want to run, but my feet are rooted to their spot knowing that if I move forward or back there will still be damage done.
The curtains are drawn, but I can still see his face, delicate and white as tissue paper, with freckles peppered over the bridge of a long nose. The outline of his face is sharp corners and narrow bends, from his jagged chin trailing up through the clenched jaw. His hair is a brown mop, with longs bangs sliding over his forehead. What I notice most are his eyes though, peppered with hostility and biting into mine like the knife of night slashing out the daylight. I want so badly to tear my gaze from his, but doing so will turn my eyes on forbidden territory.
Instead I set the flowers on the table. My brain scrambles around for the words that make sense.
“Hi, I'm Lacey,” I say, trying to sound as calm as possible. Peter sits rigid as a stone and I feel cold sweat prickle on my forehead. “I'm from your English class. I don't know if you remember me or not.” Still no response. “Anyways,” I continue awkwardly. “We just wanted to wish you well so I brought you these flowers. I mean I didn't bring them, they're from all of us. We also made you this card,” I say handing it to him. I immediately feel the heat catch fire in my face.
Peter's arm moves up and then stiffly set back on the bed as if he too forgot that it was dysfunctional . I pull the card back as quickly as I can and place it on the night stand. His expression is hard and turned to focus on the wall.
“Get out,” he murmurs. I feel an apology melt on my tongue. I'm shaking harder than I was after I made fun of the music teacher and then turned around to find her staring right at me. I turn on my heel and dash out the room, down the recovery wing, and out the back door of the hospital with the promise to only take care of myself from now on unless I want to break twice.