Saturday, February 18, 2012

Panda Bracelet

God, you're so ugly.

Only a few minutes into her walk the bitter cold was again biting through the thin layers of the jackets she wore. Shoving her hands into the small denim pockets, she tried to force the shivering to stop. She walked in the direction of the hospital, shopping centers and mall without any real idea of where to go. All that mattered was that she was not in that house right now.

Fighting back tears, she wished and prayed that maybe this time they would see that something was terribly wrong with her and fix it. It seemed, all her life she had known she was broken in a way no one understood. The torn flesh of her arm was testimony to that. Somewhere there had to be someone who knew.

Somewhere there had to be the hope that someone could tell her she was not all the horrible things she believed. Was there anyone out there who could wake her up from her nightmare and show her what it felt like to be someone that people could love and want?

Liar! Thief!

Those two words screamed at her, seeming to ricochet within her mind and heart. She had not always been that way had she? Was she born a liar and thief? There would be many nights in years to come that she would wonder. All those years ago, on that night when she knew she would forever be a liar and thief, did they know she was branded forever by that night? Did they know they had burned into her the knowledge that the lies were gospel truth, and the truth was the terrible lie?

This was not the same five year old who had dreamt of dots. This was not even the same child who walked home from the woods the day she knew she had become dirty. Though it was the same house with the same family on the same street in the same town, this was not the same child. The five year old who sat cowering against the balcony upstairs would carry the depth and pain of this night for nearly 30 years before finding someone to believe she was sorry.

It was all over a panda bracelet and a dollar.

The kindergarten class was going to the National Zoo for a field trip. The little girl was beside herself with excitement. They would all get to see the new panda bears that had recently come to the zoo all the way from China! The morning of the trip as mommy made her lunch she asked if she could have money to spend in the gift shop. The teacher had said that they would stop in the shop on the way out of the zoo and had encouraged the kids to bring spending money. "No." mommy had said. She did not need to waste money in the gift shop.

Disappointment was soon forgotten as she rode to the zoo with her classmates. They saw the pandas and were even allowed to spend extra time in the monkey house, her very favorite part of the zoo. It was a wonderful day.

The day at the zoo was nearing an end when they all met at the gift shop before leaving. The little girl burst into tears as all the other children eagerly went inside. Was she the only one to be left out?

The teacher, with her kindly face framed by a mass of silver curls, knelt down to ask the girl why she was crying. As the little girl sobbed and tried to talk, the teacher reached into her own wallet and gave the girl a one-dollar bill, telling her to go get herself something. Despite her disbelief, the little girl stopped crying. "Can I really?"

Maybe the teacher saw something in the little girl's face or perhaps she was only trying to share a secret gift. More likely she was trying to prevent having to deal with a class of five year olds wanting to know why the teacher gave something to one without giving to all, but as she gently turned the girl toward the shop she said "Go buy something and don't tell anyone I gave you the money."

Happily skipping to the shop she carefully chose her treasure. It was a small cuff bracelet with white enamel and pictures of pandas in different poses. It was beautiful and made even more special because it had been a gift from her teacher. She would wear it proudly in the few days to come, feeling each time she looked at it, the warmth of the look in her teacher's eyes when she had first shown it to her.
She had no idea of the storm to come.