by Lisa Hellwig
Lake in the Hills, Illinois, USA
The summer before Judy and I started junior high, we sat under an overpass and talked about our fears and hopes. Would we finally be popular rather than on the bottom of the heap? Judy was very athletic and sang well, but I didn’t think our junior high would even notice another bookworm.
We were so engrossed in conversation we didn’t notice the orange and white VW Van that had stopped in front of us until the driver honked. “Bill” needed directions. This was in a more innocent era, so we had no qualms about talking to him. Then he asked me, “Who was your plastic surgeon?” I covered my upper lip with my hand — a very old habit. “Whoever was available,” I mumbled. “I had my surgeries done at Riley Hospital.”
“No, don’t cover your mouth,” Bill urged. “My daughter, Ramona, was born with a harelip too. Her mom and I are divorced, but it didn’t have anything to do with the harelip. It just happened. We couldn’t make things work out.” A flash of sadness skittered across his face. “I still get to see her every other week, though. Here, here’s her picture.”
I dropped my hand in order to peer at the picture of the little girl with dark hair, sparkling brown eyes, and a familiar scar on her upper lip. There was something different about her, though. “Her nose isn’t lopsided like Lisa’s,” Judy commented. I flushed and put my hand back up to my face. I was close enough to the van that Bill could reach me, and he pulled my hand down. “Ramona is younger than Lisa,” he explained, “and they were just trying a new technique then. They put a rubber band over her nose and it pulled up the droopy side. Ramona probably won’t need as much surgery as Lisa.”
We fell silent as Judy remembered that my “droopy” nose meant at least one more operation — and I wondered if it was too late for me to stretch a rubber band over my nose each night. “I’d like to bring Ramona next week. I’d like for her to meet Lisa,” he said, pointing at me, “and see how beautiful she’ll be when she gets older.”
My mother and grandparents insisted that I was beautiful, but I’d never had a total stranger tell me that. Up till then, it seemed life had been a series of points and snickers by children and adults alike.
I went back the following week. Bill never showed up, so I never got to meet Ramona. It didn’t matter, though; Bill had already told me what I desperately needed to hear. It’s been 27 years since that day on the overpass, and my heart still leaps when I see an orange and white VW Van with Indiana plates. I still hope to meet a woman named Ramona with that familiar scar on her face, if only to say, “Tell your dad I said thanks.”
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 2.