Pictures of my Heart

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I walked into Natalie's hospital room that morning to bring in her breakfast neatly arranged with orange juice, a blueberry pancake, and a few strips of bacon. As I walked in, I noticed she was absently doodling in her sketchbook, a frown covering her usual beautiful smile. Lately her demeanor had been becoming increasingly cold and remote and she brought it upon herself not to speak anymore. But I still loved her. How could I not? Just a few weeks ago, my mom suggested that I do some volunteer work because it would look really good on my college application. So we checked out some things on the Internet and discovered the Cancer Hospital for Children. My mom had a soft spot for kids so she practically begged me to take the job. It wasn't that I resented children or anything because I'm honestly obsessed with them. It was just that I didn't think I could bear that sight of sweet, innocent children possibly on their deathbeds. But that's before I met Natalie.

She automatically became my favorite patient there. She was only ten-years-old. She had leukemia and was bald from the chemotherapy. Her skin almost glittered'pale, delicate, and almost icy with big silver eyes that add to her mysterious appearance. She tells me how she's feeling by drawing in her sketchbook. She was strangely gifted for someone so young. Her bed is usually scattered with colored pencils, crayons, and pastels and on some rare days, we're allowed to paint on the floor.

As I set the tray on the nightstand beside Natalie's bed, she immediately holds up a drawing. There was a quickly sketched image of girl in blue and she had her head down, the room behind her colored opaquely black. It almost brought me to tears when she showed it to me because I knew what it meant. "You feel lonely?" I asked softly. She nodded and tears began to pour down her cheeks. I pulled her close to me and held her tight. "You're not alone. You have me," I said.

Natalie was a foster child, so she didn't have any family to visit her during the day and I made sure I visited as much as I could. Her last foster home decided that if she should recover that she would be sent to another one. In a way, I found that to be very inconsiderate and uncaring to leave a little girl like that but it didn't bother Nat much. We played games together, and I ate lunch with her. No one else was in the room with Nat and I'm sure that contributed to the loneliness she felt at night. Sometimes I dragged her to the Hospital Daycare but she would isolate herself from the other children and sit in a corner alone.

So one day, I brought a friend of mine to meet Natalie, someone I talked about all the time. His name was Nathaniel and he basically loved children just as much as I did. But when I told Nat about the arrangements, she didn't handle it too well. She scribbled furiously in her sketchbook and after a minute or so, she held it up for me to see. It was something a little kid would color'mixtures of unidentifiable colors, stringy hair, swirly eyes, crooked mouth, stick body, pointy nose'nothing Natalie had ever drawn before. I asked her what it was supposed to be. She took a pink colored pencil, wrote, and then picked the pad up. On the top, it was titled, "Ugly Natalie".

I was really angry with her about that. "You are not ugly, do you understand? You're beautiful and don't let anyone tell you otherwise, you hear?" She nodded slowly. "Besides, Nathaniel really wants to meet you and he won't care what you look like. He's a great guy, okay?" She mouthed the word, "OK", and collapsed back on her pillow, groaning. Then she opened her eyes and, while lying down, sketched a picture of a cup. "Water? No problem." I flashed a reassuring smile at her and then left.

I went down an elevator and to the cafeteria. Before I walked in, I ran into Nathaniel at the front entrance. I waved him over. "Oh, hey," I greeted, looking at his dark blue eyes and scruffy spiked black hair.

"Hey, Sophie. What's up?"

"Nothing much. Just getting some water for Nat. Walk with me." We traveled through the crowded and stuffy room, filled with nurses carrying trays of mediocre food to their patients, and made our way to the drinks. I began pumping water into a small glass from a red jug.

"How's Natalie, anyway?" He asked after awhile.

"Not so well. I think she feels lonely."

"Oh," he replied solemnly.

"I know something that will make her feel better, though," I told him playfully.

"And what's that?"

"You. Bringing this water up to her."

He laughed. "I do have that effect on women."

"Shut up."

He grabbed the glass of water from me and we headed back toward the elevator doors. I really felt that Natalie should meet people outside of her regular routine, people who would accept her and not obsess over her disease. She had secluded herself, according to her doctor, ever since she was admitted in this place. I wanted her to have fun, something to keep her mind off of cruel reality. The elevator opened and we stepped out headed for Natalie's room. Once inside, I knocked gently on the already open door. "Nat?" She sat up in her bed. "I brought my friend to meet you."

Nathaniel waved maniacally and Nat smiled shyly, suppressing a laugh. "Hey, it's nice to finally meet you," he said. He walked over to her and placed the glass in her hand softly, and they began to talk. I stood by the door in the front of the room, watching Natalie's loving expression. I smiled. She was experiencing her first crush. It wasn't too hard to figure out.

But one late afternoon, Natalie had symptoms of becoming very ill. She had chills, complained about dizziness, and she was terribly pale. We we're watching the "Chronicles of Narnia", but I noticed she wasn't paying much attention, and after putting her to bed, my mom made a surprise visit to the hospital.

"Sophie?" She peeked into the room, her eyes locking on Natalie curled under the sheets. "May I talk to you for a second?"

"Sure, mama." I fluffed Nat's pillows and tucked her comfortably under the covers, then followed my mother out into the hallway. I could tell something had gone wrong. She couldn't look me in the eyes and she was frowning. "What is it? What's wrong?" After a moment of silence, I placed my hand on her shoulder. "Mom, what happened?" Finally, she rose her eyes to look at mine and they were full of tears.

"Natalie's dying," she said barely above a whisper.

I was too stunned to answer. My hand dropped to my side and I took two steps back. "No'"

"Her white blood cells have multiplied excessively and it caused a harmful imbalance in her blood. They're weak and dysfunctional, they can't fight it."

"But the chemo'"

"It failed. I'm so sorry sweetie."

I'm not sure what happened next. I felt mom hugging me, speaking consoling words in my ear, but it was like I had gone deaf and blind. The world stopped moving and I was a victim stuck in its time. Finally my mom pulled me back. Her eyes were red and her cheeks stained with tears. I wasn't entirely sure if I had been crying myself. "Would you like me to tell her?"

"No," I decided after some time. "I want her to hear it from me." I took a deep breath, rolled back my shoulders, composing myself, and walked into the darkened room. How could God do this? She was too young to die. Who could take an innocent child's life? Why was this happening? I was still crying silently when Natalie shot up in bed. She shocked me. "Nat? Are you alright?"

She shook her head. Then she darted her eyes toward the hallway and nodded. She had heard everything. Still mystified, I watched her turn on the bedside lamp, take her sketchbook and colored pencils out from the drawer, and started to draw. Her pencil glided mystically across the paper, a blur of colors mixed together, lines forming pictures. I'm not even how long it was before she stopped but I came back to reality when she lifted it up. On the bottom half of the paper was black with a girl in a hospital bed and on the top everything was baby blue and bright. But what really caught me was the little angel standing at Heaven's gate, smiling. I burst into tears.

"Don't cry, Sophie," she said softly. I looked up in surprise. I hadn't heard her voice in so long. I ran over to her and scooped her in my arms. She had ripped the drawing out of her book, folded it, and placed it in my hand. I put in close to my heart. "I'm going to keep it forever." She looked me straight in the eye, as if telling me she was afraid. "I know," I whispered. "I'm afraid, too."

Two months later, on November 13, she died peacefully in her sleep. She was eleven. And I knew she was looking down at me from Heaven.





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