Inspired by this week’s writing prompt

Mrs. Wilson, my fifth grade teacher, was the first one who noticed I was different. While she was a very considerate teacher to begin with, she was especially gentle towards me.

I’d stayed after school one day for help on a science project, and my somber attitude and disheveled appearance made an impression on her. She sat down in a desk beside me and folded her hands. Sitting that way in front me she looked much like a storytelling grandmother. “Have I ever told you about the story of the rose? I mean about a rose flower, not about you, my dear.”

I shook my head, but grinned slightly at the pun on my name.

“Well. There was once a crimson red rose who lived in a garden. Do you like roses?”

I shrugged. “They’re pretty enough.” I really just wanted to understand my science homework.

“This particular rose was beautiful, but its petals always drooped in sorrow. And do you know why it was so sad? The rose believed its whole life that it was ugly. Now. Next to the garden was a pond, and in it the rose could see its reflection. It stared at its reflection all day long, but the only thing it saw were the thorns, those dreadful, black thorns.  It could not see its petals of beauty or the delicate green leaves along the stem.”

I sat and listened. I had realized that if I humor her story, Mrs. Wilson might let me finish my homework and I could get out of there.

Mrs. Wilson leaned forward in her desk. “Then one day something great happened. A nearby yellow rose told the red rose of all that the red rose couldn’t see in the reflection. The red rose began to understand all that it had missed. Very slowly, but surely, the red rose grew to be a smiling, flourishing rose.” She blinked at me with kind eyes. I gave her a half smile but said nothing. “Do you see?”

I didn’t. Flowers didn’t have feelings. My name was Rose, I was fully human and thus not the rose in the story, and so I didn’t – or chose not to – see the connection. I nodded anyways. “Can we get back to my photosynthesis experiment?”

Mrs. Wilson pushed her large glasses back on her nose. “Yes, my dear, of course.”

Seven ugly years passed before I would fully grasp Mrs. Wilson’s story. She must have sensed I was having family problems, and that was why she chose to mentor me so. But I wasn’t having problems at home – not anymore. I didn’t have a home. I’d left only the night before the story of the rose. I knew that if I hadn’t left that house, I wouldn’t be here. My makeshift home switched from either under the bridge that arched over Highway 5, or under a spruce tree in the depths of a city park. Throughout most of the year in San Diego, California, the weather is wet, and so I spent most nights under that bridge. While I preferred the forest, the bridge kept out the rain better.

Those were dark times – but back to the present. I just graduated high school – it took me an extra semester, but I’d done it. I had just moved into an apartment with two other girls, a new home within walking distance of the Pacific Ocean. All three of us were part of a homeless transition program.

One night I walked along the California beach, just to try something new and take time to think. The December air was biting, and the sand was cold under my bare feet, yet I chose to soak in the sight of the pink sunset instead. I hadn’t thought of Mrs. Wilson in years, but that night her story came flooding back to me. The rose, the pond, the thorns. All through my life I’d never allowed myself to slow down – perhaps because I hadn’t caught a break.  For whatever reason, I could never see what lay underneath my past. I could never see what Mrs. Wilson saw. Back in fifth grade, I saw myself as a wandering waif, alone, dehumanized by the rest of society, and left utterly alone. I believed I was unwanted because that’s all I could see.

Now, walking across the cold sand and looking across the shimmering water, I could see so much more. I saw a dolphin fin appear and disappear somewhere in the distance and my heart leapt for joy. I’d known for at least at least two years now that marine biology was calling my name. I’d just been offered a paid internship at the Marine Biology Research Center.

I was going to accept it. The Rose that existed a few years would have turned it down, no matter how much I knew I’d love the experience. For I was unwanted, and I thought that’s what I’d always be. I was unworthy. Who would want a former homeless girl as an employee? When they offered me the internship, the marine staff had looked past the potential stigma. They looked instead at my report cards, which showed particularly outstanding grades in biology courses.

Because of my new employment, I was on my way to earning enough for college tuition, which meant that I was closer to my future as a marine biologist. This was cause for celebration, if I’d ever had one. I chuckled and hopped around awkwardly in the sand. I twirled about in the water, expressing my new-found freedom. I didn’t care if danced like a chicken or if the bottoms of my feet were numb with cold or if I looked a fool. Mrs. Wilson had no idea how right she was. I was choosing to see the petals, and I’d never felt so complete.