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A Helping Hand
“They were staring all day.”
I plopped down in the kitchen chair with as much grace as I could muster, which wasn’t much. My mother sighed from her spot on the other side of the table and pushed the rest of her slice of chocolate cake across the table to me; an apology for not knowing what to say. I took a bite, not tasting the chocolate that was supposed to make me feel better.
“Sweetheart, it takes time for people to get used to this sort of thing. It’s normal for people to not know how to react to such a change, especially when some of them has some of the blame,” her voice took a hard edge nearing the end of her sentence, giving away a subtle grudge against my old friends. I didn’t hold the same grudge as she did; I knew I was as much the blame as they were but my mother was a different story.
My gaze went down to my lower half, reminding me of the reason so many people were uncomfortable around me now. On my left leg, the denim of my jeans’ pants leg was cut shorter than my right, it’s leg sewn expertly shut by my mother to fit the remainder of my amputated limb. Knowing that one bad mistake caused such a turn in my life usually brought tears to my eyes, but now, they were dry. I needed to stop feeling sorry for myself and get back to living my life. However, whether people would stop feeling sorry for me was a mystery. I hoped so. It caused an uncomfortable tension between myself and everyone else.
The next day was my second day of school. My mother dropped me off and I made my way supported my my crutches to the main office. The secretary looked up as I approached and a flash of pity swept through her eyes before she spoke.
“Hello, you must be Lisa. As you know, we’ve assigned someone to escort you to your classes and help you with your books,” she gestured to someone behind me and a figure appeared next to me. I paid it no mind and continued to listen to the secretary.
“We’re sorry for the inconvenience of not assigning him sooner, but if you would’ve spoken to us beforehand it could have been done.” I pursed my lips in annoyance. I didn’t speak to them beforehand because I didn’t want any help. I didn’t want an annoyed classmate to be forced to follow me around, sighing and rolling his eyes every time I asked for his help, or worse, someone who pitied me like my friends. I wanted everything to be normal. I wanted to live my life normally, therefore doing everything myself like a normal student.
The figure beside me shifted, and I turned, knowing I couldn’t ignore him any longer. He looked at me in the eyes, unwavering to my lower half and held out a hand.
“Hello. I’m Bryan,” I narrowed my eyes before shaking his hand quickly. I’ve seen this boy yesterday, caught him staring during every class we shared. Something about him struck me odd, there was something different about him that set my guard up. I knew I wouldn’t trust him and would try to ditch as soon as possible. After all, he was probably forced to help me and would be grateful for the ditch.
We reached six period before I could make my escape. I had lunch and I remembered from the day before that Bryan didn’t share this period with me or the periods following. When the bell rang, I grabbed my backpack as quickly as possible and slung it over both shoulders, desperately trying to reach for my second crutch without completely humiliating myself. A hand that didn’t belong to me reached it first and looking up in frustration, saw that Bryan was the owner of said hand.
“Thanks,” I grumbled, looking away and swinging on my crutches as fast as I could out of the class and away from Bryan. Unfortunately, he caught up with me easily, taking calm strides next to my harried and sloppy limps. I slowed down, sighing dejectedly. This had happened numerously times throughout the day and obviously, he couldn’t take a hint.
Inside the lunch room we stood in the middle and looked over the scene before us. I could see the table in the back where my friends sat and I started towards them.
“Where do you want to sit?” Bryan was right behind me and I ignored him, shuffling quicker towards the table. I sat down and saw two faces look up and then sweep down, embarrassed, towards their plates. The other face, belonging to Alissa, looked straight at me, but I could see the pity underneath the fake excitement, could hear it in the pitch of her voice.
“Hey Lisa! We were just talking about you! How are you holding up?” I saw her eyes roam, land on my crutches, and then bounce back to my face, ashamed. She knew how I was holding up but I followed her game anyway.
“Great! I love my new classes! That’s what you meant right?” I stared at her meanly, daring her to point out my new disability. She looked flustered. Good.
“Y-yeah. That’s good, then. Who’s your friend?” Her eyes focused to someone next to me, obviously grateful for the new subject. I glanced to my right and was surprised to see Bryan, sitting two lunches on the table. I gawked at him when he had the audacity to sit down next to me, like he belonged there.
“You should close your mouth. And, as I’m sure you know, staring is rude.”
“What?” I was sure I heard him wrong.
“You look like a dead fish.” Obviously I was wrong. The nerve!
“You don’t have to be here,” I glared daggers, hoping to intimidate him like I could with Alissa.
“I know. But I chose to, so I’m going to,” He didn’t flinch like I thought he would, instead taking my barely veiled attempts to shoo him in stride. It was infuriating.
“What do you mean, ‘you chose to’? Wasn’t you assigned to me?” I could see from my periphery that Alissa and the other two girls were watching avidly. Great. A crappy meal and a show. How lucky.
“The secretary came to my advisory and asked if anyone would do it. I volunteered.”
This, for some reason set me off. I could just see it, that same pitying secretary going into stupid Bryan’s advisory after seeing me shuffle clumsily down the hall, asking for someone to have a heart and help the poor crippled girl, after all, we’ve all heard of that unfortunate accident on the night of Thomas’ summer ending party. Who will help the poor thing? Everyone would bow their heads and look away, something always done when I entered a room, aside from the rude staring that some idiots preferred, but Bryan would look up with a burst of humanitarianism and stand up, his fists on his hips, chin jutted out and wind blowing through his hair and cape that would mysteriously appear out of nowhere. Everyone would clap and Bryan would leave the room in search of me, expecting me to swoon with gratitude and thank him for carrying my two hundred pound backpack. Everyone would ooh and ahh and clap, smiling at the scene before them. My anger, which was simmering before, suddenly reached a boiling point, the force of it pushing at my self control, making it jiggle dangerously like the lid on a pot.
“You’re staring again,” I shook my head slightly, trying to dismiss my daydream. I couldn’t though, it sat in the back of my mind, swinging distractingly in front of me. Bait. I could curse Bryan out right now to make him leave me alone but I chose to try to reign my anger.
The bell rang. I stood on one leg, balanced from lots of practice and grabbed my tray, preparing to hop over to the trash can, just a few feet away. Suddenly, the tray was snatched out of my hands, and Bryan was walking away, taking care of it himself. I stood, heated and indignant. Then, seeing my escape, grabbed my things and swung on my crutches, giving the group at the table a baleful look over the shoulder when I noticed them either staring at my clumsy wobble or my unfinished leg line. They looked away, ashamed. They should be.
I thought I was home free by the time I got to my next class but seconds after I sat down, Bryan strolled in and lounged at the desk next to me. The rest of the day continued like this, me running unsuccessfully and Bryan catching up to me in seconds, appearing out of nowhere next to me. By the time we finally got to leave eighth period I was scrambling almost desperately; there was no reason for Bryan to follow me now. His duty was fulfilled, he could leave me alone. But obviously he couldn’t take a hint.
“So, why do you keep running from me?” I had just made it to the courtyard, thinking, again, that I was free, and Bryan’s voice startled me. My anger flared up again, fueled from my desperate need to be independent.
“Why do you keep following me? I know you can tell I don’t want your help. Leave me alone!” The jerk had the audacity to act calm. How can he act like this isn’t a big deal? This was my life now, I need to take care of myself and live normally.
“You need my help. You just refuse to believe it.”
“I don’t need you!” I spat.
“Who got your lunch, brought you your books, picked up your crutch when you dropped it? You’re so prideful you don’t want anyone knowing you’re a little disabled that you’re making it obvious by acting like it’s not there!” I reeled back, stung from being called disabled.
“Don’t act like you understand me!”
“Don’t act like I understand you? Are you serious?” He encroached, entering my personal space, “You think you’re the only one in the world that this has happened to?”
“You don’t know what happened,” I growled, daring him to cross the line.
He did, “Oh, I know what happened. You went to Thomas’ party and got drunk with your little friends, flirting with that jerk, James Michaels. Oh you thought I really didn’t know, didn’t you?” His eyebrows flew skyward, ignoring my warning glare. People were staring but he was oblivious.
“Shut. Up.” I was sick of him trying to humiliate me, telling this story in front of everybody.
“No, I don’t think I will. You need to have your little self-centered bubble popped. We all know about your friends urging you to let him ‘drive you home’ and the result was irreversible, wasn’t it? And you come back, acting like we owe you something, but won’t even accept any help. You expect us to act like nothing happened but I know that you get angry when people actually try to ignore your disability.”
“You don’t know what I went through!” I screamed.
“No, but I know what my father did. He lost his leg from cancer. His pain was as real as yours, and just like you, his pride got in the way of everyone. He tried to push us away, like you’re doing to me, and your friends. You think you’re the only one with this problem? You’re wrong. Get that in your head and stop acting like you don’t need anyone’s help. You’re a human just like the rest of us.” He walked away, leaving me alone like I originally wanted, but instead left me feeling empty instead of relieved.
The next day I arrived at school and in my first period class sat tentatively next to Bryan. He ignored me and worked silently. I stole a few glances and after concluding that my actions the day before wouldn’t be forgiven, worked dejectedly by myself. At the end of the period, I reached towards the floor, trying to grab my second crutch. Again, someone got to it before I, and I looked up, relieved to see Bryan’s face.
“Here,” he said, “We all need a hand sometimes, right?” He looked at me, daring me to disagree after all that we went through yesterday.
“Yeah,” I said, taking his offered hand, “We do.”