I stared out of the classroom window to see people sitting on picnic tables, packing up their lunches. “Lulu!” an angry voice called. I shifted my gaze to see Suzy cross her arms. “Yeah?” I responded, still distracted.
“Lunch is over! And you weren’t even listening to what I was saying!”
“Oh yeah? What was I talking about?”
I averted my eyes downward.
“See!” Suzy pointed accusingly.
My mother had called me this morning after many texts. She urged me to make my decision soon, because the deadline for next year’s tuition is approaching. Amidst my thoughts, the bell announced the end of lunch.
I grabbed my art pencil case and made my way down the stairs with my class. “Hey Suzy. Are you going to the high school division next year?” She glanced at me before reaching the bottom of the staircase, “Yeah.” We turned left and passed a few doors before entering room 201, our art classroom.
“Okay, okay. Attention please,” Mrs. Scovel clapped with her curls bouncing. “Today we have a new student!” Chatter erupted from the groups of students. “Calm down,” the teacher said as she silenced the class.
A petite girl sat behind my desk with a black stick in hand. She wore our school uniform: a white sweater with the school emblem on her chest above a black, knee-length skirt. She kept her milky eyes glued to the floor, and used her right hand to pull her short, brown hair behind her ear. Mrs. Scovel smiled, “Okay Class. This is Aria, your new classmate. Aria is blind, but even so she is skilled in art, so please make her feel welcome, okay?”
A few positive replies came from the groups of students. “Since we start the third quarter today,” Mrs. Scovel continued, “We have new warm-up partners. Please look at the board and find your partner! Today we will be working on angular sketches.” All the chairs screamed simultaneously as the students rose to glance at the board. Beside my name was the blind girl’s name, Aria.
Great. I’m stuck with her. Not only do I suck at angular drawings, I have to work with someone who can’t even see. I walked back to my desk, defeated. “You and I are together,” I said. She nodded her head but kept her eyes glued on the desk in front of her. “By the way, my name is Luana.” She simply nodded again.
I stood with the rest of my classmates to grab my sketchbook from the multicolored cubbies at the front of the room, until Mrs. Scovel placed her arm on my shoulder. “Do you mind molding some clay instead of sketching today?”
“Sure,” I slowly responded. I was partially thankful for being able to mold clay instead of sketching. Not that I was any better at it, but I had no one else to compare with. Mrs. Scovel dropped rectangular packets of polymer clay on the table in front of us. She opened a packet of black clay before placing it in the blind girl’s hands.
I used the palms of my hands to mold the light brown clay into a ball. I glanced beside me to see the girl close her eyes. She let the tips of her fingers mold her black clay into a rectangular shape. If I had just stared at her crafty finger work, I would have never guessed she was blind. Returning my gaze to the clay in front of me, a pouch of frustration twisted in my heart. Why am I not good at anything? Why am I even here? The corners of my eyes grew wet as I recalled the conversation with my mother this morning. I raised my hand immediately to be granted permission to go to the bathroom. Mrs. Scovel silently nodded and I paced quickly towards the right of the classroom. I covered my nose and mouth with my hand. I wanted to punch the wall but I knew the wall didn’t deserve that. I entered the bathroom, and slapped my face with cold water from the faucet a few times before drying it with paper towels. I probably spent at least five minutes trying to calm myself down before I opened the heavy bathroom door to return to class. Plopping myself back into my seat, the blind girl called my name,
“Yes,” I responded.
“Um, I finished, is there anything else we have to do?”
“No, we don’t do anything else until Mrs. Scovel gives us new directions.”
“Okay. Thank you.” I looked at the miniature piano she made in such little time. I knew I couldn’t do that. Normally, I would try to start up a conversation but I wasn’t feeling it today.
The next morning, I was listlessly scrolling through my text conversation with my mother. The majority of the blue bubbles consisted of questions that related to my decision for next year’s schooling. Public or Continue, my mom would text. I couldn’t formulate a better response than I’m still thinking about it. I sat at one of the many circular white tables in the large dining hall. Sunlight poured in from the windows that covered the entire wall. I put the last piece of omelet in my mouth as the warning bell for class sounded.
I noticed the blind girl wasn’t in my classroom. If she had the afternoon art class with us then that means she belongs to our morning class too. I then remembered that she probably works with a special education teacher for the first half of the day when we do normal studies, and then after lunch attends the art class.
The students situated themselves into their seats. My math teacher paced quickly with her long black hair swaying behind her till she was behind the podium at the front of the room. She smiled and began to take attendance. As soon as she finished, she began her class.
I doodled flowers in the margins of my math notebook. Raindrops began to settle on the window and I stared at them in a daze. Following my math class was English, then science, and finally history. Once the bell for lunch rang, Suzy made her way to my desk. “If it wasn’t raining maybe we could have eaten on the picnic tables outside,” she said while unwrapping her sandwich. I nibbled on the edges of my chicken nuggets but I didn’t have the stomach to eat. I felt exhausted from staying up all night thinking about a proper response to give my mom. All through lunch Suzy babbled on and I didn’t pay much attention to her words. I nodded and made occasional comments as my thoughts revolved around the question, Should I go to public high school or continue at Crescent Art Academy next year?
It was around eight in the evening and people were returning to their dorms after finishing their dinner in the dining hall. I sat at my desk in the corner of my dorm. Beside my desk was a twin size bed. I didn’t have a roommate this year, so the other bed on the other side of the room was empty. I pulled out my personal sketchbook from my drawer and fingered the sides before opening it. There were very few pages left till the entire sketchbook was filled with sketches. I sat under the comfort of the lamplight for about an hour before completing my sketchbook. I drew of city life and the beauty of the natural world. After finishing my drawing, I skimmed through most of the sketches and brushed my finger on the pages mechanically. I stood and threw my sketchbook into the recycling bin near the door, and then went to bed.
Two weeks passed since the blind girl and I were assigned to be partners. Mrs. Scovel has been giving us different assignments from the rest of the class during warm-up time due to my partner’s disability. Unusually, today the blind girl wanted to do the same thing as the rest of the class. “Oh. You sure?” was Mrs. Scovel’s reply and “Absolutely,” was the blind girl’s. Mrs. Scovel opened a light brown closet near her desk and pulled out a sketchbook with a pencil. She returned and placed the pencil in the determined girl’s hand. It was awkwardly intertwined with her fingers. Mrs. Scovel opened the blue sketchbook to its first empty page and told the blind girl that she could draw now. She attempted to draw a circle, but the pencil flew off the corner of the paper and onto the table. Mrs. Scovel gently took the blind girl’s hand and returned its place on the paper. Next, she attempted to draw a square. It was an awkward square with uneven lines, but at least she didn’t draw outside the boundaries of the paper. I entirely forgot that I too had a sketchbook in front of me, but I kept staring at Aria and for some reason, it hurt watching her try so hard.
“Aria,” I spoke as I stared at her face.
“Why are you here at this school? What do you hope to accomplish?”
Silence followed my question and I didn’t prod for an answer. I supposed it could be personal and she didn’t want to tell me. Before I turned my face towards my own sketchbook Aria responded, “I really love art. That’s why.”
I collapsed on my bed. I had just returned to my dorm after dinner and her words still resonated in my head. I really love art. I mean I wouldn’t be attending this school if I didn’t love art, but my situation is more complicated than that. Even if I love art, I’m bad at it and I’ve been wasting my parent’s hard earned money. I rested my forearm on my eyes and drifted into sleep.
The days passed reluctantly and I wished that the world would pause for at least five minutes, so I could sort out my thoughts. Everything felt as though it was moving very quickly. So the morning classes would breeze past me and before I knew it, I was sitting in the art classroom. I felt bad for my rude behavior when I first met Aria; so everyday I started to talk to her more.
One afternoon, I asked Aria about her schedule before art class. She told me that she has a special private tutor who teaches her all the subjects she needs to know and then she has lunch before coming here.
“Do you want to come here before class and have lunch with me tomorrow?” I asked quickly. “Sure,” she replied with a smile.
The front courtyard was decorated with picnic tables basking in the sun. Students gathered on those tables, laughing. I told Aria I would be waiting on the entrance steps. At the front of the courtyard a figure appeared and with each passing second the figure grew closer, and then Aria’s face was an arm’s length away.
“Are you on the steps, Luana?” She asked.
“Yeah, how are you?”
Silence lingered, Think of something to say, Luana!
“Um,” I managed, “How did you navigate your way here from the front of the courtyard?”
“My mom made me a 3D map of the school and had me memorize it before attending. She even tested me on how to navigate my way without using my stick.” Her mom sounds strict. Aria smiled and kept her eyes locked on the ground in front of us. “My mom is trying to make me more independent since I will be in high school soon,” she said.
“Are you going to attend the high school division here?”
“Yeah I am.”
“What makes you want to attend?”
“I love art and I think it’ll be fun.”
“But don’t you have any worries? Like what if you’re art isn’t good enough?”
“No, I don’t really think that.”
“Hey,” Aria began, “Uh never mind.”
I verbally invited Aria for lunch a few more times before we began to spend our lunch together without formally confirming it. I had two more weeks until I needed to make a decision about my future.
The clouds shaded over the sunlight as Aria and I ate our lunch on the steps. She told me how delicious the strawberry cake was at the bakery nearby. “Maybe, I should check it out.” I said.
“You should!” she smirked while taking a bite of her sandwich.
“What type of music do you like?”
“I like listening to piano covers of pop songs.”
“That’s so different.” I giggled, “I like listening to softer melodies.”
“Yeah. I think listening to a soft melody on the piano helps me think better.”
I ate a few more spoons of my fried rice before I began to ask her questions about braille. She told me it was frustrating to learn when she first went blind. There was something inside of her that wanted to believe that her vision would return. However reality began to seep in and she accepted her blindness after a few months. “My mom was very supportive. Without her I don’t know where I’d be,” Aria smiled solemnly. Then the tone in her voice changed as she began to explain how to write the alphabet in braille.
The scent of fresh spring flowers danced in my nose. A pleasant breeze brushed my cheek smoothly. I sat on the steps waiting for Aria to arrive. It’s been a week since we started having lunch together and after the first day we barely spoke about art. To my surprise, I didn’t want to talk about it. Lost in thought, Aria arrived and greeted me. I returned her greetings as she sat down beside me. “I think I want to enter a contest, Luana.” She said. I was stunned and for a moment I didn’t say a word. “What type of contest?” I managed.
“A sculpting contest.”
“Is there a theme?”
“It’s an ideal place.”
“Really? Good luck.”
That same afternoon, after art class as we all exited the door, I saw Aria whisper something into Mrs. Scovel’s ear and smile. The joyful art teacher gathered supplies in her arms and laid them in an organized fashion on a table. She then seemed to be explaining what each thing was and where. After all the students left the classroom, I sat next to Aria who was weighing things in her hands. “Are you going to work here in preparation for the contest?” I asked.
“Yes, every day.”
“Do you plan to win?”
“I don’t know if I will win or not but I would like to win, and even if I don’t, that’s okay.” Her milky eyes seemed so determined despite being distant.
It’s okay? Yeah, maybe the first loss is okay but if you keep losing it’ll hurt. “I haven’t won a single contest since entering middle school,” I don’t know what I was saying or why. I hated talking about my losses but here I was.
“Well, you have to keep failing to succeed and each time you get back up after falling you become a stronger person. You may not realize it but you could be a step away from your dreams.” I hummed in response. Teachers have said that to me many times, but after the first few times I began to doubt. Aria worked for about three hours that afternoon. She grew tired but kept molding the clay in her hand. I kept her company and gave her supplies that she couldn’t find. Aria didn’t live in the dorms, so her mother came to pick her up. By the time she left it was already dinnertime, so I headed towards the dinning hall.
On my way to dinner, I saw two girls from my class; I wasn’t paying much attention to them until I heard a shift in their tone. “Oh yeah, I wonder why a blind student would transfer into a private art school?” One said nonchalantly. The other agreed. They talked about how weird it was and this field wasn’t made for someone who lacked sight.
“Um! Excuse me!” I intervened into their conversation. I suddenly felt defensive. They both turned their heads simultaneously. “I don’t think it’s right to judge someone like that. I mean Aria is working really hard despite being blind.” The words rolled off my tongue, and as soon as I was done, the other two glanced at each other, then at me. “Weirdo,” one of them mumbled as they walked off. Usually I’d pass by without saying a word. I wouldn’t get myself involved if girls were talking about others. However, nothing seemed in place recently. My world was shaking. I rubbed my eyes wearily and decided I couldn’t eat. I returned to my dorm and retired in my bed.
In the midst of my dreams, my stomach grumbled and ached. I placed my hand softly on my stomach. I rubbed the warm fabric in hopes of returning to sleep, but it didn’t work. I tossed and turned several times before sitting up in my bed. The night was silent and dark. I noticed a black ballpoint pen that sat on my side table. I grabbed the pen and began to doodle on my hand. I couldn’t see in the dark, so I drew what I thought were flowers. A strong urge surged through my fingers. I wanted to paint; I wanted to draw for my sake. I threw open my side table drawer and pulled out an unused hard cover sketchbook. I flung open the cover and let my pen dance on the paper. I didn’t know what I was drawing and I didn’t bother to turn on the lights. In that moment I just wanted to feel the sensation of my pen against the paper as a hundred ideas raced in my head.
The next afternoon, after art class, I decided that I would stay after school with Aria and work on some art as well. I asked Mrs. Scovel for a 20 x 16 canvas and painting supplies. “Oh but I would like fabric paint instead of water colors.” I told her.
“Huh? You sure?” She asked.
“Definitely,” I flashed a smile.
I spurt out various vivid colors of fabric paint on the plastic, white pallet. I grabbed my thick, soft tipped paintbrush and scooped up some green. I transferred the paint on the canvas and spread it across the bottom. I didn’t notice I was humming until Aria pointed it out. The golden light from the afternoon sun filtered in through the classroom windows. I used a contrast of vivid bright colors and darker, more neutral colors throughout my painting. Before I realized it, three hours soared by. The top of my canvas began to resemble gray, rainy clouds, and the bottom was marked with green paint for the landscape. Mrs. Scovel took care of our work as we exited the classroom. “Are you also planning to enter a contest,” questioned Aria.
“No. I don’t have the courage to do something like that.”
The following afternoon, we continued the same procedure; I painted and Aria sculpted. I asked her when the due date was for her contest and she told me it was in two days. “Isn’t that really soon?” I asked.
“Well, it’s a small contest, so it’s okay.” Her words danced as she said them. It seemed like she was enjoying herself. “You seem to be enjoying yourself,” Aria smiled.
“Who else?” She laughed.
“Well, you seem to be enjoying yourself as well!”
Aria finished sculpting another abstract tree. The tree was glittering a dark green color, and the branches were bare and thick but curvy. It was really alluring. I didn’t notice before but there was red, and white paint splattered on my hands. Mrs. Scovel left the classroom to us because she had to take care of some teacher business. We worked next to each other in silence. “Are you worried about the contest?” I asked Aria who was situating her abstract trees in a large, white wooden box that served as the base for her landscape. “What makes you think that?” She answered.
“Usually people get nervous before a contest.”
“I don’t feel that nervous. I mean I am giving it my one hundred percent, so the results will follow.”
Silence lingered again as we both guided our crafty fingers across our artwork. “Thank you,” Aria shattered the silence with those two gentle words.
“Thank you for what?”
“Thank you for being my friend.” For the first time Aria looked in my direction when talking to me. Her glossy, milky eyes looked at the area to the right of my head. “Thank you for being nice to me. Thank you for treating me like any other person. Thank you for realizing I’m not as fragile as people perceive.” Aria spoke sincerely. Her words warmed me, but I treated Aria without much thought. She highlighted my actions even though I haven’t really done anything.
“I’m scared,” I started while placing my paintbrush on the desk. “I’m scared that I’m not good enough. I haven’t won a single contest since entering this school, and now the deadline for next year tuition is four days away, yet I still don’t know what to do. I mean, I’m just wasting my parent’s money right now.” Salty tears streamed down my cheeks but I continued to talk with my fragile voice, “I’m not determined enough like you to say that I love art and that’s why I’m here. Even if I love art, I’m bad at it!” I put my hand on my warm forehead and tried to calm down. Aria awkwardly gave me a hug. She hugged me from the side and her cheek was against my shoulder. Her short brown hair smelled of apple blossoms. “It’s okay,” she began, “I know that it’s hard to fail and keep losing, but your passion for art should outshine your doubt, Luana. If it’s something your really passionate about, then don’t give up. You’re going to fail a lot, that’s given, but if you stand up again after failing, you’re already one step closer to your dream.” Aria wrapped her arms around me tightly and I could feel tears stinging at the corners of my eyes.
I cried to Aria and told her all my feelings on the spur of the moment, but I was happy I did. My bottled emotions from the past few weeks came flooding out and once I told her I felt much better. Today was the deadline for Aria’s submission. She submitted her white wooden box that had a lively and artistic forest. Small people were dancing, some played music, trees were swaying, houses were hidden behind trees and the whole thing was made with just darker colored clay. It was festive yet secretive- and Aria’s art seemed to shine.
I also finished my painting the following day. I had Aria look at it. “I can’t see it, though,” she said.
“No worries! I used fabric paint so you can put your hands on the canvas and feel the lifted paint.”
Aria traced her fingers at the top of the canvas and travelled across till she reached the bottom. A smile appeared on her face as she was interpreting my painting and feeling different parts. “It would help if I knew the colors though,” she said, “But this is a person, right?”
“Yeah. The person is wearing a red dress.”
Aria nodded, and turned to me after at least fifteen minutes of interpreting. “It’s a girl who’s enjoying herself while prancing through a beautiful garden even though it’s raining, right?”
“Wow! You got it!”
That same afternoon, I picked up my cell phone and talked with my mom. “I have made a decision,” I told her.
A few days after Aria submitted her art, the results were out for the contest. “Can you come see the results with me?” she asked before we left the art class.
“Sure, I can.”
I logged onto a dusty computer that sat in the corner of Mrs. Scovel’s classroom. I went on to the contest’s webpage and scrolled through the titles and names. My eyes widened once I got towards the end. “Aria,” I said shaking her with both my hands as she sat next to me. “You got an honorable mention! That’s amazing!” Aria blushed while pulling her hair behind her right ear. She wore an enormous smile. I was so earnestly happy for my friend, a feeling I have not felt in a long time. I hugged Aria and congratulated her accomplishment. “Was this your first contest?” I asked
“Yeah! It was!”
After a few laughs, I turned to face Aria though she probably didn’t know. Unknowingly her milky eyes surprisingly made contact with mine. “Aria, I decided I would continue at this school. Even though I’m not that good at art, I still love it. It makes me happy, and after seeing you work so hard, it made me realize that it’s pretty rewarding to just do what you love. I want to keep working hard in high school too.” I laughed towards the end of my declaration.
“Me too,” Aria replied, “Let’s work hard together in the future, so we can accomplish our dreams.” I looked out the window towards the sky. The golden sunrays filtered through the puffy, white clouds. “I think tomorrow will be a good day.” I beamed a determined smile.