by Cara Koontz
“Cara,” she repeats my name and immediately my brain unfreezes and starts firing off questions. Most notably, “is she kidding?” Along with my Olympus size mountain of homework, volleyball practices and countless hours of community service yet to finish, my mother wanted me to do what? Without thinking about her question, my conscience starts brainstorming ways out of my new predicament. Wait; resurface. She continues with her spiel, “ Your name would be Princess Cherrybella and your job would be to entertain all the kids whose sick parents are attending the Blossoms of Hope Cancer Awareness Month events.” How can you say no to that? Correction, you can’t.
Tulle, so much tulle. I am standing in a room, a sort of Vera Wang playhouse, equipped with corsets, two hoop skirts, five-layered sleeves, four-inch heels and of course, a crown. To describe the dress in relatable terms, it was as though all the Disney Princesses and their sylvan friends had sewn the royal ladies dresses together to form one pink masterpiece. So, you may be asking, what’s the big deal? Let me explain. My ideal outfit consists of sweatpants, a sweatshirt and some sort of hideously ugly, yet sensible, footwear. My idea of makeup is the eye black I slather on before each volleyball game and maybe, if I can manage to avoid a direct hit with my bristled stick, mascara. I sigh, fully comprehending the fact that there’s no way out of this now; partly because my mother would never allow me to go back on my promise and also because I don’t think I can disengage myself from the dress without pulling some sort of ligament.
Seconds pass, then, my cue. I exit the door to a crowd of forty people all of whom are waiting for my debut. Adults smile, little girls cheer and my mother beams. I smile as told, I wave as instructed, but when greeted by younger fans I say, “What’s up dudes”- I can’t help myself. Hours pass, the evening wears down and I am introduced to Calvin Ball, a Howard County Council member, and his two shy daughters who are apparently dying to get a picture with a live princess. I momentarily forget my discomfort and grin inwardly thinking of how odd it is that I am in the presence of a household name that wants a picture with me. I quickly replace that fleeting emotion with discontent as I remember where I am and more importantly, what I’m wearing.
It is a month later, I expertly throw the dress on, lace the corset, step into the heels and place the crown at just the right angle, the process takes only minutes. Tonight was the Lantern Parade, the final event of the month. Dusk falls, the excitement is tangible, I watch as a scarf-wearing mother and her three daughters laugh over something unheard and feel at ease. The sun is now completely set, little boys and girls line up at the start with their handmade paper Mache’ lanterns, practically jumping with anticipation. One, two, three, the lanterns are lit and we, being a crowd of almost one hundred, begin our descent. Tall “fairies” on stilts illuminate the way with youngsters close behind. Cancer patients and survivors alike walk hand in hand as the sound of the spring peepers becomes thick over the low murmur of voices. I reach the top of the hill and look down at the steady pace of those I had grown to know over the past month elucidated by the glow not only of their lanterns, but also of their hope. I am overcome with a feeling of content, as though everything superficial could be snatched out of my reach and it wouldn’t matter. An unexplainable lump fills my throat, tears pool in my eyes and, like a splash of cold water on my face, the bite of a bee, or any other cliché euphemism for an epiphany, I realize that I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.