“BOOM! The starting gun was fired, and we started the race. We ran across the track, jumping over hurdles. As I sped over the finish line, I smiled. I may not have been first, but I did my best, and that’s what matters. I am Lily, and this is my story.”
The starting gun was fired, and we started the race. We ran across the track, jumping over hurdles. As I sped over the finish line, I smiled. I may not have been first, but I did my best, and that’s what matters. I am Lily, and this is my story.
Eight years ago, when I was four, my family and I were struck by a truck on the highway. The truck driver seemed drunk and didn’t notice our car when he was changing lanes. We tumbled off of the hill we were driving on. As we did, the window by me shattered. After that, everything went black.
I think I woke up in the hospital. I couldn’t see anything, but I sensed it all. The beeping of the machines, the groans of the other people in the hospital. I sat up in my bed. I heard a nurse say something to the doctor, who must have stayed with me.
“Can you see?” he asked me. I shook my head.
“The window broke when you fell down that hill. The particles of glass fell into your eyes. They blinded you. You are blind.” He sounded very sorry to say it.
“Where’s my mom and dad?” I asked. You see, I wasn’t that worried about my eyes as I was about my parents.
“Your mother is all right. We just need her to spend the night at the hospital for inspection, just like we need to do with you. As for your father… ” His voice trailed off in such a way that made me very squirmy inside.
“What happened to my dad?” I asked.
“He died right after the accident after jumping in front of your mother to save her.”
“I need my mom!” I cried.
So the hospital sent my mom in a room with me. We talked and cried into the night because both my vision and my dad were gone.
I was homeschooled because of my vision. My mother taught me everything I need, not just math and science, but other things too. She told me to be strong, and not to let anything get to me. She said that people who cry and complain are weak. To be strong, I needed to be willing to accept change. Though this seemed harsh at first, I understood, and her advice helped me a lot.
One fine summer day, when I was twelve, my mother told me to get ready quickly, and that we had to go somewhere. When I asked where, she said I was going to school. I thought she was kidding, so I laughed. Then my mom dropped the bomb: “I have enrolled you in the St. George’s School, a private school. So, I have set up a meeting with the principal, Mr. Ryland. He’s super nice, hopefully, and he will give you a tour of the school. Don’t worry, it’s only July, so if you don’t like the school, I could always cancel.”
“Why? I like staying with you,” I said. Did she want to get rid of me? I don’t want to be alone!
“Well, you’re an only child. I think that staying with other normal children can help you, and you can experience real life.”
“Just in case you didn’t notice, I can barely get through the house by myself! You expect me to get through a school!” I never lash out at my mom. I don’t know what came across me, but I was mad.
“Just take the tour, please,” she said.
“Fine,” I grumbled. So my mom helped me get upstairs and get ready, and then helped me come down and eat. She handed me something. It was long and smooth, and the top of it felt kind of squishy.
“This is a cane,” she said. You don’t need to use it like an old person, just every now and then, gently stick it out in front of you to see if there is anything in front of you. Just don’t hit anyone with it,” she laughed.
Hand in hand, we went into the car, and drove to the St. George’s School. We walked together to the main office, where a female voice greeted us, and told us where to go to get to the principal’s office.
“You ready?” I nodded. She opened the door. Inside was a man with a loud booming voice.
“Hey, Lily! I’ve been expecting ya! Are ya ready for the tour?” he yelled. He must have looked kind of strange too, because I felt my mom stifle a laugh. “So, yer mom’s told me all about ya! She said yer smart, and really good at mental math. First, I’m gonna take ya to the gym, then to yer homeroom, then to the other classes. After that, the performing arts center, also known as the stage, and then we’ll loop back to my office! You good with that?” Without waiting for me to answer, he led us out the office, and I felt a cool breeze come upon us that gave me goosebumps. His strong grip led my mother and me down the hall, down the stairs, into someplace that felt warm, sticky, and smelled like sweat.
“This is the gym,” he boomed. The gym’s emptiness made his voice even louder and echo a bit. “The track’s outside, and the pool’s by the locker rooms, but we ain’t goin there today. We’re focusin’ on the gym. Hey, you might even want to start runnin’. Ya never know.”
Why did he think I could run? Even if I wanted to, the coach would probably just keep me on the sides anyway. I would crash into the walls and other people. My dad was the family runner. Not me.
Mr. Ryland led us back upstairs into a room.
“This is Mrs. Olanski, yer homeroom teacher. She teaches math.” A much gentler, slender hand, which must have Mrs. Olanski’s, held mine and led me to my desk.
“I put your desk close to the door, so that you won’t have any problems with getting into your seat. Whenever we have a test, I will read you the questions, and write them down for you. Otherwise, you won’t be treated like a little kid.”
Mrs. Olanski is awesome, I thought. Usually, people like me are treated like babies and adults use that singy-songy voice. Mrs. Olanski, on the other hand, treated me like a human. A normal one.
“Come on, you! We don’t have all day to tour the school! Let’s go to the science room!” boomed Mr. Ryland. We said bye to Mrs. Olanski, and went to the next room.
“Hi, I’m Mr. Daren. This year, you’ll be learning about all sorts of cool stuff.”
His voice was smiling. It was deep, but not as deep and Mr. Ryland’s, and I liked it. It was also much quieter.
“It’s my first year here, too, so I’m just about as nervous as you are,” he whispered, probably to me. After that, Mr. Ryland led my mom and I across the hall to the English room. A fragile, wrinkly hand led me to my desk.
“I am Miss Bonnie. The English language is the most important thing to understand, for talking with the improper grammar can lead to many more mistakes in life, Ryan Ryland.” Her voice sounded dangerous.
I stifled a laugh. Miss Bonnie started talking to me back in her sweet old lady voice again.
“I love to teach. Children are the best things, next to the proper use of English, aren’t they, dearie?”
“Uh, I guess so,” I said. We went to history after that. Mr. Jenkins, the teacher, told me it was his retiring year. Then “the stage.” And then we left. School’s gonna be easy, I thought, before I went to sleep that night. I was so wrong.
Two months later, I found myself in the car, with my mom driving me to school.
“Stop biting your nails,” my mom said. “You’re going to bite your fingers off!”
I couldn’t help it. I was so nervous. I stopped biting my nails, but started again no more than three minutes later. My mom sighed.
“It’s going to be okay. You don’t need to worry.” But how could I not worry? So I stayed very worried.
I felt the car make a large turn and then stop. My mom helped me out of the car, and we walked to the school. She opened the door, and we walked down the hallway. Then, she let go of me.
“I need you to get used to walking without me, okay? Remember, I can’t always hold your hand now, honey. I’ll be right next to you for now.” Now, I was really annoyed. Couldn’t we have practiced this at home?
So I stumbled around until I found room 301, Mrs. Olanski’s room. I heard my mom whisper, “Bye,” and leave. Great. Now I was all alone too. I found my desk and sat down. The room was quiet. So I was.
Mrs. Olanski took attendance, and started teaching us. When we were supposed to take notes, she walked right over and whispered to me, “You don’t need to, until Miss Bonnie can help you start writing. For now, your mind is your notebook.”
Next, we had history with Mr. Jenkins, a man whose voice sounded so squeaky he was comparable to a mouse. He didn’t really care.
Then we had Art. I stunk. I mean, how does the teacher expect me to do stuff if I can’t even see my work and supplies?
When we had lunch, I found a table that was empty and sat down. As I ate my sandwich, I ignored the snickers of some students behind me until I realized I was sitting on something very cold and squishy. I immediately stood up and inspected what I had been sitting on, which only made the laughs behind me louder. It was an ice cream sandwich. One of the kids behind me said, “Are you blind?”
Without waiting for my answer, he shouted, “Hey, Alex! This kid’s blind!” I mumbled something in reply and tried to sit somewhere else, but they kept on following me. I ended up stumbling my way into the girl’s bathroom, where I locked myself into a stall and ate there. I cried a little too.
I sat in the back of the room in Science. Mr. Daren may have noticed, but didn’t say anything.
I sat out in gym. There wasn’t much to do.
In English, I again took the seat at the very back of the room. Miss Bonnie noticed and asked me if anything was wrong, but I denied.
Every day went on like this until the beginning of November. That’s when things changed. At lunch that day, something weird happened. Someone sat down on my table. I felt the table shake as they pulled their chair in. By now, the boys weren’t doing the ice cream sandwich thing anymore because I always felt the chair before I sat down. But they were still doing rude things to me. I figured it was one of them, so I stayed silent.
Finally, the silence was unbearable, so I said, “Okay, what do you want to do to me now?” The voice that came back to me was innocent, and not at all snarky, like the boys.
“Uh, hi, I’m Sophia,” the girl said. Oops. I apologized.
“Those boys behind me like to make fun of me, so I figured you were one of them,” I said.
“No problem.” She seemed nice enough, but I just didn’t understand why she wanted to be with me. She also wasn’t in any of my classes, so I figured she was new. “Are you new?”
“Yeah, I just started coming here last month. I used to go to a public school but as my mom said, the teachers were ‘horrendous.’” Sophia laughed.
“But why did you start coming here?” I’ve been kinda alone this whole time, so I was surprised anyone would want to sit with me.
“Well, I used to sit alone this whole month, then I noticed you were all alone too. I get how it feels too, so I came and sat. No biggie. So, why do you sit alone? There are lots of new kids here.”
I just casually said, “I’m blind.” She, for some strange reason, started laughing.
“Oh, god. The two disabled children meet. This is hilarious.”
I must have had a weird look on my face. I couldn’t tell.
“Huh?” That’s all I said. Huh?
She stopped laughing and whispered,”I’m dyslexic. I have dyslexia, a disorder that makes words seem to dance and flip and shake and move in any other possible way. So don’t worry, I get you.”
And that was the start of our friendship. Whenever those boys ever did anything to me, she stuck up for me. She was the best thing I ever could have gotten. Plus, I helped her with mental math.
One day, once we had sat down for English, Mrs. Bonnie walked up to me. I could hear heels clacking against the ground closer and closer to me until they stopped.
“I am going to teach you how to write. You won’t be able to read, but you can always write.”
Was she crazy? As if I could write. But oh man, she told me to stay an extra hour of school every day. When everybody left the room, I stayed in my seat. I was kind of grateful for that because I never walked, I kind of stumbled around until I felt the door. But she taught me. She told me that she put a stack of blank paper in my desk instead of the lined ones everyone got. Probably because I couldn’t find the line to write on. But by the next month, I knew how to write my letters neatly, print and cursive. And by the month after that, I could write. She also taught me to feel for the edges of the paper so I wouldn’t have crooked writing. That was really helpful. So now, whenever she asks us to write an answer in our notebooks, I can. At least on blank paper.
And whenever those kids bullied me, Mr. Daren somehow always noticed. Like, last week, that kid Alex had a cut, so he took off his bloody bandaid and was going to stick it on my food, but Mr. Daren noticed and took them to have a long talk with Mr. Ryland, who can be downright monstrous when he’s mad, apparently. All that happened when I was in the bathroom. Sophia told me.
Once I told Mrs. Olanski I could write, she said that was great and that I could start taking notes now. So I did. That wasn’t a problem anymore, because I didn’t have to worry about forgetting what I learned.
Mr. Daren sounded glad too, when I told him.
“Notes are important to write. The world of science is far too complex for a single brain to hold. We need reminders.”
Not bad. But it was true.
Once I went to Mrs. Bonnie’s room, she pulled me aside and gave me an iPad.
“Feel for the edges of the iPad so you know where it is. Tap on the left and it will repeat a word for you to write on the paper in front of you. Tap on the right and it will give you the next word to spell.”
So I worked on spelling for the next two hours. (I still stayed for the extra hour.)
Mrs. Bonnie gave one look at it, and sighed. “Spelling again tomorrow! Goodbye!”
Okay. So I apparently suck at spelling. Oh well.
The next day, Sophia told me at lunch that Mr. Jenkins had been looking at me all history.
“He was like, look at the board, glance at Lily, back to teaching, stare at Lily, teach a bit, look at Lily! He’s looking at you right now,” she whisper-yelled. “Did you do anything?”
“No, what would I do?” I was getting really nervous, and I could feel my palms starting to sweat. What did I do today? I walked into class, sat down, took notes, listened, and did everything I was supposed to, even though I couldn’t bear that squeaky voice of his.
“He’s literally staring at you while eating!” On an awkward scale from one to ten, I’d think this would be an eleven. A teacher is watching me shovel every mouthful of mashed potatoes into my mouth, I don’t know what to do, and Sophia’s whisper-yelling pretty audibly. I went into my best table manners, and pretend not to know that a creepy, old man was stalking me.
When I sat down for my extra hour of English, Mr. Jenkins walked in. I could hear his shoes squeaking and the sound of his cane hitting the ground as he walked. He was unmistakable.
“Hi, Miss Bonnie. Can I please have Lily for the extra hour today?”
Miss Bonnie hesitated. “But she is learning to spell!”
“I know, but this is extremely important. Please?’’
“Fine. Just today.”
Mr. Jenkins led me to his room and asked me to sit down. The second my bottom hit that chair, “Am I in trouble? I didn’t do anything wrong, I listened, took notes, and did everything I was supposed to, but why am I-”
“Whoa there! No, you are not in trouble. Just listen to me read this article.”
Current Medicine Today: Bionic Eye Helps Blind Teenager Regain Eyesight
Rose Decker, a girl living in South Carolina, had cataracts as a child, fully losing eyesight by the time she was ten. SCECA (South Carolina Eye Care Association) had developed a microchip to place in the eye that enables people suffering from blindness to see well enough to navigate around their surroundings. “I wanted to try it. Even if the operation fails, there won’t be any making my eyes any worse, because I’m already blind,” says Rose Decker, now nearing the age of eighteen. The operation was tested, and it worked. Rose Decker can now see, though she wears glasses. “I am really proud of all these scientists that helped my daughter to see, this will really help the blind people across America,” says Amanda, or “Mandie” Decker, Rose’s mother.
Mr. Jenkins finished reading. There was a long silence until my mom spoke up, who, unbeknownst to me, was in the room the whole time.
“So, what do you mean she can get this operation? It isn’t even affordable!”
Mr. Jenkins shocked us by saying, “No worries. Us teachers got together and set up a website which people can read and donate money for the operation. We raised $11,000, enough for the operation.”
I didn’t know what to feel. Hopeful that it would would work? Scared that it would hurt? Excited that I would see? Mixed emotions swirled around me like ghosts.
The doctors, Dr. Russell and Dr. Marshall, wheeled me into the operating room and put me on the operating table. They stuck a huge needle into me, saying it wouldn’t hurt. Liars. They drugged me with anesthesia and told me to count to ten. “One, two, threee, ffffoourrr…” Boom. And like that, I was asleep.
I came to about five hours later. I still couldn’t see, and I was about to start crying because the operation “didn’t work” when I realised there were bandages covering both of my eyes. Stupid anesthesia! I was still super sleepy, so I went back to sleep.
This time when I woke up, I heard my mom saying, “She’s up!” and hugging me as tight as hugs can be. She whispered in my ear, “Sophia is here.”
“How are you feeling?” asked Sophia.
“Sleepy,” I replied.
“When do you get those bandages off?” Sophia’s voice sounded cautious, like she didn’t want to harm me even though she was just talking.
“’Bout two weeks,” I replied. Then she left. Well, I just couldn’t wait.
I was staying in the hospital until my eyes healed. (They made a bajillion cuts in there.) Every morning, a nurse changed my bandages, but never gave me any time to actually see anything. But the day came. After what seemed like forever, Dr. Russell walked into the room, his shoes squeaking as he did so.
“Tomorrow, your bandages are coming off. I will contact your parents.”
The word parents just made me sad. It’s been awhile since Dad died, but I still haven’t gotten over it yet.
The next day, my mom was next to me, holding what smelled like a cake. My mouth watered. The doctor slowly removed the bandages. Color flooded my eyes. It felt like I was opening my eyes after a long sleep and that I was now awake. My mom was so much prettier than I thought.
I came back to school with a happy heart. There were rumors everywhere.
“Lily had to get her eyeball taken out!”
“Yeah, cuz she poked em with a fork while eating!”
“No, the doctor made her eyeball exposed to radioactive stuff so that healed her!”
“Come on, that only happens in Superman comics!”
But I didn’t let all this get to me. I sat down, and scanned the room, and the people in it. Instantly, I noticed Sophia, staring at me intently. I gave her a wave, beaming. She grinned back. She was real pretty too. Long, wavy, blond hair, and green eyes. Peter and Alex were both ugly. I’m pretty sure they were twins. Because they were equally ugly.
Mrs. Olanski took attendance, looked at me and smiled and gave me a thumbs up.
Mr. Jenkins did the exact same thing as before — look at the board, glance at Lily, back to teaching, stare at Lily, teach a bit, look at Lily. I didn’t mind. He was now my favorite teacher.
Ms. Turner, the art teacher just gave me a look, like she was challenging me to draw something good. I failed. Who cares?
Lunch was revenge time. I grabbed an ice cream sandwich, and broke it in half. I put it, ice cream side up, on Peter and Alex’s chairs. Squish. They sat down. Instantly, they looked back at me and scowled.
At gym, for the first time, I participated. I got so good at my sprinting that, after watching me for a few days, Coach James wanted me on the track team. Eventually, through months of practice, I became the best runner on the team. So, in late May, Coach James wanted me to run the annual race, representing the St. George’s School.
There were lots of people there, all different sizes, warming up on the dewy grass. I joined them. I remembered how good of a runner my dad once was. Now, I had to do well. Not for me, but for my father. Soon, we were all gathered at the starting line. The starting gun was fired. We all started sprinting, but I was a little surprised by how slow they were.
I looked around, feeling tired, but proud. I had just run 26.2 miles in three and a half hours. I crossed the finish line and looked back. There were a few people way behind me, but no one ahead. My cheeks were rosy red, and my face was covered in sweat. I imagined myself shaking hands with the president, and then him giving me a medal. There was a crowd of people at the end, screaming that I was first. But I didn’t see them. I saw my mom, standing there with tears of pride in her eyes. I realized, for the first time, that I was truly happy.