The Walking Stick

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Chapter 16: Footsteps

Katherine and Pearl agreed to meet every Tuesday and Thursday morning during the week, and sometimes on Saturday after Katherine’s cheer camp. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Katherine joined Pearl on her early morning walks. Their conversation flowed like syrup on pancakes, and they talked about everything and anything. Their walks became treats that both girls looked forward to enjoying: each for different reasons, but both benefiting.

Pearl welcomed the walks because Katherine unveiled the in’s-and-out’s of teenage life. For two years, Pearl had forbidden herself from feeling young. She had no idea what an average seventeen-year-old was doing or feeling. Pearl had grown old in thought and mind, stagnant and stale with each doctor’s appointment. Katherine interjected youth, vitality, and both the seriousness and silliness of becoming a woman. Katherine opened new doors, new avenues, literally and mentally. Pearl allowed Katherine to take her down different streets on their morning walks. Katherine was wonderfully patient with Pearl and gradually grew more expressive in the descriptions she gave Pearl as to what surrounded them. Sometimes, Katherine would invent funny stories as to what the clouds looked like, how the squirrels were feeling today, and if the birds were running late to summer school.

Once, Pearl blindfolded Katherine and took her down Maple Lane and back, arm in arm. Katherine’s movements were stiff and choppy; they reminded Pearl of when she was first learning how to walk in darkness. Katherine held her breath most of the way, and when they finally made their way back to Pearl’s house, Katherine was exhausted and shaky. The next week, Katherine tried the blindfolded walk again - this time alone. Pearl gave Katherine her walking stick so she could feel the boundaries of the sidewalk. Katherine did this solo walk several times during their weeks together. These experiments touched both girls deeply, and they hardly had the right words to describe how it affected them.

“It’s amazing, Pearl. I can’t see anything with my eyes, but I see so much with my other senses,” Katherine said as she removed her blindfold and sat down next to Pearl. “I can see the edge of the sidewalk as soon as the walking stick moves past the concrete and touches the grass. And I can see the lady three houses down say ‘Good Morning’ to me as she picks up her newspaper from the driveway. Pearl, I can even tell she is wearing slippers by the way her feet brush against the pavement.” Katherine was visibly excited and amazed like she had discovered a higher realm of reality within herself. “I honestly don’t think I would have paid any attention to that woman, especially whether or not she was wearing slippers, if I had seen her with my eyes.”

“I know exactly what you mean.” Pearl was appreciative that Katherine had truly taken the time to walk in her shoes. It was humbling for Pearl to have someone take an interest in her beyond her family. Katherine spent time with Pearl by choice - no strings attached.

“I figured it out the other day,” Katherine said on Tuesday morning as they were strolling down Maple Lane. “It is like when you read a book versus watching the movie. The book is always so much better: the detail, everything. After you read the book and then see the movie, the characters don’t look anything like what you had imagined. It is a disappointment because what you created in your head was so much better. That is how I feel when I walk with you, Pearl. You are the book, and I have simply been going through life watching the movie. I have learned so much from you. I have seen much, much more than I ever thought possible through your eyes – through your imagination.” Katherine was deeply thankful, and her emotions could not help but expose themselves like a well-watered garden. Indeed, Katherine had grown from the footsteps she had taken with Pearl every Tuesday and Thursday morning. In those early hours, Katherine was taking baby steps on the journey to discovering who she was from the inside out.

Pearl was on her road to discovery. As her trust in Katherine grew, so did her openness to allow Katherine into her inner world. Pearl never realized how defensive she had become, like a turtle in the shell. Katherine was drawing Pearl’s personality back to the surface, and the more this occurred, the more laughter and tears the girls shared.

“Tell me more about your dad. What is he like?” Pearl asked one Thursday morning in August.

“Well, he was once funny. He could make my mom laugh until she peed her pants. He used to play silly tricks on us just to get a reaction. For example, one day he took a bunch of pictures of himself making funny faces. He cut them up into little squares and taped them everywhere: on my English notebook, underneath my toilet seat, even on my ceiling. It took my mom and me over a month to find all the dumb photos; there must have been a zillion. There are still a few stragglers, and last week I found one on the bottom of my jewelry box!” Katherine shook her head fondly.

“Sounds like a great dad,” Pearl said.

“He is a great dad, but he has just forgotten that over the last year,” Katherine said reflectively. “He was the parent I ran to with every failure and every victory. He was my cheerleader – the voice that encouraged me on.”

“I’m sorry Katherine. Have you told your dad how you feel? Does he know how much you miss him?” Pearl asked.

“Nah, I haven’t told him. He probably doesn’t even realize how much he has distanced himself from my mom and me. He has so much to worry about. A few times I have walked in on him sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by bills and a calculator. His eyes were red from crying. He never said a word to me – just looked at me with apologetic eyes like he had somehow failed me. I would trade all the money in the world just to have him start smiling again.”

“Sometimes grown-ups get bogged down in keeping up with the neighbors, or trying to make more money, or moving so fast that they don’t have to deal with their failures. When things come crashing down, they feel like children again, like their block tower just fell apart. The only difference is their mom or dad isn’t there to kiss them and make it all better. They are alone. And worse, they are now responsible for the livelihood of their spouse and children. It is an incredible amount of pressure, don’t you think? Happiness is a big responsibility, and most people rarely sustain it through relying on things – that’s where everybody gets it all wrong.” Pearl saw this pattern of having it all and losing it in a matter of moments the day her father died. She had never seen her mom as alone as she was during the weeks that followed his death. The pressure of supporting herself and Pearl in addition to grieving her loss – it was almost too much for her mom to manage. Thankfully, Grandma came.

“I never really thought about it like that, Pearl. Where do you come up with these thoughts?” Katherine asked.

“I have a lot of time just to think. That’s all I did mainly until you showed up,” Pearl replied quietly.

“Come on, Pearl. You are lucky to have such a great family. Your mom and grandma are awesome. Even Dr. Holt seems so nice,” Katherine replied.

“Yeah, Dr. Holt is nice. He’s great, but I do miss my dad very much. Katherine, talk to your dad. I know if I had my father back, I would be talking to him every second I could. Let him know how you feel. He still loves you; you know that. Let him know that he hasn’t failed you. Please let him know,” Pearl said a desperate tone.

“Okay, yeah, I can do that. Thanks, Pearl.” Katherine had done a lot of thinking in the last month–and-a-half since she met Pearl. She distanced herself from many of her old girlfriends, especially the shallow materialistic ones. In addition, she started reading and journaling more at night instead of talking for hours on hours with Boyd on the phone. Katherine was taking an interest in her happiness, not reaching for the approval stamp that was being held by her peers. She did not know what would happen come August 27th, the first day of her senior year, but she did know that she would be walking through the front doors of Northrich Hills High School a different person, a person she felt comfortable being instead of one that was always conforming to the next-best-thing.

Katherine realized she resembled a lot of what she disliked about her dad. Just like her father, Katherine had lost herself trying to keep up with an image. And just like her father, that image was shaken. Her dad’s image was shaken by the all mighty dollar; Katherine’s was shaken by an unlikely friendship with Pearl. “Yes,” Katherine thought, “I will talk to my dad. I want him to know how much I love him regardless of how much he makes, what we have, or where we live.” Katherine realized Pearl had given her a new value, one without a price tag. To Katherine, Pearl had become a dear friend, a best friend, and Katherine hadn’t had that type of genuine friendship ever - until now.

“Hey, before I forget,” Katherine commented, “I have a birthday surprise for you next week.”

“How did you remember it was my birthday? I only mentioned that once a long time ago!” Pearl hollered.

“August 18th! I wrote it down the morning you told me. That’s next Thursday! You will be eighteen on the 18th! That’s pretty cool, huh?” Katherine laughed.

“Yeah, that’s pretty cool,” Pearl agreed. Pearl was actually looking forward to her birthday, and for some strange reason, deep inside, Pearl was also looking forward to her senior year.

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