Please note: this story references self harm.
It has been a long day, I am tired and settling down for the night, but there is an uneasy feeling in my stomach, a twisting and fluttering, like there is a fear or question rising, one which I am not yet ready to entertain and answer, a request which I will not adhere to. There is a sense of something creeping up on me, a time, a place, a memory, I have been trying to outrun.
There is a sudden knock at the door.
I open it without much thought, unguarded, and there she is before me. A face so familiar, beautiful but strange, one that I cannot learn to love yet one that I cannot forget.
A girl leans at the doorframe, a bag at her feet on my doorstep. Her hair is bedraggled, with rainbow colours throughout, a faux cheeriness to her exterior, an attempt to hide her inner darkness. I gaze beyond and notice that the sky has turned grey. It is befitting of my downwards spiralling mood.
Barefoot and dishevelled, She is younger than I, her eyes dark, both from sleeplessness and smudged eyeliner and there is a lost, helplessness behind her cold gaze. Her plum lip gloss adds false sheen to her otherwise ghoulish face.
I say nothing, such a familiar sight is this, on auto pilot I throw the door wide open and step aside.
She slinks past me, bumping her bag along the floor, I notice the faint smell of cigarettes and teenage boys’ deodorant. She knows her way through to the living room, shaking off her long black coat, and dropping her shoes haphazardly on the floor on her way past her favourite chair.
I go and put the kettle on to make tea and I watch as She stands stiffly at the fireplace and picks up a trinket I have placed there, a rabbit with a small musical box inside. Still clutching her bag she draws it to her other hand and awkwardly turns the key until it chimes and she watches it twirl round its complete cycle until it slows down and the tinkling comes to a halt.
I motion for her to sit and so she does, still tense, still cautious.
I put down the warm mug next to where she sits, all the while watching her closely, observing.
She is quieter today, more subdued.
I sit beside her, but not too close, I want her to trust me, and I do not want to seem over familiar, lest she startles, I know how hard She finds it to trust.
She pulls her top down over her slightly round belly, self-consciously, I look away, flinching at my own physical insecurities, I cannot help her with that.
My focus drops to the floor and I see her bare blackened feet, they look small and cold.
“Do they hurt?” I ask.
“Yes”, she says, in a small voice.
I fetch a warm basin of water and a flannel and sweet smelling soap and I guide her feet into the water and I begin to wash them.
She winces, and tears spring to her cheeks, with pain or at the unfamiliarity of kindness I do not know.
“Where do you hurt today?” I ask her.
She shrugs, but the tears begin to roll down her cheeks and I see that she is in the deepest pain of all.
I sit silently, focussing on bathing her, giving her space to open up. It has always been this way.
At last she speaks,
“I hurt myself.”
“Did you cut, burn..?” I venture.
“No, I took pills and I drank and then I danced…”
“I forgive you. It’s okay, you were running away. Dancing is freeing and expressive, it’s worth hiding in. What were you running from today?”
“I hate myself, how I look. I’m stupid and fat and ugly.”
“You are beautiful, you are so precious, this body, it is a gift. You will learn to see it that way one day and until then, remind yourself that you are allowed to be as flawed as anyone on this earth.
You are not stupid, life is confusing, and scary and full of choices and lessons, and you cannot learn them all at once.”
“I am broken, I am wrong.”
“I will fix you, we will do it together. You are not wrong, you are ill, and sometimes that makes life feel impossible. But you can survive, you can live again, and live well.”
“I let strangers touch me. I lost hours to them, I can’t remember it all, only the fear.”
Her body stiffens, I swallow my own fear.
“You’re safe now.”
I say this firmly, as if to convince us both.
“It is easy to get lost in the comfort of a strangers embrace. Their love for you is fleeting though, which is why you must learn to love yourself.”
“I am ashamed.”
“I forgive you, you are forgiven. Let it go, because you have nothing to feel ashamed of. There are so many mistakes made in youth and so many wrong turns when we don’t know what we are looking for and we can’t find our way. We must use them as lessons.”
“I am lonely.”
“I am here with you. And you are so loved, look around you!” I sweep my arm across the room to show her the many photos of family, friends and all of the beautiful things we have done.
As we talked her grip on her bag loosened and I take it from her now. It is heavy but I tuck it away, out of sight, so she can feel at home, unpacked, unburdened, and settled for a time.
She asks if she can smoke.
“We don’t smoke anymore, remember?”
“Oh. Yes”, she says.
“We must be kind to our body. It’s the only one we have.”
She is a weary time traveller my former self: burdened, lost and wandering, and never too far from my door. I have learned to protect her, tolerate her hopelessness, or she will take me with her, whisk me away to a time and place of such great pain that I cannot make my way back.
I feel strong when I take care of her. I must forgive her and learn to love her or I fear we will never be at peace. The stronger I am, the less frequently she comes to call and the freer we both are to live. And in moments of despair, there she is, risen from the dead, hand on my shoulder, ready to lead me astray, dragging me back to darkness.
But for now, I hold her hand and she rests her head on my shoulder, and we lay there until she falls asleep; at peace, as one, my Inner Child and I.