A Learning Experience

Standard

Last summer I went out of my comfort zone—about 7500 miles out of my comfort zone, to be exact. I went to the Dominican Republic. It was my first time out of the country (Canada doesn’t count!) and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Armed and ready for several Instagram pictures of palm trees, I set out.

I had no idea how much it would change my life.

I ministered to love-starved orphans and formerly abused children now in foster care. I cried with women who had been victims of sex trafficking and other abuse. I talked in broken Spanish at different villages to a variety of people whose joy put me to shame. I held three crying babies at once and wished I had more arms. I close my eyes and it’s like I’m back there again; I hear the excited chattering that I can only partially understand because my Spanish is pathetic at best; I feel the desperate crowding as children fight to be one of the ones who receive a hug, or the one who gets to hold my hand and lead me through the village, proudly showing me the hut that is their home. I can feel the panicked arms tightening around my neck when it’s time for me to leave the orphanage. I see the dark eyes pleading for one more hug, one more caress, one more, “te amo, bonita.” And I open my wet eyes and realize just how much I miss them.

I absolutely love being in college. I’ve learned a lot in the four years I’ve been working towards my finishing my undergrad, but I don’t think learning happens strictly in a classroom listening to a lecture. (I’m a former homeschooler. It’s in our blood to feel that way.)

I like having experiences that teach me, and I like writing about those experiences. I like when I read a book that makes me think. I can’t stand fluff literature. I very much believe in constantly learning and growing, and I like when my literature, whether it’s what I’m reading or what I’m writing, helps me to do so. I’m always looking for life lessons in everything. (It can get pretty annoying of me, actually.) Still, my writing almost always has a significant meaning deeper than the surface level. The project I’m working on for my senior seminar class is no exception. I’m really excited about it. I’m writing about what I’ve learned from the ruthless teacher named Life and I’m looking forward to sharing it. I’m doing a lot of research and a lot of reading, but that’s not all that’s necessary to learn.

Learning doesn’t stop when you’re out of the classroom. Sometimes, in fact, that’s when it can begin.

Here’s to adventures!

Early Dreams

Standard

I credit my lifelong love of reading and writing for leading me to be an English major with a concentration in professional writing while dreaming of being a teacher. I didn’t dress up and play professor, though, or line up all of my stuffed animals and teach them about the different feminist theories that can be pulled out of Kate Chopin’s work; my interest originally started because of a bet I won out of spite against my older brother.

I sat on my knees atop the plastic chairs in the waiting room and pursed my lips back at the fish in the aquarium. I liked going to my older brother’s orthodontist appointments; it was such an interesting, mysterious place with scary-looking instruments that made the most fantastic sounds. The sharp smell of latex gloves and bubble gum toothpaste was new and exciting. And, of course, the best part of all was you got to leave this magical place with braces. Tommy had all the luck.

I leaned back in my chair and sighed, knocking the toes of my cloth tennis shoes covered in butterflies together. The novelty did start to wear off after a while, especially because I couldn’t play rocket ship in the big chair. I picked up a book off the side table.

“Want me to read that to you?” My Mom offered.

I shook my head. “No, thanks—”

My brother laughed, cutting me off. “You can’t read! You just turned four. You haven’t even gone to school yet.”

I scowled at him. Big man Tommy thought he was soooo grown up, just because I was the youngest and he got to have sparkly jewels on his teeth. He wasn’t so cool.

“I can, so,” I defended myself stoutly.

“Cannot,” he retorted.

“Can, too.”

“Prove it.” He selected a bright orange book from the table and held it out to me. “And no Arthur Gets Glasses or Dress Up like Mommy. I know you have those ones memorized. It has to be a book you’ve never seen before.”

“Leave her alone,” Mom chided gently, but I snatched the book from him and defiantly tossed my untamable curls over my shoulder. I’d show him.

Examining the cover of the book, however, my heart began to sink a little. I had never seen it before, and, to be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure I could read. I had never tried it before, but how difficult could it be? I’d been read to for hours and hours. Besides, I wouldn’t admit I was unsure of myself now for anything. The cover had a joyous figure jumping up and down in the background. A more dubious fellow was in the foreground, apparently very displeased with his meal. I looked at the words printing out the title and reminded myself to try to sound them out, as I’d heard my Dad tell my older sister: “Green Eggs…and Ham.”

“You just guessed the title based on the picture,” Tommy scoffed.

“I did not!” I tried to hide my thrill over apparently having read it correctly. “I honest to goodness read it.” I paused for effect. “So there.”

“Keep going, then,” he challenged.

“Fine.” I nonchalantly opened the book, feigning confidence. I’d read this whole thing if it killed me. I took a deep breath and carefully sounded out, “I am Sam. Sam I am. Do you…like green eggs and ham?” I paused for a moment to glance up at Tommy. He was frowning. I smiled. That was a good sign. Encouraged, I continued uninterrupted, my triumph growing with every word. Look at that! I guess I really could read! I enjoyed my victory and the story was pretty entertaining, too, despite the sourness of the doubtful figure in the story. What a crab. Sam I Am was just trying to be nice and share what he loved. The cranky guy did end up liking the green eggs and ham, anyway. I was sure that’s what would happen with Tommy if he just gave Barbies a chance.

“See?” I said triumphantly, thrusting the book back into his hands. “You thought you’d prove me wrong, but I proved you wrong. I am Kate. Kate the Great.”

He stared at me, open-mouthed. The hygienist called his name and he started to go, but turned back. “Mom, she can really read!”

My Mom was speechless, apparently just as surprised.

“’Course I can,” I said lightly. “I tried to tell you.”

He left, still shaking his head, and I resumed making faces back at the fish. Maybe later I’d try my sister’s copy of Little Women.

fe5a9880f899c47cf29e2860030d3ff1

Mistaken Hope

Standard

“It’s going to snow today,” Mrs. Temple announced.

I glanced at the date on the calendar—July 17—and then out the window, where the heat was shimmering off of the pavement. I remember once when we were first dating, David had said summers in Arizona were hot enough to cook an egg on the sidewalk. I had laughed at what I thought was his joke, and he had gotten angry. He sulked for days after that, refusing to speak to me until I had apologized profusely, multiple times, and he felt I had served my sentence.

I turned my attention back to Mrs. Temple. “Do you think so?” I asked.

She nodded, swinging her feet as she sat in her favorite chair in the visitor’s lounge. “I can feel it in my bones. My bones never lie.”

There was reason to believe old Mrs. Temple was mistaken. Suffering from dementia but in perfect physical health, she had been living at Cherry Tree Nursing Home for the past six years, longer even than I had been employed there. She could tell me stories of working in Europe as a nurse during World War II, yet couldn’t remember her own name at times.

I watched her now as she hummed a toneless tune, twitching her fingers and swinging her feet. She always sat in that same chair; she refused to sit on the couch or on one of the plush armchairs. No, Mrs. Temple always sat on the sturdy wooden chair that directly faced the door where visitors would enter to come visit their loved ones.

“You weren’t here yesterday,” Mrs. Temple remarked, turning slightly in her chair to look at me.

I looked up, surprised she’d noticed, let alone remembered. “No. I had to take David to the doctor.”

“Oh, my; what a shame,” she said, though she had no idea who David was. “Is he all right now?”

“Yes,” I replied absently. “He’s okay.” I had spent the weekend in bed with the flu, and neglected to clean the house. David was furious when he returned from his business trip, and had screamed at me until he lost his voice.

“Are you growing out your bangs, dear?” Mrs. Temple asked me suddenly.

I nodded, trying hard to keep up with her usual sudden changes in subject. “David didn’t like them.”

“Oh,  that’s too bad. You looked so pretty with bangs.”

I forced a smile. David was furious when I came home from the salon with bangs without having consulted him first. The growing strands of hair hid the mark he had left on the side of my face.

“Well, anyway, we like to keep our men happy, don’t we?” Mrs. Temple asked me, as if confiding a secret. “Even if it means giving up something we would have liked.”

“Yes,” I murmured. “We do.”

Satisfied, she turned back to her humming and feet swinging. I tried to get back to my paperwork, but Mrs. Temple looked at the watch on her wrist that no longer worked, and informed me, “My son’s going to come visit me today. He loves me.”

There was reason to believe old Mrs. Temple was mistaken. Benjamin Temple hadn’t been to the nursing home since he had dropped his mother off all those years ago.

I simply smiled at her. “That will be nice,” I said.

“He will,” she insisted. “You wait and see.”

Becky had come in to take over my shift, and gave Mrs. Temple a sympathetic look. I nodded sadly. “How sad she still holds out hope he’ll change,” I whispered to her.

She nodded sorrowfully as I picked up my purse. I touched Mrs. Temple’s shoulder as I passed by. “You take care, okay?” I told her.

“Oh, yes, yes, yes,” she replied rapidly, patting my hand with her papery one. “Benny will take care of me. He cares about me. He loves me.”

I squeezed her shoulder and started to turn away, but she grabbed my hand. “You…” she paused as if she was struggling to find the words. “You—You shouldn’t…” she stopped, and I crouched down to face her, waiting patiently for what I was sure would be some nonsense advice.

She took my face gently in her hands and stared squarely at me. “Don’t throw your life away.”

She held my gaze with those soul-searching eyes for a few moments longer before patting my cheek and settling back in her chair. Dazed, I slowly rose and headed towards the door.

“Oh, and dear?” she called after me.

I turned.

“Button up tight. It’s chilly out there.”

I exchanged a glance with Becky as I headed out the door into the 107-degree summer day. The heat made it hard to breathe, and I groaned when I reached my car and found the front tire flat. I didn’t have a spare. David didn’t like to spend money on unneeded things. I pulled out my cell phone and dialed his number. He would take care of me.

“What?” he demanded as soon as he picked up.

I winced. It was Friday. Friday evenings he liked to have his friends over, and he didn’t like to have that interrupted.

“I…my tire is flat,” I choked out in dread.

“Speak up! I can’t hear you!”

“My tire!” I raised my voice slightly, but not enough so that I could be accused of being disrespectful. “It’s flat. I don’t have a spare. I—“

“Are you—” David let fly with his favorite expletive, “—kidding me? Are you kidding me, Hope?”

“I’m sorry,” I said softly. “You told me I didn’t need a spare because they were so expensive—”

“And now you’re gonna blame me? You’re the one who was stupid to get a flat, and you’re trying to put the blame on me? Nice, babe. That’s classic.”

“I’m not blaming you,” I whispered. “I’m sorry. What do you want me to do?”

“It’s Friday!”

“I know,” I answered. “Your friends are over, I know.”

He huffed out his breath, and I bit my lip as I awaited his instructions.

“Walk home,” he ordered. “It’s not far. You’ve done it before.”

I slumped against my car at the thought of an eight mile walk home in this heat. “But—”

The click in my ear signaled that he had hung up on me.

I sighed and retrieved the running shoes I kept specifically in my trunk for this purpose. As I removed my heels and tied my tennis shoes over my nylons, my engagement ring sparkled brightly in the sun. I examined it for a moment before getting to my feet. David loved me, I knew. I could just be difficult. He would change, especially after we got married.

There was reason to believe that I was mistaken.