People always said I was lucky, but just because you’re lucky doesn’t mean you’re happy with the way things are.
Despite the fact that I am only eleven and a half, I have a surprisingly good idea of what it means to be “lucky”, and whether or not someone might consider me to be lucky, my life has been far from easy.
My mother had left Dad and I when I was just three years old. Dad, overtaken by his grief and anger at my mother for leaving, pawned me off on my Uncle Tom and Aunt Susan. Sure, Dad came to visit me a couple of times a year, but I knew that he didn’t want me back with him. He wanted to forget about me.
Every time Dad phoned and told me he was coming to see me, I would hope that the reason for his visit would be to tell me that he had found a steady job and was bringing me home.
That was never the case, despite my wishes.
Dad always had some sort of excuse about why I couldn’t come home. One Christmas, his excuse was that he had lost his job. Another year, he claimed his house was too small. No matter how many excuses he made, I knew the truth – he missed Mom and wouldn’t let himself get attached to anyone else, ever again.
But still, no matter how many times he lied about why I couldn’t come back, I still loved him.
Every Christmas he would ask me what I wanted most, and every year I would reply that I wanted to come back home. He would gently explain that things weren’t how they should be, or how he didn’t have enough money to take care of me.
The excuses grew in number as time wore on, and I remained in the same suburban house that belonged to Uncle Tom and Aunt Susan.
I can’t complain about their house – I have my own room, a big backyard to play in, and I’m allowed to get a lot of things that I want because Uncle Tom and Aunt Susan make a decent income.
Because I love art so much, Aunt Susan frequently takes me to the store in her red VW Bug and buy me paints and brushes, or anything else that I need for my artistic creations. Basically, if I am to ask for it, she will get it for me as long as it was a reasonable request.
Aunt Susan has medium length reddish-brown hair and brown eyes that light up when she laughs, while Uncle Tom has short brown hair and sparkling blue eyes. Aunt Susan is usually wearing at least one hand-made item, such as a crocheted shawl, braided bracelet, or knitted hat, in addition to jeans and an artistic blouse. Uncle Tom is an architect and usually wears classy looking clothing, like white cotton dress shirts and black dress pants.
It would seem that I had everything. If I told someone how unhappy I was, they’d probably go on and on about how I was lucky things had turned out as well as they had.
I know I am lucky, but being lucky doesn’t necessarily make a person happy.
No matter how big my bedroom is, or how nice the back yard is, or even the fact that I can get the things I want, I am missing something.
I need a friend.
Aunt Susan and Uncle Tom live in an older neighborhood that has few children. Out of the few that are in the neighborhood, most of them aren’t my age. There is a girl down the street, whom I see occasionally when Aunt Susan, Uncle Tom, and I walk through the neighborhood, but she is about five years older than me. In addition to this, Aunt Susan had decided from day one that I would be home school, and took it upon herself to teach me. This is good and everything, but it isolates me even further.
The other kids in the area are all friends with each other, as they go to the same school, and because of this, they always leave me out of their games. I want to be friends with them, but my smiles and invitations to friendship are shunned. They have enough friends already and don’t want me.
After I realized that befriending them was impossible, I began to spend most of my time drawing and painting in my room. In my artwork, I can put my feelings into a picture. I can find the answers to my questions and understand my feelings a little better.
Right now, I’m painting a picture of a daffodil, just about to bloom. That’s how I feel – any moment I might be about to bloom, but I don’t know when that moment is. I know that blooming takes time, so I’m waiting for the moment when I will bloom and get to be that beautiful flower.
I hear the door click and know that Uncle Tom is home from work. I listen carefully and even though I’m on the second story of the house, I can hear Aunt Susan and Uncle Tom greeting each other. Our house is so quiet – too quiet.
I sigh and go back to my drawing. The yellow paint on the end of my paint brush glides across the paper, making my daffodils come to life with every stroke.
My favorite thing about painting and drawing is the fact that I get to be in control. I get to create a world that is a happy and carefree as I want, a world where nothing bad happens. People always love each other in this world and they always take care of their families.
I add a bit more green to the stem and begin working on painting the grassy meadow where these flowers grow.
I miss Dad.
Sometimes I cry about not being able to live with Dad. For some, it would be hard to forgive a parent for leaving them with other family members. They would find it hard to forgive someone for breaking their hearts every time they asked to come home and were denied, but not me.
I forgive Dad completely.
I remember the day that Dad made his decision. I was sitting around, and Dad had just made me pancakes with banana slices on top. He had been a bit more solemn than usual that morning, and I had wondered why. The chair squeaked as he sat down, and he said,
“Honey, since your mama left us, you know, things have been hard.”
I remember nodding rapidly in agreement. Maybe things would be better for us, I thought. I was always optimistic, no matter what the circumstances were.
Dad had lost his job a few months before Mom left us, so at that time he was spending almost his whole day at home with me. Not long after my parent’s divorce was finalized, the money in our savings account ran out.
“Now, I’m only doing what’s best for you.”
Dad sighed with what seemed to be the weight of ten worlds. He looked up at me, so young and innocent, and knew that his words were going to change my life in the most unpredictable manner.
“I’ve decided that you should go and live with your Aunt Susan and Uncle Tom.”
I remember telling him that I wanted to live with him, but he kept saying I had to live with Uncle Tom and Aunt Susan.
I didn’t want to, and made this fact clear to him, but this didn’t change the result.
About a week later, Dad dropped me and my suitcase containing all of my belongings off at Aunt Susan and Uncle Tom’s house. They were very nice and tried to be welcoming and friendly, but I wanted Dad. I cried as I watched him drive off down the road, and I could see his sad face reflected in his review mirror.
To this day, the heartbreak of the incident is still fresh. But I forgive Dad. I feel sorry for him, sorry that he had to make that decision. I can’t even imagine how difficult that must have been for him. Still, no matter what I tried, I couldn’t shake the loneliness that stemmed from the lack of Dad’s presence in my life.
I want a friend. No, it’s more than that. I need a friend. I need someone I can really talk to, someone who will understand me. Aunt Susan and Uncle Tom always listen to me, but sometimes, I have a hard time explaining my feelings to them.
I swivel my chair around to face my bed and my alarm clock, and the time reads 5:45 p.m. Both the alarm clock and the bedspread are lime green, my favorite color. Dinner won’t be ready for at least another hour.
I look down at my daffodil, and see that the sky is the only thing left to paint. I remove my sky blue paint from my box of paints, and rinse my thick brush off in the glass of water to my right. I’m going to paint the sky light blue and add some light gray clouds with my painting sponge. These will be the rain clouds, the catalysts in changing this flower from a mere stem to a beautiful, vibrant, wonderful flower. That may sound funny, but I need some “rain” so I can grow, so I can become more than a lonely stem and turn into a beautiful, vibrant, happy flower.
But if you were to count all the hardships in my life as rain, I would have enough rain to grow twenty flowers.
Why haven’t I grown yet?
At this point, I finish the clouds and add a few finishing touches to my painting.
When I’m done with my painting, it looks so real that I can almost feel the breeze and the warm sunlight. It just feels so…happy, so worthwhile, and so right.
I gaze into this painting, in which the beauty is so great that nobody could ever be sad or lonely or angry.
“Hayden! Dinner’s ready.”
Aunt Susan’s call startles me, and I quickly push back my desk chair and reply,
I glance at my painting one more time before trotting down the stairs. I can smell Aunt Susan’s dinner wafting from downstairs. It smells like fennel, so it’s probably pizza, one of my favorite foods.
Uncle Tom smiles at me when I come into the kitchen. We greet each other and I ask him how work went, and he says it went well.
Aunt Susan sets a plate of pizza down in front of me.
“Thanks.” I tell her.
She smiles and bustles away to get Uncle Tom’s plate while I begin eating my pizza.
“What did you do today? Did you have fun with your home schooling?” Uncle Tom asks, trying to get me to talk about my day. The thing is, he tries to prompt me into speaking every night. And every night, I never have very much to tell him, as my daily activities never change.
“I finished my daffodil painting. Home schooling was fun. I’m learning about Christopher Columbus. Aunt Susan is gonna have me write a report about him, which is due next week.”
“When I was in fourth grade or so, my whole class had to write a report on Columbus.” Uncle Tom says with a smile. “It was kind of an essay contest; whoever wrote the best essay would get a gift certificate for the local book store. I really loved to read, so I researched Columbus so much that I could probably recite his whole life from the time he was born until the time he died. And you know what? I won the contest and got to buy a few brand new books by my favorite authors.” Uncle Tom says, trying to make a connection with me.
“Cool.” I say simply.
I feel bad about having nothing to say to him, because I know how badly he wants me to open up, but I just don’t have anything to talk about.
“Are you almost ready to go?” Aunt Susan asks, picking up her purse from the shoe rack.
“Yes.” I say, trying my hardest to sound cheerful and interested.
Aunt Susan and I are going to some sort of meeting at the group that Aunt Susan leads. It’s some sort of women volunteer group that I have no interest in. Aunt Susan insists that I come to the meetings, hoping that one day I might want to participate. She has brought me to these meetings for a few years and I’m even less interested in them now then when I started going.
I quickly put on the lemon colored sweater Aunt Susan knitted for me. Aunt Susan does just about every type of craft there is out there. Knitting, crochet, cooking, sewing, cross stitch, embroidery, quilting, scrap booking, painting, drawing, flower arranging, you name it, and she does it.
Aunt Susan’s first attempt at making a sweater for me was scary, to say the least. It had stripes of all of the weirdest colors going every which way across it, and I wore it until I was ten years old. I stopped wearing it when I realized just how ugly it was, and thankfully, it was getting too small for me, so I was able to stop wearing it without insulting Aunt Susan. My lemon sweater is Aunt Susan’s third attempt at a sweater, and it’s actually wearable.
I walk into the trailer which is the meeting room for the Women Helping Others club. The room seems to get more dull every time we come here, which is once a week. Eight folding chairs are arranged in a circle on the brown carpeting, and the walls are bare, except for a whiteboard on the front wall.
Some of the other members were waiting outside when we arrived, and they all greeted me enthusiastically. I smiled and said hello to them before going back to my usual quiet self.
The trailer isn’t air conditioned or heated, which can be bad in the summer, but for now, it’s nice. I keep my sweater on and sit down on one of the brown folding chairs.
A few more members show up, filling the remaining chairs. All of the ladies look eagerly at Aunt Susan because it’s the first of April, and Aunt Susan always announces new volunteer projects on the first of the month.
“Ladies, for April’s volunteer activity, I wanted to choose something fun and creative – I was thinking about something alone the lines of knitting hats and blankets for premature babies. What do you think?”
All the other women started talking at once.
“My sister had a premature baby and the hospital gave her a hat and blanket that volunteers had donated!” A lady with black shoulder length hair and a green shirt with flowers on it states excitedly.
Other women say things like, “That’s the best idea ever!” and, “There are so many patterns and colors I can use! I can’t wait!”
My mouth remains shut, as I don’t know how to knit, and don’t have any interest in learning.
Why do I always have to be a part of these meetings? Why couldn’t Aunt Susan just leave me home?
Aunt Susan is saying something about what the women can do to help with this month’s project. I hear the rustle of paper as Aunt Susan removes the printed copies of the knitting patterns from her bag. The women are still discussing the project, and as Aunt Susan hands out the patterns, the women comment on them. My mind drifts away from the talk of knitting and I find myself thinking about other things.
I need to get away from this action. It’s too hectic in here. Everyone is babbling at the same time about something I don’t really care about and I just want to get away from it.
My eyes shift towards my blue striped tote bag, where my colored pencils and my sketchpad reside.
I raise my hand. Not that I need to, but I want the rest of the women to pay attention to me. Another voice would just add to the noise of the room and become lost like a raft in a stormy sea.
Aunt Susan notices my hand and looks surprised, probably thinking that I’d like to join in with their festivities. I have to shout over the noise of the others for Aunt Susan to hear me.
You cannot imagine how loud it can be when you’re in an insulation-free trailer with eight women hyped up about a charity project.
“Aunt Susan? May I please go outside and get some fresh air for a while?”
I make sure that I say please. Aunt Susan is always getting on my case about manners and stuff, and I prefer to avoid what would be the 500th lecture on saying please.
Aunt Susan nods, not even attempting to speak louder than the din that fills the room. I smile briefly, put my tote bag on my arm, and hurry to the door.
I grab the cheap-feeling doorknob and yank it open. The cool spring air outside smells of rain and fresh flowers.
Finally, I’m free, free from the sound and commotion, free to organize my thoughts.
I need to draw. When I draw, I don’t think about things like missing Dad. I stop thinking about projects, or knitting, or even Aunt Susan and Uncle Tom. It’s just me and the pencils or crayons or paintbrush. Just my feelings and myself.
I am finally able to think about how things really should be.
Every morning when I wake up, the first thing I do is open my special scrapbook. It’s a scrapbook that Aunt Susan gave me a couple of years ago. Because I didn’t have very many photographs, I chose a different purpose for the scrapbook. It’s now filled with photographs of things that I want, pictures taken from advertisements and magazines, as well as pictures that I’ve drawn or painted.
Every morning I sit on my bed and look through the pages, imagining the things I wish could happen. I have pictures of just about everything that would be considered a perfect life.
I have a picture of a beautiful house with some kids and a dog playing in the yard, as well as a picture of a mom and a dad playing a board game with their daughter.
A lot of days, I wish so strongly than all of the things in my scrap book would become real things rather than merely existing as pictures.
The sky is overcast, not the best lighting for drawing, but it will do. There’s an old picnic table outside of the trailers, which makes a good desk for drawing. From the picnic table, I can see some bright yellow daffodils peeking out of the nearby bush, and they’re just beginning to bloom.
I set my notepad down on the table and remove my pencil box from my tote bag. My hand grips the bright yellow pencil and I draw a long, smooth line to begin my flower. I have to make these flowers perfect, as they are symbolizing my attempts at blooming despite the cold and the bushes that try to choke my dreams.
These daffodils are a sign of hope, hope that there is a way I can have the things I want the most. Hope signifies that winter is almost over, and the knowledge that I will find my way.
Slowly, my daffodils are taking form. I have almost finished outlining one of the flowers, which I will color in when I get home.
A rustle comes from the bush, but I hardly pay attention to it.
I glance over at the daffodils as I try to perfect the curve of the flower just a little more.
Then, I hear it.
A quiet whimper comes from the bush.
Without looking away from the source of the noise, I set my pencil down and slowly walk towards the bush. My heart is pounding in my chest as curiosity fills my mind. I slowly reach forwards, ready to find out what is making the sound.
My hands grab the stiff branches and I gently part them. I peer into the dark shade under the bush, trying to make out what is in there.
All of a sudden, I see it more clearly than I’ve probably seen anything in my whole life. The sun has come out, and the rays illuminate the object.
It’s a puppy. A scraggly, dirty, skinny little puppy, shivering and cowering beneath the bush.
A chill runs down my spine. I cannot believe what I am seeing!
I don’t hesitate to reach forwards and pull the scared puppy out from under the bush. The puppy’s wrinkly little nose wiggles slightly as it sniffs my hands.
What is it doing? Does it like me?
Any worries I might have had leave my mind. The puppy begins licking my hands and trying to eat the sleeve of my sweater as it wags its tail. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I feel like someone understands what I’ve been through.
Aunt Susan and Uncle Tom were forced to take care of me because Dad put me in their care. They couldn’t refuse, but I’m sure they wouldn’t have taken me had they have any other choice.
But this puppy is different. It likes me.
It chose me.
Just as easily as it licked me, it could have run away, but it chose to show me that it loved me!
I gently pick up the puppy and look it in the eyes, noticing that it’s a girl puppy. She struggles to get away and chews on my hands, so I set her down on my lap.
The puppy is little, maybe the size of a Chihuahua or something, and has wavy tan colored fur. She looks scruffy, like a lot of people envision mutts to be.
My thoughts jump forward to the future with this puppy. In my mind, I can see myself running around in my yard with her, having her sleep on the foot of my bed. I can see myself training her, and feeding her, and dressing her up in little sweaters and all the other things people do with their dogs.
I look into her adorable brown eyes and see my reflection in their warm moistness. The puppy looks into my eyes and seems to smile.
But what do I do with it now?
I scoop up the puppy and stand up just in time to see Aunt Susan and the rest of the ladies coming out of the trailer. Aunt Susan waves good-bye to the ladies and begins walking towards me.
The puppy squirms in my arms and tries to bite my nose, but I keep holding onto her.
Aunt Susan sees the puppy and her face breaks into a look of complete surprise and confusion. She says something to me, but her words are lost in the strong gust of wind. The puppy shivers and snuggles closer to my chest. My shoulder-length chestnut colored hair blows in front of my face, blocking my vision.
When Aunt Susan is closer, she repeats herself.
“Where did you get that?” She sounds curious but confused.
She is now close enough that I can speak to her without yelling, so I relay the whole story about coming out here to get away from the noise and the people. I explained to her that I had been drawing when I heard the whimper and found the puppy.
The whole time, I am silently pleading Aunt Susan to let me keep the puppy.
What will I do if she said no?
Before I found the puppy, whether I had one or not didn’t matter. But after it had all set in that I had actually found a puppy, I began to realize that I didn’t just want this puppy, but needed it.
People were always talking about how loyal dogs were, how dogs are always there at your side, a constant companion. Man’s best friend and everything. Dogs don’t care if you are rich or poor. They don’t care what other people think of you. Dogs only care about the love you show them.
You love a dog, and the dog will love you forever.
In those first moments with the puppy, I realized that was what I needed: someone who would love me forever, someone who would never leave me.
Not able to stand waiting any longer, I ask,
“Can we keep it?”
The words tumble from my mouth uncontrollably, like water spilling from a glass. I usually think things through before I say them, but this question required no further contemplation. It seemed almost instinctive.
Aunt Susan stares at the puppy, considering my question. What she thinks of this idea is completely unknown to me. Maybe she is watching me, realizing that for the first time in a long time, I actually look happy. Maybe she is realizing how important this is to me, taking all I’ve been through into account.
“Let’s talk to Uncle Tom about it. I’m fine with it, but he may not be.”
I’m so incredibly happy that I don’t know what to do, except embrace Aunt Susan as hard as I can with my free arm. I can’t even remember the last time I’ve hugged her, but it feels so wonderful. Aunt Susan kindly wraps her arms around me and smiles.
Clutching the puppy, I get into the car, and for the first time in such a long time, there’s a spring in my step.