This story is by Trish Perry and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A Life for Dana
Dana Clark was the only student at St. James school who was unable to hear. Every morning, while her classmates gathered in clusters to chat, she sat alone with her hands folded on top of her desk. More than anything, Dana wanted to join in and be a part of the discussion. Yet no one paid any attention to her. Not even a glance. Not ever.
To fight her loneliness, Dana created a world of her own in her mind. In her world, everything was much different. Not only was she able to hear, but she had friends. Dozens of friends. They thought she was witty and inventive and they sought out her companionship. She participated in the morning gossip fests, where she made jokes that they all found amusing. In her mind, Dana went to the movies, attended parties and hosted sleepovers. She listened to music. And she danced. All she had to do was close her eyes, and that world became her reality. Her only reality. The more tortured she was during the day, the longer she spent with her eyes closed. Of course, no one noticed, because no one was looking. Dana felt so alone.
Sister Mary Vitoli, an elderly nun who had escaped Mussolini’s rule, ambled up and down the rows of desks tapping her yardstick against her leg. She watched each student like a hawk, hoping to catch one of them doing something that would give her an excuse to use it. Her short, plump body reminded Dana of a pigeon. She thought of Sister Vitoli’s head on a pigeon’s body. It made her snort. Like a shot, the old nun raced over and stopped in front of Dana. She scowled at her the way an old dog scowls when it wants to start a fight. Dana looked straight ahead with a blank expression on her face. She wanted the nun to think the noise came from another student. The tactic worked. Sister Vitoli turned her attention to Johnny Lupino, a boy who was consistently in trouble. Dana couldn’t help but feel somewhat gratified that she was able to fake the old nun out.
Sister Vitoli charged toward Johnny Lupino. Her face was combative. When she reached Johnny’s desk, her mouth started moving and Dana knew from the expression on her face that she was scolding him. Dana tried to understand what the nun was saying, but her lip-reading skills were sorely lacking. Another inadequacy that left Dana feeling bad about herself. A crack of the yardstick on Johnny’s desk made him flinch. It made everyone in class flinch, except Dana. Johnny hung his head. Dana’s feeling of gratification changed into a feeling of guilt. She felt like she should admit that it was her, but before she had the chance, Sister Vitoli motioned to Angelia Cortez.
Angelia rose from her desk and walked to the front of the class. She took out a piece of paper and began reading from it. Dana looked around the classroom. Everyone’s eyes were fixed on Angelia. They were mesmerized by her. They watched every word that came out of her mouth with complete fascination. No one had ever looked at Dana that way. Not once in her entire life.
It was right at that moment that Dana decided she had enough. She was going to end the misery she felt. She had spent her entire life struggling. She couldn’t hear what people said, she couldn’t hear what people sang. She could watch a movie, but she didn’t know what the people were saying. Dana couldn’t see anything different in store for her.
That evening, Dana continued to think about how she was going to end her life. Like every other night, she had dinner with her mother. Dana blamed her mother for her condition. Not because she was born without the ability to hear, but because her mother had not done anything to get her any help so she could be a part of life. Dana knew there were places that taught kids to use sign language and read lips. She was very limited in her knowledge of both and If she could have attended classes at one of those spots, she knew her life would be better.
Dana waited for her mother to go to bed. Then, she got up and tiptoed through her mother’s bedroom into her bathroom. She opened the medicine cabinet and found a bottle of pills. The label read: “Take two pills at night for sleep.” Dana carried the bottle into the kitchen. She filled a glass with water and sprinkled several pills into her left hand. Her heart began to pound as she threw the pills into her mouth and swallowed them.
When Dana woke up, she was lying in a hospital bed with tubes in her nose. Her mother was standing next to her bed holding her hand. Her eyes were red from crying. Using sign language, Mrs. Clark asked her why she had taken the pills. Dana replied by signing. “Because I want to die.”
Mrs. Clark ran out of the room. Tears were streaming down her face. She reached into her pocket, pulled out a rumpled pack of cigarettes, put one in her mouth and lit it. She drew the smoke deep into her lungs, and slowly blew it into the air.
A nurse dressed in a crisp white uniform walked up and stood next to her. “Are you alright?” she asked.
“No.” Mrs. Clark replied.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” the nurse asked.
Mrs. Clark shook her head “no” and continued smoking her cigarette.
“I just wanted to let you know that Mrs. Harvey, the hospital social worker, will be here soon. She is very experienced and she will be able to help.”
“Thank you,” Mrs. Clark said.
Mrs. Clark walked back in to her daughter’s room to wait. Dana was sleeping soundly. She looked like she didn’t have a care in the world. After about forty-five minutes, a woman arrived and introduced herself.
“I’m Marilyn Harvey,” the social worker said.
“Gladys Clark,” Dana’s mother said.
The two shook hands.
“I’ll bet you want to know what’s going on,” she said with a smile.
“Yes, that would be nice,” Mrs. Clark replied.
“Your daughter is out of immediate danger. But she has a fight ahead of her.” Mrs. Harvey said. She is extremely depressed.
“Yes” Mrs. Clark replied.
“It’s my opinion that Dana will be able to leave here after the mandatory three-day waiting period. But it is essential that she be transferred to The Love School. It’s about a hundred miles from here and it specializes in teaching the hearing impaired how to get along in the world.” “She will also get the help she needs in order to come out of the deep depression.”
“Really?” Mrs. Clark answered. “That sounds wonderful. But I can’t afford anything like that.
“There is funding available for special cases. Dana falls into that category.”
“What do I need to do?” Mrs. Clark asked.
“I’ll make the necessary arrangements. I want her to leave as soon as she can.”
Over the next three days, preparations were made for Dana to leave. Mrs. Clark visited her daughter every day. She had never seen Dana look so happy. Because of the circumstances, Mrs. Harvey decided to drive Dana to The Love School herself. Mrs. Clark met them at the hospital so she could say good-bye to her daughter. It didn’t take long for Dana’s suitcases to be loaded in Mrs. Harvey’s car. Dana and her mother hugged each other tightly.
“She is going to be just great,” Mrs. Harvey said to Mrs. Clark.
“Thank you for this,” Mrs. Clark said.
Mrs. Harvey got in the driver’s seat and turned on the engine. Dana and her mother waved good-bye to each other. The car pulled away. Dana was on her way to life.