Sumalee thinks positive when her dad loses his job, her teacher is deported to the mental asylum, and she struggles in school. With the help of a loving family, a smart older sister, and a super cool new science teacher, life finally starts to look up for Sumalee. In this short story, she learns that with faith, determination, and guidance in the right direction, anything is possible--even when love is the only thing in her pocket.
Sumalee’s life was spiraling downward. Her father had lost his job in the economic crisis (or, rather, he had been laid off), and her mother was working two jobs just to make ends meet. The family’s home was being foreclosed, so Sumalee, her sister, and her parents had to move in with eccentric Grandma Lilalee, who was a total health nut.
Moreover, Sumalee was having a difficult time in science class. “It’s all way too confusing!” she declared, while walking home from school with her older sister, Irmalee. It was a sunny April afternoon, but Sumalee felt a raindrop land softly on her cheek. How fitting! She thought to herself. Just like the tears that I have shed!
Irmalee began to comfort her little sister. “Don’t worry, Sumalee. I’ll help you with the science. I’m not sure if Mr. Luni taught you much of anything. When I had him as a teacher, he spent entire class periods telling us how his marriage was falling apart. He said that his wife just left him one day, and took his beloved Venus flytrap plants with her. He was so angry, he got remarried to a toad just to get back at her.”
Sumalee laughed bitterly. “No wonder he got deported to the mental asylum.”
Irmalee nodded. “Anyways, electricity isn’t such a hard concept to understand. You just have to get the hang of it, that’s all. Try applying it to your life. Hey, I heard a new teacher is coming to replace Luni for the rest of the year. His name is Flanaman or Flanagan or something,” Irmalee went on.
“Hmmm,” mused Sumalee. “I wonder what he’s like. So what’s net charge?” she asked. “What’s electric force? I don’t really get those words.”
“Well,” Irmalee began, “net charge is the charge of all the particles in an object. And electric force is the force of attraction or repulsion between any two objects that are electrically charged. Or, at least that’s what the textbook says. But here’s my definition. Net charge can represent all of the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and perspectives inside of you. I know it isn’t easy to stay positive in hard times like these.
“But just as doubling net charge doubles electric force, the intensity of your attitude towards life, whether it be good or bad, can greatly affect the bonds you have with the others around you. Kindness and friendliness genuinely attract...while self-pity and withdrawal repel. Does that make things a little bit clearer?” Irmalee asked patiently, as Sumalee absorbed what she had just said.
“Wow…” Sumalee considered. “I never thought about it that way before.” It was true that she had been acting miserable at school, thus repelling her friends and peers. “Life has just been so hard lately. Mom and Dad are all stressed out. So am I. I still can’t believe we’re really losing our house. How long will this recession last? How can we ever go to college? How will we eat? I don’t know how there’s gonna be enough room for us in Grandma Lilalee’s apartment. We might have to sell our stuff, maybe our clothes and furniture…I honestly don’t know how we’re gonna live…” Sumalee trailed off. She hung her head in sadness and despair. Now, raindrops weren’t the only things trickling down her face.
Irmalee put a hand on her sister’s shoulder. “Well, maybe we’ll gain something from this. Without so many material things, perhaps we’ll learn to appreciate the simple and free stuff in life. Like family,” Irmalee said. “Think about it this way, sis,” she suggested. “If an atom loses electrons, it becomes a positively charged ion. That kinda relates to our situation right now, you know?” Irmalee said.
Sumalee nodded. As they made a right turn on Current Lane, the two sisters walked down their familiar street. “Just to think we’ll be leaving all this behind in two weeks…” Sumalee muttered to herself.
Then, an idea occurred to her. “Irmalee, do you know anyplace that’ll hire a fourteen-year-old kid?” she asked.
Irmalee shook her head. “Sumalee, what you need to focus on is school. That’s your job right now. I know it’s not easy, but you have to remember this. Everything will turn out okay in the end. Just trust it all to God. You can think of Him as the superconductor, in a sense,” Irmalee told her.
“What’s a superconductor?” Sumalee asked.
“It’s a material that had almost no resistance when it’s cooled to a low temperature,” Irmalee said.
“And resistance is…the refusal of, or the opposition to the flow of charges in something, right?” Sumalee ventured.
Irmalee smiled and nodded. “See? You’re catching on!”
“So does this mean…” Sumalee continued, “that God will never let us suffer alone, or leave us in time of need? And that He’ll protect us from all the bad stuff in the world?”
“Yeah,” Irmalee replied. “That’s the truth if I ever heard it. Well, maybe not all the bad stuff. We’ll totally have our share of suffering in life. But I believe…that with faith, there really won’t be anything to fear. We’re gonna be alright, sis,” Irmalee reassured.
“For now, just try to hang in there. I’m doing the same. We gotta learn to be good conductors of…courage, love, compassion, and hope. Y’know, life is like an alternating current—a flow of electric charge that constantly reverses its direction. Life is full of twists and turns, and sometimes we don’t take the route we expected. But in the end, we’ll always arrive at our destination,” Irmalee promised.
“I sure hope so,” said Sumalee, as they walked up their driveway. When the two sisters came through the front door, they saw their belongings packed into boxes; strewn about the house. This sight made Sumalee tremble, for the painful reality dawned on her once again.
“Hey, Irmalee,” she began, trying to conceal the sadness in her voice. “Do you think you could help me review some science over the weekend?”
“Sure,” Irmalee replied cheerfully. “But not Friday night, though. I have a date with Isodore,” Irmalee said, a dreamy look in her eyes.
Sumalee laughed. “You mean that emo kid who hardly ever talks?”
“Yep. That’s Izzy. But he’s more than meets the eye. He has a beautiful soul, a great sense of humor, and the deepest brown eyes,” Irmalee murmured thoughtfully. She was known as an outgoing, preppy cheerleader at school, so this revelation greatly shocked Sumalee.
A grin spread across Sumalee’s face. “What can I say? I guess opposites really do attract!”
Over the next few weeks, things were finally looking up for Sumalee. Irmalee was an excellent tutor; always coming up with clever analogies for electricity. For example, when they approached the topic of electric fields, Irmalee had told her, “The strength of an electric field depends on two things. One, the amount of charge that produces the field. Two, the distance from the charge. Just like how a person’s true strength is based on the amount of resilience, courage, determination, and confidence which they have.
“Remember when you wanted to make the basketball team, so you practiced and practiced outside for hours? Not only did you make the team, but you were also voted Most Valuable Player. Also, the closer you hold these virtues to your heart and infuse them into your existence, the stronger you’ll be.” Irmalee could be so deep, especially when her words of wisdom were needed the most.
Furthermore, when Sumalee and her mother were continuing to pack, Sumalee heard some good news. “Your father got a job at Subway,” Mom said. “It doesn’t pay very much, only minimum wage, but it’ll still help us some. Plus, at least he didn’t get a job at McDonald’s! Grandma Lilalee would not approve of that!” Mom declared.
Sumalee smiled. Grandma Lilalee was crazy, but in a good way. She wasn’t a crazy psycho like Mr. Luni had been.
“Anyways,” Mom went on, “she told me that she’s really happy that we’re moving in with her. She can’t wait to have us try her new mango tofu recipe.”
“Oh, dear,” Sumalee muttered, shaking her head.
“So, I heard that Irmalee has been helping you with science. It wasn’t my best subject either, when I was your age,” Mom admitted. “You know, I’m real sorry about everything that’s been going on, what with the foreclosure and what not. It must be hard on you girls, like it’s tough for your father and I. But even though I’m no scientist, I want you to know this.
“A family is like a series circuit. If one element stops working, none of the pieces can operate. In a family, when one of us suffers, we all suffer. When one of us rejoices, we all rejoice. We depend on each other for a lot of things. And, no matter what, the most important thing you can give is love, ‘cause sometimes that’s all you have to give. But maybe that’s all you need. Love,” Mom continued.
Sumalee realized that this was true in more ways than one. Irmalee had introduced her to Isodore, who turned out to be a truly amazing person. He had played the song “All You Need Is Love” by The Beatles on his guitar. Underneath the guyliner and his mop of dyed black hair, Isodore was a gentle, considerate, thoughtful musician.
Another positive influence had entered Sumalee’s life—Mr. Flanagan, the new science teacher He had several strange ways about him, but unlike Mr. Luni, Mr. Flanagan was an intelligent, inspirational individual who made learning fun.
“He told us to stop at nothing to achieve our dreams, and to never take the path of least resistance,” Sumalee explained to Irmalee. They were walking home from school on another sunny afternoon.
Irmalee nodded. “But while we should never take the path of least resistance, we should always try to get closer to God, though He’s already inside of us. He’s the superconductor, remember? God is all that is good, and nothing holds back His endless love and mercy. But in life, there are hindrances and obstacles. We can’t avoid them; we have to face them,” Irmalee said.
“Yeah,” Sumalee replied. “Mr. Flanagan says that religion and science work hand in hand because religion explains the things that science can’t. He’d probably agree with you.”
She took a deep breath and continued, “Y’know, there were so many times this year when it would’ve been so easy to slack off. I mean, it wasn’t as if Mr. Luni really cared. He just gave us work to keep us busy. And my friends and I did slack off sometimes. But after a while, I just didn’t want to do that anymore. Mr. Luni didn’t teach me anything, except how to polish his shoes,” Sumalee said with a chuckle.
Then, earnestly, she went on, “But Mr. Flanagan, and you, too, helped me understand what education really means. And now…now I’m able to learn, not just because I have to, but because I want to. Both of you taught me this—charges don’t flow on their own without a source of energy. In other words, people don’t flourish and learn without a mentor, I guess. Maybe it’s a parent, or a teacher, or…an older sister,” Sumalee said, gazing up at Irmalee.
With a twinkle in her eye, Irmalee said, “All of this—everything that’s happened over the past month—reminds me of that song from ‘Annie’. Y’know—‘Tomorrow’. There really is gonna be sun—but it might’ve started to come already. That’s the beauty of it.”
Arm in arm, the two sisters sang jubilantly, “The sun’ll come out tomorrow…”
Their voices were the current from which positive charges would always flow. They were heard by every person on the block, young and old (though most struggling financially). Nevertheless, the cheerful melody rose in an air of fresh positivity, which carried the unforgettable song throughout the moment, the day, the rest of the economic crisis, and throughout the rest of their educational experiences.