There Is an Oz
They arrive exactly at 8:00 a.m. to take her home, but she has been ready since before seven. She has taken a shower -- not an easy task lying down on a shower stretcher. She isn’t allowed to sit up yet without her body brace, but regardless, here she is, clean and freshly scrubbed and ever so anxious to go home. It has been two-and-a-half months since she has seen her home -- two-and-a-half months since the car accident. It doesn’t matter that she is going home in a wheelchair or that her legs don’t work. All she knows is that she is going home, and home will make everything okay. Even Dorothy says so: “Oh, Auntie Em, there’s no place like home!” It’s her favorite movie.
As they put her in the car, she thinks now of how much her father reminds her of the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. Like the scarecrow, he is built in pieces of many different things -- strength, courage and love. Especially love.
He isn’t an elegant man. Her father is tall and lanky and has dirt under his fingernails from working outside. He is strictly blue collar -- a laborer. He never went to college, didn’t even go to high school. By the world’s standards he isn’t “educated.” An awful lot like the scarecrow -- but she knows differently. He doesn’t speak much, but when he does, she knows it is worth remembering. Even worth writing down. But she never has to write down anything that her father says because she knows she’ll never forget.
It is hard for her to sit comfortably while wearing the body brace and so she sits, still and unnatural, staring out the window. Her face is tense and tired and older somehow, much older than her seventeen years. She doesn’t even remember the world of a seventeen-year-old girl -- it’s as if that world never was. And she thinks she knows what Dorothy must have meant when she said, “Oh, Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” It is more than an issue of geography, she is quite certain.
They pull out onto the road to begin their journey and approach the stop sign at the corner. The stop sign is just a formality; no one ever stops here. Today, however, is different. As he goes to coast through the intersection, she is instantly alert, the face alive and the eyes flashing. She grips the sides of the seat. “Stop! That’s a stop sign! You could get us killed! Don’t you know that?” And then, more quietly and with even more intensity, “You don’t know what it’s like -- you have never been there.” He looks at her and says nothing. The scarecrow and Dorothy journey onward.
As they continue to drive, her mind is constantly at work. She still hasn’t loosened her grip on the seat. She thinks of the eyes, the eyes that once belonged to her -- big, brown, soulful eyes that would sparkle with laugher at the slightest thought of happiness. Only the happiness is gone now and she doesn’t know where she left it or how to get it back. She only knows that it is gone and, in its absence, the sparkle has gone as well.
The eyes are not the same. They no longer reflect the soul of the person because that person no longer exists. The eyes now are deep and cold and empty -- pools of color that have been filled with something reaching far beyond the happiness that once was there. Like the yellow brick road it stretches endlessly, maddeningly, winding through valleys and woodlands, obscuring her vision until she has somehow lost sight of the Emerald City.
She lightly touches the tiny gold bracelet that she wears. It was a present from her mother and father, and she refuses to remove it from her wrist. It is engraved with her name on the side that is visible to others, but as in everything there are two sides, and only she knows the other is there. It is a single word engraved on the side of the bracelet that touches her skin and touches her heart: “Hope.” One small word that says so much about her life and what is now missing from it. She vaguely remembers hope -- what it felt like to hope for a college basketball scholarship or maybe a chance to dance professionally. Only now, she’s not sure she remembers hope as it was then -- a driving force, a fundamental part of her life. Now, hope is something that haunts her.
The dreams come nightly. Dreams of turning cartwheels in the yard or hitting a tennis ball against a brick wall. But there is one, the most vivid and recurring, and the most haunting of all...There is a lake and trees, a soft breeze and a perfect sky. It is a scene so beautiful it is almost beyond imagining. And in the midst of it all, she is walking. She has never felt more at peace.
But then she awakens and remembers. And remembering, she knows. She instinctively fingers the bracelet, the word. And the fear is almost overwhelming -- the fear of not knowing how to hope.
She thinks of her father’s God and how she now feels that God abandoned her. All at once, a single tear makes a trail down her thin, drawn face. Then another and another, and she is crying. “Oh Daddy, they say I’ll never walk again! They’re the best and they say I’ll never walk. Daddy, what will I do?”
He looks at her now and he stops the car. This is the man who has been with her down every road, every trail and every path -- so very like the scarecrow. And he speaks. “I know that they can put you back together. They can put steel rods in your back and sew you up. But look around you. Not one of your doctors can make a blade of grass.”
Suddenly she knows. He has taught her the most valuable lesson in her life and in all her journey: that she is never alone. There is an Oz; there is a wizard; there is a God. And there...is...hope. She releases her grip on the seat, looks out the window and smiles. And in that instant she loves her father more than she has ever loved him before.