Chapter 1: Nothing is Right in Life
There are people in the world that seem to have everything – a perfect life, a perfect family, and perfect friends. I’m not one of those people.
My shoes hit the cement of the sidewalk with aconsistent thump, thump, thump, as I try to gather my thoughts. The winter wind blowing through my long dark brown hair is warm, as it never gets very cold in central Florida. I hold tightly onto my dog Sparkle’s green leash, hoping no one will talk to me on this wonderful Saturday afternoon.
Sparkle is a Jack Russell Terrier, is three years old, and is my best friend in the entire world. When Sparkle was only a puppy, I saw her tied up in the neighbor’s back yard without any food, water, or shelter. Her owners beat her all the time, and my parents reported this to animal control when I told them about it. Animal control arrested the owners for animal abuse, and I ended up being able to adopt Sparkle. To get her to be the trusting dog she is now, I had to work with her a lot. Her physical wounds had to mend, just as she had to learn how to trust people unconditionally.
I smile down at Sparkle, who walks along through the grass, sniffing the ground wildly.
Walking is my way of getting away from my problems. When my heart gets pumping in rhythm with my legs, everything is different. I imagine that with every step I take, I’m farther from my problems. When I walk, I am free. It’s just me and Sparkle.
I look to my left to see some children playing in a yard, running and laughing. The kids look to be around seven or eight years old, and seem to think there isn’t a care in the world. This sight would make most people happy, but seeing the kids having fun with their friends just reminds me of how lonely I am.
Since my best friend Jane moved away, I have not made any friends. The whole time, I guess I was just like, Oh, Jane will write to me. She’s my best friend. I don’t need another friend when I’ve got her. But after a while of thinking that, I realized that she totally dumped me. I thought we were friends! All of those long hours playing, running in the yard; those sunny days picnicking in the park and swinging. Those long nights, talking on the phone to her, telling her my greatest memories. That total trust, broken.
Some people say, ‘Oh, you’ll learn lessons from everything that happens’. True. What I learned from Jane is to NEVER trust anybody or anything.
Besides, I am just so shy that I can hardly talk to anyone! I have trouble talking to most people, sometimes including my family. If they ask me an awkward question, I freeze up and get nervous, upset, or angry. Grandma, Jane, and Sparkle are the only creatures on earth that I’ve ever felt completely comfortable with.
When Jane first moved away, we told each other how we would write to each other every day. What a liar. Now, six months later, she still hasn’t written me, not even once. She is now officially my ex-best friend. It’s like she disappeared from the face of the earth! Now, I only have Sparkle, and she can’t even talk to me! No one listens to me and the world seems boring. There’s nothing to do! No one seems to care about me except for Sparkle.
I look ahead of me and see a different street. At the beginning of it there are some big, old oak trees and pretty red pansies. It’s the one my dad drove down once to show us a road that leads to a trail in the woods. I look at my watch and see that I still have thirty minutes to check out the trail. Even though my parents don’t care about me, they still set annoyingly short time limits to my excursions.
Now, I’ve told my parents I’d just be in the neighborhood, but I need to go to the woods. Not like they’d really care about that. Not like I’d tell them. I keep walking forwards and Sparkle follows me down the street. I walk along in peace for a few minutes, when I hear the dreaded sound.
I flinch and look over to see an older lady standing in front of a beautiful house, holding a hose. She is watering a big yellow sunflower in a green pot. I break into a sweat and my cheeks turn bright red.
I hurry down the road without saying a word. Some people may consider me rude, but it’s not that! I want to change! I want to talk to people, I want to help people, but no matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to. It just seems like someone zips my mouth shut when I am near someone, especially someone I don’t know. I try my hardest, but my hardest isn’t good enough. Nothing I do is good enough for anyone’s standards, including my own.
I veer to the left and head down the path and into the dark green forest. Trees, shrubbery, and fallen branches surround me like a cocoon. The only sounds I can hear are the rustling leaves, the thump-thump of my feet hitting the hard packed sandy trail, and Sparkle’s collar jingling. These are the best and most assuring sounds in the whole world to me.
After walking for a few minutes, I see a clearing and decide to sit down in the green moss. I wrap my arms around my knees, rest my chin on my knees, and look at the beauty around me. It’s so pure, unlike me. I never did anything good in my life. I have never saved anybody, did anything right, or had any true friends. I even killed my pet rabbit!
When I was younger, my neighbors gave me their pet rabbit when they moved. The rabbit’s name was Walnut, and he lived in a hutch outside. Everyone thought I took good care of him, but when he died suddenly, I blamed myself. After all, if I would have taken care of him properly, he would still be alive. When I see a movie or read a book with a hero in it, it makes me feel even worse! I’ve never saved anyone’s life, much less done anything to help anyone.
I sigh as I think about my ruined family.
My Dad goes to work before we get up and comes home when we are about to go to bed, so I hardly see him. He usually stays in his room watching TV on weekends.
My mom could keep the house clean if she wanted to, but she never tries hard enough. Our house is a complete mess! Mom home schools us and tries to make it fun for us, but my brother and my sister always ruin it.
My younger brother Jason, who is eleven, always starts arguments with my mom and does graffiti on buildings.
My sister Priscilla, who is ten, always calls me names and makes fun of me. My parents never stop her! If I complain about her behavior, they just tell me to be nice and get along with her.
My only relative that lives near me is my grandmother, and she is dying. She’s had some health problems for a while and they are finally taking their toll on her. Soon, Sparkle will be the only one left for me to talk to.
I check my watch again and see I only have five minutes to get home! If I don’t make it back in time, my mom will scold me and I’ll have to face an embarrassing explanation. We will need to run at top speed to get there. Luckily, Sparkle has a ton of energy and loves to exercise.
“Run, Sparkle! Let’s go home!”
Sparkle breaks into a run and I go my fastest just to keep up with her. We race all the way to my medium sized two-story house, which is yellow with white trim and is situated in a quiet cul-de-sac. An ancient oak tree on the left and a pink flowered bush on the right outline my driveway.
By the time I reach the top of the long driveway, Sparkle and I are panting heavily. At least we are finally home, but with only one minute to spare. I slowly walk up the pathway that leads to the front door, only to hear another argument erupting from inside
“You never let me go skateboarding with my friends. Never!” Jason screams at my mom.
They sure are being loud! I’m ten feet from the door and can hear every word they are saying perfectly. I don’t really want to go inside.
“Your friends are the wrong type to be hanging around with.” My mom states exasperatedly.
I open the door and silently go inside, hoping for some peace and quiet in the refuge of my room. I enter, doing my best to ignore the argument and make a beeline to he staircase. But someone is stopping me. And that someone is Priscilla.
“Hey Dummy, aka ‘Cathy’! You sure are cuttin’ it close, arriving just in the nick of time!” She yells, bursting in front of me. Priscilla has has slightly wavy dark brown hair and blue eyes that sparkle, two features that make me a little jealous of her looks. Her personality is not so beautiful, unfortunately.
“Whatever.” I say to her as I walk past her. “I’m home!” I mumble to my mom, who looks like an older version of Priscilla but with shoulder length hair. Mom says hello before returning to her argument with Jason.
I look more like my dad than my mom. We have the same dark brown eyes and shiny dark brown hair. But this is a resemblance that I’m not too happy about, now that Dad hardly seems to care about us.
I slowly trudge up the stairs with Sparkle at my heels. My room is painted a beautiful shade of sky blue and has a twin sized bed and a tall oak dresser. I plop down on the yellow and white quilt on my bed. It kind of matches the sky blue in a sunset-like way. My Grandma, the one that is dying now, made this for me when I was only a baby. I have loved it ever since. In the other corner of my room, there is a blue beanbag chair and a bookshelf filled with my favorite books. My room is my sanctuary, the only place in the house where I feel at home. Sparkle stretches out on my bed near my head.
I bury my face in my quilt and think back on that lady that said hello to me earlier. Something about that lady just seemed important, although I’m not sure why. What if I never see her again and I missed my only chance to meet her? And with that, I begin to cry.
“Dinner’s ready!” Mom yells a few minutes later.
“I’m eating in my room!” Dad shouts from his room.
“Coming!” I hear Priscilla say.
“Not coming!” Jason replies.
“I’m coming.” I respond reluctantly as I leave my room, Sparkle following closely behind.
I go down the stairs into the large living room with black vinyl sofas and vaulted ceilings. I head into the kitchen and sit down on one of the maple kitchen chairs. In the middle of the table, I see plain pasta and green beans. Great. In other words, YUCK. That is like, all we ever have. I mean, I know my mom tries hard to make a good dinner, seriously, can’t she come up with anything better to make?
I used to love cooking. I made all sorts of yummy dishes like spinach casserole and homemade bread sticks. But then Dad got his new job and started working like crazy. Mom had to take on a lot of Dad’s responsibilities and had trouble keeping up with the house. Jason really missed Dad and started hanging out with kids that do graffiti and other bad stuff like that. Priscilla and I used to play with each other, but we had to be in the middle of so many arguments, playing lost its fun. Every time we tried to have fun, it got disrupted by yelling. Priscilla and I stopped playing, and our bond pretty much broke. I stopped cooking and helping with chores, which made Mom busier, which in turn made her grumpier. That made her more edgy when talking to us, which caused more arguments. All of this, all of the chaos and fighting, caused Dad to work more to escape from it.
It was a vicious cycle to which there seemed no end. No one would change. I wanted to change, but when I started thinking about helping again, I just felt like the whole situation was a lost cause. I wasn’t motivated to do much anymore.
Mom serves me pasta and wilted green beans. After giving it a look of disgust, I gulp my dinner down, trying to get the gross food down as quickly to avoid the taste.
When I’m done, I leave the kitchen and head back to my room. One more argument erupts from downstairs as I flop down into my bed and pull the covers over my head. That’s just one more reason to hide in my room. My eyes drift shut and I fall asleep with Sparkle by my side.
The next day, I groggily get out of bed and put my shoes on. Great. I’m still wearing my clothes from yesterday. I look to the clock and realize that it is 10:30 a.m.! Although I don’t have any plans for today, I still hoped I’d get an earlier start than this.
I brush my hair and my teeth and go downstairs so I can take Sparkle out to go to the bathroom. After mumbling a “good morning” to my mom, I head for the door. Sparkle races out the front door ahead of me, eagerly pulling on her leash to smell what’s new in the neighborhood. While she does her business, I look at Jake’s house.
Jake is this boy that lives a across the street and is my age. He seems pretty nice (not to mention kind of cute), but my shy side gets in the way when I try to talk to him. I wish I could make more friends, but I don’t know how to overcome my shyness. I sigh and trudge back inside with even more problems now than before.
Later that day, we go to the grocery store. My mom takes us to come with her to buy some things we have run out of, such as pasta and green beans. I wish we could be like a normal family and eat REAL FOOD. I just wish she knew how to make something else! I unhappily trudge along beside her and reluctantly read the shopping list to myself:
Pasta X 5
Beans X 5
“Mom? I don’t mean to sound rude, but why do we ALWAYS have to have beans and pasta for dinner? I mean, they’re fine to eat every once in a while, but every night?” I ask her, trying not to sound as annoyed as I really am.
“Cathy!” She scolds. “Be thankful for what you have. Some people have no food at all and the thought of eating beans and pasta every night would delight them.”
“Yeah. But we’re not delighted.” Jason complains, rolling his eyes.
“Jason, what did I tell you about rude comments?” Mom scolds Jason.
“I don’t care what you think. You won’t let me go out with my friends! You won’t let me do anything that I want to! And don’t tell me about not saying rude comments ONE MORE TIME. IF YOU DO, I WILL RUN AWAY!” Jason yells right in the middle of the pasta aisle.
Some of the people standing near us back away or leave the aisle. My face turns red as I wonder why Jason has to be so rude. We all head to the checkout lane, silent and embarrassed.
“I’m giving you a dollar each to buy a candy bar.” Mom says, trying to break the silence as she hands us each a dollar bill.
“Yeah!” Jason says, pumping his fist and jumping into the air.
Priscilla chooses a caramel candy with peanuts. Jason chooses a chocolate bar. I stand there, staring at the candy and thinking about which one I want. Hmm. Do I want the chocolate with caramel candy or the mint and chocolate candy? Just then, my view turns to a plastic container with a bright orange lid, which is sitting near the part of the cash register where the receipts come out. There is a piece of paper taped to the outside that says “DONATE TO THE ASPCA TODAY AND SAVE AN ANIMAL” My gaze turns to the dollar in my hand and I know what I must do. In what seems like slow motion, my hand glides over to the container and shoves the dollar into the narrow hole of the plastic jar.
“Thanks for your contribution.” Says the cashier.
“Yeah.” I mumble quickly without looking at him.
On the way home, I picture a starving, hurt dog. Hurt on the inside, just like me. In my life, things were pretty easy for me, until recently. Everything was easy until Jane moved away. Now it seems like my whole life is just one big pain. I think back to my image of the starving dog, and my dollar helping to make it whole again and to find it a home. That makes me smile, a rare event.
I am in my room, waiting for…well, really nothing. The sun is setting quickly and my room is getting dark, so I decide to turn on my lamp. I sigh as I sit back down on my bed and stare out my window. The sky is dark bluish, but there is a slight pink glow in the sky left from the sunset.
Life is so boring and uneventful. There’s nothing to miss out on even if you mope around all day.
Moments later, the phone rings downstairs and I hear Mom answer it. I can’t make out what she us saying, but I can hear that she’s talking. A few minutes later, Mom opens the door into my room. She stands in my doorway for a second, then comes in and sits down on my bed next to me. Tears are welling in her eyes and she slowly puts her arm around me. She closes her eyes, opens them, and seems regains her composure.
“I just received a very sad phone call.” Mom says, taking a deep breath, almost like she’s preparing me for the news.
Oh no! It must have to do with Grandma! My blood goes cold as I freeze, dreading what is coming.
“It was Uncle Mike. He said Grandma feels that she will be dying tonight or early tomorrow morning. All of us will be going to say goodbye to her. Be downstairs in 10 minutes.”
This can’t be happening! My mind races in all directions as I try to gather my thoughts enough to get ready. I need Grandma to talk to, and when she is gone, there won’t be a person in this world who understands me.
As Mom leaves the room, my eyes are blurred with so many tears that I can hardly see and my heart feels hollow and empty. I distractedly run the hairbrush through my hair and pat Sparkle on the head before solemnly leaving my room.
I head out to the car holding my fuchsia pink purse. A million thoughts are crossing my mind and I feel so confused.
My grandma can’t be dying tonight! There were so many things I wanted to do with her that now I will never be able to do! What will I do without her? I need to be able to talk to her about my problems, I need to hear her words of comfort and understanding.
Dad gets into the driver’s seat and Mom gets into the passenger seat. I sit in the seat behind Mom, while Jason and Priscilla get into the seats next to me. We drive along in silence, none of us talking or showing emotion.
As we drive on through the dark streets, the normally hopeful looking street lights are hopeless looking. The feeling of impending disaster haunts us the whole trip.
We pull into grandma’s driveway next to Uncle Mike’s blue convertible. The sense of impending doom is replaced with apprehension.
What do I say to her? How can I summarize what she means to me in such a short time? I need to remember every single detail of this meeting. I need to make sure that Grandma’s face and voice are engraved in my mind so that I’ll never forget them.
All of us solemnly get out of the car and head for the door without saying a word.
My grandfather, Grandma’s husband, died a few years ago. She hasn’t been the same since. She lived by herself after that, but recently Uncle Mike came down from Illinois to stay with her and take care of her.
Dad reaches out and knocks on the green wooden door. Uncle Mike opens the door. As he nods a hello to us, a tear runs down his tired looking face.
We head through familiar rooms that will soon be unfamiliar without Grandma and continue through the house and into her pink bedroom. A four-poster bed with a white lace canopy cradles Grandma’s pale, thin form. The pink floor lamp illuminates the room nicely, but the lighting is bittersweet. I look and see Grandma just laying there, staring at the ceiling with a vacant look in her eyes.
“Grandma?” Priscilla asks tentatively, stepping forwards towards Grandma’s bed.
Grandma realizes we’re here, and weakly exclaims, “Oh Sweeties!”
“We came to be with you and to let you know just how much we love you.” Dad says softly.
I listen to his voice and cherish it. It is one of the few times he doesn’t sound angry or annoyed.
We talk to Grandma for a few minutes, exchanging tears and stories. We talk about memories and how much we will miss her. We talk about our love for her and how much she means to us. After a while, Grandma looks at us and says,
“I’m getting tired. How about you guys leave and go get some dinner.” She then smiles contently, like she’s at peace once again.
We now know that we will have to say our final good byes.
“Goodbye, Mom. We’ll miss you. I’ll always remember you. I love you.” Dad says with a sad smile and there are tears in his eyes.
“Yes. Goodbye, Mother. We’ll always love you. Thanks for everything.” Mom agrees.
What do I say? It is the last time I will ever see Grandma. How can I explain it all in a few sentences, and without bursting into tears? I choose my words carefully.
“Bye Grandma. You taught me a lot and I’ll never forget you. Thanks for listening to me all of these years. You meant so much to me and always understood me. I love you.”
I look into her blue eyes, and see a look of love and contentment.
I realize I’m not just looking at her, but into her soul.
“I love you. Bye.” Priscilla says simply, her voice filled with emotion.
“Bye Grandma. Thanks for always making my favorite kind of cookies. I love you.” Jason says with a sad grin.
We hug and kiss her, each of us making our last memories of her. I remember the flowery smell she always had on her. How her arms feel hugging me. That safe grasp, telling me everything would be okay. But now, those qualities will only exist in our minds. This was the last time we would ever see her alive.
There were so many things I longed to tell her that I never got a chance to do. Although I’d thanked her and told her I loved her many times, I still felt like I hadn’t said it enough. I wish I could have shown her just how much she means to me. But now, only seconds away from leaving, I have missed my chance. Dad touches Grandma’s hand once more, and then turns to leave. Mom, Priscilla, and Jason follow him close behind. I walk along behind all of them.
“Cathy. I want to tell you something. Privately.” A weak voice calls from the bed.
Grandma has something to tell me, and me alone.
I come back to see what she wants. My family heads into the living room to wait for me. I shut the door and sit on the edge of Grandma’s bed, stroking her hand. It feels so lifeless, so frail, and so cold. Grandma stares at the ceiling and says,
“When I was about your age, Cathy, I didn’t like my life, or how I was. I found it impossible to change. I even considered ending it. Life didn’t seem worth the pain. But then, these things started happening.”
“What kinds of things happened?” I ask, very curious to see where this story is going.
“Time travel. Strange visions, clouds. Seeing the past, present, and future. Things like that. And I called them ‘Strange Occurrences’.”
“What did they do, Grandma?” I am now wondering why she is telling me this. Is she telling the truth or going nuts?
“I didn’t know at first, but as more and more of them happened, I learned something about myself. It was…Oh, I’m so sorry dear. I can’t seem to remember right now.”
“That’s okay. Why are you telling me this?”
“I am telling you because they told me. They told me they are coming to you soon.” At that, she stops and her eyes close, but she is still breathing.
“Coming to do what?” I ask quietly.
As Grandma lies there, I try to etch every detail of her into my heart forever. The wrinkles on her face, the way of her white hair, the kind smile upon her lips.
“They are coming to change…” Grandma continues, her eyes still closed.
‘Coming to change what?’ I wonder to myself. Will I ever hear what she wants to tell me?
“Your life!” Grandma’s eyes flash open then close once more. That sudden burst of energy is gone, and she just lies there, almost as if she is sleeping. Her chest rises and falls with her breathing, so I know that she is still alive.
I kiss Grandma’s soft cheek for the last time, and leave the room. I glance at her once more, knowing it is the very last time I’ll ever see her. The finality of this moment is painful, but I know I have to be strong.
“Bye Grandma. I’ll never forget you. I love you.” Tears fill my eyes, as I know that those words will be the last thing I’ll ever say to her.