I am in seventh grade, (or I should be. I was banned from school as soon as I stepped out) as I am telling you this story. No one talks to me, just him. I go to see him every day. The first time I saw him I was seven years old. I was on a field trip in first grade to the asylum. I snuck off to an open door. My friends told me never to go to room 119, but I went in anyway. They said the man in there was the craziest of them all. No medicine could cure him at all. He’d just go on saying the things he did, and then I said,
“If he keeps saying it with every medication maybe it’s true!” I exclaimed.
I got scolded by my teachers and I was discontinued by my friends after that proclamation. They never thought I would actually go in to that room. Then I tiptoed into the room to see an elderly man lying on a cot reading “The Giver” by Lois Lowry. I’ve read that book and all the others in that cycle since then. It was funny to me then for I’d only seen people read textbooks. And this thing called a Library he told me about was full of books like “The Giver.” And that’s how our friendship started.
“Sir, what’s a giver?” I asked him in my small, meek voice.
“A giver is a gracious, selfless, generous person,” he replied simply.
I had never heard any of those words in my life. But the way he said them made me think they were real words. I never asked what they meant, just thought about asking.
“Sir, if I may be so bold, you don’t sound crazy to me,” I said kindly.
“You would be the first, my dear child. Would you like to come in?” he asked.
I glanced back at my classmates shaking their heads in disapproval.
I glanced back at my classmates shaking their heads in disapproval.
“I would love to come in,” I said brightly.
I stepped through the forbidden grey doorway and sat on a small stool across from his bed where he sat upright, his book closed now.
“Young lady, what’s your name?” he asked softly.
“Lillian Jay Jenson,” I replied.
“What a beautiful name,” he commented.
“Sorry, what does beautiful mean?” I asked tasting the foreign word on my tongue.
“Something of good report, something that pleases you when one looks at it, smells it, touches it, tastes it, and thinks of it. Something excellent of its kind, do you understand?” he explained wisely.
“Somehow, yes, yes I do understand. Sir, why do you suppose I understand?” I asked.
“Lillian, may I call you Lilly?” he asked.
“Yes, by all means.”
“Lilly, how old are you, love?” he asked.
“I am seven years young,” I said.
“Seven! Why, how extraordinary. Lilly, I believe you are very special,” he said with a warm smile.
“What do believe and special mean?” I asked.
“Believe in this situation means that I think you are special even though I have no proof. I have confidence in your specialness, Lilly. Special means you are distinct from the usual. You are the only one of your kind. You are the only you there is; the only one that thinks and acts and speaks like you. You are special. Do you understand Lillian?” he explained knowingly.
“I completely understand, Sir. But I have to stop calling you sir don’t I? What is your proper name?” I asked.
“What’s my name, you ask? I haven’t been asked that in ages! My name is Henrie Clovis. I’m sixty-seven years old. Pleased to make your acquaintance,” he said, pleasantly surprised at my interest in him.
“How do you do Henrie?” I asked putting out my hand. He laughed heartily.
“Quite well, Miss Lillian Jensen,” he replied.
“Well Henrie, I must be off to my class. They’ll be boarding the bus soon and I should hate to be tardy. I’ll return soon enough, farewell,” I said sadly. I shook his hand once more and he smiled kindly at me.
“I shall look forward to when you do in fact return. Farewell to you too, Lillian,” he said sadly.
With that, I bounded merrily from the forbidden room to see the whole staff, my classmates, and the teachers glaring at me in wonder; scolding me with their horridly cruel, disapproving eyes. I just smiled sweetly at them, not knowing at all what I did.
“Lillian Jensen! Did you go into that room there?!” exclaimed the teacher angrily.
“Yes ma’am I certainly did,” I said simply not understanding her anger.
“You confess?” she asked profoundly puzzled at my quirky behavior.
“Whole heartedly, Misses Riviera.”
“Well! That makes things easy, then! You shall have your mother called and you shall never return to school. Do you understand?” she dictated.
“No, I do not understand,” I said plainly.
“Why do you not?” she asked in frustration.
“I do not comprehend what I have done wrong,” I said simply.
“Don’t say comprehend!” she shouted.
“Why not?” I asked confused.
“High vocabulary is unheard of! Unacceptable!” she exclaimed.
“I don’t know!”
“Back to the original question, why am I in trouble? Why must I be punished?” I asked.
“You went in to room 119,” she answered solemnly.
“What’s so bad about room 119?” I asked.
“The man within is the most insane of them all. We don’t agree with him,” she said curtly.
“Does that mean I’m not allowed in or you just don’t like me going in?”
“We don’t like it that you went in.”
“So I have permission to enter of my own accord?”
“Well then, I shall. May I still ride the bus to the school?” I asked.
“How dare you suggest such a thing after what you’ve done!” exclaimed a member of staff.
“Then I shall walk,” I said simply.
I walked right out of the asylum and walked the half mile home where my mother and father waited for me. A little girl of seven, walking on the grey street past the grey trees, watching the grey people pass with their grey faces staring at the pavement, no cars, only people. When I returned home, my mother paced in the living room and my father sat at the table with his head in his hands.
“Hello!” I called merrily.
“Lillian!” shrieked my mother in agony.
“Yes?” I asked undaunted in my cheerfulness.
“What have you done?” she asked.
“What are you referring to?” I asked.
“Go to your room! You’ll be served your meals there. You’ll never come out of that room, do you understand?” ordered mother.
“No, I do not understand.”
“Because I said so, that’s why!”
“All right, I’ll obey even though I don’t comprehend all this punishment whatsoever. Good day to you, mother,” I said calmly.
I walked down a wide hallway to my room and sat down on my medium sized grey bed with the white pillows. I sat there on the bed, thinking; nothing more than that. Pondering those words that Henrie said, and making sense of it all. I heard my parents arguing in the living room.
“She went in to room 119 in the asylum!” shouted mother.
“I know, I know. What do you suppose we do?” replied father nervously.
“We cover it up of course, when people ask us if she did it, we’ll say the asylum nurses love to gossip and make up stories. All right?” she said shakily.
“Fine, but you know this will get worse don’t you?” he said sadly.
“I know! Our daughter has virtually ruined our lives. You’ll lose your job, we’ll lose our friends, and we’ll be completely isolated!” she said edgily.
“I know, what’s the point of living now?” he asked, his voice quivering.
“What are you suggesting?” she asked scarcely audible.
“I’m suggesting we get rid of the kid. Just dump her on the street to die. We’ll be better off without her,” he said darkly.
By this point I was beginning to be concerned. I wanted to stay with mommy and daddy but they didn’t want me anymore. They were ashamed of me. Scared of what I would do to them. I took out my black marker, and went over to the white wall and wrote in big letters across the middle.
“Mommy!” I called.
She ran to my room to see what I wanted. I expected her to ignore me, so I was pleasantly surprised. She looked at the vandalized wall and stared at it was a puzzled expression.
“Honey, what’s that that you wrote on the wall?” asked mother.
“I wrote ‘I’m special’. Can’t you read mom?” I asked.
“Erase that right now!” exclaimed mother.
“Why? It’s a lovely thought! Plus, it is not washable,” I said.
“Pull the blinds, no one can see this. No one can see you, got that?” she said frantically.
“Why are you attempting to hide me?” I asked.
“Because of what you did, your father is in our room packing! PACKING! He’s leaving me!” she exclaimed devastated.
“Why is daddy leaving?” I asked.
“Because he doesn’t want his life to stink! That’s why he’s leaving,” she said angrily.
“Why would his life stink?”
“Because of what you did!” she yelled nearing tears.
“What did I do?”
“You went into room 119 at the asylum!” she screamed.
I backed away slowly from her, still wondering what was so bad about that lovely man Henrie in that room. I wondered so passionately, but could never bring myself to ask in fear of being thrown on the street like father first suggested. Mother sat crying in my room, and when father walked out she begged on her knees shrieking for him to stay. I just stood in my room, listening and not understanding but completely serene. Somehow that day, that incident made me wiser. I spent that night dreaming of grey things like any other little girl and I woke the next morning to mother sleeping on the living room floor, tears staining her face. I kissed her cheek, put on my sweater and walked to the asylum, unaware of the splendor that would come to me soon enough.