Jaila's Wonderland

February 26, 2011
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The bedroom is decrepit and falling to pieces. The first sign is the old door; when I push it open with my hand it croaks and I watch as little bits of white paint fall to the floor. But the door is nothing compared to the rest of the bedroom. The door swings open to reveal a shaggy carpet dotted with unknown dirt stains and a lamp with a broken shade and no light bulb. The walls are painted a dull purple that seems haunted by brighter days of lavender and covered in crayon drawings of made-up animals. In the corner, behind the bed frame without a mattress, a pile of girl’s dolls is threatening to conquer the entire room.

As I walk around the room, trying to avoid the dolls’ stares, Jaila tugs on my sleeve.

“Welcome to my room,” she says to me, yet there is no pride in her voice.

Last fall, my brother picked out new bedroom furniture from the PB teen catalogue for his thirteenth birthday. When his new furniture arrived by truck, I helped my parents shift his old bedroom furniture to the garage.
My dad planned to dispose of the abandoned furniture, long faithful to my brother and sitting all alone in our garage. But the furniture was still in great working condition. A couple weeks before another anonymous truck would arrive to pick up the old furnishings, I approached my mom with an idea. I knew that, sitting all alone in my garage, was a chance to help someone in our community.

“Could someone else use the furniture?” I asked my parents.

“It’s a shame to throw away such good furniture, but I doubt anyone is interested in buying furniture right now,” responded my dad.

“No, I didn’t mean sell the furniture. Could we just donate it?”
With those words, I started searching for neighbors, teachers, anyone who wanted a spare bedroom set. One day, my mom helped me call up the local elementary school as a last resort. I was referred to the counselor who then gave me the name of a 4th grade girl, the daughter of a single, struggling mother. Her name was Jaila and she needed new bedroom furniture the counselor told me.

I was given an address and a telephone number and it was all rather sudden if I had to say so myself. And the moment I saw her bedroom, I knew I had taken on too big a project. Jaila’s room screamed at me for complete redecoration. Her mother walked me to the door:

“Anna, thank you so much for doing this. The room’s been like this for four years. Jaila never wants to have friends over or anything because she doesn’t want them to see her room. And she won’t even play in her room!” She was so grateful and I knew it was going to hurt to tell her that the bedroom was beyond any chance of recovery, but then she mentioned Jaila’s refusal to play in her own room.

When I was younger, I played isolated in my room so much my parents were afraid I was going to become a child-hermit. But to me, my room was my own private wonderland, my own fourth dimension. In my room, wild creatures roamed and I could even be the beautiful princess. I don’t have such a provocative imagination now, but one thing I could imagine was how much it might upset Jaila not to have her own bedroom.

“I’m happy to help,” was my standard reply. And so my simple donation became a huge, but rewarding project.

The first day I arrived to help, I know I wasted at least an hour looking around the room wondering how I was possibly going to fix things. I had never painted a wall, let alone re-carpeted a floor. At one point, I went to sit on the bed in frustration, forgetting there was no mattress, and fell straight through to the floor. I got nothing out of that day except a bruised butt.

The second day, I came back with renewed energy. I enlisted my Girl Scout troop and my mother and I herded them to Jaila’s house. We stripped the floor of the dingy carpet and removed the rotting corpse of a bed frame. Then we used spackle to fill the cracks in the walls. I was there for 15 hours that day and every day after that.

That week was filled with the mixed smell of paint and sweat. We replaced and repainted and redecorated everything. And the final product was such a transformation as a hairy caterpillar becoming a beautiful butterfly. The moment we finished, we called Jaila in from the yard and blindfolded her. I took her hand and led her up the down the hallway, past other dilapidated rooms waiting for a rescue from a knight in shining armor. But that was for another day, now it was time to show Jaila her new wonderland.

We slowly entered the room and on the count of three she ripped off her blindfold. As she adoringly took in the fluffy new carpet, the fuchsia pink walls, the striped bedspread on top of an actual mattress, I followed her gaze, myself in awe. She turned to me, smiling, and grabbed me around the waist in a huge hug. Then she lunged for the bed. She bounced up and down on the bed, her rite of passage, and shouted,

“Isn’t it so pretty?!”

I turned to look at her mom, who was still struggling to live a stable life and bogged down by so many worries. She had tears running down her face, yet the expression on her face matched Jaila’s joy.

“Anna,” Jaila said to me.

“Yeah?” I responded, still looking at her mom.

“Welcome to my new room!” she shouted proudly.

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