I only have one memory of my mother: when she kissed me goodbye on her death bed. I don’t even remember my father. For most my whole life, I’ve just been there, in the way, nothing to anyone and nobody to care about. Alone in the world, I’ve struggled to make my life worth something. The only thing I’ve ever succeeded at was failing.
I was poor, awkward, and unattractive. Anyone could see that I was not a pretty child. At the orphanage, couples came and left, taking children, sometimes not. I was never an option. The only comments that came my way, if ever, always hit upon my looks. I remember the first time I was called into inspection. The newlywed couple before whom I was standing cringed as I walked into the room. The lady’s nervous laughter made my blood boil, as she exclaimed, “how ugly!” Her husband, equally shocked, waved me aside, with horrible side remarks too painful to repeat. I smarted under their verbal blows, which left me with bleeding cuts that were never to completely heal. I still have scars today.
After that interview, I was never called again. I stayed as a permanent at the orphanage, working and hurting. Nothing I did ever received any word of praise. My life might’ve been ruined if I had let it. But somehow, I never gave life up altogether. It was as if my heart was encased in a black box, but in one corner, a pin prick of a hole let in one tiny spot of light.
I was allowed to roam the cities. Why? I once overheard the headmaster say to his wife that I was too dumb a child to run away, and even if I did, I was such an ugly girl that anyone would recognize me instantly. I made the most of the opportunity.
Wandering through the streets, I looked into the windows of families who had adopted “friends” of mine. There was Mina, cuddled by the big wolf-man and his dainty wife. A former friend of mine, Michael, was clearing the dishes of the pug-faced widow. I never missed the opportunity to peer into the window of the couple who had dealt my first blow. They had adopted a sweet looking girl from the south, Diane, pampering her with luxuries and dressing her up for parties. It seemed that they adopted her only to show her off—she was a pretty girl.
Everyone seemed happy with their families; but I never felt any jealousy towards them. I had no desire to be loved only for my looks. Though I liked to watch those families, the only emotion they excited in me was pity—pity for the children who had been taken and spoiled. I never wished to join them.
Along my daily route, I always stopped by the blackberry hedge. All my life, those blackberries had inspired me. Every spring, in the midst of the thorns, blackberries were formed; during the summer, they matured into ripe, juicy delights, ready to pick—jewels in the middle of those prickles. Always, while fall and winter came, I was depressed, for there were no blossoms, no berries—merely dead, brittle branches. But always, always when spring came, I would remember that the berries would come again, that they would never stop coming back, bringing me hope.
I figured that if life seemed full of thorns, there would always be some hope that all would be right again. I thought that I could be a blackberry in the midst of life’s thorns, brightening someone’s day, bringing them hope. I may not have been pretty, but, if I was willing, I could do something with my life.
Those blackberries were all that gave me any sense of meaning. And because of them, I did not see myself as a failure. I merely saw myself as someone struggling to survive the winter, someone who would later ripen into something beautiful.