Stars Worth Searching For

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Chapter Twenty-Two

The next day, I’m going over what Madison talked to me about yesterday over dinner.

“When is it?” Mom asks.

“It’s next month, and it’s a week long.”

“I’ll go with you.” Ashlynn interjects.

“I don’t want you two going without mom.” Dad interjects.

“Well maybe we can all go.” Hannah interjects.

“See how much the tickets are, and ask if we can come as a family.” Dad says. “I wanna go too.”

“Oh okay.”

It would mean so much to me for all of them to hear my speech.

“Okay, I’ll ask at work tomorrow.” I clear the table and help mom with the kitchen. It would mean so much for all of them to go with me.

…………………………………………………………………………………

A month later, my family and I are packing, and getting ready to meet Madison at the airport.

“Are you excited?” Hannah puts her arm around me.

“Yeah, but I’m nervous about telling my story tomorrow.”

“I feel you, but we’re all here for you.”

“Thanks, I can’t wait for you to meet Madison.”

Hannah puts her arm around me, and takes a selfie, and posts her caption without any regrets.

Supporting my big sister as she deliberates her speech tomorrow and tells her story at the NFB convention! So proud to call her my sister.

As I hug Hannah, tears of excitement and nervous streak down my face. But i’m not ashamed at all.

“C’mon girls.” Dad says as our gate opens, and we board the plane.

………………………………………………………………………………………………

“You guys wanna get some dinner?” Dad asks.

“Yeah, can I ask Madison if she wants to meet us for dinner?”

“Sure.” Mom smiles.

“I’m so excited to see the resort.” Mady links her arm through mine.

“Where do we get our bags?” I ask, anxiously.

“Don’t worry, dad’s getting them.”

“Oh. okay.” I follow my mom and sisters out of the airport. Another place that gives me extreme anxiety.

I text Madison, and ask her if she wants to meet us at a restaurant at the resort.

She texts back, saying that she would love to.

“So we’re meeting Madison for dinner at the restaurant at the resort.”

“Okay, cool.” Dad says, before he loads the bags into our rental minivan, and we head off towards our resort.

…………………………………………………………………………………………

“What time are we meeting Madison?” Mom asks.

“In an hour.” I say, before going into the shower.

“What are you wearing tomorrow?” Mom asks.

I show mom a navy blue dress with yellow daisies, and a yellow cardigan.

“That looks nice, put it in the closet over there, and I’ll iron it for you.”

“Okay, cool.”

We finish getting ready, and head over to the restaurant to meet Madison.

“Hi!” She smiles and hugs me. “I’m so glad you all could make it.”

She hands me an itinerary. “I actually have both set up for a fundraiser for research for ROP.”

“Wow, I’d love to stop by after the speech tomorrow.”

“Good luck tomorrow, you’ll do great.” Madison puts her hand on my forearm.

“Thanks.” I stand up and hug her. “Thanks for everything.”

“No problem, you’ll do great tomorrow.”

*+We finish dinner and head back to the hotel room. I shower and try to sleep. I hope I can, but I’m so nervous and excited about presenting my speech tomorrow.

……………………………………………………………………………………………

“Alex?” Mom nudges me awake.

I rub my eyes. “Hmm?”

“It’s seven- fifteen. You wanna go get breakfast, before you have to get ready?”

“Sure.” I tie my hair into a bun, and slip into a sweatsuit.

“Ready?” Mom slips her flip flops on.

“Yeah.” I slip my socks and sneakers on.

Mom and I head out to the Dunkin Donuts on the first floor of the hotel.

“Did you get sleep, baby?” Mom asks.

“Not really.” I take a bite of my egg and cheese bagel, and a sip of my iced coffee.

“Are you nervous about today?” Mom squeezes my hand.

“I’ve never spoken in front of this many people, I hope I can hold it together.”

“If you don’t, they’ll see how genuine you are.” Mom smiles through some tears.

We finish eating, and I get dressed and ready for the convention.

“You good?” Ashlynn links her arm through mine, as we’re walking down the hall.

“Yeah.” I wring my hands. “I’m just nervous.”

“You’ll be okay.” Ashlynn wraps me into a hug,

“I wish Leo was here.” I sigh. “I wish he was here to see this.”

“Maybe he’ll watch the live stream, he still follows me on Instagram and I’m still friends with him on Facebook.”

“I doubt it. He probably doesn’t pay attention to what we post anymore. He hates me.”

“He doesn’t hate you.” Ashlynn squeezes my arm.

“Yes he does.” I go into the room, and hug all my family before going to wait in the front row for someone to announce me.

“No he doesn’t.” Ashlynn whispers before going to find where the family is sitting.

Madison goes on stage to announce me. “Good morning, ladies and gentleman. I have a speaker today that will be speaking about Retinopathy of Prematurity and her particular story of her experience with this tough, complicated disease. Please join me in welcoming Alexandria Baker to the stage.”

I walk up the stage steps, hoping not to trip.

Madison squeezes my arm, before handing me the microphone. “Good luck.” She whispers.

“Thanks.” I take the microphone, my hands shaking.

I take a deep breath, before speaking into the microphone. “Good morning ladies and gentlemen. My name is Alexandria and I have a disease called Retinopathy of Prematurity.”

I wet my chapped lips, before speaking again. “I was diagnosed at eighteen, but I did not start having symptoms until I was seventeen.” I sigh.

“I was a junior in high school, I was captain of the cheerleading team, and I had just gotten a car. The first symptom I started seeing was an extra step at the end of a staircase.”

“So. when I went to a routine check up, I found out that I had a vitreous hemorrhage, and a detached retina.”

I notice the audience looking at me with concern on their faces, and empathy. Some people are wiping tears away with tissues.

I smile to keep from crying. “The problems progressed mainly after the second surgery I had.”

“After the surgery I woke up with a headache, I knew there was something wrong.”

I go into explaining about the high eye pressure, and how the retina had detached for a third time, and a cataract had developed. By the time I’m explaining my scenario now, tears are streaming down my cheeks.

Madison comes over to me, and puts her arm around me, rubbing my back.

“So after I had my eye removed, I wanted to be a part of finding a cure for ROP, and other childhood diseases that cause blindness. So even though I have a bachelor’s degree in Early Care and Education with a minor in Child Life, and I was a Child Life Specialist before the surgery, I decided to go back to school.”

I notice every eye in the room is on me, and there isn’t a dry eye in the house.

“So while I may not be able to drive, or be a surgeon, I’m going to do my part, by becoming a medical researcher. And hopefully research more into the causes of this disease, or research methods into the treatments, and I’m never giving up. I love who I am. I work at a low vision clinic, for children who have low or no vision, and they also inspire me to embrace who I am, and become a medical researcher, because I may be a part of finding a cure for ROP and diseases that cause childhood blindness around the world.’

I smile as the roaring of applause and standing ovations overpower me, and I'm in tears.

“Thank you.” I manage to utter, before walking off the stage.

Mom hugs me, and kisses my cheek. “I’m so proud of you, Alex.”

“Thank you.” I link my arm through hers, and we walk back to our seats.

I’m proud of myself too.

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