Friday, November 03, 2006

Too Much Better

Miranda stepped onto the plane. Gripping her cane in one hand and her carry-on in the other, she shuffled down the aisle. She stopped at her row and checked her boarding pass. A window seat next to an old man; I can live with that.

She let go of her orthopedic cane and reached up to the overhead compartment. She was barely tall enough to reach the latch. The older gentleman sitting next to her seat looked up. He saw a young woman with cane and back brace struggling with her luggage and offered her help. "Thank you. That would be nice," she replied sincerely and politely.

The man took Miranda's bag and was surprise at its weight. He nearly dropped it and grunted just a little. "That's an awfully heavy bag for such a little girl." Miranda smiled shyly. She shuffled past him and took her seat while he pushed her bag into the overhead compartment.

She gazed out the window. She could see her mother still standing in the terminal. Their eyes connected, and they both waived simultaneously.

After a few minutes, the plane began to pull away from the terminal, and Miranda's mother could no longer see her. Miranda looked around the plane, or what she could see from her seat.

"Nervous?" the older man asked. Miranda nodded and shifted in her seat. "First time on a plane?" Miranda nodded again, but that wasn't why she was nervous.

She knew it was impossible. There was no one on this plane that could possibly know her. Nevertheless, she felt that someone was watching her; something she had felt for years now, ever since she had been cured. She had attributed it to a guilty conscience. It was a warning to always be on guard, to never let her secret slip.

But why? she had thought innumerable times. Why can't I just tell everyone? Why can't I tell everyone I love? Will they love me when they find out I'm a fake? That I'm a freak? Miranda's lie had been painful to bear, literally. Her back and neck eternally ached from pretending to grow weaker when exactly the opposite was occurring. She reached behind her back and undid the clasps on her brace. She sat up straight and stretched. The man next to her eyed her, but she ignored him.

At first she had thought it was her imagination. No one gets better from muscular dystrophy; doctors can only slow its steady deterioration of the muscles. But then when she could get out of bed by herself and climb in and out of the car in mere seconds, she knew something had changed.

When her mother started to notice Miranda's improvement, that's when the young girl panicked. Getting better was not possible, especially not with what had happened, with what she had let happen, with what she had done. But it got harder and harder to pretend not to be able to get dressed and climb stairs. Several times caught herself doing things she shouldn't be able to. She would look over her shoulder, and if someone was watching, she would fall down with a yelp or slink to her knees with a whimper. But despite her best efforts, people began to notice that the young girl was improving. Miranda told people that the equine therapy must be working, and that seemed to satisfy amazed and elated questions about her improving health.

Then Miranda began to realize that she was getting too much better. In the privacy of her room she realized that she could do things she didn't think should be possible for her stature. She found she could lift a jam-packed backpack with one hand without straining. She discovered she could lift a mattress and box spring completely off her bed. She realized she could have lifted her entire dresser full of clothes, if it hadn't been so unwieldy. If people could been able to get over the shock of telling them that she had lied to them, that she was cured, would they be able to cope with this unnatural strength? She decided never to find out. Miranda had stopped testing her strength years ago. She hid it away and hoped for a day when she could stop pretending and be herself, if such a day could ever come.

Now she was heading off to New City University, a place thousands of miles away from anyone that new her in her small town. A new beginning. Miranda felt a pressure lifted off her back. She didn't have to pretend anymore.

The plane jerked as it touched down. It taxied around to the New City Airport and prepared to unload. As Miranda stood up, her neighbor offered to get her bag down for her. "No thanks, I got it," she told him. She stood on her toes and pulled the latch on the overhead compartment. With ease she pulled the heavy bag down. The man was astounded.

She began to walk toward the exit when the old gentleman called to her, "Miss, you forgot your cane and your brace!"

She turned and smiled. She took the cane and tucked it under her arm, the grabbed the brace. "Thanks," she told him. "I probably better keep these. Just in case." She smiled and winked at him before turning and striding away. The old man looked on after her, a little miffed.

As Miranda stepped off the plane she felt that feeling again, as if someone was watching her. No, she shook her head, I'm not looking over my shoulder anymore. She smiled and continued on.

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