It all started when I was eight years old. My parents had just dropped me off at school. I was in third grade and I was soon going to become a big sister. My mom and dad have been going about getting ready for the baby to arrive. See, I was their only child, their “bundle of joy.” My parents bestowed the name Joy on me, for my arrival was a joyous one. Anyway, my whole family, including me, was excited to add another member to our one small, happy and cheerful family.
We were as merry as little children were on Christmas morning. Nobody could
ever come close to the Andersons when it came to being a happy family. That day was like any other day, though at that time I did not know or expect that it would be the last time I would see them. Mom smiling at me and Dad beside her beaming with pride, because he thought going to school took someone who was brave and smart. Little did I know that it would be my last image, my last memory of them.
After first recess, my teacher called me aside and I saw wet, glistening tears in her eyes. When I asked what was wrong, she embraced me tight and kept saying, “It’s going to be okay Joy. It’s going to be okay …” her voice cracking. I was stunned, and all I could do was pat her on the back, not knowing what else to do. She then got ahold of herself and sent me to the principal’s office. When I got there I was surprised to find my grandma there. She, too, embraced me and wept so hard repeating three words, “Oh my child. Oh my child! Oh my dear, dear child.”
Still I did not know the meaning of all this. Principal Prono noticed my confusion and with a heavy heart, explained that after my parents dropped me off here, they got in a car accident. My whole family did not survive this disaster. Dad, Mom, the new baby, all of them gone. I felt like someone turned off the switch of my life, leaving me in the darkness. No more parents, no more siblings, no more happiness. I stood there alone in the dark wondering where life would take me next. I didn’t have to wait very long.
Two weeks after seeing lots of black, black seemed to want to see me again.
Except this time there was no more Grandma, and no more of Grandma’s dog either.
Now if I didn’t feel fully alone then, I was now. Murmurs amongst the adults were
about of what would become of me now that I was again an orphan. Disaster
seemed to become my friend, not that I wanted it to. Almost every one of my
relatives from my dad’s side wanted nothing to do with me, hanging up the phone
when they asked who it was and what they wanted. My mom’s side made excuses
or as they would say “reasons” they couldn’t raise me.
“Too many children.”
“Not enough food to go around.”
“Don’t have the money.”
“Takes up too much of my precious time.”
“I have school to go to.”
“Not my problem,” etc.
The person in charge of me, my social worker, was a woman named Sally who had her black hair in a bun, and wore knee high skirts and lovely blouses. Every day for two weeks, we would see if someone would change their mind and say, “Of course we can take Joy in. Nope, it’s not a problem at all. We’d love for Joy to become one of ours.”
But that day never came. Finally, Sally said she had enough and started to
search for an orphanage that would take me in. That only lasted one day. Soon I was standing in front of the Institute For Uncared Children, or as I called it “Last Resource for Unlucky, Nobody Wants, Parentless Kids Who Have No Future or Point in Life.”
I never would have dreamt of ever seeing, not to mention live in, a tall,
overtowering, rickety, old building. It’s impression offered a cheerless and gloomy
one. Just how I felt then. I was greeted by the Orphanage Instructor, though I don’t
think she was exactly too thrilled to have another child to oversee. Oh well, I
thought, maybe I’ll even enjoy my time here, though another part of me thought,
yeah right in your fantasy dreams, Joy.
As the Instructor led the way towards the office, I caught eyes staring at me,
and those eyes belonged to the kids who I assumed were orphans as I was. One was trailing after us. He was, as I recall, a young and handsome fellow. He had a sly and twinkling look in his caramel brown eyes. He had dark hair and he was about my height, maybe a bit taller. He flashed me a mysterious and yet cunning smile. When the adults went into the office room, he came up to me and introduced himself as, “Jay Robinson, Jr., Director of the Institute for Uncared Children, or should be. Soooo, where’re you from?” he asked.
I just stared at him, lost in the memories of my life before then.
“Okay, what’s your name then?” he continued.
“My name? Oh my name is Joy …” I was too sad to continue. Luckily at that moment, the adults came out, and Sally turned to wish me the best of luck, gave me a tight squeeze, and turned towards the open door of the taxi waiting outside. With one last wave she was gone. Great, just great, I thought.
“Joy Anderson, is that right? You’ll be sleeping in room twelve across from Mr. Robinson here, who should be, as I recall, well on his way to breakfast. However, today I will make an exception so he can show you to your room. Be quick,” directed the Instructor. And with a sigh she too was gone.
“You’ll get used to her. She’s told us again and again that she doesn’t deserve to be here. Says she should be on her way to becoming a fabulous supermodel. Though she often changes what she should be,” said Jay. “So I guess I’ll show you to your room and let you get settled then.”
Jay led me to my new “home” and explained that I had a roommate whose name was Nela Bates and, by his experience, was nice and friendly.
“Well that’s good to know, I guess,” I said miserably.
“What’s wrong?” Jay asked. “Wait, I’m sorry. I forgot you’re only here for
one reason. I’ve been here for as long as I can remember. I’m ever so sorry for
After standing awkwardly for a few fleeting seconds, he gave directions to the mess hall and left. I wasn’t hungry so I sat down, stayed where I was. I looked forward, as if by any chance, this was all just a dream and at any moment I would wake up to see my mom laying out my clothes telling me to get ready for school. In my heart I knew this was not so.
I heard a knock at the door, which brought me back to reality. A girl about four years older than me peeked through a thin crack in the door. Nela, I guessed, had a nice medium skin tone with hazelnut hair curling below her shoulder. She had a kind look in her eyes that told me she was a delicate and gentle person. True beauty, I thought. Once she saw me looking back at her, she entered quietly and set a tray she carried in front of me on top of a small table.
We sat there in silence for a minute when she said, very softly and gently, “Hello. I have a feeling Jay already told you a bit about me. Maybe good or bad. Anyway my name is Nela Bates and I’ve been here since I was seven years old. I just talked to Jay and he told me he hasn’t given you the tour of this place.” She paused as if she had spoken too much. “It’s Joy right?”
“Yes, that’s me.” I answered.
“Do you want me to leave so you can eat? In peace I mean,” said Nela.
“No it’s okay. I would love some company,” I answered for the second time.
I reached for the tray and looked down to see oatmeal with what seemed to be raisins. Nela sat across from me on her bed waiting patiently for me to finish. When I was done, I took huge gulps from the glass filled with water. I was still a bit hungry, and Nela saw my expression and offered me a chocolate chip cookie she had from the kitchen. Nela explained that she helped wash the dishes after meals and the kind old lunch lady always was happy to give away treats.
“So Nela,” I said, “Do you mind if I ask you how you got here?”
Nela smiled warmly and said, “Of course I don’t mind at all. Like I said earlier I’ve been here since I was seven. I am guessing that you are … hmmm … I don’t know … Eight years old?” I nodded so she continued. “A year younger than you. My mom died due to cancer when I was five years old, and my dad tried to raise me, but couldn’t because I reminded him so much of my mother. So he took a trip to calm himself down and left me with my abuelito, which is Spanish for grandpa. Dad told me over the phone he was coming for my sixth birthday and would come live with us. I was so excited because it was almost going to be a whole year without seeing him. I never saw him again though.” Nela’s eyes were misty and she looked like she wasn’t there in the room, but in a lost dream or memory.
“His plane crash landed in the ocean on his way back. The survivors recalled that he pushed some of them into the lifeboat, but drowned when he tried to rescue an elderly lady. That’s my daddy though. My abuelito got very sick when my seventh birthday came around. He died just a few days later,” said Nela.
“I’m so sorry for your loss Nela, but I have a feeling that you’re proud of your dad. I know I would if he was mine.” I offered. “Well anyway since you’ve told me yours, I guess I’ll have to tell you my story then.”
“Oh no, Joy! You don’t have to. You just got here. I’m sure your story can wait till after you get settled in,” responded Nela. “Speaking of settling in you should get some rest. You must feel exhausted after whatever you’ve been through. I’ll come in later to check on you.”
Nela hustled away the children that had formed around the door window that had come to catch a glimpse of me. I was a bit tired so I laid on the bed and curled up into a nice little ball the way I always do when I’m upset. I thought about all the things that had happened these last couple of weeks. My mind still refused to believe that my parents and the new baby were gone. Maybe they took a trip to visit Daddy’s hometown and are running late. Or maybe they’re really secret agents that were called right away to HQ and couldn’t tell me anything. Or maybe … Oh who am I kidding, I thought, you know Mommy, Daddy, the new baby, Grandma, and Grandma’s dog aren’t here anymore. And with that last thought I fell asleep.
“Shhh! I think she’s still sleeping you guys! Let’s get out of here before she wakes up! Oh great! I think she’s waking up! Come on! Let’s go before it’s too la … ” whispered a small voice.
I stirred and found myself staring at three, no four, pairs of eyes. “Uhh… Hi there?” I said.
“Look what you guys did! Now I’m going to get in trouble for this!” This voice belonged to the oldest of the four. He looked about six years old, and he had blondish hair, big and sparkling blue eyes, and looked very small from where I lay. He seemed to be in charge of the little group that surrounded me. He sighed and looked at me and said, “If anyone asks, please tell them you already woke up when we came in, specifically me, ’kay. Thanks!”
He then turned to the other three and said, “Connor Swanson, Cory Swanson–
what have I told you about disturbing strangers or other people here? And lil sis what have I told you about acting before you think? Do you think it was the best choice to follow these two troublemaking twins, Penny?” questioned the boy.
Penny, I suspected was the little girl with golden locks of hair intertwining beneath her droopy head. She had the same big bright eyes as her brother. Maybe even just a year younger than him. Connor and Cory on the other hand both had light brown hair, eyes, and skin tones. Both of their eyes and smiles held the same mischievous appearance.
“No Philip. I really will try next time,” responded Penny.
“We’ll try better next time Philly Billy,” the twins replied in unison.
“What have I said about that name C and C?” reminded Philip.
“Sorry … Not!” and with that the twins took off and were out the door, Philip right behind them chasing them and yelling at them. Those twins just kept running and shrieking as if it were a game of tag.
“Sorry for waking you up,” said Penny. “My name is Penelope Walker or Penny, if you didn’t know. My brother’s name is Philip Walker. The other two are Connor and Cory Swanson. What’s yours?”
“Joy Anderson. That’s my name,” I said.
“Joy. I like it.” Penny smiled. I smiled back.
At that moment, Nela came in and was surprised to find Penny there.
“Penny what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be with Jay learning how to play soccer? Oh wait a minute. Where’s Connor and Cory? Shouldn’t they be with Jay too?” asked Nela. “Oh well, it’s almost lunchtime anyway. Come on Joy. You too Penny.”
So off we went. The mess hall only had three long tables, with about ten seats each. Only the first two were filled. Nela explained to me that you’re allowed to sit anywhere you want, but the third table was reserved for people who got in trouble and have to sit and eat with the Instructor, whose real name was Marie Terris. Although, Nela explained to me that she preferred to be called Instructor because she didn’t want kids making fun of her name and said that Marie Terris was a weak and feeble name for someone who was not “important” unlike her.
“So technically we just call her Instructor to make her feel better and
important. Since she’s in charge of the orphanage and all,” said Nela.
I spotted Jay in the first table, near the rear. I sat next to him and Nela sat beside me, with the Walkers across from me, and the Swansons next to them. Everyone was chatting and talking around me. For the first time, in a long time, I felt that I belonged. That I was exactly where I was supposed to be. That night Nela asked me if I was okay being here. I said that I was and I truly meant it.