The car vibrated underneath me. I pulled out of my garage, the fallen October leaves crunching underneath my tires. I really need to have someone sweep my driveway, I thought.
Before I got too far, I checked my purse to make sure I had the pass my sister had given me. Yes, it was there. When I got to the museum I’d have to show it to one of the workers.
My eyes wandered over to a picture on the dashboard. It showed to girls, both with caramel colored hair. One was in bed, a bandage wrapped around her head and an arm in a cast. The other was holding a sketchbook and pencils. Looking at that picture made me think of the story behind it.
My younger sister, Callie, is deaf. And partially blind. She was born that way.
The doctors told us this when Callie was born. “She was born too early,” they said. It was true. She was born almost six weeks early, and luckily, she hadn’t been sick or anything like that. But they said her brain hadn’t fully developed yet, so she would be deaf. And she was partially blind. And that was that.
Sometimes we have a hard time communicating with Callie. She goes to a special school four times a week where she learns a special sign language and other stuff that will help her pretend to be a regular girl. But she still has a hard time. She’s the only one there who can’t see all the way. It’s hard for her—and for us. She can’t learn as well as the other kids her age because she has a harder time. Callie’s okay with this, as long as she tries hard. But sometimes it frustrates others.
The person who has the hardest time with this is me. As her older sister, I’m in charge of taking care of her while Mom is at work (so, basically, the majority of the day). I admit, I’m not the most patient person, so I have a hard time getting Callie to do what I want without losing it.
It was early October when I saw the sketchbook. I was walking down our neighborhood sidewalk, having just picked up Callie from her special school a couple blocks away. I was paying more attention to the song I was listening to on my IPod than to Callie, but when I glanced over at her, I noticed that she was drawing in a composition book-sized pad of paper. “What are you drawing?” I signed over at her, tapping her on the shoulder.
It took Callie a couple seconds to work out what I’d said. She looked at me, with her good eye slightly squinted. Then she showed me her notebook. The page she was drawing on was mostly filled with circles and squares: just rudimentary doodles. I shrugged and handed it back to her, smiling to show my thanks. She smiled back and continued to doodle, her tongue slightly stuck out.
I didn’t pay much attention to it, but I noticed that Callie constantly carried her sketchbook around with her. On her way to school, she would carry it under her arm, her pencil in her hand. On her way back, she would draw. At home, at dinner, in the car, she would draw. It seemed like her sketchbook never left her side.
It wasn’t like she was drawing anything. It was all mere doodles, just swirls and shapes and colors. The most complex thing I’d seen her draw was a misshapen house, with its roof crooked and its door sticking out at an odd angle. I didn’t give her pictures any thought.
The problem was, when she was drawing, she didn’t pay attention. I would be signing to her, flicking the lights on and off, trying to catch her notice, and she would just draw. We would walk, and she would draw, and someone would come up the sidewalk with their dog, and I’d have to pull her over at the last minute so she didn’t get run over. One day, we got a note home from her teacher. It said:
“Callie is showing a high mental aptitude in class. However, she draws during instructional time, preventing her from learning the required curriculum.”
That could only mean one thing: Callie was now drawing in class, too. Great.
I grew irritated with Callie. I was constantly shout-signing at her, telling her to be more careful. I lost my patience with her a lot more than usual. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with drawing. But she was drawing when she should have been paying attention. And the worst part was, Mom blamed it all on me.
“You need to teach her better!” she would tell me. “Her grades are slipping because she draws during class, and I can’t be at home to tell her to stop.” This made me very, very angry. I was always mad at Callie now, and one day, things went too far.
“My teacher told me that I did a good job today and gave me a sticker,” Callie signed, proudly showing me a smiley face sticker on her pink sweater.
“Cool,” I spelled in sign language. I had just picked Callie up from school, and she wasn’t carrying her sketchbook. Good, I thought. Now she’ll pay attention to the sidewalk. I popped my earbuds in and became lost in thought, feeling relieved that I didn’t have to worry about Callie. But I was the one who needed to pay attention.
I looked over at Callie and then at the sidewalk in front of me. Then I did a double-take. Looking back at Callie, I realized she had her sketchbook with her. She was drawing—doodling—again, not paying the slightest mind to anything around her. I yanked my earbuds out.
“What are you doing?” I signed angrily, grabbing her arm to stop her. Callie looked confused.
Finally, all of my anger at her came out. “You’ve just been drawing, drawing, drawing, not paying attention to anything! You’re going to get hurt one day, and Mom’s going to blame it all on me, but it’s your own fault. You never pay attention. You can’t even talk! You can’t see half the time, and now your failing school because you keep drawing in that sketchbook!” I grabbed her sketchbook and threw it on the ground. To this day, I still think I jinxed her.
I glared at Callie, and she looked back, scared and confused. Neither of us were paying attention to anything else. Then I heard a soft ring-ring! behind us. It didn’t register in my head. If only it had.
What happened next was a blur. A flash of red streaked past me, making a woosh of air roar in my ears. I heard a thud, the screeching of brakes. Someone shouted from ahead, “Are you okay?”
Then I woke up. My vision came back into focus, and I realized what had happened. Callie was on the ground, holding her arm. Blood was slowly dripping from a scrape on her cheek, and I could see a bruise forming on her chin. I bent down next to her.
“What’s wrong?” I signed, moving her hand from her arm. Her sweater was torn. Her elbow was at an odd angle.
A teenage boy ran up behind me. “I am so sorry! I was on the road, and I had to get onto the sidewalk to avoid a car, and I didn’t see you—here, I’ll call someone.” He hurriedly pulled out is phone and dialed 911. I turned back to Callie.
“I’m going to take you back to the school, okay?” I signed to her. She seemed to understand, and she nodded. I grabbed her other shoulder and helped her stand, but something was wrong. Callie swayed and her knees buckled. I grabbed her to keep her from falling. But she swayed again, and collapsed, unconscious.
When the ambulance arrived, they put Callie on a stretcher and wheeled her into the back. I rode with her to the hospital, and was met by my mother at the entrance. As it turns out, Callie had a broken arm and a concussion. Nothing they couldn’t fix, luckily.
When we got home, we put Callie in bed, ate some cereal, and turned in. But I couldn’t sleep. There was something nagging in the back of my mind. It wasn’t exhaustion (although I wish it was). It wasn’t guilt (I’d had enough to make me sick). It wasn’t the image of Callie, lying unconscious in the ambulance. I couldn’t figure out what it was.
The next day, I was walking on the sidewalk where Callie and I had been yesterday. I stopped at the place where the accident had been, about two football fields away from the school. I looked around. And then I saw it: Callie’s sketchbook.
I bent down and picked it up. The cover was slightly damp from the morning dew. Slowly, I opened it and looked at the first page.
It was the page Callie had shown me that day when I first noticed her sketchbook. I turned a few more pages, seeing nothing but lines and shapes. I turned a few more, finding a whole page devoted to swirls and her misshapen house. That made me smile. Then I turned another page and gasped.
It was beautiful. It wasn’t a line or a shape or a swirl. It was a sketch. A perfect sketch of me.
On the creamy white paper, there was a penciled version of me, walking Callie home from school. She had even drawn my earbuds and IPod. It was the best drawing I had ever seen.
I turned another page and saw Mom, a forkful of spaghetti in her hand. Another page was a sketch of her teacher, writing on the board. Page after page, sketch after sketch. These weren’t doodles: they were masterpieces.
When I had looked at all her drawings, I tucked her sketchbook under my arm and ran home. I laid it carefully on my bed and opened my piggy bank. Then I rode my bike to the craft store. When Callie woke up, she would have a brand new sketchbook—a professional one—and the nicest pencils I could find.
Callie wasn’t just doodling after all.
I pulled into an empty parking space—the only one left, it looked like—and turned the car off. Stepping out into the museum parking lot, a rush of chilly air greeted me. I hurried inside.
Showing the worker my pass, she led me to a set of chairs in front of a display of artwork. They were beautiful drawings; my favorite was one of a girl sitting at a piano.
I looked around, searching for someone. Finally, after a couple of minutes, I saw a tall woman with long caramel-colored hair talking—signing—to the press. I hurried over to her.
When she finished her interview, she turned and saw me. Waving, she strode over to where I was standing. “I’m so glad you came!” Callie signed.
“Me too,” I signed back, smiling. We chatted for a few minutes, then took a seat. The room went quiet, and the museum manager took the stage.
“Welcome to the presentation of our new display, created by one of the nation’s most famous artists.” He motioned towards Callie, and the audience applauded.
“This woman is the image of a miracle. Born deaf and half-blind, she overcame those obstacles to become an artist. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you our newest display: Callie’s Sketchbook.”