Hello everyone who is reading this. I’m Joy Fully, sister to Faith Fully, Grace Fully and Hope Fully. I love art, people say I am good at it. My best friend is Savana Parker, and I live in a smallish town. I have a chronic illness, (While chronic means lasting more than six months, I was born with it, so it is unlikely that it will ever go away.) which means that I am always in a lot of pain, and it takes longer to heal than normal people. Sometimes I have to skip things, that I would really like to go to. I kept this a secret for a long time, but I learned that sometimes it is better to tell.
Anyway Savanna was at my house that day. I had just gotten a dog. My parents apparently decided that I would do smarter things if I had a dog. (Don’t ask.)
Savana and I randomly started talking.
“I can’t wait for school! Art class, YAY!” This was me.
“Um Joy.” Savana said.
“You know how my parents are divorced?” I nodded. “Well, my Mom decided to send me to boarding school for the year, because she thinks I’ll get better care there.” Savana’s eyes filled with tears.
Suddenly I felt crushed. I barely got through last year with Savana. How would I do it without her?
Savana was at my house that day. It was not a good day. It didn’t help that this was going to be one of my last days with Savana before she left.
“I’ll go see what that is.” Savana offered.
I was glad. I didn’t really want to get up. Savana knew that, and she wouldn’t make me get up.
“Joy! Come quick!”
I jumped off the bed and ran into the kitchen, where Savana was.
Mom had fallen off of a ladder or something, and was laying on the ground, not moving.
“What happened?” I whispered, not wanting to make too much noise.
“I don’t know. Maybe you’d better call 911.”
I grabbed the phone off of the table and punched in the number.
“My Mom fell and she is not moving. I don’t know, maybe a concussion. What should I do? You are sending an ambulance over? Okay. Yeah.” I gave them my address and told Savana.
All that was left to do was wait.
A couple of hours later I went to see Mom in the hospital.
“What exactly happened?” I asked, as no one at home would tell me.
“Remember when I had Scarlet Fever?” Mom asked. I nodded. “Well, what the doctors think happened is that it triggered a chronic illness. I have been feeling pretty bad for awhile, so that would explain it.”
“But don’t you have to be be born with it?” I asked.
“You were born with it, but it also can be triggered by a really bad illness, like scarlet fever. It also can be genetic, meaning that it’s likely that you are not the only one who has it in our family.”
“What happened with the falling thing anyway?” I asked.
“I don’t really know.” Mom confessed. “I just was there, and then on the floor.”
“When are you going to be released from the hospital?” I wanted to know.
“Not for awhile, I don’t think.” She glanced at me. “Which brings me to something you need to know. I talked to your dad, and we decided with me being in the hospital, that we are going to send you to boarding school with Savana.”
I rocketed out of my chair. “What!” I screeched. “What about Hope and Faith? What about me? I have a chronic illness too! How’s that going to work?”
Mom put her hands up, like ‘what am I going to do?’ She reacted calmly. “Joy, Grace is old enough to care for Hope and Faith, and they both can handle being alone at home a lot. I don’t think you can. Savana will be there too. Maybe you can be roomies”
“This is not up for discussion Joy. We already decided.”
I buried my face in my hands and cried.
After we came home from the hospital I sat in my bed, being sad. I didn’t want to leave my family OR Savana. I wished we could all just stay here. Maybe, maybe I can get out of it. But then I would have to leave Savana.
Savana came out of nowhere and came to sit on my bottom bunk.
“Hi Joy! Why are you screaming? I’m leaving tomorrow, did you know? I’ll miss you so much.”
“Hi Savana. I’m screaming because I’m frustrated.”
“Why are you frustrated?”
“Because my parents decided to send me to boarding school with you, and I don’t want to leave them.”
“That’s great!–for me. What about your sisters? Aren’t they coming with you? You will be able to see them too.”
“My parents decided on only me-because I am ‘hard to take care of.’” I burst out crying.
“Oh Joy, it’s not all THAT bad. You could be going alone. At least we will have each other.”
Savana jumped up.
“I’ll be right back!”
She came and dumped a bunch of clothes on my bed, trying to distract me probably.
“I think you should take all of these.”
Then she put one more thing on the pile-a very special shrug of hers that I had always loved.
“I think you should take this too.”
“I can’t! It’s yours!”
“I am giving it to you. When things happen, and you know they will, you can be reminded that I’m still here for you.”
Today was the day we drove to River Valley school. It was five hours away, too far too come and go every day so we were to be boarding students.
I don’t know what happened when we got to the sign-in desk, but Savana suddenly lost it.
“Joy Fully is in room 876 and Sava-”
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOO! I wanna be with JOY!”
“Sorry. You are in room 43-”
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! I won’t do it unless I can be with JOY!”
Savana’s mom stepped up.
“Actually Joy probably should be with someone she knows, or she won’t take it well. She has been known to do some not so smart things when she is sad, and she might try to run away if she isn’t with Savana.”
I hoped she was making some of that up, but it worked, and we got to room together.
“You too may go up to room 768 but Mrs Parker stays here.”
We said tearful goodbyes and went up to our room.
It wasn’t much, but a place to call our own. I saw a bunk bed, a ladder/shelf, a desk (Why not two?) and a sink.
Tired from hours in the car I jumped up to the top bunk and fell asleep.
Savana jumped up to me, I don’t know how much later.
“Someone came to our door and asked for Joy Fully to come to the nurse’s office.”
The place wasn’t much bigger than ours, decorated the same way. The nurse sat in a chair.
Suddenly I knew the nurse’s name. She used to be my school nurse, back when I was little.
“What are you doing here Joy? Don’t you have a good school?”
Tearfully I told her my story, ending with: “And with my chronic illness and all my parents decided to send me here.”
“You still have that?”
“The chronic illness?”
“I was afraid this would happen.” Ellen groaned.
“When you were younger your chronic illness wasn’t nearly as bad. I was hoping it would go away, but it only got worse it seems.”
“All too soon.”
I hopped on the top bunk.
Ellen jumped after me.
“Mind if I give you some advice?”
“If you aren’t felling well skip a day of classes. Don’t push yourself, or you could make yourself extremely sick.”
Oh how I wish I’d listened.
I turned over and put my pillow over my head. “Be quiet Hope!”
“Oh Joy,” Savana Laughed. “We are at this boarding school, River Valley, not home.”
I sat up. She was right. A bell rung. I realized that I had slept in my clothes and I hurried out of bed to change.
I was trying to pull my hair into braids, when the bell rang.
“Is that the breakfast bell?”
“No Joy, that is the late bell.” She took off running, leaving me behind.
When I got to my class they were doing names. I had had a hard time falling asleep the night before and I was really tired.
The teacher was about as far away as she could get from me. I rested my head against the table for just a minute. And I fell asleep.
I felt a tap on my head. “Hello?” The teacher said. “And what name do you have the honor of having?”
“Ummm.” I stuttered. “What was the question? Oh, I won’t know it. I fell asleep.” I admitted hesitantly.
“What is your name?”
There were some snickers.
Her expression softened. “It’s okay Joy. You can get a pass and go to the nurse’s office. Just try to stay awake from now on.”
The Teacher walked back up to her desk.
As I walked out of the room I saw a girl raise her hand.
“I forgot a pencil.”
“Then use Roberta’s!” She snapped.
Why was she being so nice to me? I wondered. Then it dawned on me. She knew about my chronic illness.
I was at my door, trying to get in. The lock wouldn’t open, and Savana wasn’t around to help me.
Suddenly this girl walked up.
“Need some help?”
I stepped aside and let her do her thing. In seconds the door was open. I took a step toward it, but The girl motioned toward her own door, the one next to it.
“Wanna come in, Joy!”
“Sure, wait, how do you know my name?”
“You are the one who fell asleep in class right?”
She opened her door, and we walked in. It was one of the more expensive, nicer rooms, that only the richest families could afford. I realized that the girl must be part of the ‘popular group’ for they were the only ones with expensive rooms.
She hopped up onto the bed and motioned for me to follow, but I stayed on the stool.
“Yes, that’s me.”
“Good. I admire your courage Joy. I’m Roberta, but my friends call me Bob.”
We talked until the dinner bell rang, and when it did Roberta invited me to sit with her, and I said yes. Because I liked Roberta.
Savana was spending more time with her horseback riding friends, and we didn’t have any classes together, so I started hanging out with Roberta. Her group was the popular one, the one everyone loved and wanted to be with. This group wasn’t all that great though…..
While we were eating lunch I saw Savana wandering around, looking for a place to sit.
I waved her over to where I was.
“Sit with us Savana.”
“Her! Sit with US?” Serenity answered. “Nope. Go sit with the rest of your loser friends.”
“Then I’ll come sit with you.”
But Savana had already turned away.
It wasn’t bad though. It was kind of fun being in the popular group here. But really I just missed Savana.
I don’t know how they do it. Really I don’t.
At that moment ‘it’ was have a sleepover, stay up till two in the morning, and then go to classes. The rest of the girls at Roberta’s sleepover had slept in her room, but since mine was right next door I went to my own.
And when I woke up I was exhausted. I knew I couldn’t do classes that day. I just couldn’t.
I saw that there was a notebook right next to my bed.
So I picked it up and scribbled a note.
Sick today can’t come to classes -Joy
“Can you deliver this to the secretary?” I asked Savana. She grabbed the note and read it.
“I guess.” She sounded worried. “Are you really going to be okay by yourself?”
“Don’t worry Savana.” I insisted. “The secretary will send the nurse down here to make sure I’m really sick.”
“Okaayyyy.” She still sounded worried. “Feel better Joy.”
Then she was gone.
And pretty soon Ellen arrived.
“Oh it’s you Joy. I wasn’t sure who was in room 768.”
“Yup it’s me.”
“Normally I would check to see if you are really sick, but with you, I think it’s fine. You can stay in here today.”
“How are you feeling.”
And that’s when I lost it.
“What do you think! Would I not be going to classes if I was okay?”
Ellen plopped in the chair.
“Oh Joy.” She sighed then seemed to come up with something. “Have a nice day.”
And then she was gone.
This was only the beginning of such sleepovers. I would have skipped them, but I was scared that my friends wouldn’t like me. So I went to all of them, staying in my room to sleep every day after. I fell farther and farther behind in my classes, but at the moment I didn’t really care. I just wanted to make it through alive.
Roberta was the first to pick up on it. One day she confronted me about it.
“Joy, I want to know why every time we have a sleepover you skip classes.”
“Um.” What could I say to that? “I have a reason, but for now you don’t need to know.”
Roberta was not satisfied with that. She told the rest of our group about it, and the were always pestering me, being quite mean. They didn’t believe me, and they really wanted to know. One time I even caught Roberta reading my journal.
After one really hard day I was taking a nap. Savana came down to our room.
“Joy are you okay?”
And then to my surprise I had smacked her, and she was laying on the ground.
I cried myself to sleep.
For Christmas Break we had awhile off. Savana’s parents were taking her home, and since Dad would be home most of the time it was decided I could come too.
Savana’s mom dropped me off at home. Nervously I went into the house.
She looked a lot better. I was glad.
“Oh Joy, I’m so glad you are here! We have so much to do. Let’s start with making cookies!”
I looked at the clock. It was already nine forty, and I’d had a long day. At school lights out wasn’t till ten but I was always so tired I went to bed before nine.
Mom.” I started. “I’ve had a long day. I’m going to bed. You can make cookies if you want, but I’ll help you in the morning.” And I did.
After we were finished making cookies the next morning Mom announced we were going to the zoo. This time I just rolled my eyes.
“Take the little kids to the zoo. I’m staying here.”
That was a good day. But the best part came when I went upstairs.
“Oh yay.” I was muttering as I walked up the stairs. “They got rid of the extra bunk bed because Grace went to college, and I left. Now how are we supposed to sleep extra people?”
I started climbing up the ladder.
My sister was home from college.
Awhile later my cousins Elli and Ana arrived. As we were making cookies in the kitchen Elli asked about how I was dealing with my school.
“Welllllll.” I was afraid I was going to cry. “All my friends want to know about my secret, and are not being very nice to me. I don’t know how to make them stop.”
Little Ana spoke up. “If you want them to stop, just tell them your secret.”
“I guess I can do that.”
Elli spoke next. “Joy it turned out well last time. There’s no reason it can’t turn out well again.”
Right after school my group met in Serenity and Roberta’s room. That’s when I decided to make my move. I was going to come straight out and tell them, but they started taunting me about it first.
“So Joy?” Serenity asked. “When are you going to tell us your secret?”
I took a deep breath. “Right now.” And then I poured out my whole story. I told them everything. I didn’t want to deal with them trying to find out my secret. And to my surprise…..
“Wow Joy!” Riley said. “You are a good storyteller. Now tell us the real stuff.”
“B but” I sputtered. “I DID!”
“No you did not.”
This time I tried to be calmer. “Please believe me guys. I’m telling the truth.
“Is a chronic illness even a real thing?” Serenity asked. “It’s not. Tell us the truth.”
Now I was just so mad. I yanked my feet out from under me and stood on the chair. I probably shouldn’t have started yelling at her, but no one’s perfect. “Not a real thing? How could you think that? Don’t you get it? I’m not lying to you! Do you think I would say that I had something this bad if I didn’t? I don’t want to have it! And I didn’t want to tell you either but I did, and THIS is how you treat me!”
Serenity was now almost on fire. “I’ve tried to be friends with you! I’ve tried to get past how stupid you are and make a friend. But no, you are just taking advantage of us. No one could have things so bad happen to them!”Serenity got up and left. Apparently I wasn’t worth being with.
A lot she knew.
Now Riley got up and left.
“How could you, Joy?” Roberta asked. “I thought you were my friend. But you Lied to me!”
After I told my ‘friends’ my secret they left me. No one belived me, and they thought I was taking advantenge of them. Savana had been hanging around with other friends, and I don’t even think she noticed anything was wrong.
I spent most of my free time alone, often crying.
One day I was flopped on my bed in our room. I wasn’t really doing anything in particular.
Savana and a girl I didn’t know came in. I watched this girl look around the room, barely noticing me.
The girl looked over her shoulder in my direction.
“Your roommate is the girl who lied to everyone?” She gasped. “How can you stand it?”
Savana didn’t actually agree to it, but neither did she deny it. “Yeah, that’s Joy.” She just said.
“Come on Callie.”
Then they left without even a second glance at me.
That next morning I could barely pull myself out of bed so I didn’t bother. It wasn’t like anyone wanted me there anyway. I would have asked Savana to take a note up to the office, but she had already left so I just went back to sleep.
A couple minutes after the bell rang I heard a knock on my door.
“Can I come in?” It was Ellen.
“What’s wrong Joy?” She asked
“I don’t feel good.”
“That’s understandable, but why didn’t you tell someone you wouldn’t be coming?”
“Savana wasn’t here, and I didn’t feel like getting up,”
Ellen sat down in the chair. “Is everything alright?”
I thought about just telling her that I was sick so I wouldn’t have to tell her about the girls picking on me, but I told the truth. “A few girls have been picking on me because of my illness.”
“You know, you can’t let them hurt you.” She told me. “You have to decide that you don’t care about they they are saying.”
“Sure.” I said sarcastically.
“I have to go now,” She said. “but if you need me I’m here for you,”
When I went back to classes the next day my ‘friends’ set out to make my life miserable. It worked.
I remember seeing them crowded around my locker as I pulled my stuff out if it.
I jumped back as a jar of dirt and bugs spilled everywhere. It was positioned to fall out as soon as I opened the door.
By the way the girls were laughing I knew they had done it on purpose.
The janitor handed me a broom, and I heard Roberta whisper something to Serenity.
By the time I had finished sweeping the mess up I was late to Art, and the halls were deserted.
I hadn’t had time to grab my art supplies, so I went to the teacher to try to explain what happened.
“I’m late because some girls put a jar of bugs and dirt in my locker and I didn’t have time to clean in up. I didn’t have time to get my art supplie-”
One of the other girls in Roberta and Serenity’s group waltzed in.
“She’s making things up Mrs Oakwood. She’s lying. No one did anything to her, she just didn’t want to paint.”
“Is this true Joy?”
“Of course not! It’s-”
“You are going to believe JOY?” The girl asked. “The one who lied to everyone about her illness to skip school?”
“Good point Cinnamon.”
“You are going to believe Cinnamon?” I burst out. “What abo-”
Mrs Oakwood cut me off. “That’s enough Joy. We need to start.”
And so I got to stare at an empty easel the entire time.
I was sick of everyone being so mean. So one day I confronted Serenity’s group.
“Why are you being so mean to me? You begged for the truth, and I gave it to you.” I told them.
“Why won’t you just admit you lied? We know you didn’t tell the truth.” One of the girls said.
“I did tell you the truth.” I insisted.
“Joy, we’ve all lied to get out of class. It’s okay, you can tell us.” Serenity insisted.
“I didn’t lie to get out of class. I wasn’t feeling good.”
I sat down on one of the beds. “Truly I didn’t.”
“Joy, if you can’t even tell us the truth about something small like that, how do we know you aren’t lying about bigger stuff?”
“Because I’m not.”
Most of the girls rolled their eyes.
“How can I get you to stop being so mean?”
“By telling the truth, admitting that you are lying to get out of class.”
“I’m not lying.”
“Fine. We won’t be mean to you when you aren’t lying. No promises for anything else.”
Cinnamon got up and pushed me out of the room. “But we don’t want to be friends with a liar.”
So all I had to do was not skip classes. All I had to do was what everyone else was doing. It was so simple really.
It couldn’t be that hard, right?
So I pretended that nothing was wrong and went to classes anyway, despite feeling so sick. My teachers didn’t notice that anything was wrong, but I was trying pretty hard to act normal.
The next day I felt worse, but I went to class again.
Every day I felt worse, and it got harder to function, but I pushed through it.
I knew that I should stay back from my classes and rest, but I was so scared.
I went to the classes, but I wasn’t really learning anything. I found it really hard to focus on what my teachers were saying, and I often went to bed before I finished much of my homework.
My grades went way down, but my teachers didn’t seem to notice.
Really no one seemed to notice how awful I felt.
One morning Savana was trying to wake me up, like always.
“Hey sleepy head!” She teased. “Are you okay?”
The true answer was definitely not, but I couldn’t tell her that. “Nah, I’m just tired.” I told her with as much strength as I could muster.
“Do you want to go get ice cream with me and Callie after classes today?” Savana asked.
I knew not going might show her that something was wrong, but I just couldn’t do it. “No thanks, not today.”
“Are you sure? We could bring you back some ice cream?”
“It’s okay. I’ve got homework to do.”
I never did end up finishing that night’s homework.
I felt really bad that morning. I really didn’t want to get out of bed that morning. Savana had left, but I stayed in bed.
Finally I realized that if I didn’t show up in the next few minutes people would start to wonder.
So I finally pulled myself out of bed and threw on a jacket over my pajamas.
I struggled to shove on a pair of shoes, being so frantic to get them on that I dropped them.
I finally was ready, and hurried to class, but I was really late and they had started already.
“And tell me Miss Joy, why are you late today? Are you sick?”
“No Mrs Green.” I avoided looking at her. I didn’t want to see the disappointment in her eyes.
“So why are you late?” Her voice was gentle, but her eyes had a harsh glint.”
“I just overslept.”
“I’ll let you off with a warning today, but I’ll have to write you up if it happens again.”
I was a few minutes later than everyone else to the rest of my classes, because I just didn’t have the energy to go fast. My classes seemed so far apart, like climbing a mountain, rather than walking to the other end of the hall.
Gym class is always hard, but that day was worse than usual because the teacher targeted me.
We were working on cartwheels. I have no idea why the whole class needed to know how to do a cartwheel. Mrs Andy probably explained, but I wasn’t paying attention till I heard my name.
“Joy, will you show us a cartwheel?”
“I can’t do a cartwheel.” I whispered. Actually I probably could, but it had been so long, and I really didn’t have the energy.
“Come on now, don’t be shy.”
I tried. I really did. But I didn’t have any energy, and just being in front of all those people freaked me out so much I could hardly function.
And when I tried to do the actual cartwheel I fell down. Everyone laughed. Laying on the ground I wondered if I had to get up, or if I could just stay down there forever. I wouldn’t have to face everyone.
But I knew they were staring at me, so I got up.
And there was Savana and Callie. They had seen everything. Savana gave an apologetic smile, but I walked away. I was sure they were laughing at me too
Finally, finally, One of my teachers figured out something was wrong. I’m not entirely sure how. I was trying really hard to act normal and not show how bad I felt. But they must have thought something was wrong, so they sent me to the nurse.
Ellen was doing stuff in her office, obviously not expecting me. She was very ingrained in whatever it was she was doing and didn’t notice when I walked in. I stood there for a moment, thinking.
I went to the nurse’s office. That’s all they told me to do. If I left before she noticed me, I would have gone to the nurse’s office, but not have to talk to Ellen.
But as I turned to leave, Ellen noticed that I was there and turned around.
“Joy! What’s wrong?” Ellen asked with concern.
I hopped up onto the bed. “I’m fine.”
“Then why are you here during classes?”
“Um…We are doing hearing tests apparently, and I was supposed to be first….” I trailed off. It was a lousy excuse, but I couldn’t think of anything better.”
“Oh, well, your teacher must be mistaken. No hearing tests today. But while you are here, how are you doing?”
“Good.” I fibbed.
“Are you getting enough rest?”
I know she was asking multiple things, not just what she said, but also if I was caring about myself.
I tried to convince myself that because I was getting enough sleep, I wasn’t lying, but I knew I was, and that I should tell the truth, but I couldn’t do it. What would I even say. I wanted so badly for someone to know, but it would only make things worse. At least she didn’t know I was lying.
Looking back on that day, I realize that she probably knew I was lying, but decided that if I didn’t want to talk I wasn’t going to talk, and I’d talk when I was ready.
“Well then, I’d better get back to class.” I wanted to get out of there before she started asking questions I couldn’t answer.
“Yes, yes, you probably should. Have a good day Joy!”
And so I walked away.
It was the end of the year, and finally warm enough to spend time outside. So we had an “educational” hike thing. It was required, but I probably could have gotten out of it if I wanted to. And I wanted to, but I couldn’t bring myself to say anything. So I went on the hike.
Savana and Callie joined forces, but I was left behind. I was last to get to the clearing we stopped at for a break. There were people scattered everywhere, teachers, kids, Callie and Savana on a log, but I felt so alone.
Not long after I sat down on the grass, some teacher appeared. She was talking, but I was hardly paying attention.
“Joy? Did you hear me?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah, sorry. I heard you.” But I had no idea what she said.
“Go sit with your friends, okay?”
I really didn’t want to, but I got up and joined Callie and Savana on a log.
“Oh, hey Joy.” Savana acknowledged me, but kept talking to Callie. I didn’t pay attention to them.
Callie and Savana looked so put together, so cute. Me? I was wearing clean clothes for once, quite an accomplishment, having to do my own laundry. I felt so out of place beside them. They chattered on, and I listened, but didn’t say anything. I’m not sure they even noticed I was there.
I was tired and didn’t want to walk, but I wanted the break to be over, I wanted to get away, to be alone with my thoughts.
And finally it was, and we moved on. I lagged behind the others, going slower and slower. I was lost in thought, not even realizing that I was alone till I came into a fork in the trail and didn’t know which way to go.
I picked one, but it must have been wrong because I didn’t come across anyone.
Eventually I gave up, and sat down in the grass, realizing I was lost, but not really caring. I knew how to get back to the school, I just didn’t have the energy to do it.
I didn’t think anyone had noticed I was gone, but later-minutes or hours, I don’t know-Ellen showed up.
“There you are! We were so worried!”
Ellen sat down next to me. “What happened?”
I shrugged. “I got lost.”
“Why were you so far behind everyone?”
“You didn’t have to come, you know. You should have stayed and rested.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Yes it does Joy. I don’t want you to get sick.”
And then I lost it. I don’t remember standing up, or raising my voice, but I was on my feet screaming at her. “You wouldn’t care if I got sick. No one does. People only get mad at me when I stay and rest, so I had to come. You don’t understand.”
As tired as I was, as much as I didn’t want to move, I got up and walked away.
I heard Ellen call my name, but she didn’t run after me. She let me walk away.
I leaned against a tree and sat down. For the next few minutes I didn’t care, I didn’t think, I was just there. Like always, but this time I was truly alone.
After a few minutes I saw Ellen standing over me. I don’t know how long she was there. I didn’t say anything, I didn’t look at her, but when she asked if she could sit next to me, I nodded.
We sat in silence for a few minutes. And then I began to talk. I don’t know what I said, but I remember pouring out everything, and I mean EVERYTHING.
And then I was silent again. Ellen asked some questions, but I only nodded, or shook my head, or shrugged.
“Let’s go back to school.”
“Can I have a hug?”
I started to get up to give her a hug out of instinct, but stopped. She asked again, and I shook my head. I had realized that I could say no. It was probably the second time I had done that in my whole life, but I wasn’t ready.
I got up and started walking toward camp.
Ellen joined me, but we didn’t say anything.
We just walked back to school.
After that after hike, after I told, I went home. It wasn’t my choice, and I didn’t want to, but everyone decided that it was for the better.
At this point I was so sick I didn’t really care. I had wanted to go home the whole time, but was too scared to say anything.
“But what about Mom?” I had asked Ellen.
“She’s getting better, and she wanted you to come home.”
So I did.
I took all my school stuff home, and communicated with my teachers to get the assignments and turn them in.
After like a week of doing almost nothing but sleeping and being bored, I started my schoolwork. I had to back up a lot to understand everything that I hadn’t really done before.
It was frustrating. There was so MUCH of it, things I didn’t care about, things I didn’t want to do.
I just didn’t have the motivation to do it. What was the point if I wasn’t ever going to get better. When would I use it? Would I ever get better? Would I be stuck in this bed for the rest of my life? Even if I did get better, would the better be worse than how I was before all this?
I didn’t tell anyone, and my schoolwork just heaped higher and higher, and with no one to help me do it, I don’t think I ever even ended up doing it all.
Savana and I spent a lot of time talking through the internet. She didn’t understand why I came home. Sometimes I felt like she thought I was lying about being so sick, and that I really just wanted to get away from her.
It wasn’t true, but I didn’t know how to tell her that.
All these things piled up on top of me, and made it hard to focus on school, letting alone getting better.
I was trying to believe I would get better, but it was hard.
I was having another really hard day. I was feeling kind of hopeless about getting better, my stack of schoolwork was probably taller than I was, and I felt alone.
From it’s spot, my laptop started ringing, a video call alert from Savana.
I didn’t really feel like talking to her, but I didn’t want to disappoint Savana.
The laptop beeped, and we were connected. Savana had moved into a room with Callie, and it was the same as ours, but flipped.
We talked for a few minutes, but I wasn’t very enthusiastic. I answered her questions, but she was the one leading the conversations.
Finally Savana noticed something was off.
“What’s wrong Joy? You don’t seem much like yourself.”
I sighed. “Do you think it’s easy to act like yourself when you are stuck in the same room for days?”
“I didn’t mean it like that Joy.”
“How did you mean it then?”
“I.” She stopped. “I don’t know. I guess I meant that it seemed like something was wrong.”
“Of course there is something wrong.” I started to explain about how I was feeling, but then stopped.
“You wouldn’t understand.” I told her.
“You wouldn’t understand Savana. No one does. They can’t. You can’t understand how hard it is to be stuck in bed, and for it to be all your fault.”
But I cut her off. “You can’t understand Savana. You have been having fun with your friends, having the time of your life. You are probably glad that I’m not here, probably enjoying your time with Callie!”
“Even when I was there, all you talked about was Callie, Callie, Callie.”
“That’s not true!” Savana’s voice was starting to rise now. “You spent all your time with the ‘popular group’ You refused every invitation of mine. I TRIED.”
“Look, this is hard for me too, okay?”
“You? You have absolutely nothing to feel bad about. You have everything perfect right now.”
“No. I don’t.”
I heard a clunk as Savana’s tablet hit the floor, and then my screen went black too.
Later in the day, I was trying to take a nap, to forget all that had happened, but it wasn’t really working.
Mom came into my room. “Hey Joy, want a cupcake?”
Mom set the cupcake on my dresser and sat down. “What’s wrong Joy?”
“What do you mean?”
“Something is obviously wrong.”
I sighed. “I had an argument with Savana.”
“She doesn’t understand.”
“You know, this has been hard on her too Joy.”
“Her? But I’m the one who has lost everything!”
“Yes, and she couldn’t do anything to stop it. And I’m sure she misses you.”
I didn’t say anything. It was a lot to think about.
The timer beeped, and Mom got up to leave.
“But what do I do?”
Just before she left, Mom stopped. “You could try talking to her.”
I took a deep breath and pushed the video call button. It rang fourteen times before she finally accepted.
For the first few seconds we just stared at each other.
Then I started talking.
“I’m so sorry Savana. I know you didn’t do anything wrong. I was jealous of you and Callie, and I thought you didn’t want to be my friend anymore.” I was desperately hoping that she would assure me that she did still want to be my friend, but I wasn’t expecting it.
“Of course I still want to be your friend Joy!” I guess I needn’t have worried. “When you left I felt so bad, like it was my fault you had to go home. Callie helped assure me that it wasn’t my fault, and I needed a friend after you left. And,” she admitted quietly, “I was jealous of you also.”
“Me? What in my life could possibly be worth wanting?”
“For awhile you seemed to have it all. You had a big group of friends that you hung out with all the time, and you didn’t seem to need me anymore. You refused every invitation of mine.”
It came upon me, that I had, in fact, refused all her invitations. It wasn’t because I was trying to hurt her, it was because I was too sick to enjoy them.
“This has been hard for me too, Joy. You were always my friend, and then you left. Now you are stuck at home, and I’m stuck here. It’s hard.”
“I’m so sorry Savana.”
“I am too.”
“I have to go now.” Savana said. “But if you ever need to talk to me, I’ll be here.”
“Same for you, okay?”
My cousins Elli and Ana were staying with us for a week. They were very understanding, and did a lot to cheer me up. They didn’t blame me for my mistakes, something that it felt like everyone else did, especially me.
Elli was a few years older than me, but she didn’t treat me like I was an immature little kid.
I think she realized, that with all I’ve been through, I’m NOT an immature little kid. I’ve changed a lot during these past few years.
Elli would come hang out in my room sometimes, even if I wasn’t willing to talk, just to be there. We usually did talk though.
Elli and I had these long talks, about anything and everything. We talked about lamas, food, illness, the future, how crayons are made, everything.
I remember one day Elli put a tray of food in front of me, then sat down to talk.
After a few minutes Elli commented on the food that I hadn’t eaten. “Is anything, wrong, or are you just not hungry?”
“I’m just not hungry.”
We sat in silence for a few seconds, and then I said something I’d thought I would never say.
“What if I don’t get better Elli? What if I’m like this forever? I ruined everything. If only I’d taken care of myself? Would things be different now.”
Elli took so long to respond that I thought she wasn’t going to.
At last, she started to talk. “I think,” She said slowly, “That everyone makes mistakes. And some of them are bigger than others, some of them have more consequences than others, some of them are more life changing than others. And you can’t change what you have done, no matter how hard you try, you can only learn from it. I know it’s hard right now, but you will adjust, and, though it make take a long time, you will learn to forgive yourself. Don’t hate yourself for this Joy. Everyone makes mistakes.”
And then there was Ana. She was several years younger than me, but she loved to hang out with me.
I know she looked up to me, and though that was cool, I didn’t want her to look up to me, a person who had messed everything up with a few big mistakes.
One time I told her this, but she just said “I know that you did some mistakes. I like that you are so brave and cheerful through all of this.”
Sometimes Ana brought in her treasured colored pencils, and we would draw.
Ana had the most unique, innocent outlook on things, and she was a very cheerful little girl.
I was still stuck in bed, but having my cousins there helped a lot. They gave me something I hadn’t had in a long time.
I was still so ridiculously sick, but I finally had the hope I needed to get better. I started to reach out more when I needed help. I stopped answering the question “How are you” with “Good.”
That one small word had ruined everything.
But it was okay.
I remember the first time getting out of bed without help. I remember walking to my sister’s room and yelling “Boo” at her. She was so surprised, and it wasn’t just because I had scared her.
Elli, Ana, and Savana helped me so much. They were so supportive, especially when I couldn’t see myself getting better.
The end of year party at RiverView approached, and I made it a goal to be able to go. I knew there was a good chance I’d have to stay home, but it was nice to have something to get excited for.
One day close to the party I was bored, so Elli and Ana decided that now was the time we were going to pick out dresses. Honestly I had totally forgotten about that at all.
I didn’t really have any ones of my own that I liked, because dress-requiring events were not my thing. But being the youngest of four girls, I had acquired all the outgrown dresses. By this point I didn’t even know what I had. My sisters gave them to me, and I stuck them in the back of my closet.
So, instead of going shopping, which I wouldn’t have been up for, Elli and Ana found a ton of dresses, and I tried them on.
We put Callie and Savana on video chat so them could help choose, and then I started trying dresses on.
The first one I tried on was red, long, and very pretty. But not on me.
“Ooh, I like that one!” Callie exclaimed after we had decided against it. “Can I have it?”
“No.” I laughed. “My sisters would kill me. Why do you think I have so many dresses?”
I tried on more dresses, but they were all the same. Very pretty. But not on me. I tried on floofy ones and tight ones, pink ones and yellow ones, flowered dresses, cat hair covered, shiny dresses. Hope has weird taste in dresses.
Finally we came to a white dress that was apparently tie-dyed. I didn’t recognize this one.
But I loved it. It fit, and it was pretty.
We all decided it was ‘the one’.
“That looks so good on you.”
We stared at each other for a minute, and then moved on.
“Can we look at shrugs?” I suggested. I knew I had some, and I was kind of self-conscious about my pale arms. (And pale face, and legs. and hands, and feet, and nose, and neck.)
So we looked at shrugs. I have less of those than dresses.
We looked at a few shrugs, and then I found Savana’s green shrug. It was perfect.
“That looks so great Joy!” Savana told me.
And I noticed she was wearing the bow. “But don’t you want it back?”
“No Joy. It’s yours.”
The day of the party I wasn’t feeling great, but I really wanted to go, and I couldn’t disappoint my friends, so I went. Savana’s mom went with my mom and me, because she was going to pick Savana up, same as the other parents.
Savana’s mom and mine talked the whole way there, but I fell asleep.
When we got there I ran up to my room, only to find that they weren’t there. Two girls I didn’t know answered instead, their hair and makeup half done.
“Savana is with Callie now honey,” Savana’s mom said.
So I followed her to the other end of the hall.
The two girls squealed when I opened the door. “Joy!” They both hugged me. Savana’s mom said hi, and then they left us to talk.
We started getting ready, among talking.I had never gotten to know Callie, but she squealed and talked, and I felt right at home.
“Do you like my dress? It’s orange, but I really like how it looks.”
And then randomly, she said: Oh, we are going to be such good friends, now that you are here!” Callie exclaimed.
I must have looked surprised, because Callie stopped looking sure of herself. “If you want to, I mean.”
“Of course I want to! I just haven’t been very nice, and well-”
“Whatever. We were different then. Now is so much different, and so are you.”
Callie and Savana and I finished getting ready and walked over to the gym, where the party was.
Savana and I chattered on and on, and Callie snuck up behind us and tried to be annoying. But it didn’t work. She was too interesting.
We were almost there when who should show up but Roberta and a couple of her friends. I was afraid they would be mean to me, but Serenity wasn’t there, so maybe not.
“Uh, Can we talk to you, Joy?”
“You seem to be doing that just fine,” Callie snapped.
Roberta rolled her eyes. “Fine, I’ll be blunt about it. Go away Callie an-”
“Absolutely not,” Callie interrupted.
Savana looked at me. “Go on ahead, I’ll be there in a sec.”
“We, uh, want to apologize.” Roberta told me. “We were jealous.”
“Of me?” I practically shrieked, I was so surprised. “What could you possibly be jealous about?”
“The teachers were always so nice to you.” One of the other girls spoke up. “They always asked how you were, you got extensions on assignments, sometimes easier stuff,”
“And we never got any of that.” The last girl admitted. “We thought you were faking, we really did, or at least making it out to be much worse.”
“When you started to act fine, we thought we knew we were right.” Roberta sighed. “I never realized that you were, you were…”
While Roberta groped for words one of the other girls interrupted. “Pretending to be okay while actually ruining your health so that we would be nice.”
“And we are really sorry.” Roberta apologized. “If I knew how much that had hurt me, I wouldn’t have gone along with it.”
While thankful for their apology, I had more to say. “Here’s the thing Roberta: You were really mean. Whether or not you knew shouldn’t have mattered. Whether or not I actually had the illness also shouldn’t have mattered. Not knowing is not an excuse to be mean. Now, I know that I should have asked for help, taken care of myself, and not let you do this to me. We both should have done things different. But you and your friends hurt me a lot.”
“I’m sorry Joy. I really am.”
“Me too,” Chimed in her friends.
And then I turned and walked away.
I knew I would never be friends with these girls again. But I also knew that never again would I let anyone hurt me that much. Never again would I care so much about what other people think and do that I let it hurt me.
I went to go find my friends, which were, as always, hanging around the food. We had a good time talking and laughing and eating food.
Callie was in the middle of a great story about her cat and the ceiling fan when who should arrive but Serenity. Serenity who hadn’t even bothered to apologize.
“Hey, you want to join our group again?” Serenity was trying to act all friendly, but I suppose it was because a lot of people had been talking to me, now that they knew my story.
“No thanks.” I said coolly. “I have friends. Real friends.”
When I was on my way to talk to my mom a girl I didn’t know approached me.
“Hello. You don’t know me, but my name is Anika.”
“I wanted to tell you that you have inspired me. I have a chronic illness too – though I don’t think its the same one. I came here from a different boarding school, which I left because the other kids were mean to me because of my illness.” Anika paused. I got the feeling that this was not an easy story to tell. “For the longest time I didn’t tell anyone my story, and I didn’t trust anyone, which resulted in no friends. And seeing how you told people your story, even though it turned out bad, but you didn’t try to cover it up and pretend you were normal, okay, well you did, but you never said you didn’t have the illness.” Anika stopped talking, and I thought she was done. but then she continued. “And you were finally willing to tell your story and get help. And now, here you are, facing the people who hurt you. I think that’s really cool. I finally managed to tell some people, and they, they actually cared. And now I have friends, and well, hearing your story has helped so much for me.”
“Wow. That’s, I mean, It’s so cool to see that my story has helped someone else. But how do you know it?”
“The day after you left we had an assembly about illness and bullying and such.”
We exchanged contact info, and promised to keep in touch.
But I couldn’t stop thinking “I inspired someone with my story. That’s SO cool!”
Ellen also came to talk to me. “I’m so proud of you Joy.”
“For having the strength to recover, and also for being brave enough to come back.”
It was only halfway through the party, but I was ready to go home. I was tired, and not feeling well, and I wanted to stay, but I also knew that I needed to take care of myself.
I was worried about what people would say if I left. But then I realized I didn’t care.
This wasn’t about them. It was about me. And I was going home.
I went to go find my friends. They were disappointed that I was going home, of course, but also happy that I was going home if I needed to go home.
“One last thing,” Savana insisted.
We took a picture of the three of us, and I hung that picture on my wall when I got home, and looked at it when I was sad. I kept it for a long time.
And then I left.
“We love you!”
And for the first time in a really long time, I believed them.
The year I went to a boarding school was a long, hard year, one that I would never choose to repeat, but I learned a lot, and I’m glad it happened.
I never did become friends with Roberta again, or any of her friends. Most of them had changed, and weren’t mean anymore, but they still had hurt me, and I couldn’t get past that enough to be friends again.
Those friendships just didn’t work out. And that was okay. Some friends work, and some just don’t.
But I still had Savana, and although Callie didn’t live very close to us, I became very close to her too.
Callie and Savana didn’t understand my illness, but they tried to be very understanding about it.
Anika, however, did understand. She didn’t live very close, but we talked all the time, from texts and emails, to phone calls, and video chats, and even actual mail. While Savana and Callie tried to be very understanding, Anika actually got it. She knew what it was like to always feel bad, and not be able to do things, and for no one else to understand.
We talked about what helped and what didn’t, but mostly it was just helpful to have someone who understood without a lot of explaining.
My health never really did get better. Because I hadn’t taken care of myself, my health was a lot worse than it had been before. My good days were worse than my bad days had been a year ago, and I had to accept that I was probably never going to get any better, even just to where I had been a few months ago.
I really hated that. If I had done things different, my illness would never have gotten that bad. I would be so much better now. But I had to live with my decision forever, and I had to learn to accept it, which was really hard.
I started taking care of myself after that. If I was sick, I would take them time to get better. I tried not to push myself, and I said no to a lot of things that I really wanted to do. I had to let my health come first.
I started a project one day when I wasn’t feeling well. I wanted to write an encouraging letter to everyone I knew. It started slow, with just one letter, to Savana, but I worked on it whenever I was home not feeling well. The response I got from my letters was amazing. People always like the letters, and a lot of people even started writing encouraging letters of their own. I loved using my bad days to help someone else.
Some days were still really really hard, but I was getting better, not physically, but emotionally, and learning to forgive.
And I guess that’s the important part.