Adorned with minimal make-up and shabby garments, she threw her unkempt hair back and entered the classroom late…again. Not a head turned her way, no one looked up, no one offered a greeting and no one noticed. Emily liked school okay, but getting there on time, getting there at all – was not a priority. In fact she missed her piano lab quite frequently, but natural talent permitted her to conquer weekly recitals with a great amount of skill and musicality. She easily sailed through the class and even impressed her not so impressionable teacher.
Emily was fifteen and drop-dead gorgeous, though you had to search through some stuff to discover her beauty. No one knew much about her and no one cared. She was intelligent, but quiet in a valiant kind of way. She had no friends to speak of, and remained a loner by choice. Teachers and students found her a bit of a mystery.
On the last day of class, attendance was optional. Most kids took this opportunity to sign yearbooks in the lunchroom or go the river, but Emily actually showed up. She came through the door fifteen minutes after class should have begun. No one was there…except Mrs. Smith. At the front of the room, Emily’s teacher was packing up boxes and putting things away for the year. Emily’s entrance startled her and she turned around abruptly:
“Emily, what are you doing here? I thought you’d be taking advantage of this free day and sleeping in!”
“My mom made me come today. She says there’s no such thing as a free day and I had to come and finish the year properly…so here I am.”
“So…do you have any big plans for the summer? Are you getting a job or anything like that?”
“No, I’m too young to get a job. Besides, who would hire a freak like me? I don’t fit in.
“Really… why do you say that? You’re bright, you’re talented…why don’t you fit in?”
Emily took a seat near the front. She stared down at her orange flip flops, wiggling her toes and clicking her feet back and forth.
Mrs. Smith didn’t force the issue and turned back to her packing while waiting for Emily to answer. The two had already exchanged more words in this meeting than they had during the entire quarter.
“I guess I don’t really want to fit in. Other kids are such dorks. I mean, all they care about is themselves. Have you noticed those big purses that girls carry? They need them for those huge mirrors they use to look at themselves. How pathetic is that?”
Mrs. Smith glanced at her own large bag, a leather number with piano keys on it. Is there a mirror in there? She hoped Emily hadn’t noticed.
“So what are you going to do this summer if you don’t work, and you don’t hang out with the…you know, dorky kids?
“I live near a life-care center. My grandma lives there and I have some other friends there, too! That’s where I like to hang out.”
Mrs. Smith was dumbfounded. “You have friends there?”
“Yeah, I go there every day and spend time with old people. They’re the best. They love me and I love them?”
“What do you talk about?”
“Some of them tell me all about their childhood, their families, hobbies…you know, stuff like that.”
Astounded at the maturity of this misunderstood teen, the teacher continued, “And that really interests you?”
“I love listening. Sometimes they don’t have much to say, so I just sit with them… maybe comb their hair or massage their hands.”
Mrs. Smith instantly gained a new respect for this perceptive student. “Why do you do it, Emily?”
“Kids my age just don’t get it. Someday, we’re all going to get old. The elderly are an incredible part of our society, yet we treat them like used up garbage and lock them up in old folk’s homes. I want to do everything I can to honor and encourage them. They are my life.”
The impromptu conversation was cut short by the ring of the bell. The two hugged before Emily parted, and Mrs. Smith sent Emily off with these words: “You are a most-amazing young woman, Emily – and your love and dedication for the elderly has truly blessed my heart.”
Cheerfully, Emily called out as she left, “Have a great summer Mrs. Smith. I’ll be sure to come visit you in a few years!”
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