The Garish Orange Frame
By Debbie Roome
It was suitable punishment I suppose. Fifty hours of community service in payment for one act of vandalism. I'd thought it funny at the time--letting the air out of the wheelchair's tires--but looking back, it was pretty dumb.
My heart plummeted when I heard where my sentence was to be served. The Haven. A home for those with physical and intellectual disabilities. Around town, it was commonly called the 'funny farm.' It was the last place a cool teenager wanted to be. My friends cackled like a bunch of hyenas when they found out.
I noticed the picture frame the very first day the social worker marched me through the doors. It was hard to miss as it was almost as tall as I and so bright. The garish, orange plaster had to be four inches wide and was pocked with bits of broken mirror and lime green beads. Some clown had daubed purple paint here and there and the whole effect was seriously ugly. It dominated a whole wall in the reception area.
I initially worked at the home for three hours each weekend and the frame was the first thing I saw each time I dragged my self through the doors. Ugly I thought. Ugly like the judge who had sent me here. I wasn't a willing worker but the staff were glad of my assistance anyway and soon trained me in the basics of care-giving. It was an uncomfortable process; learning to change nappies on a teenager, spoon-feeding those who had limited movement. Wiping drool from a ten-year-old chin and reading Chicken Little to an eighteen-year-old.
My social life suffered, and soon I was alone on the weekends. "Funny farmer," my friends would chant. "Shelley belongs on the funny farm." One day I realized they weren't the type of friends I wanted and turned my attention to completing my community service so I could move on with life.
I doubled my hours at The Haven, and before I knew it, the kids started to worm their way into my heart. Henry was a giant eight-year-old with bug eyes and a terrible stutter. He spent his days crawling around the playroom and whenever he saw me arrive he would shout "Mmme first. Mmme first. Shelly hhhelp me fffirst."
Then there was Martin. He would face the corner and rock on his knees, murmuring to himself. One day I went and rocked with him, and later he calmly allowed me to feed him. Great progress according to the staff.
My favorite, however, had to be Alyssa. She was sixteen and had been born with stumps for arms, no legs, and was severely mentally impaired. Nevertheless, her eyes shone when she saw me, and I would sit with her, rubbing cream into her withered stumps and singing softly so only she could hear. She reminded me of an angel with her short blonde curls and clear, babyish skin.
It was at the start of my ninth shift that I finally noticed the painting inside the garish orange frame. Of course, it had always been there but the frame had been my focal point, drawing my attention away from the true artwork. The delicate watercolor depicted a toddler in a wheelchair, sitting in a garden of beautiful roses and fountains. She was golden haired and a soft, pink blanket was wrapped around her torso. Where her hands should have been were shrunken stumps. A small sign rested on her lap, and I moved closer to read the neat, fluid script.
At last you've noticed me, seen past the frame that holds me inů
Don't be put off by my body, my exterior
Look past that and see the real me
I feel pain as you do
I feel rejection as you do
I rejoice at the wind in my hair and love a beautiful garden as you do
Will you look past the frame and see who I really am?
I stood there for at least ten minutes, tears running down my cheeks. Eventually the receptionist came and pressed a tissue into my hand.
I nodded to the child. "Alyssa?" I questioned.
She nodded. "Her father painted that and presented it to the home when she moved in." She smiled gently. "It always has an impact when people truly see it."
Debbie Roome is happily married with five children and an adorable Jack Russell. She was born and raised in Africa and moved to New Zealand in 2006. Debbie is the 2nd Place winner of the FaithWriters' Best of the Best awards for 2007, with her inspiring and challenging story, The Garish Orange Frame. We congratulate Debbie on this outstanding achievement. If you would like to write to Debbie, you can do so through the Letters page of this magazine.