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One of my earliest memories is of tapinga pair of wings, clumsily cut from paper, to my back and running up tomy parents. Smiling with the infectious glee children naturally possess,I exclaimed brightly, “Now I have pretty wings likeyou!”
I’m sure they assumed this was some sort ofgame I’d made up, so my mom smiled kindly and asked, “Oh?And what do my wings look like?”
This “game”continued for years. One of my favorite activities before I fell asleepwas to describe to my parents the wings of people I’d seen thatday. Knowing what I do now, this must have seemed odd, but at the time,I thought everyone could see them.
Wings. Everyone I knew hadthem, except me. Beautiful wings, feathered like a birds, eachperson’s as unique as their personality. They came in almost everysize and color, some were patterned, and I had even seen some that couldchange colors. A person’s emotions and well-being were shownthrough these wings. They could be read like a face, only moreaccurately. For years I wondered why no one used them to fly, until Irealized that a person didn’t have any conscious control overthem.
And no one except me was aware of them. This came as agreat shock when I finally figured it out, but then it began to makesense. That’s why no one talked about them, why the only placehumans actually had wings was in myths.
Why are wings soimportant to me? Because they are a part of everyone else, and somethingI don’t have. Most people feel a vague sense of not belonging atsome point in their lives, and my wingless nature has only strengthenedthat feeling. Some might call me cool and reserved but I’ve justnever been able to connect.
The bell rang and Igathered my stuff. I was a junior and it was just another school day. Iwalked to the door, spying a reddish-brown feather on my way. Picking itup, I frowned. It looked like Amanda’s; she had seemed a littleill lately. When someone is ill or injured, they lose feathers fromtheir right wing. If the person has been hurt emotionally, then the leftwing loses feathers. I stowed it in my pocket, though I knew itwouldn’t last. Lost feathers just fade away.
Over the nextfew days I began to take an interest in Amanda. Though she was asophomore, we shared a few classes. She had long hair the samereddish-brown as her wings, which were small and often moved with theintensity of her emotions. But now, her wings were subdued and began todroop as she lost more feathers. She seemed less energetic, too. As baldspots began to appear, I could hear her friends urging her to stay home.Finally, she did. This was the same day I received an unusualsummons.
“Josh Dunn, please report to theoffice.”
A chorus of “ooh’s” traveledthrough the class as I left the room. Instead of taking me to theprincipal’s office, the secretary ushered me to the board room andshut the door behind me. My gaze was instantly drawn to a figure in awheelchair. The woman had long blond hair tied in a low ponytail, lightblue eyes, and appeared to be in her late 20s. Most important, however,was her lack of wings.
“Not a feather will you find on me,Josh Dunn,” she said, noticing my shock.
That meant therewere others like me! I felt a rush of excitement that was drowned bysuspicion.
“Who are you? How do you know my name?” Idemanded.
She laughed. “My name is Heather, and I know alot of things about you. Like last year, when a girl asked you out andyou said no.”
My face reddened, but I began to get angry.My privacy had been invaded by a woman who wouldn’t even give meher last name.
“What do you want withme?”
“Demanding, aren’t we?” Again, thecrystal laugh. “I have been sent to fetch you.
I was aboutto respond to her first comment, but stopped,confused.
“There are otherslike us, the wingless, born into this world of men who have wings, andyet, for some reason, cannot see them. And we, born without them, havebeen granted the ability of that sight.”
I swallowed hard,and the mix of surprise, excitement, anger and confusion I’dexperienced since entering the room was replaced with a vague sense ofbeing overwhelmed.
“When I say I have come to fetchyou,” Heather continued, “I mean that we wish you to joinus. Throughout the years,
the wingless have always tried to findeach other and stick together. We have an organization, of sorts. Ourabilities go beyond just being able to see the wings. I’m sureyou’ve noticed how people lose feathers when sick orhurt.”
“When a person loses alltheir feathers, especially from the right wing, they usually die. Butwe, the wingless, can see the feathers and replace them.” One handheld up a reddish-brown feather. I recognized it asAmanda’s.
“I’ve preserved it so it won’tfade. I want you to think about what I’ve said. We won’tforce you to join, for the life we lead is often hard and filled withheartbreak. All I’m asking is that you consider my offer.I’ll see you in a week for your answer.” The wheelchairrolled forward, and as she passed me, she pressed the feather and a slipof paper into my hand. At the door she paused, and added,“She’s very sick, so I wouldn’t waste too muchtime.” Then she left.
The continued existence ofAmanda’s feather was the only thing that proved my encounter hadbeen real. Two nights later, lying on my bed and staring at the ceiling,I idly spun the shaft of that feather between my fingers. Could it betrue? Could I really heal someone by replacing their feathers? This andmany other questions whirled in my head until I finally sat up. IfAmanda were really as sick as Heather said, then it was worth atry.
I stuck the feather in my pocket next to the paper that hadthe name of a hospital and Amanda’s room number. The“organization” she’d mentioned must be pretty powerfulif they could offer me this kind of surveillance.
“Mom,Dad, I’m going out for a while, okay?” I shouted, grabbingmy keys.
“Honey, where are you going?” Mom yelledfrom the living room.
“To the hospital, a girl from myclass is there and I want to give her a card.”
“Okay,tell her we wish her well, too.”
At the hospital, the staffwas a little reluctant to let me see Amanda, but I had long ago learnedto read wings like a person’s face and work it to my advantage.Eventually, they let me in.
Amanda was sleeping, and I had beenwarned not to wake her. Her face looked peaceful, but very pale. Fadingfeathers were scattered on the bed and floor.
I had to move fast,since many feathers had probably already disappeared. I gathered those Icould find, careful not to bend or break them, then gently unfoldedAmanda’s right wing and stared at it. How did I replacethem?
I picked up a feather and set it against the bare skin onher wing. To my surprise, a small warmth seemed to grow beneath my handand when I drew it away, the feather had reattached.
The lastfeather I replaced was the one I had been given. I felt exhausted, likeI had just run a marathon. Amanda was still missing some feathers, buthopefully those would grow back in time. Some of the color had returnedto her cheeks, and she moved slightly. Her eyes fluttered open.
“Who are you?” she asked.
I frowned.I’d never spoke much to Amanda, so she probably didn’texpect to see me here.
“I’m Josh. I’m in a fewof your classes. How are you feeling?”
“A lot betterthan earlier. How long have you been here?”
“Notlong. I just came to wish you well.” I walked toward thedoor.
“Thank you, Josh,” she said.
“Noproblem.” I smiled. “Get well soon, Amanda.” And Ileft.
I had made my decision. Maybe Heather had spoken the truthwhen she said it would be a hard life, but I was prepared. I had foundmy purpose.