She was a girl who believed. A girl with freckles, and a spark that no one could put out.
She started out small, like all people do.
In the 7th grade, she had her first art class.
She learned to draw 3D shapes and paint landscapes. The lines flowed easily through her hands, her inspiration from the world around.
Then came 8th grade, where she was in pottery class. Her hands, small and delicate, shaped the clay with ease.
High School was next, and with a bigger school, came bigger inspiration. Her fingers itched to draw, and when she wasn’t put into art for an elective, her parents bought her a sketchbook and supplies.
Her grades fell. Instead of paying attention in class, she would spend her time doodling. Instead of studying for tests, she would make intricate art pieces that littered her bedroom walls. Parent Teacher Conferences came along, and report cards came out. She was a disappointment. To her teachers, to her parents, and to herself.
Instead of wallowing in despair, she used her stress to make more art. She made an entire wall dedicated to her feelings. Some of them were just canvases of angrily splashed paint, but she never threw away anything she made, whether it was a doodle or a masterpiece
Her sophomore year began. She met someone, a boy with a sweet smile and bright eyes. She filled a sketchbook with drawings of him, making sure she kept it hidden.
In Junior year, he asked her out, and she said yes. Her wall of feelings was filled with bright shades of yellow, orange, and pastel pink.
They spent a lot of time together. Sometimes they went to the movies. Sometimes they protested. He became angered with issues teens were facing that no one cared about.
But then, it was time for SATs. She crumbled with the stress, studying day and night. Her sketchbook stayed empty, and her eyes lost their sparkle.
He worried for her, told her to breathe, to draw, and to live. But she pushed him away, telling him she was fine. He told her to see a therapist, told her she was stressing too much. She finally agreed, knowing she couldn’t go on, not like this.
The old woman was kind. She wore colorful skirts and kept her hair in a bun. The girl told her everything, barely pausing for breaths.
She got some of her sparkle back, brought out her old paints. Her wall was now filled with green and white, because she was still learning what to feel. She still studied, but doodles found their way to the edges of her papers again.
April came, and the boy came down with something. He was coughing, and missed so much school. The girl was worried, and soon, her wall was blue and black, and her eyes red and dull.
The SAT came, but the girl’s mind was elsewhere. She went back to the old woman, hoping she could help.
The old woman comforted her, told her everything would be okay. But the girl knew they were lies, as she’d heard it all before.
Soon, he was in the hospital. The girl visited him every day, giving him flowers and drawings, trying to stay strong for him, but breaking down at home.
Senior year began, and she was a mess. It was freshman year all over again, but instead of art, her time was filled with worry and research, and visits to the hospital.
One day they called her, the nurses at the hospital. She was painting, home alone on a Saturday. They said he was really sick, that he was asking for her to come. She dropped her paintbrush and rushed to her car, her smock still tied at her waist.
She drove recklessly, nearly causing an accident at stoplights.
Just as she pulled into the driveway, her phone buzzed. Thinking it was him, she frantically searched for her phone, keeping only one hand on the wheel. She was in the middle of the parking lot, and everyone was angrily honking at her.
And then there was a crash. An anxious mom driving her unconscious toddler to the hospital had bumped into her windshield, sending glass flying in all directions.
The honking stopped, and everything went black for the girl.
When she awoke, she was in the middle of being put under anesthesia. She kicked and screamed, fought to stay awake. She needed to see him. He needed her, she didn’t care if she was hurt.
But soon, the chemical filled her lungs, and everything was black once more.
This time, when she awoke, she was too sore to move, too tired to think. But then the memories flooded her brain and she nearly jumped up right then. But then she saw her arm, elevated and in a cast, propped up on a white pillow. An IV bag strapped to her left middle finger; her olive nail polish chipping away.
Her breath caught in her throat as she held back a sob.
He might already be gone.
She whispered for help, her voice too weak to be louder. A nurse she didn’t see laying down rushed to her side, asking what she needed help with in a thick southern accent.
The girl’s voice was stronger this time, as she said “Help me up”
The nurse obliged, fluffing pillows behind the girl’s back. She needed to know where he was.
She spoke again to the nurse, who never left the room.
“I have--I have to leave.” she said, her voice cracking mid-sentence. She wished she wasn’t so helpless.
The nurse raised her eyebrows coming back to the bedside. She told her she couldn’t leave, not after a couple days' rest.
“I need to see him. Now.” the girl said, trying to sound strong and demanding, but instead wincing at the pain in her arm. When the nurse just shook her head, she decided if no one would help she would go on her own.
Carefully, eyes closed, when the nurse wasn't looking, she peeled off the bandage holding the needle in her finger. She bit her lip as she removed the needle, setting it down on the bed.
She attempted to lift her arm and nearly screamed at the pain.
But she knew she had to go, so she supported her hurt arm with her good one and got up from the bed.
Immediately, her head filled with dizziness, but she kept going, didn’t look back at the yelling nurse, didn’t stop to push her hair behind her ear.
She had memorized the hallway of the hospital by now, and went as fast as she could to his room. When she arrived, she used her good elbow to open the door, gasping at what she saw when she entered.
Three nurses and two doctors huddled around the gurney. They were yelling in every direction; they were so loud, they didn’t hear the door close as she walked in, cradling her arm.
“He isn’t breathing!!!”
“Really? It must just be his shirt moving up and down on his own then!”
“Both of you stop! A life is on the line here!”
The girl cleared her throat, causing everyone to turn with astonished looks on their faces. It left a small hole in the huddle for her to see what was happening.
His eyes were closed, and he looked peaceful. But his skin was pale, and sweat shined on his forehead. She ran to his side, pushing away all the nurses and doctors and kneeling beside the hospital bed. She held his hand with her uncasted one and began to cry, the tears running down her freckled cheeks in silence.
“Please….Please come back to me…”she whispered, laying her head on his heart. She could feel it ever so softly beating, but that didn’t mean anything to her. She wanted him to be wild again, playfully tickling her as she painted. She wanted him to wink at her again, to smile his sweet smile, and to be healed.
Suddenly, he coughed, his eyes weakly opening. The doctors and nurses were no longer there, at least not in his vision. All he saw was her, sitting there looking as broken and tired as he felt.
“I-I love you….”he whispered, ever so softly, his dry throat cracking as he spoke. The girl’s cry turned into a sob as she whispered,
“I love you too.” He smiled with sadness as his eyes drifted closed again. Soon the girl no longer heard his heartbeat, but she stayed by his side for a long time. The doctors and nurses left her to grieve. And she did.
After resting at the hospital, she finally went back outside, returning to her car, broken and dirty in the parking lot. She decided to walk instead. Her legs ached, but she became immune to pain, the hole in her heart too big to allow for any feeling besides despair.
When she got home that day, she found her old sketchbook, the one filled with drawings of him. She flipped through it, staining the pages with tears and smudging the ink.
In the weeks following, she was stronger than ever before. She honored him by supporting the things he had supported,by finishing the things he had started.
In college, she raised over 8 million dollars fundraising a program to help depressed teens, bringing a spotlight to the issues that he had felt were too ignored.
When that succeeded, she became a black rights activist, remembering his rage at the way people were treated differently just because of skin.
After starting protests and making speeches, she became a therapist, remembering the old woman who helped her so much so long ago.
That was only part time though, and she still remembered him.
She still cried at night, remembering his silly, sweet smile and bright eyes. She went to his grave every weekend, bringing fresh flowers. She would sit there and talk to him about her week, as if he was still there with her.
She ever so slowly mended the hole in her heart. She went back to painting and refilled her wall. This time, there was a rainbow of colors. In her mind, you didn’t have to be feeling one thing at once. Just because she grieved, it didn’t mean she couldn’t laugh. Just because she felt calm, it didn’t mean she wasn’t stressed.
She still keeps every art piece. She still has scars on her arms from the cast. She still has a very small, rarely noticeable, hole in her heart. Most important, she still believes, and that’s all that matters.