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I woke up slowly, wanting to savor every moment of sleep I could before my mom would drag me out of bed. I felt strange. Not sick, but different somehow. My eyes flickered, adjusting to the morning light which seemed more like a spotlight. I was propped up against a lumpy pillow, lying amidst a tangle of white sheets. That’s strange, I thought.
“Hello, Carmen,” my mother cooed. “You’ve been asleep for a long time. A few days, I suppose.”
“Hi,” I whispered, raspy.
“Do you remember anything from the past few days? About the surgery?” She posed.
“What surgery?” I asked while trying to place together a few, seemingly distant memories. “I feel weird,” I stuttered.
“Do you feel okay? Is it your head? Let me explain what happened. Maybe you’ll remember something.” My mom went into a long account of the cancer that invaded my brain and of the removal surgery. I remembered that part. Then she hesitantly told me the details of the surgery. Did I remember that it had been experimental? The doctors had been reassuring that nothing could go wrong. Tears welled in my mom’s eyes. Something happened during the operation. My mom paused.
“Spit it out, Mom!” I was angry that she was editing her words.
“Sweetie, the doctors removed the wrong part of your brain. It doesn’t threaten you in any way. They just removed your feelings. Well, not all of them. You still will be able to feel anger. But, it’s possible that since they didn’t remove all of your feelings, that you might regain some other feelings. Kind of like how a lizard can grow back their tail…”
My mom fumbled for words. “It would be much, much harder than that, though. It could take months, even years, before you could feel anything at all. I’m really sorry I put you through this.” My mother fought back tears. “There will need to be another surgery, but it can’t be done for at least a year. By then, the cancer might be out of control.” Her tears were coming easily now. I felt a swirl of thoughts envelope me. No emotions; except anger; could take months or even years to be able to feel anything at all; we can’t do another operation for a year or more…Normally I would have wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. I didn’t need too.
The next week I went to school. It was hard. My friends just stared at me like something was wrong with me. Anger pulsed through my every cell. I had so much work to make up that I didn’t know where to start. I was even angrier at the teachers for making me do the work. I had surgery! Couldn’t they just give me a break?
“Hey Carmen,” my best friend Catlin said as she walked over to my locker before lunch, smiling. She always smiled. “We missed you at the performance last weekend. It was really cool. Do you want to come to my house for a sleepover tonight? My mom said it was ok. It’s okay if you don’t want to, after the surgery and all…”
“Why do you always talk to me? You are the most annoying person I have ever met! I can’t believe I ever gave you a friendship bracelet. Talk about a huge mistake! I hate you!” I ripped the necklace off of her, threw it in the nearest garbage can, slammed my locker and walked away. I snuck a glance at her when I turned the corner and saw her fishing it out of the trash. I should have stomped on it instead, I thought. At least then she wouldn’t be able to keep it.
I didn’t want to face the pleading glances she would give me during the rest of my classes, so I decided that one more day of absence wouldn’t hurt so I was going to skip school. It was easy. All I had to do was walk out the side door when no one was watching. I was out of the building before I realized that I had nowhere to go, because my mom was at home. I decided to walk downtown. That probably wasn’t the greatest choice, but it fit my mood. I couldn’t think of anywhere else to go where people wouldn’t recognize me.
The streets downtown were littered with trash and the telephone poles were covered with flyers. I ripped some off and threw them on the ground. A few grabbed my attention, but only one held my attention long enough for me to read it. It was bright orange and had simple, bold letters. ‘Animals with diseases need your help. Go to your local humane society or animal shelter for more details or call 1-800-PET-HELP now!’ It reminded me so much of my current situation. That just made me angrier. I ripped up the flyer and chucked it in the garbage, which was overflowing. I walked up and down the streets for hours, fuming. Sometimes people would give me funny looks, and I would shout at them. “Why are you staring at me? STOP STARING AT ME!” I continued until they ran away from me. Eventually I went back to school. It was at pickup time, so my mom was there to see me.
“How was your first day at school, honey?” She said on our way home in the car.
“Fine,” I mumbled.
“Caitlin’s mom called. She said that you can come over for a sleepover tonight. Do you feel like it?”
“No! I don’t want to see Caitlin ever again! She is the worst best friend ever!”
“Sweetie, will you please tell me what really happened at school today?”
“No!” I shouted, and that was the end of our discussion.
I waited until my mom went to the store to get some groceries, then I deleted the message the school had left for her. I called them back, imitating my mom’s voice.
“Hello, Patricia,” I said, hoping that the receptionist wasn’t a good friend of my mom. “My daughter had a doctor’s appointment this afternoon. I told her to tell her teachers, but I guess she forgot. I’ll make sure she does next time.”
“ Thank you for calling.”
That night, as I lay in bed, I thought about how my mom had said I could change my brain; make it easier to feel other feelings. I dismissed this thought, decided that there was nothing I could do. How could I do anything if I was constantly angry? That night, I dreamed.
I saw myself at school, sitting with my friends. It wouldn’t have disturbed me normally, except for one thing. I was happy. Compared to my recent behavior, I was hysterical. I woke in a shock, staying quiet only to not wake my mom.
I woke and crept over to the mirror. I couldn’t see my normal features. All I could see was the anger that had consumed my life and how it radiated from me. I hated myself for being so angry. It was horrible never being able to see anything but the faults in people. The mirror had shown me something, and I didn’t want to see what it had shown me. I lifted the mirror above my head and slammed it to the floor. It shattered into hundred of pieces, piercing my skin and crashing into the hard floor. The wall was unharmed, and I wanted revenge. I punched it, barely making a dent. Leaning back to survey the wall, all I could see was blood smeared on the once pristine white walls. My hands were a mess, with the skin scraped raw to the bone.
“Sweetie,” my mom said as she opened my door, “What happened?”
“Why did you put me through this? Why?”
“I’m so sorry sweetie, but you need to calm down.”
“I do not need to calm down! You don’t need to tell me what do! I am the boss of myself!”
“I wish I had never put you through this, and I am sure that somewhere did inside you have the capacity to help yourself get better somehow.”
“Get better? GET BETTER? How am I supposed to get better if all I ever am is angry? Why did you put me through the surgery? Why didn’t you just let me die? It would have saved you a lot of money, and I am going to die anyway. I’m not worth anything to you anymore. Why didn’t you just let me DIE?” After my tirade, I stalked out of my door, past my mom, and out the back door. I climbed a tree to try to escape from my mother. It did me no good. She pleaded with me to come down for most off the night, but when she finally relented and went inside, I was tormented by the face she had given me. It had been caring, sad, and it had looked like she was in pain. I had hurt her. And the pain was because of me.
I decided to do something then. I would not let this anger take over my life. I would make myself happy again, no matter what it took. I would be able to laugh, smile, and have fun. I could be sad if I needed to be. Whatever it was, it had to be better than this. I thought of the papers I had ripped up today, and the poster that had caught my attention about the pets with diseases that needed help. It was so much like me with my cancer. My surgery hadn’t worked. The right person hadn’t been there for me. Maybe I could be the right person for the pets. I could change their life. These animals needed help, and I was going to be there for them. They needed someone to care, just like me.
In the morning I told my mom I was taking a mental health day, so I walked downtown and looked for the flyer. I didn’t really know where I had gone, but luckily I found another one after searching for ten minutes. I was triumphant! I had found the flyer, and my plan was working so far.
Later that same day I reported to the animal shelter where they had a few dogs that needed therapy. I went to the front desk and a lady with flyaway red hair and oversized purple glasses.
“Hey, pumpkin. My name’s Teresa. You here to help those doggies out back? ‘Cuz we’re going to need all the help we can get.” She had an accent that made her sound like a hippie babysitter who would let you do whatever you wanted. It annoyed me. I was surprised that she didn’t ask why I wasn’t in school.
“Hi. Yes, I’m here for that.” I glared at her.
“Are you one of them emo kids? You’ve got an awful lot of scrapes. Them look like you did that yourself.”
“Is this part of the application or are you a high school dropout that asks too many questions?” I tried to be polite, but I failed.
“The application forms are right there. When you’re done give them to me. And we’ll need a parent to sign it. Thanks,” she said with a cheesy grin.
I pushed open the front door, went behind the car closest to the bus stop, and forged my mom’s signature. I had no idea what it looked like, but it was close enough so I hurried back to the front desk. I slid it across the counter. Without even looking up, Teresa pointed to a back door, and I was on my way. There was a long row of old, shabby looking kennels. I was greeted by a worn-out looking woman named Tina. She glanced at the form, thought for a second, and began speaking.
“There are lots of dogs left, but since you are under 18 I cannot let you work on any of the ones that have diseases that might give you an infection. There are only two that you can work with, and I’m working with one of them. Anyways, that leaves Darcy. He’s in the last kennel. Have fun!” She said sarcastically.
“Oh and by the way, he has a brain disease. He will most likely die soon unless he gets surgery. We don’t have enough money to pay for it so he’s stuck here for now.”
“Uh…thanks. Bye.” I walked hesitantly down to his kennel. The door opened with a creak, and then got stuck in the dirt. I slithered my way into the miniscule stall.
There Darcy ran up to me. He jumped up on my leg and licked my knee.
“Stupid dog!” I shouted, and kicked him. “Get off of me!” He ran into the corner and began to circle me.
He growled his war cry, and attacked, biting my shorts and pantsing me. I pulled them back up quickly, smacking him on the mouth. He bit me harder this time, pressing his teeth against my cuts. They were painful now, cracking and ripping the skin. I pushed him hastily against the wall, and ran out, slamming the door.
“I’ll be back soon,” I called to Tina, and ran off.
I didn’t have the courage to go back until Saturday. This time I was prepared. I wore pants with a belt, gloves, and I asked Tina for a leash before Darcy saw me. He jumped up on my knee again and started to nibble me, but I stayed calm and slipped the leash onto his collar.
We went for a walk together, balancing on some invisible line of trust and hate. I left on a good note, with no fights between us. I decided to come back the next weekend.
“Tina? Is it okay if I come back next Saturday?”
“Sure. Do you want to stay with Darcy? I could give you another dog, if you would like…”
“No, I think I’ll stay. See you soon. Bye.”
The next week went by quickly with all the makeup work I had to complete and school. Caitlin and I still hadn’t made up, and my mom was getting nervous. From the first time we had met, this was the longest we had ever not been best friends.
The next weekend I got to give Darcy a bath. He was a beagle, and although I hadn’t noticed it before, he was really cute.
“Tina? Why did no one ever adopt him? He’s actually really sweet, when you get to know him.”
“I guess nobody wanted to pay for the surgery to help him. Even if they did pay for it, he might die anyways from an infection or from a part of the disease that they missed. It’s really quite sad.”
Over the next few months I became more sick. I went to school less frequently and eventually quit totally. I would stay at home, beating myself up over my anger management problems. The rare occasions that I got to see Darcy were like little pieces of heaven.
On my birthday my mom gave me a special present. She took Darcy to the animal shelter to get the surgery for the brain disease. The doctors said it went fairly well. She brought him home in a little box. It said: Please open quickly! I don’t have much air in here. It was stamped with a paw print. I ripped it open, and out came a very drowsy looking Darcy. I gave Darcy a hug. It was the closest to happiness I had been since before the operation.
The next months flew by extremely fast. I decided that I didn’t want to be held back so I did all my school work. Caitlin brought it all to me, since we made up and were pretty good friends again. I was still sick, but only 3 months were left until my operation.
As it turned out, I would only need the operation for my cancer, not my anger problems. Darcy had brought out the best in me. Somehow he was able to dissolve my anger. For the first time in months, I realized I was beginning to feel something more than anger. Love. It had snuck up on me so fast I hadn’t realized that it was there. When Darcy was near me, my anger was quieted and my heart expanded. The scars on my hands healed with time, just like the scars on my heart. I was filled with hope that my feelings would come back. And then I would be truly happy.