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Feel The Green
I was standing alone, waiting for my dirty, rusty yellow school bus to arrive. It pulled over leaving the smell of engine gas to choke me. As I entered the bus, as usual there was nowhere to sit. Reason being is that everyone thinks that the bus seats are meant for lying down. After passing four rows of sleeping students I pushed myself into this seat next to some 6th grader, not bothering to ask whether I could sit with her or not. The kid glanced over at me but I ignored her. She finally asked me what grade I was in and I held up 8 fingers. I wasn't in the mood to converse and especially with someone I didn't even know. When the bus pulled into our school parking lot I stood up and intentionally whacked the girl in the face with my knapsack as I swung it over my shoulder.
I dragged my feet off the bus.
We all gathered in the assembly room. Our principal began talking about these required community service hours that we all needed to complete by the end of the year. That is not what I needed to hear my first day back from spring break. Throughout the rest of the day pamphlets were thrown in my face about ideas for community service. I didn't care about any of them. Whether it was being an intern at a day care center or working in a nursing home, I wasn't interested.
That night when I returned home I immediately sprawled out on the sofa and my mother pulled up a chair next to me, trying to get my attention.
"Elenore, honey do you remember our old family friends, the McGregors?
I glanced up at her and shook my head nonchalantly.
"Oh well I guess you were too young to remember," my mother said. "Anyway, they are coming to dine with us tonight. Do you have any vague memories of Maggie, Their blind daughter?"
"No" I muttered
Our old so called "friends" came over later that night and my eyes widened as I saw this girl, my age with no eyes. I motioned my mother over and asked why she had no eyes. She simply replied, "She had cancer in her eyes. It's called neuro-blastoma."
Dinner was cooking and the smell was irresistible. Mom came over and introduced me to Maggie; it felt strange knowing that she could not see me.
Mom said that if I was nice to her I could go to Eric's pool party. So I invited her into my room.
She immediately sat on my bed and slipped her shoes off.
"So are you in 8th grade like me?" Maggie nodded her head timidly.
I was about to ask what her favorite color was but then realized she couldn't see so why bother. I began to wonder if she had seen before, or if she saw color in her dreams. So I asked what her favorite color was, quickly and without emotion. I was surprised by her response. She explained that before her eye removal surgery it was green.
"Everything I have is green. I used to save leaves from trees that I thought were beautiful shades of green. Why do you ask?" she questioned.
"Oh I dunno. It's just a question."
She looked down and fiddled with her thumbs. "Green is the only color I completely remember". she began to confess to me, as if I were a therapist or something.
"If only I could be like the others. If only I could paint beautiful landscapes and dance salsa like I used to see on television, but I cannot see. It prevents everything." All of a sudden she moved much closer to me. She really was quite a sensitive girl. She was acting as if we were close friends when we had really just met. I tried to continue our conversation.
"Well I'm sure you can do other things." After I said that I realized it wasn't the best thing to say either.
"Nothing," she replied. "Absolutely nothing. I've always wanted to paint and to be an artist but everyone says there is no hope."
I started to feel that I shouldn't have asked that question. Eventually dinner came and all throughout it, I sat there not even making a dent in the tempting meal in front of me. I was thinking about if I were blind. I'd know for one thing that I would despise it if I had to be guided everywhere I went. That night I went to sleep wondering why I asked that question. Was it because I was so miserable that I wanted to make others miserable?
The next day on my way home from school, I chose to get off my bus at an earlier stop; I desperately needed fresh air. As I was walking I came across what seemed to be an abandoned house of some sort. Inside it smelled of old paint and crazy glue. On the walls, paintings hung in dusty wooden frames and broken glass. As I was looking at the old paintings I thought to myself, Maggie's blind person art would be better than these old "paintings." Suddenly, it hit me. Maybe I could start an art class for the blind for my community service. After walking around and exploring I left hoping no one would have claimed this spot.
When I arrived home, my mother started lecturing me. "Now Elenore," she began. "You know our rule. You can't just come home from school an hour late without calling me!"
"Mom, I have an idea," I professed.
"I don't care about any idea you have right now. Just give me and explanation for why you weren't home at the appropriate time." I let it go. Arguing was out of the question for tonight. I went to bed with an exciting yet fretful feeling, knowing that tomorrow could go one way or another.
Tomorrow came, waking me up with the sound of a misty drizzle. The minute I walked into the school corridor instead of falling on my knees as usual and struggling to open my locker, I went to see the instructor of community service to tell him about my plan for the year. I looked through the glass window and saw him furiously working at his desk. I barged into his room.
He held up one finger and continued to do what he was doing. When he finished his work his pencil tip broke as he slammed it down.
"What?" he shouted. He didn't greet me in any way. He just gave me this emotionless what. That didn't stop me. Overall he seemed like a paranoid person.
"I have a great idea for my community service," I told him.
"Is it on the pamphlet?" he questioned in a nasal tone. He then put his hand on his bald head and continued to write.
"Well no it isn't but..."
"Then I don't want to hear it. No one ever has any ideas that work. There are plenty on the pamphlet," he said with a temper.
"Well I want to start an art class for the blind," I said quietly.
He looked up at me from his desk, his pencil between is index and middle finger and his wirey eyebrows pointing upwards. "Are you insane? Blind children cannot paint, they can hardly write."
"NOT TRUE", I cried.
"Young lady, don't ever raise your voice like that to me ever again. I think this would be very hard for you to handle.”
"Sorry," I murmured sarcastically.
"And on top of all of that, we would have to take care of insurance policies and health issues. Is this going to be worth my time?
"Isn't that your job?" I left him speechless.
After a long pause he started speaking again.
"You know what Elenore? Is this what you really want to do? Then go ahead try and teach an art class."
"Yes. If you can prove to me that you can run this art class you will earn your points. If you don't, you will spend your summer doing something else.
I used lunch as an opportunity to go home get my materials and set up the studio. I scurried into dad's storage room where he kept his paints and collected enough materials for 10 kids to paint with. At the last second I grabbed a green tube of paint for Maggie.
There I was, again, standing in front of my studio, poorly painted white and chipping. It had a window but without glass to protect from rain and other dangers. The rickety table in the center was perfect for ten kids. I set it up nicely with the paints in the middle and a canvas for each. The whole place was made of wood, with rusty nails sticking up and some floorboards missing.
After school ended ominous clouds surrounded the buses, and we all dashed in before the thunder hit. I sat on the inside of the bus seat and watched the soil trickle into the cracks of the pavement. Before reaching Wicker Willow street I made sure to make a couple phone calls. First I called mom to tell her where I was going, and then I called Maggie again to make sure she had all her friends together and knew where they were going. So far everything was working out perfectly and going as planned.
I stepped out of the bus.
The studio was around the corner and as soon as I got there I found all of my 10 students sitting on a bench together. "Hey guys, I'm Elenore! Maggie might have already told you that." They all nodded stiffly. "I guided them to the studio. They were a very quiet bunch.
After they introduced themselves to me, I set up the paint, palettes and water jars. I glanced over at my knapsack with my key chains dangling off of it. One was in the shape of a tree. I pulled it off and gave it to Maggie to hold. “Maggie, what does this item feel like to you?" She took a few moments to decipher what the object might be and then she set it down beside her and dipped her bristley brush into the brown color I gave her. She started to move her brush to form branches of a tree, as if she could see the tree in her mind. I was fascinated. To start, I gave the kids only one color each. After Maggie finished with her brown paint she called me over. I could not believe what I saw.
I placed Maggie's hand on the painting. "What does it feel like to you? Try moving your finger around the places you painted."
"If I touch it won't it smudge?"
"No, because the paint you are using has a textured medium in it which allows it to dry very quickly".
"It feels like a tree," she cried.
I then took the green tube of paint and squeezed it onto her pallet and washed her brush for her.
"Now work Maggie and chin up," I said referring to the movie, Charlotte's Web. We both laughed. I was so relieved that she understood my joke that it gave me the courage to experiment, so I walked over and gave the apples mom packed as a snack to everyone else, and squeezed a glob of red paint on each one of their pallets. "Feel the apple everyone, paint what you feel."
"Elenore, I am finished!" Maggie said. I had them all feel her textured painting and let her enjoy everyone's response.
Class ended and all of the kids went home. I sat in the studio reflecting on the day's work when I saw blinking red and blue lights. Suddenly, a cop barged right in on me with a flashlight.
"Excuse me?" I whimpered. He looked at me suspiciously. "This is my place!"
"Your place? Since when?"
As the cop took me outside, my heart pounded rapidly and an irritating itch emerged in my throat. Was this the end of my class? I wondered. It simply couldn't be.
"I teach an art class for blind kids. You have to let me keep this place."
"Honey, it just doesn't work that way. If you want this place you have to pay for it!" the cop said.
"Well I'm only using one room for only 3 hours after school until the summer. Just let me keep it until then," I pleaded.
I peeled my eyes and looked up the road and saw something coming. Strangely it was my mom in her pajamas, and hair wrapped in a towel. I waited for her shamefully and hugged her the minute she got there as a way of not having to look her in the eyes. Shockingly, she hugged me back. All of a sudden I felt the cops big hand come between us. He took my mother aside.
"M'am, if your daughter wants to use this place, you are going to have to pay for it.”
After they finished talking, my mother pulled me inside the studio.
"Why are you here mom?"
"Elenore, do you know what time it is. You need to do homework?”
I switched on the single light bulb in the center and there all of the paintings were, sitting on the table. "This one is Maggie's." My mother stared in astonishment at what Maggie had accomplished.
"She painted this with no help at all?"
"Officer, how much money will it be to keep this place?" I asked him politely
"Well it depends. How many months are you planning to use it?" He said.
"That would be 600 dollars. It belongs to a friend of mine.”
"I'll pay for it" I declared.
Mother looked at me puzzled. "Honey with what money are you planning to do this?"
"My 900 dollars I have been saving."
"But don't you want to buy a laptop with that money? She looked at me and blinked and a small tear rolled off of her eyelash. Was she proud of me? For once, was she proud of me? I hadn't seen side of her in a while.
"A laptop" I muttered to myself. "Oh whatever, I can just use dads. If this is going to be my art studio, then I will pay for it.
So we paid and the studio was mine.
A week of school had passed and life was as usual until science class, on Thursday when we were about to do a lab experiment and I saw Mr. Krakowsky's face through the glass door. His patent leather dress shoes made a clicking noise as he walked in.
"Excuse me, Ms. Tierny?"
"Yes Mr. Krakowsky," she said as she smiled. Ms. Tierny was always trying to impress the authority of the school.
"Would you excuse Elenore Trever for a moment?" he asked, staring at me in the back row.
"Oh of course Mr. Krakowsky!"
I quietly ascended from my seat and walked towards him. An assembly of voices playfully ooohed and aaahd as he took me out of the class. He sat me down on the common couch in the 8th grade corridor and began to talk to me.
"Now Elenore I hear you have started your class yesterday. Is that true?"
"Oh... yes I have, and it went quite well."
"Would you mind if I stopped by today?"
I ripped off the corner of my math homework and scribbled the address.
After school, during the middle of my painting session, Mr. Krakowsky showed up like he said.
"Hi. We were just about to go outside."
"Why are you going outside?" He asked.
"Come and you'll see." Boy was he one cranky old man. I gathered all my students and took them to the short little tree around the side of my studio. "Now guys I want you to pick a leaf from the tree." Mr. Krakowsky sat there stoking his beard, and I would glance back once in a while.
Once the students all had their leaves and we were back sitting in our seats I told them to feel the shape of it and try to envision it in their minds.
Being a teacher at age 13 was quite complicated. Never had I been asked so many questions in my life. I was being looked up to for once. I was the one that my students depended on and it felt wonderful.
As the class came to an end I saw Mr. Krakowsky coming towards me. His expression on his face was unpredictable and I was nervous.
"Anybody get hurt yet?"
"No," I rolled my eyes.
Mr. Krakowsky left, leaving me to hang their paintings to dry and to clean the materials. I was growing more aggravated each day as my classes continued. I looked over at the splintery walls and missing floorboards and began to regret giving up my laptop for this old dump. Mr. Krakowsky killed me with all the negative things he said. Why was he doing this to me?
Three months had passed and I announced that we should go and hang up all of our artwork. They had painted leaves, trees, apples, and acorns. mostly anything they could feel. We also had done a couple abstract painting classes and a class where I made buddy groups where they had to paint one another by feeling each other's features.
At the studio I hung up all of their paintings with a piece of string and clothespins. We had accomplished around 90 paintings. Some might have thought it was rather boring to see the same picture painted 10 times, but I thought it was interesting, interesting to see how each interpreted what a tree was, a leaf or a face. Everyone took a moment to celebrate our accomplishments.
Summer vacation was almost here and everyone was anxious to finish school, but a feeling inside me wanted to stay and continue my daily after school routine. I wanted to keep working with my friends. The last day of school everyone turned in their community service forms to Mr. Krakowsky.
"Mr. Krakowsky," boy was I getting nervous and I could hear it in my voice. Was I going to earn my points or was I going to have to spend my summer doing it? "I'd like you to come see what my class and I have accomplished throughout these 3 months." We walked over to the space during lunch.
He walked around in silence. "Why do most of the paintings have very thick and clumpy paint?"
"That's the kids method of feeling their painting since they cannot see their paintings. Then I looked into his beady little eyes and he smiled at me. I was waiting for him to tell me If I passed or not.
"You know, Elenore, there are not many girls like you around. I must say that I am impressed. He took a long pause. "And I was impressed the whole time."
"What? But I thought that you thought this would have never worked?"
"At first I was not so sure of your idea but that very day I sat in and watched you teach I thought your idea was brilliant, and don't you see that by doubting you it motivated you to work harder? You know Elenore, to make something work there always has to be a bad guy along the way."
"So did I earned my community service points?"
"Not only that, but look at next years pamphlet."
I scanned my eyes across the pamphlet and there I saw on the top right corner a picture of my students working and a large caption under it saying: a chance to paint with the blind and teach them useful methods on how to paint. (Inspired by our very own 8th grade student Elenore Trever). I was bewildered. He had loved my idea.
"Just think Elenore, your class will be carried on for years to come, all because you were the clever one to start it. Now this is something to be very proud of my dear."
Our trek back to school couldn't have been any more exhausting, yet we, or at least I, didn't seem to mind. I had felt the green.