All right, change of plans because I caught the plague over the weekend and spent most of my time lying in a fever-induced dream state instead of writing.
Here’s some of the book I’m working on: The Uninsured Future of Alicia Penn.
And now we pause our time machine in the name of literary analysis.
I have now appeared in this story three times: once as you see here, once as my younger self, and once as my imaginary self. The use of a persona is a familiar concept to anyone who grew up a childhood writer, and in the beginning Allie was no different from any other. She was prettier, stronger, smarter than I thought I’d ever be. Allie was more outspoken, careless of what people thought of her, and just plain cool. Allie was in high school. She did kickboxing. She played violin.
When you’re thirteen, your confidence is down the drain, and you’re old enough to try cool things but young enough to be bad at it… Well, the idea of someone who does everything right is pretty appealing.
We were kids.
And when I look at how I saw Allie, it makes me wonder how Sarah saw Marci. Marci, who clung to her home when Allie couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to go back. Marci, relentlessly smart and practical. Marci, who solved any problem put in front of her with incredible ease.
Sarah Blacke was, to me, no different from Marcella the Grey.
But I often wonder what Sarah herself thought of that.
Sarah was, for the most part, in all mainstreamed classes. Modified PE and homeroom were her only non-mainstream activities of the week. Her mother was proud, something she heard every time she brought home a report card. It meant she was all there, mentally— she was keeping up pretty well with all her lessons. Last spring she’d gotten straight A’s. Alicia swore she’d earned it, but Sarah worried perpetually that her teachers just didn’t want to fail the kid in a wheelchair.
Because that’s who she was now. The kid in a wheelchair. Who sometimes had seizures.
The heart condition she’d been born with (and so far survived through what was commonly called a “medical miracle”) had caused a stroke about three years ago, which had led to another one last year, which had led to the loss of the use of her legs. Her wheelchair was… “cute”, it had stickers on it, but stickers didn’t keep it from being a wheelchair. It didn’t change the fact that she now had a paraeducator on her tail 24-7, sharpening her pencils and helping her go to the toilet.
But she could have handled that.
The hard part was that she had an IEP, an Individualized Education Plan, that meant she rode the short bus. The hard part was that her homeroom was still the modified classroom, the tiny windowless corner of the school where all the kids with mental disabilities spent their time. They were, for the most part, good kids: they had it even harder than Sarah. But they terrified her.
One day she’d be one of them.
Oh, she liked them. They worked harder than anyone she’d ever known in her life. But the thought of losing her mind was horrific when her mind was all she had left. And the way things were going, it’d happen. Maybe not tomorrow, but it’d happen. And maybe it would be tomorrow. Strokes were weird. Seizures sucked. It scared her.
Alicia was the best thing to ever happen. Ever.
Alicia listened. Alicia wheeled her home after school. Not like Sarah couldn’t handle her own wheelchair, but it was kind of nice to just sit and talk. Alicia wrote down all the awesome stories they came up with together. Alicia made her a hero. Sarah had lost a lot of friends when she got the chair, and—
Well. Adversity showed you who your true friends are. She knew that much.
But it was Christmas, and she was supposed to pray.
Her mother liked to take a quiet moment before midnight mass. It was one of the three times a year Sarah was allowed to stay up so late, so usually a “quiet moment” meant “Mom prayed and Sarah napped”, but not this year. This year Sarah had wheeled herself right up to the corner of her bedroom, to the table that held her little shrine to the Fourteen Holy Helpers. The table was an old, dark wood: her little student bible sat in the center, usually accompanied by her small confirmation-gift rosary from her grandmother(pink— why was everything everyone gave her pink?), laid reverently beside it. Her aunt, an artist, had crafted fourteen small statues of the saints for her First Communion: Saints Agathius, Blaise, Barbara, Catharine of Alexandria, Christopher, Cyracius, Denis, Erasmus, Eustace, George, Margaret of Antioch, and Pantaleon. Her two favorites, St. Giles and St. Vitus, occupied the center of the corner. She prayed to them a lot, and mostly to St. Giles.
Partially because she’d been born on his feast day. September first. Mom called it a miracle: Sarah liked to think Giles had just been watching a little too closely on her birthday, and that’s why she was like… this. She closed her eyes. Her fingers traveled the rosary as she prayed. Yes, she was supposed to focus on the Mysteries in her head when she prayed the rosary, but her mind tended to wander toward stories.
Like that of St. Giles.
He (a vegetarian, just like her) had been wounded by a king hunting a deer— he’d never walked the same again. A freak accident, nobody in the right or wrong. Just like her accident of birth. But the king, the man who’d wounded him, had turned it into a blessing: he’d taken a liking to St. Giles and built him a monastery!
Sarah was still waiting for her blessing. It would come, even if it wasn’t immediately apparent. It would.
She just had to wait.