This I Believe

Elizabeth - Charlottesville, Virginia
Entered on December 14, 2007
Age Group: Under 18
Themes: disability

They say that you can never truly believe in something until that belief is directly challenged. Someone might espouse the values of affirmative action – until they are rejected from a choice college in lieu of the school’s search for more diversity. A young girl may call herself a pro-lifer – until she herself is faced with an unplanned pregnancy.

For me, this affront happened a few months ago, when my friend called me in a frantic voice. Hearing the panic in her tone, I expected to her to tell me of some terrible accident, or an illness that she had acquired. “Rachael, what is it?” I asked hurriedly, dreading her response. “Zazus…” she sobbed into the phone, “is changing their brownies.”

To understand this story, you have to understand these brownies. Zazus, a local café and Charlottesville hangout, is advertised for their wraps. However, any local with a sweet tooth knows their real specialty: brownies. But, these aren’t just any brownies. To call them “brownies,” would be practically sacrilegious. These are giant slabs of thick, chocolately, melt-in-your-mouth goodness, covered in nearly an inch of frosting.

I had my first experience with these brownies in 2002, when I was in sixth grade. A sledding accident had left me with a broken ankle, from which I developed a nerve disease that causes extreme pain and sensitivity in the affected limbs. At first it was just in my foot, but a few months later, while getting ready for bed, I felt a burning sensation in my left arm. A few days after that, while riding the bus to school, I felt a similar sensation in my right arm. Within a few days, I could not bend either arm, and I was not able to feed or dress myself. I was taken out of school and enrolled in the Kluge Rehabilitation Center, where I spent the duration of my school year and summer.

I remember my first day at Kluge – it had that familiar, hospital like smell, the too cheery wallpaper, and I remember how scared I was. I had had some experience with hospitals earlier in my life. My father had been diagnosed with colon cancer, and had passed away when I was six years old. My father and I had been very close; even at six, I was Daddy’s little girl. Because of my father’s death, I had always associated hospitals with sadness, and had a general mistrust of doctors, who, in my mind, had killed my father.

However, Kluge surprised me. I had never felt more accepted in my life. In the outside world, people gawked at me. I was too embarrassed to go out and eat, because my Mom had to feed me. I hated the way people stared at the braces on my arms, or the thick metal cane I used to help me walk and balance. But Kluge was not like the morbid and stifling hospitals of my past. Within the halls of Kluge, I could escape.

Kluge was also, coincidentally enough, located next to Zazus – home of the famous brownies. The value of these brownies was not lost on my therapists. They would often place a brownie in my hands to get me to bend my arms. After awhile, even a painful nerve disease cannot stop someone from eating these brownies. I did everything I could, including several wrist maneuvers, to get that brownie into my mouth.

On days when my mom brought over brownies, therapists and patients would come meandering down the hall, searching for the source of the smell. My mom began buying more and more, until finally, Zazus began sending over packages of brownies with their compliments.

But, these brownies meant more to us than a chocolaty treat. These brownies brought kids together who previously had nothing in common, kids who had nothing to share other than their various illnesses and injuries. At Kluge, I made incredible friends – kids from all over the east coast and from all races and socio-economic levels. I remember Kevin. He had been paralyzed after a drunk driving accident, in a car he wasn’t even driving. There was Zach. He had the most captivating blue eyes. They could make you ignore the fact that his brain was bulging out of his head. There was Dexter, too, who was blind and had lost both legs. Dexter used to scream and cuss during his therapy. But when I was near, he would quiet because he didn’t want to curse in front of a “lady.” Dexter made me cry when he told me what a strong girl I was, and I looked back at him thinking I had never met a stronger person myself.

I am happy to report that after much protest, Zazus has brought back their original brownies, and they promise never to change them again. So now, I can go to Zazus whenever I like, and take a bite of one of those decadent treats. And with every mouth-watering morsel, I remember the power of the Zazus brownie.