The sunset is a wonderful thing. Crimson, amber, and tangerine beams are thrown into the dusty sky, its beautiful colors embracing the heavens gracefully. A lustrous orb of blazing flames sinks steadily beneath the horizon, bright pink wisps of clouds partially cloaking the sky.
And yet sunrise is a new beginning. The sun blooms on the horizon, golden petals stretching ever outwards into the rich blue. It is the brilliant flower of the sky that warms our days. It is the invitation to a new day.
I debated the two as I sat cross-legged in my family's meadow, stretched luxuriously across a blanket. The meadow was a glorious expanse of grass and meadow flowers, grass rustling gently in the breeze. There was a narrow brook flowing through it, choked with weeds. Tall water-mint with pale lilac flowers, like dozens of tiny bells, were growing at the edge of the brook. I sat up and blinked my eyes multiple times, eradicating the black dots that danced in front of them. The sun sank lower and lower, and I couldn't be happier anywhere else. Of course, I wished to see the sunrise perfectly, but when you're in California, about as west as you could go, you only see rays of golden light peeking above the horizon, diminishing the blue of night.
I decided to go back to gather my things and head up the narrow path that lead to my house. Through the glass windows, I could see my sister, Danielle, being swung in circles by mama, giggling endlessly.
She had eyes that shined like pebbles washed by the ocean waves and a smile that ignited inner laughter in all who saw. For Elle, happiness is simple. It's hugs with mama and playing "let's pretend." It's an uplifting story at bedtime and the knowledge that me and mom have life all taken care of. Food is always available; she has a comfortable bed. She has friends to play with. We walk in the meadow and splash in the creek. She doesn't care what the time is unless she's hungry. Sure, she throws a fit when her brain can't understand her world; I'm sure of that because I still do it too. Sometimes she screws her face up and stomps her feet, goes red in the face and waves her hands; but then my tantrums don't look pretty either - not that she ever sees them. I want to learn from her how to be happy again, I want to see the world through her eyes. If you showed her a gold coin or a kitten and asked her to pick one, she'd take the silly cat every time. There's a simple wisdom there, and I love it.
In my home is the scent of lavender, the delicate blooms in one of mama's old jam jars. The perfume brings out the delicate purple hue to the walls, the very same shade that is the color of spring forget-me-nots in the morning light. I never aspired to a large home, preferring cozy and friendly. It is the perfect space for my needs and many of my wants. It is my “cottage” in the sky, furnished with everything rustic, the old being a stage for my new creations, new paintings daubed on perfect squares of canvas. A space is just space until you bring your own personality to it, make your mark, express what is important to you.
"How was it?" mama asked, flinging my sister over her shoulders as Elle shrieked with glee.
"Normal. I finished the last Harry Potter book."
"That's what, the 12th time now?" mama asked, chuckling.
"13, at least," I replied, a smile tugging at my lips. "Hey Elle."
"Hi Natalie! Look what mama helped me make today!" She shoved a very bad drawing of us: her, me, and mama.
"Why are you showing me this?" I asked, raising an eyebrow, and Elle's smile sank to a frown.
"Huh? Mama said I could hang it on the fridge." And with that, she darted off to the kitchen to hang up her masterpiece.
"Natalie, she's 6. Let her be," mama said, and I sulked all the way to my room.
I awoke to the sun pouring into my room. That's weird. I thought. It's never that bright in the morning. I blinked many times, getting used to the blinding light. And that's when I saw it.
The sunrise. The sun. Rising. In. The. West.
This must be a dream. I told myself. No way could this be true. I raced down the steps, two at time. "Mama?"
"Yes, Natalie?" mama replied, not looking up from the scrambled eggs she was making.
"Th-the sun. It's rising. In the west." I stuttered.
"Hm? Honey, I think you must not have gotten enough sleep. The sun is rising in the east, like it always has."
I gritted my teeth. What was going on? I dashed through the kitchen, receiving a "No running in the house!" from mama, hopped over our couch, and yanked the front door open. Light pooled through the doorway. I let out a sigh of relief as I saw my best friend, Liv, skipping down my driveway towards my house. If no one else would believe me, she would. Behind her was an old, run-down house that looked like it would fall apart any second. But I took my thoughts off of it and focused on Liv.
Liv was the loudest voice in the room wherever she was. He conversations were buoyant and intended to be heard. On every subject she was opinionated and if you didn't agree with her, she wasn't angry, she just pitied you for not understanding the “correct” way to think about it. But if a friend, or even an acquaintance, was in trouble she was right there with both boots on. In any crisis she took charge, steered the most efficient course through the problem and never stuck around for any "thank you". You could forget to call her for a month or three and still she'd be happy to talk to you. It was like she had been born without the ability to harbour a grudge, though I suspect it's in there, perhaps reserved for people she expects more from.
She had chestnut brown hair with blonde highlights, nowhere near the point of being black. It lay on her shoulders like a waterfall flowing mildly; flaming as bright as a sunrise. The breeze blew through her curls, straightening them into waves that whipped about behind her. From under side bangs shone eyes the color of a dazzling emerald green, which traveled uneasily from one person to another. No one couldn’t help but notice that they glistened every time she moved them. They were the ones that seemed to draw you into a daze; not letting you go. Her eyes seemed to shine in the sunlight, but hide in the darkness. Below them is a nose so freckled that the brown splotches overlapped much like autumn leaves after harsh winds blew. Her smile was warm with a hint of shyness and her lips were like a frozen rose, dangerous but beautiful. I envied her.
"Hey, Nat!" she yelled.
"Liv. You won't believe how happy I am to see you."
"Uh, okay! What's up?"
"The sun. In the sky. It's literally up, like in the west." The words tumbled out of my mouth like water out of a faucet.
"Nat, are you okay? Do you need to go for a swim?" She looked genuinely concerned, and I sighed, stomping my foot; tears formed in my eyes. What's wrong with me?
"Hey, hey. We don't cry. You'll get through this. Talk."
"I don't know how to explain it; the sun is literally rising in the west! That's what I see, at least."
Liv sighed. "Alright, alright. As a friend, I say that I can help you to try and figure it out. As an honest person, I say that I have absolutely no clue what to do," she laughed, and as her eyes twinkled and glistened in the light, I couldn't help but laugh too. It felt good, especially through this...this trauma.
"Thanks for the help, I guess." my laugh faltered, and reality set in. The sun had risen to about the middle of the sky by now; I had woken up somewhat late today.
"On a different note, I'm going to help some elders in town today. Want to come?" Liv asked.
"Hanging out with a bunch of old people? Ha!" I scoffed, and Liv frowned.
"I thought you would," she said. "But whatever, be selfish."
Liv bid me goodbye and left to go to town. As I stepped back into my house, went up the spiral stairs that creaked on every other step, and went into my room, I noticed something. My room was dimmer than usual, and I frowned. But then I remembered.
Of course my room wouldn't be lit up with the afternoon sun; it was on the other side of the house...for me, at least. I flopped onto my bed, letting the soft cushion comfort me. I sat up and put my face in my hands. All I could hope was that tomorrow, the sun would be back to normal, and that life would stay the way it had been before today.
I groggily opened my eyes as Elle burst into my room, jumping on top of me.
"Wake up, wake up!" she yelled, giggling. I glanced at my alarm clock. 7:49 a.m. Wow. I had slept through pretty much the entire day yesterday. But once again, the sun shone brightly into my room, making the soft yellow of my walls pop. I groaned.
"What's for breakfast?" I asked Elle, stretching my arms out luxuriously.
"Mama made waffles. They're yummy!"
After racing down our creaky steps and shoveling the waffles into my mouth two at a time, I raced out of my front door for the second day in a row. Today, I needed to run. Running had always taken my mind off things, given me a chance to relish the breeze in my hair and the clouds watching me from above. But when I reached the end of my driveway, I stopped.
A young boy sat in the yard of the old, falling-apart house. His hair was clumped up with dirt, and his shirt was tattered and torn in many places. The boy looked at me with his head askew on his grubby neck. His eyes were taking me in without moving and I knew behind those hazel irises there were calculations going on. It's odd to be regarded this way by a child half my height, but these kids in the back country are more grown up than most of our teens- aged not by years but by the mileage of life experience. Beneath the coating of the ever-present red dust are freckles. Cleaned up nicely, this kid would be every mother's pride.
His gaze finally returned to what he was playing with: a single wooden action figure. Without thinking, I dashed back to my house, grabbed an old stuffed animal that I never used, ran back down my driveway, and stopped short of the boy.
"Hey there. My name's Natalie. Here. You can have it; I don't use it anymore." I said, holding the rabbit out to the boy, breathing heavily from running so fast. Without a word, the boy cautiously reached to take the rabbit. He squished it, and then stuffed his face into the fuzzy stuffed animal.
"Soft," he whispered. But his head jerked back to me and he dashed into his house, clutching his new treasure.
I returned the next day, this time bringing a soapy washcloth and a towel. The sun was in the west again. But as I approached the boy, he scuttled back, fear in his eyes.
"It's okay. I just want to help you. Look." I rubbed the soapy cloth on my arm, then dried it off. "It'll help you get clean."
He slid towards me, and slowly held out his dirty arm. I tenderly took it, and scrubbed it lightly. His eyes grew as large as half-dollar coins as the dirt rubbed away and his skin was clean. I wiped away the extra soap with the towel, and he pulled his arm back, gazing at it in awe and wonder. He scrambled in front of me and sat down. I laughed, and spent the next 30 minutes washing away the grime. After I was done, he snatched the washcloth and the towel, then turned to rush back to his home. But before he reached the door, he stopped. He sprinted back to me and hugged me tightly.
"Thanks," he whispered.
The next day, I brought a deck of cards. I taught him how to play "war," and he giggled every time his card beat mine. After war, he snatched the cards and ran into his house.
"Natalie! Natalie!" The boy yelled, hopping up and down on his driveway. His hazel eyes were lit up with glee, sparkling in the morning sun.
"Hey! Did you use the cards?" I asked, and he nodded.
"I taught my sister how to play! She doesn't like it because I beat her every time. But she smiled, and she hasn't done that in a long time."
"Well today, I brought something different." His eyes darted all around me, searching for anything. I revealed a clean pair of clothes, freshly washed. They were Elle's, but they didn't look that girly; the boy launched himself at the clothes, and stuck his nose in them.
"They smell good."
He gave me another hug, then ran inside to put on his new clothes.
Over the next week, I returned every day, bringing games, snacks, and hygiene items like a toothbrush and toothpaste, a hairbrush, and a mirror. The sun still rose in the west.
He warmed up to me, and began to talk more. His name was Jamie, and he lived alone with his older sister. He was 7. Every day I looked forward to visiting him. He had come to trust me more, and once, while I was reading a book, he even fell asleep in my lap.
Then one day, the sun rose in the east.
I did a victory lap in my room, ecstatic that everything was back to normal. As I went to visit Jamie later that day, I realized something. The sun had gone back to normal after I had taken care of Jamie; after I had put someone else before me. I had just needed to open my eyes, to see that there are people in the world that needed help. Needed someone to come and support them. Needed a friend.