Delicate white feathers arranged in an overlapping manner which stretched three feet in length. Soft as down plucked from a duckling, these feathers have felt the hands of but one. Yet they managed to be stronger than the feathers from any variety of bird. These weren’t attached to any bird, but rather an eleven-year-old girl named Delilah.
In a bedroom pop music blasted through the speakers of a laptop computer. The blinds are tightly drawn over the windows so there are no witnesses as Delilah feels the rhythm, dancing around the room. The whimsical song speaks of soaring through the air based purely on the belief that it is possible. People who have heard the song will speak of it as ridiculous nonsense, but not Delilah. For Delilah Wilcox it is more than just a song, it’s a dream.
For as long as she can remember she has dreamed of flying, soaring through the air like a majestic bird. Feeling the wind blowing around her wings as she flies among the clouds. Oh, the things she has dreamed of seeing on her journeys amongst the birds. In her imagination she has soared with eagles surveying the open waters for fish and circled the Eiffel Tower glowing with lights at night. She knew such dreams were just that, dreams. The only place her wings had taken her was in her room alone, dreaming of spreading them among the clouds.
She closed her eyes as the music continued to play. The wings attached to her back started to move back and forth with strokes that are slow but strong. For a moment nothing happened. Then Delilah’s feet are slowly lifted off the ground. Images of soaring through the Grand Canyon pass before her closed eyes. She can almost feel the cool waters of the Colorado River upon her hand as she flies just above the surface. For a few moments she is free of the binds that keep her wings tethered. The door to the bedroom opened and her feet hit the ground. She opened her eyes to see her father standing in the doorway.
“What are you doing, D? We’ve talked about this,” Curtis Wilcox said as he entered the room.
“I know,” Delilah said. Her eyes once filled with the images of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado river were fixed on the floor. “I just wanted to know what it was like.”
“You’re not like other girls, D. You have to remember that.”
Delilah noted he said this like it was a bad thing, but kept her mouth shut. She’d learned not to talk back to Daddy.
“I just want what’s best for you, you know that, right?”
He smiled. “Good. Now wrap those things up and get ready for school.” He looked at his watch. “We’ve got to leave in fifteen minutes.”
After he left the room she turned off the music. She got the athletic tape out of the top drawer of the dresser. With tears shinning in her eyes Delilah wrapped the athletic tape around her midsection, forcing her wings to lay flat against her back. She’d never told Daddy how much this hurt. She wasn’t sure if he would care. A loose-fitting hoodie was the only top that would fit over her wings and still look somewhat normal. The other kids at school still noticed. Just once she would like to wear the pink tank top hidden in her dresser with her wings jutting out the sides.
With the hoodie on Delilah grabbed her backpack and exited her room. A sigh escaped her lips.
The kids called her hunchback because of the obvious bulge she desperately tried to hide underneath the hoodie. Sometimes this was behind her back—which she didn’t mind too much—while other times they taunted her with catcalls of Quasimodo and the ringing of a large bell. This hurt more than she let on. Daddy told her to be tough and she tried, but he wasn’t the one with a hunchback in the sixth grade.
To avoid the other girl’s cruel gaze Delilah always changed for gym in a stall of the locker room. The teasing she endured for this was minimal compared to what she would experience if they glimpsed what she was trying to hide. Filled with shame she crammed into a stall with her gym clothes and proceeded to change. The moment her hoodie was off before she slipped on the oversized sweatshirt she wore for gym was the most vulnerable of her day. Today this was the moment the door to the stall was kicked in.
Delilah looked up, overcome with fear and shame. Betsy Johnston stood outside the stall with a group of her friends. Devious smiles were on each of their faces as they stared at the eleven-year-old with athletic tape wrapped around her torso. Delilah clutched her sour gym sweatshirt to her body in a futile effort to hide what had already been seen. She watched the girls as a gazelle watches a cheetah before the predator strikes.
“What have we got here? It’s Quasimodo!” Betsy said, laughing.
“Quasi, tell me, why do you get dressed in the stall every day? It’s so weird, right, Betsy?” Joanne said.
“So weird, Joanne.”
Delilah remained silent as she stared at the girls.
Betsy gasped. “Joanne isn’t it your birthday?”
“You know, it is!”
“Well, happy birthday! Unwrap your present,” Betsy exclaimed.
Betsy and Joanne each grabbed an arm and yanked Delilah out of the stall while the other girls watched. Joanne took hold of an end of the athletic tape and pulled. Delilah was spun around in a circle as the other girl unwrapped her. The locker room was still spinning when she came to stop a minute later. The giggles that had filled the locker room while Joanne worked on the tape had ceased. Delilah could feel everyone’s eyes upon her.
“Oh my, you’re an angel!” Betsy exclaimed.
“Can you fly for us?” Joanne said.
“I doubt it, those things look too wet from her sweating underneath that hoodie,” another girl said.
“Fly! Fly! Fly!”
The chant went around the locker room. Tears were streaming down Delilah’s face. The taunting laughter continued as she looked at each of her tormentors, searching for sympathy. Seeing none she picked up her smelly sweatshirt and ran from the locker room. She was out in the hallway before she had the wherewithal to put on the sweatshirt, hiding the secret that no longer was. Tears were streaming down her face when she slammed the door to her bedroom at home.
It was two days before Daddy could convince Delilah to show her face in school again. She held the athletic tape in her hands, staring at it. A smile crossed her face. She tossed the athletic tape in the garbage. Her wings would go unbound today for the first time. Another baggy hoodie would hide her wings for the time being.
Daddy parked the car in front of the school. The schoolyard was filled with children entering the building. Betsy and her friends were standing on the front steps of the building. Their eyes were watching her. Delilah took a deep breath and stepped out of the car.
As she walked towards the school entrance a murmur went through the children. All foot traffic ceased. All eyes were on the eleven-year-old with a secret everyone knew. Delilah dropped her backpack in the middle of the schoolyard. The hoodie she wore to hide her wings was hot. She took it off. Underneath she wore the pink tank top she had always wanted to wear. Jutting out the sides of the tank top were the wings she had always hidden.
“What are you doing, Delilah?” Daddy called from the open car door.
She smiled as she took off into the air. Finally feeling the wind beneath her wings.