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Some say life's a journey, enjoy the ride. But what if you're not the one behind the steering wheel?
The cold drizzle on my face startled me in the early hours of the morning. The position of the sun told me it was around 4am. Birds singing made me feel uneasy. One by one, they flew off into the distance and jealousy stabbed me in the stomach. Envy had been my constant companion ever since they put me in the 'home'. Although a 'home' suggests the feeling of welcome and love, I was still obliged to refer to it as a 'home'. I believed I had no home, I was yet to discover it.
The rain converted to snow and created a light layer of white across the street. A shiver progressed up my spine sending the hairs on my back to stand on end in alert. Carefully, cautious of my aching bones, I raised my arms to lift the hood of my jacket over my head. Then I pulled my legs towards my torso forming a ball like a hedgehog. My aim was to keep whatever scraps of body heat I had left.
The wind picked up and the fresh breeze against my skin was somewhat refreshing. Winter had always been my favourite of seasons. Trees naked of leaves, snow blanketing all, wildlife hibernating from the harsh weather. After father died and mother abandoned me I'd felt I could relate to the trees. As the trees were naked of leaves, I was naked of family.
If you had one wish, what would you wish for? Wealth, fame, luxuries, more wishes? What happened to 'the best things in life come free'? Little things, that your average person takes for granted, is what I longed for. A supporting family, friends, a real home, freedom. The features my life lacked.
The home itself was not too bad, to someone unaware of what happens behind closed doors. The furniture was lovely and there was huge garden at the rear of the building full of beautiful flowers. The décor was bright and floral attempting to reflect a 'positive' mood towards the children. But it had the opposite effect. The children were one of the worst properties of the 'home'. Everyone - including me - was very depressed. Moping about, some even locked themselves into their rooms for over a couple of days. Being surrounded by miserable characters all together eliminated all efforts of regaining happiness. Each and every person was a reminder of why I was placed in there.
At the top of the list of bad things about the 'home' had to be the 'care' workers. Who, quite ironically, didn't care. Especially Victoria, my 'care' worker. She despised me, and the feeling was mutual. Dragging myself out of bed in the morning was one of the hardest tasks of the day. How can anyone be expected to prepare for the day ahead when they simply do not want to experience it? Each day, I had to face the deathly stare of my care worker. Forced to discuss the events of my life and how I can 'move forward'. When I refused to speak, she just glared at me and I spill a few details. I shouldn't have let her walk over me like that, but if you were to experience her eyes locked on you, you would understand. Opening up to people had always been a struggle for me, I'd never found anyone I could trust. Frequently, I feel that nobody felt the way I did. Lived the life I lead. I thought that maybe there was something wrong with me, or maybe I wasn't not human? One thing I thought I knew for sure, I was convinced I was isolated in a world of my own. In that sense, others could see me and I could see others. But only the mask I hid behind. Whereas no one knew me. They may have known the character I imitated, who was merely an act to cover up my true identity.
Time passed quicker than I had imagined and I guessed it was close to 7am. Morning traffic picked up and I considered moving out of view. But instead I just lay there. Let them stare, my conscience added. Again, jealousy struck me. They knew where their road was headed, unlike me who was stuck at a dead end with no headlights on.
An engine roared behind me, and I jumped in alarm. Tyres squealed to a halt. A red vehicle pulled up only a few metres away from me. The figure wound the window down.
“You need a lift?” The voice said it more as a statement rather than a question.
“I guess.” I replied nonchalantly. As I climbed in, I was greeted by a wavering scent of flowers. The man positioned himself towards me, smiling weakly. His eyes were wide and bloodshot. The hair on his head was jet black. His face still had some roundness of youth in it, leading me to the thought that he was in his early twenties. He was dressed in jeans and a newly ironed white shirt. From what I could tell, he was travelling to work. But I couldn't quite make out what his occupation may be. But I was too shaken to ask. As if he could hear my thoughts he asked “Where do you want to go?” He spoke with a slight Portuguese accent.
“Tyne Station would be good.” I said, faking a smile.
I had no money, but he didn't need to know that. Lots of people drop money when they rush on to their train, I hoped that maybe I could find a few quid on the platforms. Going unseen was one of my best qualities. I predicted I could easily jump onto a train, muddled in between a large crowd. I just had to avoid the ticket man, which I suspected would be trickier.
Once again, I found myself not knowing where my road was going. That's what you get, I thought. When you spend a lifetime being controlled by other people, the voice in my head continued.
On many occasions I attempted running away from the orphanage. A reputation grew, and I gained an unwanted nickname.
“Look! There's Papillon!'
“You may as well give up, Melanie, you're never getting out of here. No one would ever want you!”
My mind flashed back to that memory, and a tear fell from my eye. They called me 'Papillon' which is French for butterfly. A butterfly in a jar, trying to escape.
“She's more like a moth than a butterfly, butterflies are supposed to be beautiful!”
That wasn't even the beginning of the teasing, or the bullying. Although it never got physical, emotional pain was harder to deal with. I could handle punches, but words played with my mind.
I'd been so caught up in my thoughts, I forgot I had company. My eyes flashed over to the speedometer on the dashboard and the man was driving over 80mph!
“Do you mind slowing down a bit, Sir?”
“Call me Paul, but sure. How's seventy for you?”
I didn't reply, there was no point. Paul did slow down, but it didn't make much difference.
Paul switched the radio on, and it crackled until it picked up a signal. The reporters on BBC Radio 1 were discussing the tennis from the day before. Andy Murray won three sets to nil.
The scenery out the window caught my attention. Miles of crops spread across the landscape. They didn't fit in with the busy road, occupied with drivers rushing to work.
I often felt like that, like I never fitted in. Everybody always knew who their group of friends were and who not to mix with. I was just an outsider, a loner.
“You'll never get anywhere in life, if you don't try to fit in Melanie.” I remember Victoria telling me. Like it's my fault, I thought sarcastically.
The day I successfully ran away, Victoria had pushed me over the edge. I'd had enough. Of her, of my life. I needed a way out from it all. A mix of emotions formed inside me. Anger, frustration, sorrow, hate. I irrupted like a volcano. But instead of lava flowing out, rivers of tears came from my eyes. I can remember everything perfectly.
I was sitting in my room listening to Oasis – Stop Crying Your Heart Out on my iPod. Victoria had burst in – without knocking – and confiscated my iPod.
“I'm sick of you moping around feeling sorry for yourself!” She raised her voice at me.
“Just give me it back.” I said in a low angry voice.
“Not until you get your act together and socialise a bit! You're wasting your life!” Victoria accused.
“Who am I supposed to socialise with? Nobody likes me! Why don't you understand? Oh yeah I remember, nobody does!” I began to yell, my levels of patience were low.
“Perhaps they would if you made an effort. Changed the way you are, at least try for heaven's sake!” Emphasising the 'try' as if I didn't already.
“Don't you think I do? Ugh! I don't know why you ever thought about becoming a care worker. You haven't got a clue what it's like to be me! And you just make life more complicated with your accusations and your crap advice!” Anger started to swell up inside me. “Also, when I was very young my Dad told me to never change for anyone. Especially not someone like you!” I began to cry harder, at the memory of Father.
“How dare you talk like that to me, Melanie Anne Foster! It's not my fault you're such a handful. I bet your Daddy didn't think you'd turn out to be such a little cow! But you may as well forget about him because he was a pathetic moron anyway! No wonder you..”
She didn't get the chance to finish because at this point I slapped her. She turned to face the opposite way, cringing.
“Don't you ever talk about my Dad like that. He was an amazing man, the kindest I've ever known. I may have only known him for five years but that's enough to know that you're not even close to a speck of dirt on a shoe compared to him.” She looked up at me, her eyes filled with guilt.
“You act like everything that has gone wrong in my life is my fault. Well, it isn't. I can't control what happens in my life. Because you have stolen my freedom. So partly, I guess it is your fault Victoria.”
I ran for the door and before leaving I added, “I hope you rot in hell.” I stormed down the stairs and onto the street. Nobody even tried to stop me.
The smell of smoke brought me back to reality. I hadn't realised but it had started to rain. My eyes drifted towards the window and I followed the droplets mindlessly.
Steamy tears strolled rapidly down my face, burning my cheeks. Paul noticed me crying and offered me a tissue. His driving had slowed down to 40mph as we joined a busier road. I assumed he was a nice man. He looked like he hadn't slept in a while because he had faint bruise like shadows under his eyes, similar to mine.
He parked the car into a lay by.
“Do you want to talk about it?” He asked, looking concerned. This gave me a warm feeling, it had been a long time since someone had been concerned for me.
“It's a long story.” I sighed.
“There's a good hour left of our journey, maybe even more.” I considered telling him, for some reason I felt I could trust him. This man, that I had never met in my entire life. But it felt nice, to be in his company. He didn't demand any answers, he simply let me think to myself.
“I'm an orphan.” I found myself admitting.
“Oh God, I'm sorry to hear that. Is that why you were sleeping rough beside the road?” He queried.
“Well yes and no. My dad died when I was five. Life at home with my mum after his death was.. dysfunctional. She broke down and I had to fend for myself. A few months later I came home and she wasn't there. A neighbour called social services and they took me into care. The irony slaps me in the face whenever I think about my care workers, my care home. I ran away from the orphanage, I couldn't stand it in there. I felt like a bird taken from the wild and kept in a cage. I didn't belong there, I tried many times to escape. Only yesterday achieving it,” Once I had started, I couldn't stop. “I have no friends. No family. The world is a scary place when you're on your own. No one to protect you. Everyone hates me, I'm a loner, an outsider. I was bullied, the popular girls at school picked on me. They were sly, everyone thought I was over reacting.” I couldn't believe how much I was opening up to this man, but it felt good. “My care worker back at the orphanage was a nightmare. She just told me to change, try to fit in. I didn't want to change. Not for anyone, that's what my Dad told me before he.. died.” I choked on the word.
“And he was right.” Paul said calmly. He reached for my hand and held it tight.
“I could never talk to anyone about my life, I've had all this bottled up for years. Who knows why I'm telling you,” I laughed sheepishly. “I've only just met you. I don't know what it is about you, but I feel I can trust you. It feels nice, thank you.” Wow, was all I could think.
“You sound like you've had a hard time, I'm sure you don't deserve it. You're one very brave young lady. But one thing, never let anyone tell you to change. You are who you are, and there is someone out there who will love you for that,” He let go of my hand and wiped away my tears. “Something tells me that person may be me.” I felt it too. He cupped my face in his hands and stared into my eyes. He was beautiful. An angel sent from heaven to save me.
The rain had eventually stopped and it turned out to be a beautiful day. The sky a pale blue. Although the snow had been washed away.
Paul started up the engine and we were back on the road again.
We spent the next half hour talking about his life. He moved to Ireland when he was nine from Brazil. He often feels homesick, he misses the festivals, the weather and the welcoming communities. He, too, has never been able to relate to people much and didn't fit in at school.
Paul was 19, which was only three years older than me. He's a great listener, and very understanding. He worked weekends at an old people's home in Dublin. He was on his way to a friend's house when he saw me on the roadside. I was worried in case this 'friend' was perhaps his girlfriend. He laughed, “No, I've never met any one I could have a serious relationship with. Before I met you.” He smiled and my heart raced like a hare running away from its predator.
“Don't you think it's weird? We've known each other for a few hours and we already know each other's life story? All these years I've built a wall around my heart and in one second you send them tumbling down.” I grinned. That was a good thing.
“I know. Despite how little amount of time I've known you, I can see straight into your soul.”
We reached Tyne Station. My heart sank.
“I guess it was too good to be true.” I tried to be optimistic, but I'd always been a pessimist, no matter how hard I tried.
“It doesn't have to be Mel,” He looked hopeful.
“Doesn't it?” I was confused.
“Don't get on the train, Mel. Stay with me.”