Gift From Maryanne
I don't recall any shadows in that room on that late autumn morning.
A gray, forlorn sky loomed and hovered over everything. There was no
hint of the sun and in the dim morning light there were no shadows
except for the shadows that you see only with your mind; the shadows
of things yet to come.
The air was still and there were no birds singing. There was a
strange and melancholy feeling in the air and you could tell it was
not going to be a good morning. Inside the house there was an eerie
silence. The sound of labored breathing made me even more aware of
how silent that room was. As soon as I entered I felt the morose and
prescient feeling of doom. It was the kind of feeling you struggle
with and try hard not to feel, but you feel it all the same; it was
cloying and stuck to me. There was an awful sadness too - the air
was heavy with it. It was a sadness that crawled under your skin and
buried itself in your soul, and once it did, you knew it wouldn't
let go; it was the kind of sadness that came to stay.
As usual a scented candle burned and flickered in a corner; it
smelled strangely sweet to me and I didn't like it. While the scents
may have changed from time to time, it didn't matter. The candle
always filled the room with the same weak, sweet odor- but the
hungry odor of death prevailed; the scent of the candle was pathetic
and powerless against
There were other odors too, of course: the smell of antiseptics,
medicines, and sickness that floated in the air and mingled
curiously with the sour and sweet
scent of the candle. The other smells were grim and meager compared to
the morbid smell of darkness and of sad and mournful
things. Once you've smelled impending death, you will never forget it.
I did not like the candle; I did not like that room. I did not like
the way the syrupy gloom clung to me. Yet, there was something in that room
that changed my life forever. It was Maryanne - a small, fragile,
wonderful child who I barely even had the chance to know.
Maryanne died that morning in that sullen and morose room of odd and
uncomfortable smells. She died on that gray and lifeless morning; on
a November day, so long ago and far away. Looking back, it seems
like only yesterday to me.
I remember it seemed odd to me then, that the moment Maryanne had
drawn her last breath - big, fluffy, snowflakes began falling from
the sky. As I watched them fall through the tears that filled my
eyes, I thought how ironic it was that the little girl who so loved
beautiful things like snowflakes, wasn't going to watch them dance
through the sky anymore.
She had been ill for a very long time. In between her trips to
doctors, hospitals, and treatments, I watched her struggle to be a
normal child. Maryanne would ride her bike, play with dolls, and go
places with her family. Sometimes she would walk across the street
and visit me while I worked outside or sat on the porch reading the
Maryanne always looked right into your eyes when she talked to you.
She had the loveliest, biggest, dark-brown eyes. They were the
sweet, innocent, and forever-trusting eyes of a child. When she
talked to you she looked at you with that special look of love and
expectation that only a child can give you. It was always fun to
talk with her - even when she was fighting for her life. Even when
she was so desperately ill and dying, she had a beautiful smile and
a child's glow that always made her a joy to be near. She had a
inner peacefulness that I could not understand.
I don't recall her ever complaining about anything. She was never
jealous of other children who were not sick. She used to sit on her
porch, during those last weeks of her life, and watch the other
children ride by on their bicycles or the boys playing ball in the
vacant lot next door, and she always had a smile on her face. She
seemed to smile a lot in those final days, but everyone knew she was
suffering and in great pain.
Her hospital and doctor visits were of no use anymore. There was
nothing anyone could do for her. She was at that terrible stage of
her illness where she spent most of her time in the hospital bed
that her parents had rented for her.
They put the hospital bed in that room.
On one unusually pleasant November day, she was having one of her
"good days"; she left her bed and went outside.
Maryanne came to talk to me. She sat down on
the porch steps and told me, that she knew she
was going to die but she wasn't afraid. I was startled by her words;
I listened to her as she looked up at me with those still-beautiful,
brown eye. She told me soon that she wouldn't have to be sick
anymore and she was going to be with the angels and that her mom
and dad would be with her again and they would all be together
again someday. I fought back tears as she continued talking. She
said that she wouldn't have be sick anymore - ever again and that she wasn't afraid.
She promised that when the time came
for her to go, she wasn't going to cry. "It's not really such a sad thing because I won't
hurt anymore; I will be with the angels".
It was so hard to listen to her and it was even harder not to cry. I
fought the tears that were welling up in my eyes as best I could. I couldn't think
of anything to say to Maryanne without breaking down and crying - so I did the only thing I could
do, I listened.
Maryanne told me that the reason it rains is so that we all could
appreciate the sunshine a little more when it comes, and that the
nighttime brought darkness so that the
morning would be all the brighter. Her eyes still big and brown,
looked strangely peaceful as she told me how she often thought about
lots of things
- she wondered if the reason people became sick was so that people
who were well would know just how lucky they are. She was glad she had the chance to know her mom and dad and
happy that I lived across the street because I was
always fun to talk to. When I asked her why, she said: "because you
listen so good".
I thought about the things she said. I imagine before she got sick I
really wasn't listening to her at all. I only pretended to listen. I was
probably too busy washing a car or doing
something else that I thought was more important. Looking back, I
she probably did think I was really listening then. Whatever, I was
listening to every word now. My heart was breaking.
Maryanne was so sick I couldn't ignore her. I didn't want to
and I couldn't. Her innocent, dark-brown eyes had grown old in the last
days of her life. They were still as innocent but they were older
eyes - full of pain and wisdom and bereft of hope. They were
the eyes of a child, but wiser than the eyes of any child
should ever be.
In those last weeks of her life, she was much wiser
than me. Her experiences, her pain and struggles had aged the spirit
in her. It made me uncomfortable and curious. Her face, thin and
pale, had the countenance of an angel; her voice, had a curious measured and peaceful tone.
Somewhere in that small, fragile, little girl's voice, the sound of sickness
hid. It made me uneasy and it urged me to listen.
She walked into the yard and picked up a big, orange
sycamore leaf from the ground. "Isn't it beautiful?" she said,
looking up at me as she held the big leaf in her small hand. I told
her it was very beautiful and that autumn was my very favorite time
of the year.
"Do you like snow?" she said and for no apparent reason. She was
still holding onto that big, orange leaf watching it wave in the
soft, autumn breeze. "Sometimes, I do. I really
liked snow when I was a boy, but now, most of time, it just gets in
my way. I don't like shoveling it, that's for sure."
"I don't think I'll be here to help you shovel this year" she said.
I couldn't think of any way to answer
that, so I kept looking at the leaf in her hand as though I were
studying it carefully. Her hand look so weak and small.
She handed the leaf to me and said: "You can have it. It's
beautiful. It's orange. Save it because in the spring when the leaves
come back you can look at this leaf and
remember what leaves used to look like in the fall."
I thanked her and gave her a hug. She was so tiny and frail, it hurt
to look at her.
She was getting tired and wanted to go home and lie
down. "Are you going to come to see me tomorrow?" Maryanne
smiled at here and said, "I sure will, Maryanne". I gave her as much
of a smile as I could manage - but it was a hollow, thin, transparent smile. I'm
sure she saw through it.
I took the leaf inside and put it between the pages of an old book
and went back outside to finish my work. Tomorrow came and went, and
naturally I got busy and forgot to visit Maryanne.
Maybe I didn't forget. Maybe I was putting it off. I don't really
know why I didn't. I certainly wasn't too busy to visit a very sick
child. I honestly don't know if I forgot or didn't want to deal with
a sick, little girl who was so
bravely facing her own death.
Several tomorrows came and went before I finally went over to see her.
But, I never saw her big, brown eyes again; I never saw her sweet
smile again; I never heard her voice again.
I'll never forget her. I still have that leaf she gave me. Today, I opened that book and saw the big, orange leaf right where I
put it the day Maryanne gave it to me. I looked at it and remembered
that warm, November day. It was a gift from Maryanne. It is just one
of the many gifts that she gave me. It is one of many gifts from
her that I will treasure for the rest of my life.
I wonder if she is an angel now. I wonder if she's right here beside
me while I write this. They say that when you think of someone, even
if they are gone, they will come to you. I wonder if that is so. I
like to believe it is. I like to believe that Maryanne is still with
us - still bringing her innocent light to this world.
The leaves are green now but I can remember how the leaves look in
the fall. Thanks to Maryanne, I often stop and consider precious our
time on Earth really is. I know so much more about how precious life is
because I knew Maryanne. I know that we all
die in our own time - but some die far before their time - others
seem to live past theirs.
Thanks to a little girl named Maryanne, who all too briefly touched my
life, I can watch a sunrise take away the darkness and
appreciate it more than I ever would have and remember that each is precious, each one is
When it rains I will remember that it rains so we can appreciate the
warmth of the sun and the blue of the sky more than we would have;
when it rains, I will remember Maryanne.
I appreciate a lot of things more than I would have. I look at life
differently than I ever could have. I am a different person now
because of a very special gift from a very special little girl who I
When I think about Maryanne I smile; I am sure she is an angel now.
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