Nelly Ramos-Laguna – “The Face of Beauty”

    A tall city landscape, rising higher. The blue and green lights flashing throughout the night. A cold breeze blowing, silently like an invisible presence, across the faces of the 70,000 people in the stadium. The wind on the verge of uncomfortable, but with the heat of all the sweaty bodies, it was a nice refresher.

Behind the rowdy noise of the crowd, Laura sat watching the game unfold. In her long black winter coat and matching winter boots she sat munching on a bag of popcorn. Although she didn’t understand the point of football, she enjoyed the experience, the jumbo popcorn, the roar of the crowd, and spending time with her busy father. However like most weekends her father had a business meeting and in his place sat Laura’s driver. Not a limo driver, but the driver that helped her get around. His name was Clayton Bradley. He was kind and smart, but Laura imagined a friend her age, and Clayton was more of a parental figure.

    “Clayton,” Laura said while still munching on her popcorn, “I’ve been thinking that maybe tomorrow you could drive me to Pike Place Market, since you know, my father cancelled our weekend,” she said in a tone that Clayton could never resist. Laura was playing the role of the helpless girl in the wheelchair so that she could get one night out and away from her lonely apartment suite.

    “Uh, well your father has instructed me, um, to, um, not really let you leave the house, because, er, well, um, your conditions.” He said nervously.

    “Well that goon always says that, but I’m fine, I’m always fine, you know that more than anyone,” Laura explained in her soft voice.

Laura had lived everywhere in the United States in only 17 years. Moving around three to four times a year, all for her parents, and their jobs. The plane never seemed to slow down enough to make real friends and Clayton Bradley had been there since Laura’s birth. Clayton took care of her for the seventeen years that Laura was alive and he had helped her become the person she was now.

Clayton seemed hesitant as always, but when he found his voice he was ready with an answer.

“I suppose so, but if your father finds out, just know I may not be here the next day,” he said jokingly.

The next day Laura woke up in her comfy bed to the sound of a honking car, outside her window and 8 stories down, some people were in the middle of an argument. She quickly rose, startled, and began to get dressed. Just like every morning, she called her mother in to help her get dressed before she left for work. Her mom looked identical to Laura, brown hair, green eyes, and an oval shaped head with a rounded chin. But Laura and her mom’s personalities, were anything but identical, and their relationship anything but good.

“Bye,” was all her mother would say in her honeyed voice before leaving, but not what Laura hoped to hear. The television shows and movies had always portrayed a happy ending, and although she seemed to have it all, the ending for her was never truly joyful.

The city was no longer something to feel in awe about, for Laura it was a regular day and Pike Place Market was her backyard, and even to her backyard, she could never go. The days she was free to go, she felt like she could move around freely, although still stuck in her chair.

Clayton was already in the car waiting for Laura. The car was a new shiny matte black lamborghini and her dad had gifted it to Clayton as a thank you for all his troubles.

As Laura arrived to the market, the smell of fresh flowers grew in her nose. Violets, her favorites. It was a unique smell and a comfort to Laura. Stands of flowers, fish, jewelry, paintings, t-shirts, all you needed. Although it brought comfort, it was public, and and any public area was to be inspected by Clayton. Laura thought it was unnecessary, but then again, when had anyone taken her thoughts into consideration.

While Clayton turned his back to do a full inspection around the area, Laura escaped into the crowd. She wanted to be alone for once and not surrounded by that which shielded her from the world and her own life. She rushed through, hoping to not get caught by Clayton.

Laura had never realized how many skills she had on her wheels until she was speeding through the crowd. The rush drew her in and she began to lose focus on the crowd ahead. CRASH! Her chair, tilting back and forth, was bound to fall. Laura panicked on the inside and her heart began to race. An arm reached out and pulled her up straight to a halt. After relaxing her breath she examined the block in her path. She had run into a girl, a stranger, whose box of apples had fallen to the ground. She had short curly brown hair, brown eyes, and a worried look on her face.

“I’m so sorry, I was not watching where I was going, I’m so sorry,” the girl explained anxiously.

Laura thought for a moment, thinking of all the things she could say.

“No it’s okay, I’m okay,” Laura replied back.

Laura was fine but the girl did not seem convinced.

“I’m serious, no worries, it was my fault anyways,” Laura said again.

“Are you sure? I should have looked up and my momma always says I look down, and well, I don’t like to look people in their eyes because I guess I’m just that way and I’m so sorry it was my fault,” the girl rambled.

Laura now had a decision, this unknown girl who had talked to her unlike the rest of the world, or to remain constricted with Clayton. In two seconds she had decided that instead of looking for Clayton, she had an opportunity to take. Possibly, she could make a friend. A person to confide in, laugh with, go shopping with, and just like that her mind went to the illusion of movie perfect happy endings. Thinking of the boring activities with her restrictions, Laura decided to stay and talk with this girl, at least to stall from going back to Clayton.

“ Excuse me, what’s your name?”asked Laura.

“Can I ask why, cause u seem suspicious, rushing around,” the girl responded quietly.

“Just curious, but if it helps, I’m Laura,” she explained.

The girl said nothing for a moment, as she looked towards the smashed apples on the ground, it seemed as though their conversation was over.

Laura felt it was time for her to back off and leave, something she had said had clearly hurt this girl’s feelings.

“Are you ok?” Laura asked.

The girl replied “Iris, my name’s Iris,” she paused, “My dad liked Irises they were his favorite flower” Iris spoke again.

“So that’s why he named you Iris,” said Laura with a smile.

It turned into a sad face and then a frown when she thought about her own father and then the ‘liked’ that Iris had used in her sentence. She disregarded the first thought and pondered on the second.

“I’m sorry, did he pass away?” Laura asked hesitantly.

Laura knew it was a rude question but her curiosity was overpowering.

“Yes a long time ago, but anytime people bring up my name, it takes me back to that time” Iris responded.

Minutes passed and their conversation came to a close. Laura needed to find Clayton. Iris had a job to get back to. Laura came to the realization that Clayton had most likely assumed a kidnapping or similar crime had occurred. This was not a good situation to place Clayton in and she became anxious.

When Laura finally found Clayton he had called the police but was not mad with her, she was handicapped and apparently it was hard to be mad at a young handicapped girl, Laura had come to realize. She sat in the car and gazed out the window at the fading blue sky. There she thought about her friend. Well not friend, she thought, but it was the first time she had a conversation with someone her age while living in Seattle. She had never had a real friend and Iris wasn’t like the others, afraid to hurt her with words or gestures that somehow all correlated to her accident and her wheelchair.

When Laura was only five her nanny had tried driving without a car seat. Clayton was out of town for a family emergency and her parents at their doctor jobs as always. The car had turned over and Laura had been paralyzed from the waist down. Her nanny was fired and had suffered a broken rib and mild head injury. Laura’s father then proceeded to do what he always did, he sued the nanny.

Laura returned the next week on the same day to look for her new friend, but could not find her anywhere through the crowds of people. Laura felt saddened. Her chance at finding even one teenage friend was gone. She spotted lavender flowers,  and quickly her mood changed. It was okay if she didn’t find Iris, she could make new friends, right? Before she had time to answer at her own thought, she rolled over to the flower stand, and behind them was Iris.

“Iris!” Laura yelped.

Again, the conversation began and it felt like they had known each other their whole lives. Somehow they were so similar even though they were opposites of each other. They talked for hours about their parents, and lives.

They talked until Laura was too tired to go on.

“See you later!”said Iris.

“See ya Iris,” Laura responded after the girls had exchanged numbers.

They texted most days and Laura became the support that Iris was missing and their bond was that of sisters.

One day while on the phone, the question of where they lived came up.

“Well I live close to the pike place market in a tall blue building and it’s not as big as some of the other places I’ve stayed in but I feel comfortable here, how about you?”Laura asked.

“Well, I’ve lived in the same place all of my life and I’m very comfortable here as well but it’s small and kind of an old building, it’s not by any Pike Place but it’s by a grocery market,”Iris responded.

Laura felt the hesitation that came from Iris’s voice.

“I was thinking that maybe we could meet up at my house and you could sleepover, I’ve never really had one,” Laura responded.

Laura was seventeen and had never had a sleepover? Iris thought about how odd this was.

“Uh, I can’t I have certain family situations and I’m not allowed to,” explained Iris.

Was Iris making an excuse to avoid the sleepover?

“But I guess you could come over to my home and I could introduce you to my siblings,” Iris insisted.

“That sounds good Iris!” the girls were excited.

After hours of planning out her busy schedule and asking permission from both parents, Laura picked out a day and Iris agreed.

Clayton dropped Laura off at the front of the building on Monday morning, and he waited until she was safely inside the unknown building to leave. Laura was confused she hadn’t pictured it this way but it looked big and she was excited to see the inside. She knocked on the door once, then twice, and finally the third time, the brown door of the brown building swung open.

“Laura, I’m so glad you could make it!” Iris said excitedly.

“Me too!” Laura yelped back.

The girls walked in and stood in the hallway not saying anything for a couple moments. Laura noticed that there were clothes, shoes, mops, glasses, notebooks, and anything else you could think of to be useful spread around the room.

After the awkward silence rose away, Iris showed Laura her room. Laura noticed there were more rooms than at her home, but each room was small with a single mattress in each.

Next, they visited her siblings.

“Hi my name’s Laura” Laura greeted.

Each little sibling was timid and seemed afraid of Laura and her unknown personality.

“They are a little shy but this is Lena she’s the smallest , Tommy the second smallest and the oldest after me is Kevin, but he’s only eight,” Iris explained.

Laura had another question that was brewing in her head but she wasn’t sure it was a good question.

“Any last questions, that’s pretty much my life,” Iris said jokingly.

Here Laura found the opportunity but she was still hesitant.

“ Um, where are your parents, do you live alone?” Laura asked.

Iris’s face sunk and her emotion went away. Iris sighed.

“Well, my dad is no longer with me, and my mom is always out with her friends and she only comes back for one hour a day. It was fine at first but it’s too much now,” Iris explained.

“I’m sorry for the loss of your father,” Laura said softly.

“Thank you,” said Iris gratefully, “he was a firefighter and he gave up his life for someone else, and it makes me happy because he was so brave.”

“But, your mother has no reason to act that way. The fact that you haven’t done anything makes me angry, she’s your mom, you need to say something” Laura explained.

“I understand that you may think that but it’s my mom and I really don’t want to get into this right now,” Iris responded.

“Iris, I have been stuck in my chair my whole life, and it has taught me that I can not take the little freedom I have for granted. You can stand up to her, because what you have told me she makes you feel is not okay,” Laura repeated back.

Iris began to look saddened and Laura felt she had stepped over her boundary. Iris would tell her stories of late nights when her mom would get back from being out and she would yell at her and call her worthless and sometimes even hurt her.

“I think you should go Laura,” Iris said in a soft-spoken voice.

“Please, just think about it Iris,” Laura said back.

Iris was tearing up.

“It’s not that easy, I can’t,” Iris said in a brittle voice.

Laura had no idea she would feel this way.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you,” Laura said.

“Because you don’t understand, you aren’t like me,” Iris was now in tears.

Laura sunk down to her and grabbed her arms.

“What she’s doing to you and your family isn’t right!” Laura exclaimed.

“But, I’m nothing, I’m ugly, and I have no strength. I’m weak and ugly. I can’t do anything” Iris yelled through her tears as she loosened her arms from Laura’s grip.

“No you are not Iris, you are my best friend and you are strong, and you are beautiful!” Laura said screaming to be heard over the crying.

“But to her, I’m a nothing, I mean nothing, I am not strong enough to leave, not strong enough to keep going, I’m nothing” Iris said sobbing in tears.

“Iris, you are the best big sister I could imagine, and you are not anything your mom tells you, and I think we need to find help” Laura explained.

“Laura you don’t get it, if I call the police or child services, my siblings will have no place to go, and—” she hesitated “ why did I do this, why did I try to make a friend and bring them in to my problems. You’re just trying to fix me because you desperately need a friend and you live the luxurious life and so what your parents aren’t there I wish mine were still alive, your just trying to fix me like a little project. Go find someone else to feel sorry for and just leave!” Iris said angrily.

“I can’t leave you here alone, you’re my friend” said Laura tearing up.

“No, we aren’t friends, please just leave!” Iris exclaimed.

Laura was scared of her once best friend, and Iris was hurt and Laura didn’t think she could fix that.

“Iris!” Laura cried out.

“Leave! I don’t want to see you again… ever!” Iris cried out.

Laura left and called Clayton. When Clayton picked her up, Laura said nothing, and the trip back home was silent. Laura felt like she needed to talk to someone and get things off her chest, but there was no one here, no one for her. The only person that came to mind was Iris, but the thought made her sob silently. All night she thought about what Iris had said, and she could not sleep.

Weeks passed, Laura went back to her “regular” life, with the thought of Iris in the back of her head. She had contemplated many times whether to call, but each time ended in sobbing. After a month, Laura had almost cleared the thought of Iris from her mind, but she was reminded of her every time she thought of her wheelchair.

One day her phone rang and she figured that Iris would be the last person to call her. Laura answered and suddenly a rush of emotion flooded her face. Iris was speaking to her, sobbing, just like the last time she had seen her.

“Laura, I didn’t know who to call and I’m so sorry but someone broke into my house and I don’t know what to do, I have no one and my mom left permanently and—” Her words were rushed and she was crying.

Laura panicked, this was the person who had yelled at her and made her feel terrible but she needed help and she couldn’t leave her to suffer on her own.

“Uh, call the police, I’ll be on my way” Laura said quickly before she hung up the phone.

By the time she arrived the police were there and they were searching the house.

“Laura!” said a voice from behind.

Laura turned her chair and Iris came running to hug her.

“I don’t even know what to say, you didn’t need to do this and I’m sorry, so sorry” Iris said.

Iris bursted into tears, Laura hugged her, and again they felt closer.

“Um, excuse me Ma’am,” a low voice said from behind.

The girls turned around to see a man dressed in a dark blue uniform, he was definitely a police officer.

“Yes,” they both replied.

“We have cleared the area and you can now come inside to look for anything unusual,” said the officer.

“Ok, thank you,” said Iris.

Although she did not say anything, Iris was nervous about what she would recognize as missing and how it would make her feel. The small steps leading up to the door felt like climbing a mountain with a higher and higher altitude. Her breathing was rough and she felt scared of going into her own home. Where a stranger had been. The officer opened the door and Iris was filled with the emotions this house had brought her in the past. She stepped into the house and began to look around. That seemed normal there, this seemed normal here. The differences were so hard to imagine and she didn’t know. The box on the shelves, the jewelry in then box, the little box that held something of her fathers. Just to make sure, she opened the box that contained the last tie, her father had worn before he had died. A rush of heartbreak appeared but the thought could not be explained. With no idea what was going on, she cried. No one else was in the room and she was alone. She realized now that she had always been alone. Lost and without love. No love from her mother, and no love from a father. Only the nice thought that love was possible.

Iris grabbed the little box and was on her way to the police. As she closed the strange door, she turned to see a friend. Laura was standing there waiting and supporting her. Not a mother or a father, but a friend.

Instead of heading to the police she ran to Laura and gave her a hug. After the police were gone Iris’s little siblings were home.

“Lena, Tommy, Kevin, we’re going to stay with my friend for a couple nights, is that alright with you guys?”asked Iris.

“Yes!”they exclaimed. They weren’t sure where they would be going, but if their sister was taking them, they felt it was right.

Laura called her parents but they were out of town so it didn’t really matter.

When they were all at Laura’s house and the little ones were tucked in to bed, their conversation began.

“I’m so sorry for what I said before, I felt terrible right after you left,” explained Iris.

“No, it was my fault, the choice to stand up to your mom was yours to make, I shouldn’t have gotten involved,” said Laura.

All at once they started laughing.

“I guess friends fight, but I’ve never really had friends, so I don’t know,” said Laura chuckling.

After that they grew up in different parts of the world but kept in touch. Iris would never forget the friend that had taught her that loving herself was before anything else.

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