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Life, Love and Dreams
“I’ve been praying, Kia.”
“I know; I have been too.”
My mother’s beautiful grey eyes filled up. Her hands turned white as they clutched the steering wheel. I turned my head; I knew she would not want me to see her like this. She did not know I had seen her crying in her bedroom at night. She was a strong woman. She had to be, to adopt an orphaned girl from Scandinavia. But a few years later, when she had learned the girl had cancer, she began to weaken. She still acted strong in front of me and rarely showed her anxiety. But having a child with cancer is not easy and when money is tight it can become very difficult.
The neighborhood outside my window slowly changed. The one story homes with simple yards turned into grand houses with flowing gardens. One mansion had two children playing out front. A young girl ran, laughing, away from an older boy chasing her. He caught her and tossed her up into the air. Her laughter became shrieks but the smile stayed on her face.
My mind wandered. I could barely remember the time when I had been that girl, playing with my older brother. My lawn has been different. It was a rocky field on the outskirts of my small Scandinavian town. But when the sickness came and took my parents that field disappeared. From there my memory turned to my next home, an orphanage. I lived there for five years until my new mother, Erica Palmer, came from America and took me to my third home in a land I had only dreamed of.
I woke from my daydreams when we pulled into the hospital parking lot. This imposing grey building I renamed my Forth Home. I had spent more nights here in treatment than I ever wanted to. I pushed open the door. The too familiar smell hit my nose. It smelled of cleaning fluid, tangy medicine and something bad trying to be covered up. A white coat bobbed towards us from across the large room.
“Hi Kia! Hello Ms. Palmer!” The uncomfortably cheerful voice of Tiffany echoed across the room. “Dr. Mortimer is waiting for you!”
As the nurse walked close, I noticed her smile looked strained.
All my mother could manage was a small “hello” before we were herded towards the doctor’s office. Before we reached it the door opened and a man’s face peered out. It looked to be around middle age with rugged skin but no wrinkles. His black hair had a few streaks of grey but his eyes stared with a youthful intensity.
“Hello Miss Kia, good day Ms. Palmer. Please step in here,” he said a simple smile breaking the hard lines etched into his face. The door swung forward and the face disappeared. I stepped into his office. A familiar sight of chairs, a desk and a sink looked back at me. The room tried its best to look comfortable but it had a tense, sick feeling to it. I took my favorite chair in the corner while my mother and Dr. Mortimer shook hands. Tiffany melted into the background.
“Kia, Ms. Palmer, I’m going to get right to the point. We got the results of the tests back.”
This time my hands turned white and so did my face. I desperately suppressed the urge to run from the room, stick my fingers in my ears, and throw up.
“I’m very sorry,” Dr. Mortimer slowly began, “but Kia has stopped responding to treatments. I’m sorry, there’s nothing we can do.”
My mind went numb. I could only focus on one word playing in my head. Nightmare. That evolved into Real. Then Life that caused the next thought which shocked me so much I whispered it aloud. “Death.”
“What did you say?” Dr. Mortimer asked.
“Oh I-” I couldn’t speak anymore. My mind had turned to emotions. Fear, confusion, depression and pain beat like ocean waves against my skull. “I-I-” Stammering I turned to the wall and closed my eyes. I do not know how long I sat there but after what felt like days I noticed a pressure against my arm. I turned my head and stared at it blankly. My mother’s hand was clutching my arm. I realized what it meant and started to cry.
The bed was warm and soft. The gentle heat enveloped me. There was nothing I wanted more than to sink back into peaceful dreams. Instead I opened my eyes. My room was still dark but the curtains were glowing from the sun outside. The colors of the room were faded, most were black or white. I blinked. And suddenly I remembered everything. Standing out the strongest in my mind was the end of the meeting with Dr. Mortimer. He and my mother were talking in low voices and they thought I could not hear.
“How long do you think she has?” my mother asked hesitantly.
“I think it’s going to be under a year,” he answered, his voice solemn. I was so scared; I had stopped listening after that.
I had under a year left to live. It is one of the worst things someone can know, I thought to myself. To know when and how you would die is a terrible thing. It changes your whole outlook on life, your hopes and your dreams. I have one dream. I have always dreamed of going to my homeland in Scandinavia. When I found out I had cancer I still assumed there would be time, there is always time. I never imagined I would die within four years. The thought of never visiting, never seeing my field again brought tears to my eyes. I turned and cried into my pillow.
I rested in the stone wall in my backyard and stared around me at nature in its most beautiful time. The warm spring air flowed around me, its movement rustling the tree leaves. All along the edge of the yard bright bushes grew, spotted with new green leaves. A small flower garden hugged our house. The bed was cluttered and under weeded but flowers bloomed everywhere, even on the weeds. To me it was prettier than the manicured gardens and lawns of the grander houses.
I my hand I clutched my camera. It was worn and well used. One edge was scratched from when I had carelessly dropped it. Right now I had my eyes on one corner of the stuffed garden. The mid-afternoon light was perfectly slanted on the section of flowers. I got up, turned on the camera and adjusted the settings. Bending down, I started to take my first shot.
Erica Palmer paused from folding up the bed sheets and glanced out the window. She watched Kia in the yard with her old, used camera in one hand, moving a flower with the other. She remembered when she had made the decision to adopt. Her parents and friends were shocked. It surprised them that an unmarried, middle aged woman would want to adopt a young foreign girl. She won’t be able to do it, they had said, with a low income and no experience. She had proved them wrong. When she flew all the way over the Atlantic to pick up the girl, she knew she was doing the right thing. As soon as she saw the girl’s beautiful face looking up at her with a burning curiosity, she wanted to give her everything. Years later, she had found out her little girl had cancer. It broke her heart. She felt like she had failed.
Erica put the sheet down. Cupping her head in her hands, she began to cry. Once her eyes were dry, she looked up. Immediately something caught her eye. A diary was lying open on the desk. Green handwriting stood out sharply against the white paper. The words were scrawled across the paper as if the writer had been in a hurry. Erica moved closer and began to read.
“Cancer is killing me. It’s not just killing my body but also my dreams, hopes and soul. Now I can’t dream big. I can’t hope. I can’t live right, knowing I will soon die. And now my one dream is dead too. I always wanted to visit my homeland, Scandinavia, and now I will never get the chance. I can’t pretend anymore. Money is tight and so is time. I have to stop dreaming.”
The tears that Erica had successfully stopped came flooding back. Her daughter, her only daughter, was dying and there was nothing she could do. She had failed to give her child the good life she had dreamed of giving. Suddenly anger and resolution rose up inside her. She could give her child one last important thing. She would give her back the ability to dream and hope. She would grant Kia’s wish.
“Kia we need to talk about something.”
I looked up from my book. My mother was standing on the other side of the room with a stack of papers in her hand.
“OK, sure.” I put my book down and sat up from the couch. My mother took a chair opposite me.
“Kia, I didn’t mean to, but a few days ago an open page of your diary caught my eye.”
My face flushed but she went on.
“I read only the page that was open and I am glad I did read it. Oh Kia, why didn’t you tell me you have always wanted to go to Scandinavia?” she said in a rush. My thought whirled. Of course I had not told her, we don’t have the means and it is an unrealistic dream anyway.
“It’s nothing really. It’s unrealistic anyway,” I mumbled.
“But it’s not silly! It’s a wonderful dream and I am going to do everything I can to make it come true. I’ve been researching and I think we can do it if we try.” She waved the papers in her hand.
My first reaction was denial. “Oh no, no it’s OK. We don’t have to don’t worry about it,” I said to the floor.
“But Kia,” she said, bending down to look me in the eyes, “I want to do this for you, and I know you want it too. Besides, we’ve needed a vacation for a while; it’s about time we took a trip.”
The corners of my mouth twitched. Then I suddenly wanted to tell her everything. I want to say how happy and grateful I was, how hopeful this made me feel and how much I loved her. But all I could get out was “Thank you”. I think it said it all anyway.
I looked at the clock again. It seemed like forever since I had last looked but the numbers had barely changed. 9:47. My mother’s second shift ended at 10:00. She had taken on another shift to help save up for the trip. I had begged to be allowed to work instead, even if it was just a babysitting job, but my mother had adamantly refused.
I had been allowed to set up a lemonade stand although. For the last two mornings I had diligently squeezed lemons, measured the sugar, stirred and soled. I was successful and made a good profit, but I knew it went very little towards the cost of the plane tickets, lodging and necessities for the trip.
During the long hours sitting under the yellow umbrella in the side of the road selling lemonade, I had started to think. I was trying to think of ways to raise money when I got an idea. I could sell my pictures to raise money. Excitedly, I had rushed inside. Bringing my camera and three full memory cards out, I began to look through my pictures.
Now, at 9:47 in the evening, I was still doing that. This time I was set up at the computer. My new folder of possible pictures to sell was already very big. Three full memory cards can produce a lot of excellent pictures.
I had not raised the idea with my mother yet. I was not sure how she would react to the idea. Not all the details were worked out yet, like where I could sell them or how. I thought of possible making note cards out of them and selling them in packs but, not having done anything like this before, I was not sure how it would turn out.
Outside I heard a car pull up. My mother staggered in, her arms laden with bags.
“Hello!” I called.
“Hi Kia,” she responded and she put the bags on the table, “My shift got off early so I went grocery shopping”
“Great,” I answered, “do you need help bringing it in?”
“No, I got it all,” her voice sounded tired, “Do we have any leftovers from dinner?”
“Yeah,” I said, “Let me get it for you.”
“That would be great,” she mumbled, half staggering to her bedroom. When she came back a few minutes later, I had a big steaming plate of spaghetti sitting at her place and all the groceries put away.
“Oh thank you!” she said, giving me a hug. As soon as she had sat down and began to stuff as much food into her mouth as she could manage, I began to ask her about my picture idea.
“Mom, I have a question. I had a great idea to raise money for the trip. I have a lot of amazing pictures and thought maybe I could sell them. Possibly as note cards or something. What do you think?” I sat back and watched her face.
“Oh Kia, you don’t have to do this. I’m taking two shifts and we will get along fine. Your lemonade stands is working well and-”
I interrupted her quickly. “But I do want to do this! I’ve always wanted to let other people enjoy my pictures and this is the way to do it. Plus it’s my dream to go to Scandinavia so I want to do something to help us get there!”
This time she interrupted me. “Kia, you’re sure you want to do this?”
“Then,” she paused, “Then it’s a wonderful idea.” She got up and hugged me.
“Thanks so much,” I said into her shoulder. We broke apart and she walked back over to her diner. “I have a folder on the computer of the pictures I want to use. Do you want to look them over?”
“I’d love to,” she replied, “but how about after I finish my meal?”
“Sorry,” I said sheepishly, “Do you think the note cards are a good idea? I could make groups off five pictures and sell those in packs of ten cards each. So there would be two of each card in a pack.”
“Yes, I think that’s best,” she agreed, “Note cards are easy to make and easy to use. And I’m almost done with my spaghetti. Do you want to look at the pictures now?”
I jumped up and slipped past my mom. The computer was running by the time she got there. “The file has about 50 pictures in it,” I explained to her as the computer loaded. “That would be perfect for groups of five. The only thing is, I would need special paper to print on.”
“That shouldn’t be too hard to find,” she responded, “We can easily get that from CVS and our printer can print on thick paper.”
“Great,” I said as the folder came up, “Look here’s the pictures. I’ll play them in a slide show”
The pictures rolled by one by one. Except for a few little exclamations of admiration from my mother, we were silent. When the last picture went b my mother whispered, “Wow Kia, these are really amazing. I think they will work wonderfully”
“Thanks Mom,” I said again, and smiled.
I folded over the last card. The heavy paper resisted the pressure from my hands as I lined up the corners. I pushed down along the edge and turned the newly made note card towards me. The simple white paper made a boarder around the vibrant picture. The electric orange flower petals stood out sharply. I added the card to the final stack of ten and sat back in my chair. My third order of note cards was done and ready to be taken to the school.
The note cards had been selling successfully. We managed to find a small downtown gift shop willing to sell them and a school fundraising event gave us space for a small table. I was so excited my idea was working out great. The trip seems in our grasp and we are already planning for it. My mother has tried to stay calm and not get too excited but I can tell she is just as exuberant as I am.
I heard footsteps behind me and turned away from the table.
“How’s it coming?’ my mother asked as she walked across the room towards me, “we need to be at the school to set up for the event in thirty minutes.”
“It’s going great,” I answered, “I just finished the last card.”
“Wonderful. Pack it all up in the box and we’ll get ready to go.”
As she left the room I smiled. My dream was going to come true.
I threw myself down in the chair. As the door slammed shut next to me I felt the wind fly over me. The window in front of me failed to capture the attention of my spinning head. I blankly stared out of it, instead seeing the past few minutes play out in my mind.
I had been sitting at the breakfast table eating a big bowl of Lucky Charms. Their luck did not seem to have worked on me today. My mother walked in, already dressed and ready for work. “Good morning Kia,” she said, more cheerfully than I ever could in the mornings.
“Morning,” I mumbled back, “and I just remembered, I ran out of card paper yesterday. Could you please pick some up?”
She came over and sat down before answering. “Well honey, I think you have done enough for now. The note cards have worked well and it has done so much for the trip but now I think it’s time to take a break.”
“What?” was all I could get out. Why did she want me to stop if the note cards were helping so much? Why did she call me ‘honey’? She never calls me that. She was definitely acting strange.
“I’m just giving you a rest,” she said to my puzzled face, “OK?” She glanced down at her watch. A shocked expression cut across her face. “Oh my goodness! It’s a lot later than I thought it was! I’m so sorry but I have to leave now, I’m already late. When I come home tonight I’ll explain everything.
A few minutes later I was in my room staring out the window. I was confused about what she had said and how she acted. And that confusion made me mad. I irritably glowered at the window.
My eyes were distracted as I saw a car drive slowly down the street. A dog barked at the car, trying to protect is owner from this new creature invading its territory. I noticed birds warbling outside my window. Slowly I relaxed. My mother had said she would explain it all tonight. She must have some good explanation. I could just wait till then.
I sat in the chair for a little while longer collecting my thoughts. I pushed the anger of the morning behind me and got up, ready for the day.
I was curled up on the couch, Huckleberry Finn pressed against my nose. I was right in the middle of the book, so intensely reading that I barely noticed a car pull into my driveway. The noise that roused me from my book was the creaky garage door rising. I went from unconscious of my surroundings to aware of every detail. Outside the darkened windows, the cloudy night sky hid all activity from my view. Everything was silent. Suddenly, a car door slammed. I jumped. My mother shouldn’t be home for at least another half hour. Her shift ends at 10:00. I heard steps walking towards the front door and a key rattling in the lock. But she is the only one I can think of who has a key and would be coming here at this time of night, I reassured myself. A person walked through the door wearing a black jacket. I saw my mother’s purse under her arm.
“Hi Mom,” I said, relief edging my voice, “You’re home extremely early.”
“I got off early because I have a surprise!” she exclaimed, her voice clearly full of excitement, “Look!” She was waving two pieces of paper in her hands. “Plane tickets to Scandinavia!”
I was off the couch and into her arms before I realized my legs were taking me there. I buried my face in her jacket. It had that wonderful smell of her. It was a perfect mix of lavender, cinnamon, lotion and that special clean, fresh scent. Suddenly it became too much. My eyes began to flood with tears of joy. Simultaneously, I smiled, gasped for air, and whispered “I love you.”
“I love you too.”
The seat in front of me shook slightly and angled downward. In fact, the whole plane was tilting forward. The pilot’s voice cracked on in the overhead. “We are beginning our decent. We will reach our destination in thirty minutes. At this time please turn off all electronics.” I reached over and grabbed my mother’s hand. She squeezed it and leaned over to whisper in my ear, “We’re almost there Kia.” I smiled in response and excitedly turned to stare out the window.
I could barely believe it. I was finally fulfilling my dream. Only a mere thirty minutes stood between me and my homeland. Years and years of hoping and praying, despairing and rejoicing had come to this. I was finally fulfilling my dream.
The pilot’s voice crackled on again, “Ten minutes till landing. Please return to your seats and fasten your seat belts.” Twenty minutes had passed in what felt like two. I began to get anxious I squirmed in my seat to get a better view out of the window. My nose pressed against it, my eyes straining to catch the first glimpse.
Suddenly the clouds broke. I stared ecstatically down at the land below. The deep green peninsula was dotted with stark white snow-capped mountains. I saw the rugged mountain ranges stretching themselves along a navy blue coastline. We flew into a lush valley. As we got closer the vast expanse of green fields came rushing into view. The green trees clinging to the mountain lay unbroken, except for a long white ribbon streaming down the side. The waterfall was longer than any I had ever seen before, finally disappearing into the emerald forest below.
Tearing myself away from the window, I leaned over to my mother and hugged her, tears once again flowing down my cheeks.
“Oh Mom, it’s beautiful.”
Three weeks later, Kia, mentally stronger but physically weakened by the trip succumbs to the cancer. Her last diary entry, made only a few days after the trip reads, “I can dream again. And my dreams are full of love and hope.”