The Walking Stick

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Chapter 8: Color My World

That night Pearl sat on her bed trying to go to sleep. Every time she looked at the clock, it seemed to take longer and longer for a minute to pass. It was well past midnight, and Pearl was as awake as if it were lunchtime. She turned on her bedside light and looked around her room. Resting her eyes on the mysterious root she found at the campsite; the soft light captured its smooth design as it leaned gracefully against her closet door.

Once again, Pearl thought of the little boy in Dr. Holt’s lobby. Pearl stood up and took hold of the sturdy root in her right hand. She pretended it was a walking stick as she traveled in circles around her room. Pearl opened her door and ventured around in the living room, kitchen, and down the hall. The stick was about two, maybe three steps ahead of Pearl’s feet. For over thirty minutes Pearl practiced having the stick warn her of obstacles in her path. Pearl giggled as she made her way back to her room. She felt giddy. And for a moment a feeling stirred in her that took her back several years: the feeling of being wonderfully normal - wonderfully normal thanks to a mysterious walking stick. The entire concept fascinated Pearl, and she found it nearly impossible to sleep.

The next day everyone was buzzing around trying to clean the house spotless. Pearl’s mom was so nervous about Dr. Holt coming for dinner that she even made Pearl wipe off the outside of the mailbox. And Grandma was instructed to put dryer sheets under the couch cushions so the house would smell extra fresh. Grandma and Pearl both thought Susan was going to the extreme in her requests; even still, they played along since they were both happy to see Susan excited about a man coming over for spaghetti and meatballs.

Late in the afternoon, Pearl’s mom mopped the floors. Mopping the floors was always the last thing she did to get the house clean. Susan loved the smell of lemon-pine cleaner and wanted whoever was coming inside to smell the fresh scent upon entering the front door. Today was no exception. Susan expressed with a most serious and stressed-out tone: “Anyone who steps foot onto the tile while it is still wet will suffer severe consequences!”

As a result, both Pearl and Grandma were banished to their rooms until they were told it was safe to come out. Grandma escaped into the pages of a good book while Pearl picked up the root again. She rolled it back and forth in her hands and smiled thinking about her early morning adventure throughout the house. Pearl decided she would refer to the long root as her walking stick from this point forward. After all, they did travel well together this morning – no bumps, no bruises.

To pass the time, Pearl opened her new paints. She put a spectrum of color on a paper plate arranged in dollops like a collection of marbles. She then dipped a small-tipped brush into the color pink. Pearl stopped herself before she transformed the white canvas. Instead of painting the canvas, Pearl looked at the walking stick contently resting on her closet door. “You,” Pearl whispered. “I will paint you instead.”

Pearl sat on the carpet and pulled the stick onto her lap. With each stroke of color Pearl became more attached to the stick. It was as if a relationship was being painted: a friendship being created with every motion of the wrist. Each color selected by Pearl represented a piece of herself - a symbolic interpretation of her heart and soul.

“As the oyster holds the pearl, so does the body hold the soul. And a well-kept soul nourishes the heart, so that it can be brave and love without fear,” Pearl whispered her father’s words as she continued to paint. Pink was the first color she painted on the stick: pink for security. She thought of all the nights since her father died that she wrapped her pink quilt tightly around her. She felt safe and hopeful in homemade pink, like the way God must feel when he creates a pink sunset. Next, Pearl painted blue onto the stick: blue for the unknown, like the mysteries found in the depths of the sea. Pearl knew her future would be filled with changes, discoveries, and hopefully even a few treasures. She also knew it was up to her not to panic, not to live in fear.

Her third color choice was yellow: yellow reminded her of a new day. Even after the most rotten days when Pearl thought the world would surely stop, a night’s sleep afforded her a new opportunity to start again. Fourthly, Pearl selected green to represent growth: growth from a child into a woman, growth from a victim into a fighter, and growth from a follower into a leader of her destiny.

Pearl’s next color was red. When Pearl thinks of red, she sees her reflection in the mirror, her reddish hair full and thick. She sees her grandmother’s red lips smiling wide. And she imagines her mom’s red hair tickling her forehead as she leans down to kiss her goodnight. Pearl painted red at the base of her stick as a reminder that love is what leads her every step of the way.

Lastly, Pearl dipped her paintbrush into the color black, a reminder of the frustrations she has felt and will certainly feel in the future: frustrations from not having her dad, losing her sight, her mom having to work so hard, and never seeing Landon again…everything. Pearl angrily painted black onto the stick. It represented to her the bitterness that comes from unresolved frustration. Pearl thought it was ugly; and yet, somehow it fits perfectly on the stick. Black took its place as it belonged. This was a stick that told the story of Pearl’s emotions, life, and dreams. Without the black the other colors would not look as bold.

“Floor’s dry!” Pearl’s mom shouted. “You guys can come out now. Thanks!”

Pearl carefully positioned the stick in her bathtub for it to dry. She washed her hands, put up the paint supplies, and walked out of her door at the same time Grandma was walking out from her room.

“So, what have you been doing?” Grandma asked Pearl.

“Painting. Painting that stick I found at the campsite.” Pearl felt exhilarated. The walking stick especially excited Pearl, and she was proud of the thought and detail she had put into it. Pearl knew there was something very special about that stick, and she was gradually unveiling its mysteries while revealing more about herself. In a way, it was becoming Pearl’s autobiography.

Dr. Holt arrived right at on time, seven o’clock sharp. Pearl answered the door. Dr. Holt looked handsome and very different without his white lab coat. He looked more “human,” less scientific. His short, light brown hair was gelled up in the front, making him look young and hip. He was wearing dark distressed jeans with an orange button-down shirt, untucked. He wore a thick brown belt that matched the color of his sandals. Pearl could see why her mom was attracted to him. Pearl smiled cheerfully when she greeted him. “Hi, Dr. Holt. Good to see you. Come on in.”

“Thank you, Pearl. Good to see you too,” Dr. Holt said with another one of his killer smiles. Dr. Holt handed a small bouquet of flowers to Pearl. “Let’s see; the yellow daisies are for you.”

“Wow! Thank you!” Pearl said as she took the flowers. She noticed he had two more wrapped bouquets in his hand. “Mom is in the kitchen. Just follow the smell of the meat sauce.” Pearl watched Dr. Holt as he casually made his way down the front corridor. She noticed that he wiped the palm of his free hand against his jeans before he stepped into the kitchen. Pearl could tell he was nervous.

“Hi, ladies. How is everyone tonight?” Dr. Holt said in a deep, good-natured voice. “Susan, these are for you.” Dr. Holt handed Susan a beautiful bouquet of yellow roses and white cushion poms.

“Hi, Todd. Thank you. The flowers are gorgeous. I want to introduce you to my mother. Mom, this is Todd. Todd this is my mom, Cheryl.”

“I have already heard so many great things about you, Cheryl. It is truly a pleasure to meet you. Last but not least, I brought you some fresh lilies,” Dr. Holt said as smoothly as French silk pie.

Grandma blushed as she took the flowers from Dr. Holt. “Well, thank you, Todd. They are lovely. And I certainly have heard a good thing or two about you. Thanks for everything you have done to help Susan and Pearl. I can’t thank you enough for your interest in Pearl’s condition.”

“My pleasure. Pearl is a wonderful girl, and I will gladly do everything in my power to make sure she gets the attention she needs to succeed. I would, however, be misleading you if you thought my only interest was in Pearl.” Dr. Holt looked Susan in the eye with such a mischievous twinkle that Susan immediately blushed.

Dinner was filled with lots of laughter, spaghetti noodles, meatballs, and good company. Everyone enjoyed themselves tremendously. There was not a moment of awkward silence; rather, every morsel of conversation was tossed around light-heartedly like popcorn popping. The kitchen table held so much energy that it appeared to glow. Neither Susan, Grandma, nor Pearl could remember the last time they had so much fun.

As Pearl rinsed off the dinner plates and put them in the dishwasher, her mom started serving her famous pineapple meringue cake. Todd helped clear the table, and Grandma made a fresh pot of coffee. All four went into the living room and made themselves comfortable on the couch, loveseat, and big chair. Both Grandma and Pearl noticed that Susan and Dr. Holt sat next to one another on the couch.

“This is a delicious cake,” Dr. Holt said while taking the first bite of his second piece.

“It’s my specialty. I’ve been making it since Pearl was in diapers,” Susan said merrily.

“Mom, don’t embarrass me, please.” Pearl did not want any visuals of her in diapers.

“Oh, Pearl. You will always be my baby.” Susan looked at Pearl with soft sweet eyes that swelled with pride and love for her daughter.

“Well, you know, Pearl, your mom has not stopped bragging about you since I met her. You are definitely the apple of her eye,” Dr. Holt said to Pearl. “There is something that I want to discuss while we are all here if you don’t mind. I hate to break up the fun of the evening, but I do want to briefly mention something a little more on the serious side before I leave.”

“Okay,” Susan said hesitantly. “What is it?”

“Well, I am just going to be as straightforward with all of you as I would want someone to be with me. Pearl, from looking at your tests and the rate at which you are losing your sight, I predict that you will lose most of your vision within the next two years.”

“Two years! I thought you said I would have my central vision into late adulthood!” Pearl snapped back in surprise.

“What I remember saying was you have a good chance of retaining a very small amount of your central vision into late adulthood. This could be as small as the tip of your pinky, or you could only see varying shadows of light, like the outline of someone’s face or the darkness of a car. I don’t know for certain. No one does.” Dr. Holt was visibly frustrated by the lack of definite information he could provide to Pearl. “Pearl, I think you need to start taking the necessary steps during the next two years to get yourself fully prepared mentally and physically for the changes to come. Take advantage of your sight now, and push the limits of your learning so you can ensure your success down the road.”

“Do you have something in mind?” Grandma interjected.

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. Pearl, I would like for you to consider attending the summer program at the School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Houston. You would stay on campus and learn about cane travel, riding on the city bus, comfortably going to the mall, etc. They will take you on numerous outings to get you comfortable with your new view of the world. Also, you will go over things like how to fold your money so you can recognize by feel which bill represents what denomination. These are tools that will enrich your experiences both now and in the future. It would be better for you to learn these skills now since you will continually be tweaking your scope as your vision changes. I have a good friend that heads-up the school and he would be able to get you in for the summer term starting in a few weeks if you are interested.”

“Todd, I’m not sure I can afford such a program right now.” Susan was embarrassed that she did not have the money.

“Not a problem. The state will cover most of the cost once I send in the medical paperwork, and you fill out the application. The remainder of the cost is minimal, and I would be glad to help with that if needed.” Dr. Holt spoke so sincerely that all the ladies in the room kept silent for several moments.

Finally, Pearl spoke up. “Thank you very much. I really don’t know what to say.”

“Let me share something with you, Pearl. In my experience, most people who are visually impaired, even legally blind, are not 100% in the dark. Most still retain some vision, whether central or peripheral. I have found that those who are born blind generally take a greater investment in securing their rights and ultimately managing their responsibilities for their future. In contrast, those who are sighted and become visually impaired often fight the transition of learning a new lifestyle. It seems to be understandably harder for them, similar to an adult learning a new language versus a child learning a new language. Are you following me, Pearl?”

“Yes,” Pearl replied. She fully related what Dr. Holt was saying and felt good in a guilty sort of way knowing that others were struggling on a daily basis with RP.

“Good. Pearl, I see every day in my office a visually impaired man or woman who is depressed and suffering from living below their expectations. These people often tried to learn Braille but gave up too early. Others only know enough to get them by but not enough to write the story they have always dreamed of authoring. I see good people who once loved going for nature walks volunteering to become prisoners in their own home because they don’t trust themselves to be mobile with their cane. I saw a father just last week burst into tears explaining that he no longer felt comfortable grilling hamburgers for his family on Saturday afternoons. And a single lady a few days ago told me she is afraid to date because she does not want to end up with someone who marries her out of charity. Pearl, what do you think the greatest challenge is for these people I just described?”

“Their blindness, of course,” Pearl said confidently.

“Wrong. Their greatest challenge is simply themselves. These folks can still flip hamburgers, take nature walks, date, marry, have kids, be an author, dance, get good jobs, pay their bills, and have a nice home! These people are limited, not because of their sight, but because of their perspective. The opportunity is there for them to be more, but they choose the easier way of being mentally disabled. Their greatest disability is their fear. Ultimately, that is everyone’s hindrance to personal fulfillment. Every single one of us has something in common: we are all trying to be the best we can be, and failure is an inevitable stepping stone in the process. The difference in those who persevere and those who give up is not found in the degree of their challenges, but in their grit. Pearl, I have only known you a short time, but I can tell that you are one of the ones that have the determination not to be led by this disease. You can lead yourself and let your disease follow.”

“Yeah, and I think I might have found a good cane to help me lead,” Pearl thought to herself. Before she went to bed, she took out her stick from the bathtub. The paints were completely dry, and the stick looked magnificent. Pearl knotted a thin leather strap around the top of the stick to serve as both a wrist wrap and a device to loop it on her doorknob. She gazed at the stick and the display of the colors it wore. Pearl was intrigued by its mystery and beauty as if it were a crystal ball begging to tell the future.

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