Annie invited me to bring my children with me one day, as I had told her so much about them. "Most children are frightened by my appearance," she said. "But I will understand if they don't want to meet me."
I struggled for the words to describe Annie's appearance to my son and daughter. Then I remembered a movie I'd seen two years earlier with my son, when he was ten. I wanted him to understand that disabled people are like anyone else - their feelings can be hurt, too.
"David, remember the movie Mask about the boy with the facial deformity?"
"Yes, Mom. I think I know what to expect." His tone told me it was time to stop mothering him so much.
"What does a tumor look like?" Diane asked me.
Answering my nine-year-old daughter would be tricky. In order to prevent Diane's revulsion when she met Annie, I needed to prepare her just enough but not too much. I didn't want to frighten the child.
"Her tumor looks like the skin on the inside of your mouth. It sticks out from under her tongue and makes it hard for her to talk. You'll see it as soon as you meet her, but there's nothing to be afraid of. Remember, don't stare. I know you'll want to look at it . . . that's all right . . . just don't stare." Diane nodded. I knew she was trying to picture a tumor in her mind.
"Are you kids ready for this?" I asked as we pulled up to the curb.
"Yes, Mom," David said, sighing as only a preteen can.
Diane nodded and tried to reassure me. "Don't worry, Mommy. I'm not scared."
We entered the living room, where Annie was sitting in her recliner, her lap covered with note cards for her friends. I stood across the room with my children, aware that anything could happen next.
At the sight of my children, Annie's face brightened. "Oh, I'm so glad you came to visit," she said, dabbing a tissue at the drops of saliva that escaped from her twisted mouth.
Then it happened. I watched David stride across the room to Annie's chair, wrap his arms around her shoulders and press his cheek to her misshapen face. Smiling, he looked into her eyes and said, "I'm happy to meet you."
Just when I didn't think I could be more proud, Diane copied her big brother and gave Annie the precious, accepting hug of a child.
My throat tightened with emotion as I saw Annie's eyes well up with grateful tears. I had nothing to worry about.