Thank you Mabel, for Opening My Eyes

January 11, 2009
By Naomi Kaduwela, South Barrington, IL

A ray of sunshine peeked over the distant hills and found its way into my dark, dreary, bedroom. A cool breeze, which had snuck in through a crack in my window, kissed my cheek, sending a refreshing chill down my back. The smell of sizzling bacon accompanied by a far away rooster’s sad song finally woke me up that Sunday morning. I rubbed my knuckles against my eyelids hoping to relieve the itchiness, caused by dried up tears around my eyelashes. I dug my knuckles deeper into my eye sockets, almost forcefully. I tried to erase the memories of another lonely, miserable, nightmare-filled, night, even though I knew no matter what I did, I would never forget; I was chained to my past. I peered out the window as the sun rose higher and higher, exposing the beauty of this earth. Yet, the bitterness within me wouldn’t allow me to appreciate it. I lay back down, not lingering to watch the sunrise. I begged to fall back asleep, to receive a few more minutes of peace. On days where I was deemed lucky, I would have a good dream, and momentarily, I would be filled with happiness. This is what it’s like to be an orphan; I’m Nathanial, and this is my life.
Just as my thoughts began to drift back towards a land of dreams, Mabel burst into my room. Mabel Watson was the sweetest woman in town; she was one of the few genuinely kind people left on this earth. Her heart was big enough to take in every young soul or helpless animal that needed a home and someone to love. Though she was now nearing sixty, her soul was young and vibrant. She was a short, round women with a big smile always spread across her rosy cheeks, which sat beneath two glistening sky blue eyes. I wondered how she had so much love to give, considering her life, like mine, was not an easy one. Her parents passed away before she turned nineteen, and she was widowed at the age of twenty-five. Like me, she was alone in this world, cursed to live a long and healthy life while all those she loved had been stolen away. The only difference between me and her was that she never seemed to be anything but blissful. I often wondered how she did it, how she stayed so strong and the cruelty of life hadn’t turned her heart cold.
“Good morning, dear!” She sang out, exuberating happiness to the point where I had to strain my eyes to see if the luminous glow, like that of an angel, surrounding her plump body was, in fact, real.
I would have gotten mad if it was anyone else that woke me up that morning.
“Mornin’ Ms. Mabel,” I mumbled while letting a yawn escape my mouth, which muffled my words together.
“My word, I swear I’ve never met a boy as polite as you. Just call me Mabel, sweetheart! I told you last night there’s no need for all this proper talk,” she said with a little laugh.
“Oh.. right. Sorry, Mabel,” I replied quietly.
“No need, no need,” She trailed off.
She glided towards the window and yanked open my drapes, causing a few fragments of dust of flutter down and coat the cold, wood floors. Sunlight immediately filled the room and I had to squint my eyes to keep from going blind. Mable turned to face me, her eyes beaming as if she couldn’t be any prouder of me. I quickly dropped my gazed and fiddled with a piece of the blanket. She made me feel awkward.
“Why don’t you wash up for breakfast, hun?” She said as she tussled my hair.
“Okay, Mabel.”
With a small wink she left my room and made her way back downstairs. After a few moments, the clanking of pots and pans resumed; she continued cooking. I let out a sigh and slouched in bed; the thought of heaving myself out of bed, though I was only 120 pounds, seemed tremendous. My eyes found their way towards the window and I peered out it; my gaze rested on a small squirrel eating a nut under a near by tree. My eyes lingered on the squirrel, only because I was too tired to move them, and my thoughts began to consume me.
I had arrived at Mabel’s house, which doubled as an orphanage, late last night. Despite it being an orphanage though, there weren’t many kids running around. There was a young girl, no more than a year old, and as of last night, me. I suppose I wasn’t surprised though, the town nearby was small and well kept, everyone seemed to know each other. I had wandered into the town yesterday and a man in his mid thirties stumbled upon me. He said he’d never seen me around before and asked if I was okay, probably because I looked, and smelled, like sh**. After talking with him, telling him I was lost and had no where to go, he walked me to Mabel’s house, who invited me in with open arms. Before I got the chance to open my mouth she had pulled me into a hug. She said I looked tired and that I should go straight to bed; we could talk in the morning.
I finally dragged myself out of bed and into the shower. I stood under the shower head and let the hot water pound on my head and back; it felt good. After putting on some new clothes that she had found and laid out for me, I made my way downstairs. Mabel was holding a baby girl on one arm while flipping a pancake in the other; it was like a balancing act at a circus.
“How are you feeling, dear?” She yelled over the noise of the kitchen and the babbling of the little girl.
“Better.” I said unconvincingly after a pause.
“Good, good! Sit down, I’ll get you some breakfast! It’s the most important meal of the day, you know?”
I couldn’t help but let my lips form a small smile. She was lecturing me about eating properly, no one has ever done that before, or at least, not in a long time. It was like a scene out of a typical family movie, the way she mothered me. I was shocked she seemed to care so much though, I had known her for no more than 12 hours. She finished cooking and served me, the baby, and finally herself. After we had stuffed ourselves, I helped her wash the dishes. Then, we made our way to the living room.

I sat down, the soft couch sinking and forming to my shape so well it felt as if it were hugging me. I nestled into the corner and looked towards Mabel as she settled her self into a nearby chair.

“So, dear...” Mabel said gently. “Why don’t you tell me what happened, how you got here, I mean.”

I pulled at a small piece of golden thread that was unraveling from a nearby pillow. I knew this would come eventually. I let out a sigh and closed my eyes a bit, deep in thought. Finally, I began.

“I don’t really know,” I paused, struggling to find the right words. “..who my parents are.” I managed to finish.

She gazed at me, her eyes kind and free of any judgment. She made me feel safe, for once in my life.

“I think they died in a car accident, when I was really little. Around 5, I think”

She listened to me patiently; a small smile merely saying ‘it’s okay’ nudged me on.

“I got put into an orphanage and then a few foster homes. A lot of the people were really nice but it sucks, never really belonging anywhere, you know?”

Her smile widened to reveal some of her teeth, momentarily, before nodding in agreement.

“Of course.”

“Everyone was adopting the little babies, no one wanted a kid that was already walking and talking. Finally when I turned 11, I realized I would probably never be adopted.”

“Hey now, you never know...” Mabel said in an unconvincing whisper.
The smile was now gone from her face, as if I had insulted her personally. Her eyes looked hollow and watery, as if she might cry.

“I suppose,” I agreed, lying in hope that she’d feel better.

After a moment of silence, I interrupted her thoughts and continued my story.

“So... about two weeks ago another foster family took me in; Mr. and Mrs. Wasserstein. Jane, the wife, was great, really. She was very shy and quiet at first but we ended up having a lot of good, long talks on her patio. She would tell me all about her life, growing up as a kid, things like that.”

“That’s sweet, dear. Unfortunately, I don’t have a patio!” Mabel said jokingly, the smile once again reappearing on her plump face.

“It’s alright, this couch is the comfiest thing my butt has ever sat on!” I joked. “And breakfast was excellent, by the way.”

She beamed, blushing at my compliments as if my opinion was the most important one in the world to her.

“So, why aren’t you with them, darling?” She asked curiously, her face quite serious now.

“Well, Mr. Wasserstein, he wasn’t a very nice man.. He had a really bad temper.”
As the words came out of my mouth, Mabel immediately frowned, I think she knew what was coming next. With only a moment of hesitation, I continued, hoping for no interjections.

“And well… he would yell at Jane a lot. It made me really mad because she was such a nice lady, you know, and she never even did anything to deserve it. Finally, one night he was yelling again, louder than usual because of the alcohol that filled his veins. I got especially mad because that morning I had talked with Jane, as usual, and somehow our deep conversation led to the pursuit of happiness. When I asked her if she was happy, she began to cry. I took that as a no, so, I asked her why she didn’t do anything that made her happy. She didn’t really answer, though, and when she finally stopped sobbing she just apologized and went inside.”

“Oh dear,” Mabel remarked quietly.

“Anyway, when he was yelling at her that night, I realized it was because of him that this nice lady was unhappy. I was so mad that I didn’t even realize what I was doing and suddenly I was yelling at him! I told him he was a bad man and he should stop this bullsh**. Of course, this made him even madder and he turned to me and began yelling. When I screamed back at him he swung at me. Lucky for me, he couldn’t really see straight so he missed. I knew if I stayed any longer he’d probably kill me! He was huge. So, he chased me around the house and finally I just ran out the door and he gave up after about half a block. And somehow, I ended up here.”

“I see...” Mabel said quietly, clearly in a state of deep thought.

I sat there silently, not knowing what else to say.

“Well…” Mabel said, abruptly, as she stood up. “I’m sorry about that terrible man, dear.”

She sat next to me and put an arm around my shoulder, giving it a little squeeze. She was warm and soft but her grasp was firm. A small whiff of her perfume filled my nostrils; it was sweet, like a garden full of flowers. For a moment I found myself wanting to bury my face into her shoulder and hug her. No one comforted me the way she did, I hadn’t felt so safe with another person since I was five.

“No one deserves that.” She said, interrupting my thoughts. You don’t deserve that.” She stated again, firmly, now looking into my eyes very seriously.

“Thank you.” I replied.

That was probably the most meaningful thank you I have ever said in my life. I don’t know if she knew it but behind those two words were my gratification for more than her kind patience. It was for listening and not judging. It was for making me feel safe and loved, when no one else cared about me. It was for hugging me, when no one else would. It was for opening my eyes and making me feel worthy, when no one would look twice at me. And, finally, but most of all, it was for making me happy again, when I had already given up all hope.

Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. The time flew by; it was now September, three months after I had first come to her house. The young girl that was at Mabel’s when I first came there had been adopted. Many of Mabel’s “friends” or at least the random people, who she claimed were her friends, stopped by for tea every now and then. However, none of them ever returned. I never said anything but I was sure they were couples looking to adopt, though none of them seemed interested after talking with me for a few minutes. The young couples wanted a baby who they could raise as their own, not a seventeen year old boy who hid behind his dark, long, shaggy hair. Though this realization came over me every time a couple stopped by the house, it bothered me less each time. I had Mabel and I was happy here. I didn’t really want to be adopted.

One particular night, as I lay in bed staring up at the ceiling, another couple thanked Mabel for her hospitality and tried to politely sidestep a conversation about adopting me as they left. After she locked the door behind them, I heard the steps creek as she quietly climbed upstairs. I heard her pause in front of my room and looked over to meet her gaze as she poked her head around the door.

“Hey you, still awake?” She asked rhetorically.

I dropped my gaze and sat silently for a moment.

“You don’t have to keep interviewing couples, you know,” I mumbled abruptly.

She opened her mouth instantaneously, as if about to fire back an argument to defend her actions, however after a moment, she closed her mouth. She knew I wasn’t naive enough to not realize what she had been doing, but, I supposed she expected me to be too shy, as usual, to say anything about it.

“I’m.. Nathan, I didn’t mean..” She frantically stammered to find the right words.

I felt terrible. All she was trying to do was help and by bringing it up I made her upset. I could sense the fright and frustration in her voice.

“Mabel, I didn’t mean… “ I paused and locked my gaze with hers. “I like it here.”

A look of surprise spread across her face.

“I like it better than anywhere else,” I added, shyly.

The muscles on her faced relaxed and a small smile appeared across her rosy cheeks.
She walked towards me and sat at the edge of my bed.

“I don’t think I’ve thanked you enough for everything,” I continued.

Her eyes swelled and glistened as a few tears filled within them.

“Sweetheart, I’m just.. happy I could help,” she whispered, trying to keep her voice steady.

I leaned over and hugged her.

“Oh Nate,” she said gripping me tightly. “You’re such a good boy. If only those couples new…” she said, her voiced being fueled with anger.

“I don’t need them,” I assured her. “I like it here, with you,” I admitted wholeheartedly. “I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else!”

She chuckled as she wiped the tears from her face.

“I love you, son,” she announced, kissing my forehead.

I buried my head into her shoulder and gave her one last squeeze. My heart filled with hope and love, sending waves of warmth throughout my body. Though the room was chilly and a cool breeze blew in through the crack in the window, goodness pulsed through my body so hard it seemed that I was oblivious to all bad in the world. I smiled as I realized, momentarily, that this is what nirvana felt like, perhaps what I would feel like if I lived in a utopia. It felt good to have a mother again.

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