BEAUTIFUL

       Beautiful, She Said

       I never thought that I understood her.  She always seemed so
  far away from me.  I loved her, of course.  We shared mutual love
  from the day I was born.  I came into this world with a bashed
  head and deformed features because of the hard labor my mother
  had gone through.  Family members and friends wrinkled their
  noses at the disfigured baby I was.  They all commented on how
  much I looked like a beat-up football player.  But no, not her.
  Nana thought I was beautiful.  Her eyes twinkled with splendor
  and happiness at the ugly baby in her arms. Her first
  granddaughter.  Beautiful, she said.
       Before final exams in my junior year of high school, she
  died.  Seven years ago, her doctors diagnosed Nana with
  Alzheimer's disease. Seven years ago, our family became experts
  on this disease as, slowly, we lost her.
       She always spoke in fragmented sentences.  As the years
  passed, the words she spoke became fewer and fewer, until finally
  she said nothing at all.  We were lucky to get one occasional
  word out of her.  It was then our family knew she was near the
  end.
       About a week or so before she died, she lost the abilities
  for her body to function at all, and the doctors decided to move
  her to a hospice.  A hospice.  Where those who entered would
  never come out.
       I told my parents I wanted to see her.  I had to see her.
  My uncontrollable curiosity had taken a step above my gut-
  wrenching fear.
       My mother brought me to the hospice two days after my
  request.  My grandfather and two of my aunts were there as well,
  but all hung back in the hallway as I entered Nana1s room.  She
  was sitting in a big, fluffy chair next to her bed, slouched
  over, eyes shut, mouth numbly hanging open.  The morphine was
  keeping her asleep.  My eyes darted around the room at the
  windows, the flowers, and the way Nana looked.  I was struggling
  very hard to take it all in, knowing that this would be the last
  time I ever saw her alive.
       I slowly sat down across from her.  I took her left hand and
  held it in mine, brushing a stray lock of golden hair away from
  her face.  I just sat and stared, motionless, in front of her,
  unable to feel anything.  I opened my mouth to speak but nothing
  came out.  I could not get over how awful she looked sitting
  there, helpless.
       Then it happened.  Her little hand wrapped around mine
  tighter and tighter. Her voice began what sounded like a soft
  howl.  She seemed to be crying in pain.  And then, she spoke.
       "Jessica," Plain as day.  My name.  Mine.  Out of 4
  children, 2 son-in-laws, 1 daughter-in-law, and 6 grandchildren,
  she knew it was me.
       At that moment, it was like someone was showing a family
  filmstrip in my head.  I saw Nana at my baptizing.  I saw her at
  my fourteen dance recitals.  I saw her bringing me roses and
  beaming with pride.  I saw her tap dancing on our kitchen floor.
  I saw her pointing at her own wrinkled cheeks and telling me that
  it was from her that I inherited my big dimples.  I saw her
  playing games with us grandkids while the other adults ate
  Thanksgiving dinner. I saw her sitting with me in my living room
  at Christmas time admiring our brightly decorated tree.
       I then looked at her as she was...and I cried.
       I knew she would never see my final senior dance recital.  I
  knew she would never see me cheer for another football game. I
  knew she would never sit with me and admire our Christmas tree
  again.  I knew she would never see me go off to my senior prom.
  I knew she would never see me graduate high school or college or
  see me get married.  And I knew she would never be there the day
  my first child was born.  This made tear after tear roll down my
  face.
       But above all, I cried because I finally knew how she had
  felt the day I had been born.  She had looked through what she
  saw on the outside and looked to the inside and saw ... a life.
       I slowly released her hand from mine and brushed away the
  tears staining her cheeks, and mine. I stood, leaned over, and
  kissed her.
       "You look beautiful."
       And with one long last look, I turned and left the hospice.

   from A Second Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul
  Copyright 1998 by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Kimberly
  Kirberger

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