Kate had floated in and out of consciousness for days after the accident. She would occasionally wake to hear her parents conversing nervously with the hospital doctors. The voices were hushed, the tones grave.
Kate dreamt of car crashes over and over again. She repeatedly saw the impact of the SUV smashing into her side of the car, and she remembered everything going black. Over and over she had the car dream, and she would scream, but no one could hear her. There was nothing she could do to keep from being hit.
After days of drifting in and out of consciousness, Kate finally awoke. She strained her vocal chords, calling for someone, anyone. Her mother was right by her side, stroking her forehead, whispering kind words.
“Mom,” Kate struggled to smile.
“Oh, Kate, I knew you would make it, I knew you would!” Kate’s mother tenderly hugged her daughter.
“Am I going to be OK, Mom? Is anything broken?”
Kate’s mother, Denise, sniffled. “Honey, I… I have to call your dad. I’ll be right back.”
“Mom, wait! You didn’t answer…” It was too late. Denise was gone.
* * *
Denise hurried outside and got in her car. She didn’t start it; she just sat there and stared at the rain rolling down the car’s windshield. Denise started to sob, and her hands shook as she dialed her home phone number. Her husband was probably asleep, since he had spent nearly the whole night at Kate’s bedside. Denise listened as the phone rang once, twice, three times— “Hello?”
“Oh, David, thank God.”
“Is everything all right? Denise? What’s the matter, honey?”
“Kate woke up.”
“Dear, that’s marvelous! I’ll be there right away. Why are you crying? Is something wrong?”
“I can’t tell her, David. She’ll be crushed when she finds out her arm was amputated. Her life will never be the same. Kate asked me if she was all right, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her… especially after she had just woken up.”
“I’ll be right there.”
* * *
Kate was horrified after she heard how upset her mother was. Was something wrong with her? Sure, she felt like she had just been crushed by a tractor-trailer, but that was to be expected. Kate tried to sit up so she could take stock of her surroundings and look at herself, but she didn’t have the strength to do it. Trying to hold back her tears of fear, Kate waited for her mother to return.
Kate’s parents finally came in, accompanied by a nurse and a doctor. The adults looked somber, and Kate’s mom had obviously been crying.
“Katelyn…” The doctor checked something on a clipboard he had with him.
“Kate,” she corrected. Kate hated being called by her full name, as it sounded much too formal for a fun-loving girl like her.
“Kate.” The doctor cleared his throat. “You were in quite an accident. You seem to be a fighter, but there was some permanent damage done.”
Kate sucked in her breath nervously. “What’s wrong with me?”
“Your left arm suffered some horrible damage during the crash. Glass penetrated your arm deeply, and you were bleeding badly. The only way to save you was to amputate your arm at the elbow.”
Kate suddenly felt nauseated and dizzy. It couldn’t be true, could it? She’d never be able to do the simplest tasks like put on a shirt or pick up a large object. Kate would be an outcast, a weirdo, for the rest of her life. Nothing would ever be the same.
* * *
After an extended stay in the hospital, Kate was allowed to go home. Although she was glad to be home, Kate felt like she was drowning in a huge ocean with no way out. Nothing seemed fun anymore, and there was no reason to be happy. Some people said she was suffering from depression; others said she was just in shock and would eventually get over it.
Kate felt like she couldn’t do anything for herself and that she was a baby again. Her mother had to help her dress, which humiliated poor Kate to tears. Fortunately, it was summer so Kate didn’t have to be seen by her peers. She rarely left the house for fear people would see her and stare. Kate felt like a freak, and she would have given anything to change what happened the night of the accident.
One dull day much like the rest, Denise entered Kate’s room to find her trying to make a friendship bracelet from a collection of colorful strings. Kate was failing miserably at making the bracelet onehanded, and she was starting to become very agitated at finding that she couldn’t do something she enjoyed.
“Why don’t you take a break, Kate?” Denise sat on the floor next to her daughter, brushing Kate’s hair away from her face. “Go for a walk, and get some fresh air. I don’t think being cooped up in this house is good for you.”
“I don’t want to,” Kate mumbled sullenly. Her mother knew she didn’t like leaving the house, so why was she making her?
“It’ll be good for you, Kate. Just walk around the block. It’ll calm you down. Please, honey? Do it for me.”
Kate groaned when she realized she didn’t have a choice in the matter. She stood and said, “I’ll go around the block. Once. Then I’m coming in.”
Kate left the house, turning left. Her sneakers crunched the gravel, and she realized she enjoyed the scent of the fresh air. Although dark rain clouds obscured the sky, Kate cherished the smell of the rain that was to come. Soon Kate found herself taking a long route around the neighborhood. She was about to turn around and come home when the heavens opened up and rain poured forth.
The wind whipped the rain against Kate’s face, which she tried to shield with her right arm. Lightning streaked across the sky, and a BOOM sounded quickly after. Kate knew that meant the storm was close, and she had to find shelter quickly. With a surge of panic, Kate realized she was too far from home. She’d have to find shelter somewhere else.
As lightning struck again and an even louder boom followed, Kate hurried up the driveway of the nearest house and dashed onto the porch, where it was dry. A moment later, the door opened to reveal a woman in her late thirties. Her brown hair was pulled up in a bun, and she smiled down at Kate.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but I was taking a walk and the storm came so suddenly…”
“It’s all right, I understand. Come in.” The woman pulled the door open a little wider and let Kate in. The house was beautiful, with colorful paintings on the walls. The walls were made of wood paneling, which gave the house a warm, country look. Kate instantly felt at home. “I’m Sherri,” the woman said. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Kate.” Kate got the odd feeling that Sherri was staring at her amputated arm. She wasn’t angry at the woman for it because she had known it would attract attention.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to stare.” Sherri looked down awkwardly, blushing slightly. “Do you need to call your mom or dad to tell them where you are? You can use my phone.”
After Kate had made the call, Sherri ushered her into the living room. They sat on opposite couches, staring awkwardly at each other. “Well,” Sherri said, breaking the silence, “since we seem to be here for a while, tell me about yourself. Do you play instruments? Sports?”
“I used to play violin,” Kate said quietly. “ I loved creating music. But I can’t play anymore.” Sherri glanced knowingly at Kate’s amputated arm.
“That’s a shame, hon.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Do you sing?” Sherri asked.
“Sing? No, I’m not very good at it. Why?”
“I’m a voice teacher and I also play guitar. I just thought that if you still wanted to make music but couldn’t play an instrument… It just makes sense. To sing, you don’t need arms. Everything you need to make beautiful music is within you.”
Kate grinned. Then, she slowly began to nod. “Can you teach me to sing?”
* * *
ONE MONTH LATER
Mom, don’t make me go. Everyone’s going to stare at me! You could homeschool me, Mom! Would you? Please?”
“Kate, you’re being ridiculous. You’re going to school.”
“It’ll be fine. Now if you don’t hurry up, you’re going to miss the bus! C’mon, get out of here.” Denise waved as Kate, sighing, walked down the road. “Love you, honey! Have a good day!”
Yeah right, Kate thought to herself as she offered her mother a nervous smile. I won’t make it home alive.
As predicted, people gawked at the sight of Kate. She knew it was only natural, but she couldn’t help shying away from all the stares. Kate could hear the whispers in the halls: “Did you see Kate? She doesn’t have an arm! I heard it was a car crash…”
Music class was eighth period. The teacher, an energetic young man by the name of Mr. Evans, led the class with an omnipresent smile. Whenever he spoke, he bounced on the balls of his feet. At the conclusion of the period, the students began to gather their books. Over the ruckus of kids starting conversations with their neighbors, Mr. Evans called, “Chorus auditions next Monday! See me for a paper.”
Kate shuffled toward the front of the room, taking the top paper from the stack on Mr. Evans’s desk. She stuffed it in her folder as the bell rang. She’d talk to Sherri about this.
That afternoon, Kate let herself in through the garage and called, “Mom, I’m home!”
Denise came hurrying down the stairs and gave her daughter a huge hug. “I thought about you all day, honey. How was it?”
Kate jabbered on about her classes and promising teachers. Then she said, “Mr. Evans seems nice. Oh, that reminds me! I got a chorus audition paper.” She dug around in her folder and pulled out the paper. Reading it for the first time, Kate said, “Oh, no. I can’t do this. It says we have to audition in front of everyone, Mom. I can’t get up in front of everyone. They’ll all stare at my arm, or lack thereof. I’m not worried about the singing, but I don’t want everyone goggling at me like I’m some sort of freak on display.”
“I think you can do it, Kate. Talk to Sherri at lessons this evening. I’m sure she’ll have an opinion.”
That evening, Denise drove Kate to Sherri’s home, where Kate took lessons once a week. As always, Sherri opened the door with a smile. Kate could only manage a halfhearted shrug. “What’s wrong, Kate? Did something happen on your first day of school today?”
“It’s the chorus. I really want to try out, but the auditions are in front of everyone. I can’t stand up in front of people; I’ll get too nervous.”
“Kate, listen to me because I’m only going to say this once. Never feel like they’ll judge you just because you have a disability. You are who you are, and you need to be confident in that. Plus, you are a phenomenal singer. It seems like you were born to do this. Are you going to let this opportunity go by? Of course not. Kate Wetherhold, you’re going to audition for middle-school chorus.”
Kate practiced hard the days leading up to her audition. She and Sherri had chosen “Let It Be” by the Beatles to be her audition piece. Kate thought it perfectly represented the obstacles she would overcome by auditioning. Finally, the fateful day came. Auditions were held after school in the auditorium, and Kate was the first one there. She sat in the front row, her palm sweaty. The butterflies in her stomach multiplied, and Kate began to wish she had gone home. More and more kids were filing into the auditorium, talking and laughing.
Finally, Mr. Evans strode into the auditorium, smiling as always. “Are you ready for the auditions?” he asked of the large group of singers. Cheers answered him. “I thought so. Let’s start with this young lady here.” He smiled down at Kate. The butterflies were going crazy at this point. Shaking, Kate hobbled up onto the stage and took the waiting microphone in her sweaty hand. She took a deep breath and began to sing.
Kate sang better than she ever had; she was intent on making her audience experience her passion as she sang her thoughtful ballad. It seemed as if she was scooping emotion from her soul and infusing it into the words of her song. When Kate sang, she wasn’t in her body anymore. She was flying in the clouds where nothing mattered except the music.
Alas, the song came to a close, but the ending was gorgeous. The last note sparkled like a clean diamond in the sunlight. As soon as Kate was finished, the entire auditorium rose, clapping and cheering.
They’re cheering for me, Kate realized. By choosing to come up on this stage and face my fears, I’ve chosen to not let my disability control me. I’ve beaten my self-consciousness. I’m free.