Now Grizelda's background was a bit more twisted. There was a very good reason that her school facade was quiet, serious, and intellectual. She believed herself to be cursed. Indeed she was working every minute of every day to undo this terrible curse too. She didn't want to draw any attention to herself for fear that she might get distracted. Her one all consuming goal was to rid herself of the terrible curse of being deformed.
As much as Zig liked people, Grizelda was afraid of them. She found it almost impossible to talk to anyone other than her mother, which she practically never did anyway. Three totally random "accidents" had the cumulative effect of convincing Grizelda she was deformed.
When Grizelda was born her mom, Florence, was going through a period where she was enamored of Grimm's Fairy tales. Grizelda's mom was frequently overtaken by literary characters in her personal life. She had a simple mind which was easily influenced by the ideas of others.
When her child was delivered after a 28 hour, difficult labor, the first thing the tired delivery nurse said was, "Look, your baby has one blue eye and one green eye. Why don't you call her Gisella and let her grow up believing she is descended from a line of Indian princesses with eyes so special they can see into the hearts of all people."
Now no one knows why the nurse said this, or even if she did, but the result was that Florence named her daughter Grizelda because it reminded her of something that nurse had said and of the Cinderella story she had been reading the night of the birth. Unfortunately Florence never told Grizelda about the line of Indian princesses. Florence didn't remember that part, just the name and she even grossly misspelled Gisella into Grizelda.
So this was how little Grizelda's life began. Florence's simple mind never imagined the personal torment that being name Grizelda would cause her daughter. She had no idea that the little girl with one green eye and one blue eye would go through day care and elementary school being called "the Griz", and "Grizzle", among other things.
This however could have been overcome because Grizelda was basically a strong person. Her mental ability was far superior to her mother's, and with a bit of reassuring love and laughter, the name could have been dealt with or even a cute nickname embraced. This however did not happen. Florence did not shorten or soften Grizelda's name ever.
Still, a close group of friends could have filled the love gap that she felt at home. Her friends could have made up a fun nickname for her and she could have laughed and played with them and had a somewhat happy life. Unfortunately, Grizelda never had any friends.
When her daughter was five years old, Florence had to work at night from midnight till 7 AM. She didn't think Grizelda needed a baby sitter, because she would be sleeping. So away Florence went, leaving the little girl locked in her room.
This went on just fine for about three weeks. Then one morning when Florence returned from work something was terribly wrong with Grizelda. She was in her bed moaning, tossing, turning and covered in sweat. Her eyes were open but she wasn't focusing.
Florence reached for her and screamed in fear. The little girl was burning up. She was almost too hot to hold. Florence was really scared. She ran with Grizelda down the stairs of their apartment and flew down the street to the hospital emergency room.
The doctors administered tetracycline. The fever did come down but it and the medicine left an indelible mark on Grizelda. Her teeth became permanently gray.
Now this didn't pose a problem until she went to school. It was in first grade when she first realized that she was "deformed." She was standing quietly in the lunch line when a loudmouthed, third grader ran past her and tripped, falling right into Grizelda.
The older girl was embarrassed so she blamed the fall on the surprised Grizelda yelling, "Hey, you little black mouthed weasel. I'll teach you to trip me!" She reached up, grabbed Grizelda by her frizzy red hair and pulled as hard as she could. Grizelda screamed and started to cry. The lunch lady came around the corner and broke it up, but the damage had been done.
From that day forward little Grizelda was always teased and called the black mouthed Griz. One evening when she was eight years old, some girls, acting on a dare, snuck around to the back of her apartment complex and yelled at the top of their lungs, "Grizelda sh_t mouth, Grizelda sh_t mouth!" Her mom heard a bit of it and started to look out the window just as the girls ran away.
Until that day in first grade, Grizelda didn't know that she was deformed. After it though, she tried very hard to keep her mouth shut and never to laugh out loud, so people couldn't see her black teeth. She found it hard to even make eye contact after a few years.
Over the years, she developed a reputation for being extremely quiet, serious, and even mean. Her only comfort was in her academics. She was smart, and every time she got an 'A', it made her feel like she was worth something. School books became her best friends. Grizelda's self worth rested entirely on how she did in school. A grade lower than an 'A' would have destroyed her.
When she was twelve years old, the most wonderful thing imaginable happened . She was at her annual dental visit when she finally had the courage to ask Dr. Phelps if there was anything that could be done to correct the horrible gray teeth.
It really was Florence's job to investigate this, but the possibility never entered her mind. In fact, she didn't even go to the dentist with Grizelda anymore. Grizelda made her own appointments and walked down the street to the dentist's office on her way home from school by herself.
She only went once a year because that's all that her mother's insurance would cover. She kept those yearly visits always hoping that someday a miracle would occur and Dr. Phelps would say that her teeth would get better.
Dr. Phelps was the only human who ever looked inside of Grizelda's mouth. He was a kind person. He knew she was sensitive about the discoloration, so he always took extra care to be gentle with his cleaning tools and with his words. "Ah, Grizelda, welcome my sweet little patient, and how are you this fine day?" he welcomed her.
"Hello Dr. Phelps," replied Grizelda. She once again promised herself that TODAY would be the day. She would mention it today. She would ask that all fateful question.
As she climbed up into the examining chair, she gathered all of her courage and said, "Dr. Phelps, I was wondering...."
"Yes, dear? What are you wondering about?" encouraged Dr. Phelps.
"Well I've been wondering about this for several years now..." she trailed off again, afraid to even mention the subject for fear he would say it was hopeless.
"Okay, let me guess," said Dr. Phelps. "I know I'm an old man, but I think I remember a bit about what it means to be young. You are worried about the color of your teeth aren't you?"
Grizelda gasped, "How did you know?"
"Honey, I do this for a living. I've seen many children and adults over the years with much worse discoloration than you have. In every case, they've been bothered by it. It seems to trouble the high school kids the most though," he assured her.
Grizelda couldn't hold it in any longer. She blurted out in one last hopeful burst of enthusiasm, "Dr. Phelps can anything be done to fix them?"
"Well sure dear. There are a couple of things. You could have your teeth capped, which I definitely would NOT recommend for you. Or you could have them bonded. Now that might be the way to go. You're almost old enough for that procedure."
"What does 'bonded' mean?" asked Grizelda.
"Bonded means that we lightly etch each tooth and then we apply a hard white polymer. It essentially coats the tooth with a new top. We can make the polymer any color you want Grizelda. I can give you pink teeth if you want them," he joked.
Her heart pounded with this news. It was better than anything she had ever dared to dream. Dr. Phelps could fix her deformity. She would be free. She wouldn't be "the Griz" anymore. Her life could finally start. Her head began to swim with the possibilities: friends, phone calls, shopping at the mall just for fun, being able to laugh out loud, maybe even boys would look at her in a nice way.
Yes boys, she could ask her mom to get her those new colored contact lenses so that her eyes would be the same color, and maybe she could get one of those relaxing perms and dye her hair a deep shade of auburn instead of the carrot red it was now. A touch of artistically applied makeup and she would actually be a person. No more monster woman.
She got so excited she almost fell out of the dentist's chair. It was then she noticed he was still talking,"...or purple teeth, but really we just pick a reasonable color of off white. You've got to be careful not to go too white or the teeth look artificial. It takes some time to do a match on a single tooth, but since in your case it would be the entire mouth, we can mix up any shade of off white you like and just apply it to all of them."
"So when can we do it Dr. Phelps? Can you start tomorrow?"
"Whoa, hold on a minute honey. This is a major procedure. It would take several visits and would require parental consent, and I'm afraid that it's very expensive. Most people don't do it because of the cost factor."
"How much is it?"
"It costs $200 per tooth. So the cost for an entire adult mouth of 32 teeth would be $6,400," Dr. Phelps explained. "Of course you don't really need to do every tooth. The back molars don't ever come into view even when a person laughs. We generally only do 20 teeth unless the patient insists upon a full mouth treatment."
"So it will cost me $4,000," figured Grizelda.
"Yes. That's the problem. Most people won't put out that kind of money just to have white teeth. Since it's considered a cosmetic procedure, most insurance companies won't cover the cost either."
"Thank you Dr. Phelps," said Grizelda trying her absolute best not to let him see the tears welling up in her eyes. This was just too cruel. To have a chance at life dangled in front of her and then to have it so viciously torn away was beyond bearable. When she left the dentist's office, she ran home crying all the way.
She was so upset that even Florence noticed. Her mother said, "What's wrong. Didn't you have a dentist appointment today?"
"Yes. Dr. Phelps told me he could fix my teeth, but it will cost $4,000," said Grizelda.
"WOW! Well we don't have that kind of money. Guess you'll have to get used to the color you've got now," said her mom, totally oblivious to the crushing pain her words caused.
"How will I ever find $4,000? I've just got to get it somehow. Maybe I can get a job," she thought. But she knew she was 12 years old, and employment other than baby-sitting was out of her reach. She figured carefully; if she baby-sat 12 hours every weekend and saved every cent, she could make about $700 dollars in one year.
"Oh PLEASE GOD. PLEASE help me find a way to do this." Just as she prayed this prayer an idea popped into her head. Her pappap Spoon. He had been nice to her when she was a real little girl. She hadn't seen him for seven years, not since Florence had moved her to the city. Grizelda could barely remember him, but she seemed to remember that he had called her his "little sweetie, prettiest girl in farm country." Maybe he could help her out.
She went to Florence's address book and found the number. She called and when the man on the other end of the line heard her voice she thought she could hear him cry.
"Sweetie, is that you? My dear sweet little Zella is calling her old pappap Spoon," he said joyfully.
"Do you remember me sir?" said Grizelda.
"Of course I do. You're the most beautiful little miss in all of farm country. You have bouncy red curls and special eyes sent to you from heaven. One eye is blue and one is green. Only angels ever get that combination. That's how I knew when you were born that you had come from heaven."
Grizelda wasn't used to this kind of conversation. She found herself getting warm inside and a smile forcing its way to her mouth. "Oh, pappap Spoon you DO remember me."
Then Grizelda started to cry uncontrollably. She couldn't be strong any longer. The emotion spewed from her soul. She told him the entire story, about the fever, and the medicine, and the teeth, and the abusive girls at school, about her fear of people and lack of friends, even about the girls yelling behind her apartment. As she calmed down, she told him about her visit to Dr. Phelps and that she could only cover $700 in one year.
Theo Spoon did not consider himself a wealthy man. He had lost most everything he ever valued in life, first his lovely wife to cancer, then his simpleminded daughter had moved and taken his sweet little Zella from him. He had tried to keep the relationship up, but Florence had not been responsive to his letters and calls. Over the years they had lost touch.
This phone call out of the blue, from his little angel, moved him greatly. Even though he was on a fixed retirement income and had precious little savings, he knew he had to help this little one somehow. He thought for a few moments then he said, "Listen dear one, that's a tremendous amount of money, but if you can be strong and hold on for a few years I'll save half for you. That way all you'll have to save is $2,000 yourself. Maybe your mom can help you with that too."
"Oh pappap how will I ever be able to pay you back?"
"You won't have to because you're going to earn this money," said pappap.
"How can I earn it? I'm only 12 years old. No one will hire me except to baby-sit..."
"Don't worry, there are many ways to work. Your work will be your schooling. I want you to be the best that school has ever seen. Then honey, you'll have a future. If you get top grades in school, you'll make it on your own and make it well. You won't have to be poor like your mom. You won't have to ever go to work at night and leave your baby dying with a fever, locked in her room.
"Yes, this is how you will pay me. Each year that you make a perfect 4.0 average, I will give you $700. I'll hold it in secret, so your mom can't get to it. Then when you're 15, you and me together should have enough for that procedure. I'll even get on the train and come take you to the doctor myself to make sure he does the job right. How does that sound little one?"
"You've got it pappap. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I'll send you my report card every quarter so you'll know how my 'job' is coming along," said Grizelda. She hesitated slightly and then said, "Um, pappap,...would you mind if I sent you a letter once in a while too. Maybe I could send you a picture too."
"Of course my little Zella. That would make this old man the happiest guy in farm country. Can I write you back? Will your mom let you get letters from me?"
"Sure pappap. She wouldn't ever know I got them. I'm always home before her anyway, I'm the only one who gets the mail," said Grizelda.
So they started writing and Grizelda became known as "the brain" and well as "the Griz".
Two and three quarters years had passed when the new seating arrangement in geometry was announced. Grizelda had never earned a single grade lower than an 'A' in any course in all that time. She was nine weeks away from her goal, and she couldn't let Zigarelli Dorff mess up her last chance at a future.
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