Last week I wrote about a little girl who grieved by the water’s edge because her parents were frolicking in the water while she stayed on the shore, alone. The image still haunts me, and so I have tried—in the only way a writer knows—to imagine her growing up years.
Her childhood must have been bleak. How, otherwise, when her parents offered only a cool indifference? I imagined Sybella—my name for her—as a small, slender child who was always dressed well, who was fed well, but whose emotional wellbeing was never served. Did her parents attend her school events? Did she always watch the closed door to the auditorium in hopes that this time they would come to see her dance, or sing, or speak lines in a play? And on her high school graduation day what would happen? Perhaps this:
While the principal droned off the names of the graduates, Sybella fidgeted in her maroon and gold robe. Her mother had given her the money for the graduation robe, so she had hoped that this time she and Daddy would come to the ceremony.. Now she looked across the rows of faces for her parents knowing that they would not be there after all. Her father’s boss was giving a party for his employees in Ashville—it really was a big deal–so of course he and Mama would have to go. “You don’t mind, do you?” was what her mother had asked and had not even seen her daughter’s disappointment.
Sybella’s stomach twisted into a tighter knot, but she tossed back her head and put on that look of indifference she had perfected through the years. It didn’t matter. No, it didn’t matter. Sybella turned her involuntary sob into a cough….
No, no, no! I don’t like this at all, and I’m going to change the scene. Writers have that option—something that Life sometimes lacks the power to do. So, now, what if Sybella had met, along her way, a caring teacher and… oh, why not?… a best friend with a loving family?
The graduation robe felt uncomfortably warm in the hot June sun, but she didn’t mind for here she was. In a few moments she was going to be called by the principal to receive her diploma. A quick glance across the auditorium showed her that her parents had not changed their minds at the last moment, and why would they? A party at the boss’s house trumped a graduation any day. Sybella’s heart twisted into a familiar knot.
Still, she’d made it, right? Here she stood with the rest of her lighter hearted classmates, and unlike some of them, she knew where she was going. NCU Chapel Hill and a full scholarship was her reward for years of hitting the books. There would be years of studying… and then a graduate degree in pharmacology. That was her trajectory, that was what Mr. Morganstern had drilled into her head from the moment she had stepped across the threshold of his classroom. ‘Study and succeed, Sybella. You have a brain—it will take you as far as you want to go!” That had been her mantra for four years, and when she saw Mr. M’s bulky form sitting with the other teachers, warmth eased the painful heartknot.
And… yes, there in the third row were Molly’s parents ,and the irrepressible twins who were each holding up hand-written cardboard signs. One of them said, ‘Congrats, Molly,’ and the other proclaimed, ‘You GO, Syb!’
With a mixture of determination and hope Sybella stepped onto the stage and walked towards the rest of her life.
Now, isn’t that a better story?
If somehow we changed
One small action, one quick word
Marvels might ensue.