The Girl in the Box
Once upon a time, a little girl was born into a world that was ill prepared to receive her, or nurture her unique essence. Within her, the most brilliant, glowing flame shone with all the brilliance of a star, for like all children, she was born without fault or flaw; a tiny perfection in an otherwise imperfect place.
She was born sweet and kind, optimistic and naïve, and in her early years, she saw only the good in people and never guessed that each man had shadows lingering behind his eyes. In those early years, the girl smiled often and the expression was sincere, for she loved the life she’d been given, and she saw it as the grandest gift.
But the world she’d been birthed into, whether she saw it or not, was no fit place for such a delicate spirit, for the girl was too open, too unquestioning, too affectionate and kind. She wanted so badly to please everyone else that she too often forgot to please herself.
The first quiet seeds of sorrow were sewn into her by the time she learned to walk, and by the time learned to run, she’d already seen the backs of too many she had loved.
Her father was the first to walk away, but though she ached terribly inside, the girl gritted her teeth and smiled all the wider, for she knew in her heart of hearts, that her father loved her, and that he would return. She locked away all of the sadness that came with abandonment, and for all the world to see, she painted that smile on her lips, so gleaming that none would ever guess at how the desertion ate away at her.
Each night, as she lay down to sleep, she whispered the same hopeful mantra to herself. She uttered sacred words that promised, if she just kept smiling, if she just kept being a good girl, everything would work out fine.
When the one charged with the girl’s well being allowed her own sadness to mutate into a cold, ugly rage, and when the girl found herself the most frequent target of that anger, she again squared her jaw and pushed down all of the sorrow. She refused to look upon her bruises, or contemplate the bloody noses; for she knew that time would heal all wounds.
Over and over again, she told herself, “Everything will work out fine.”
There were those that took advantage of her soft heart and her eagerness to please. There were those that looked upon her with distain, not for things she’d done, but for her unfortunate station in life. There were those who whispered cruelties when they thought she could not hear, and there were those that fed on her innocence like emotional vampires.
Still, she insisted that if she refused to let the pain out into the daylight, if she just kept smiling, everything would work out fine.
Others left her, either by choice or by design, but she wore her mask so well that even she could not see the growing falsity in it. She continued to wear her heart on her sleeve, and she continued to seek out those grains of goodness in everyone so that she could understand; despite their flaws; their beauty.
Adolescence brought her closer to the honesty of her growing instability, for those hormonally charged years of chemical elation and substance desolation battered and marred the mask so, that when she looked into her own image, she occasionally saw the fissures in her own facade.
Still, she convinced herself, if she could just keep marching forward, everything would work out fine.
When first love found her, she’d naïvely believed in all the saccharine words that fell from her beloved’s lips. Her desperate need to believe that she was worthy of love blinded her. For a time, she deluded herself into believing that she’d found it. When her dearest betrayed her trust, she blamed herself but forgave him. When it happened again, she once more took the burden as her own and released him from his guilt. When it happened one too many times, the girl thought of the old axiom that counselled, “if you truly love something, set it free…” and she did just that, for she knew that the boy really loved her, and that soon enough he would see the error of his ways and come flying home.
When the boy was gone, she struggled so, but she held that smile and the optimism that someday soon, everything would work out fine.
The boy never did return, but others came to stand in his place; others who offered sweet words and empty promises as they stole their way into her heart. Each time she trusted, only to find betrayal, and with each betrayal, she was shattered.
In the aftermath, the girl would gather the fragments of her broken heart and paste them back together with tears and forced sanguinity. She tried so hard, and yet, she could never quite return her heart to its former glory.
Time continued to pass, as time is want to do, and the girl found it harder and harder to hold the smile. She could feel the mask slipping away, and the old mantra became less of a comfort, and more of a taunt.
Soon the girl found herself weeping into her pillow night after night, until she feared she would one day drown in those tears. In the daylight, she found it growing ever more difficult to meet her own reflection in the mirror, for now the mask was a map of splintering sections just barely held together by the sure force of her stubborn will. She found ways to look without ever truly seeing.
In her bleakest moments, the girl found herself contemplating death and the sweet promise of oblivion it offered, but that was to be a path never taken. Instead she just kept stumbling forward long after she’d lost sight of what it was she was shuffling towards.
One day; and later she would never recall just when, or how it happened; the girl at last found herself all too overwhelmed by the crushing burden of life. Frightened, she crawled beneath a box. She pulled her knees up to her chest, hugging herself as she rocked back and forth. She found the darkness of that space comforting; quiet and peaceful and accepting. The darkness didn’t judge her. It didn’t lie to her. It didn’t ask for anything at all in return for its embrace.
When the tears finally subsided, she knew she should emerge from her hiding spot and return to the world, but she just couldn’t bear to be so raw and exposed again. Instead, she moved through the world with that box ever on her shoulders, peeking out from the safety that the darkness provided, and hiding away entirely whenever life became to complex.
Over the years she could feel the box growing heavier as the gravity of the universe pressed down against it. Still she dragged the box around with her, ignoring the growing weight. She peered out at the world with one face; that false smile that told them that she was fine; but in her private darkness, encased within those fragile walls, she let the tears come as they would. She began to embrace the despair as one embraces their only true friend.
The box grew heavier, and heavier still, making it ever more difficult for the girl to peek out at will. After awhile, she stopped trying. She allowed the darkness to close in tightly around her, for though everyone else she had ever trusted had betrayed her and abused her, the darkness was her companion. The darkness cherished her, and sought only to protect her from the harsh realities of the outside world.
The girl thought that she was safe, but with the ticking away of time, things began to change. She could hear a mournful wail gathering around her, and though she could not tell if it came from within or without, she was unsettled by it. The air inside the box grew stale, thick and cloying, and slowly it began to suffocate her. She began to fear the darkness that had once been so comforting.
She thought, it is time to leave.
But the box had become far too heavy for her to lift alone, and its walls had grown too thick to penetrate. With mounting panic, she realized that her safe haven had become her prison. The anxiety built until even the depression was dissolved under its force. Her terror swelled until it was the only thing she knew… and still… she could not lift the box.
The world around her couldn’t see her struggles. They could not see her slowly suffocating in that lonely darkness, for in their minds was that never fading image of a false smile that insisted everything was fine.
The girl screamed, “Look at me here now! I need you!” but the words could not breach beyond the darkness.
She told herself that she would die in that black place, and she began to prepare herself for such. She looked at each moment of her past, drawing memories to mind like faded photographs. She saw each step along the way that had led to her confinement. She acknowledged each mistake, and then, for the first time in her life, she began to let go of the blame.
The girl wished fervently for a second chance, but she was beginning to accept that it was too late. She thought, I built this box, and now I’ll never be free of it.
And then one day, a whisper crept through the blackness. A soft voice that said, “Fight” and the girl felt something stirring within her that she has not felt in a very long time; she felt the will to rebel against her despair. She thrashed at the walls of her prison, kicking and screaming until her limbs ached and she had no more breath with which to wail.
Defeated, she crumbled in on herself and sobbed.
Again she heard a whisper piercing the gloom. It said, “Fight. It’s now or never… Fight.”
She could feel the potency of those words wrapping around her in the darkness, lending strength to her limbs and bracing her spine. She felt transformed by the caress; empowered. Again she beat at the walls of her prison, refusing to acknowledge their stout solidity beneath her blows. She hammered and kicked and clawed until the exertion ignited something within her.
She could feel warmth creeping through her veins like ivy, twisting and turning, merging with her essence. She reached deep into herself and found a splinter of the hope she’d long thought dead. She wrapped her fingers around the tiny spark and held it up before her eyes. The darkness danced away from the flame’s kiss, and the girl found that she could suddenly breathe easier without the black pressure beating against her chest. Each second that she spent bathed in that gentle light transformed her; nourished her and made her hungry for more.
She sucked in the air around her and released it in a shout that shook her enclosure. As she watched the walls shudder in response, she realized that all was not lost.
With determination unlike that she’d ever before known, the girl fanned the spark until it grew into a blaze, and then set fire to the box. With rising exhilaration, she watched as her prison burned to ash around her.
She stood and stretched her limbs; aching from her long captivity; and opened her eyes wider than she had in what felt like a millennia. She gulped the fresh air greedily, without shame, and walked out into the sunshine. The heat beat down on her face and melted away the lingering fingers of darkness that still clung to the girl.
And then a smile spread across her lips; not forced, not feigned, but true. She bared her teeth to the world, emboldened by the new power cursing through her blood. She raised her fists before her and shook them in the faces of all those who’d taken advantage, and all those who’d sought to squelch her inner fire.
“You couldn’t break me,” she said. “And you never will. I don’t need you anymore… and everything will work out fine.”
And they all looked upon her, seeing her true for the first time, and each of them thought, what happened to that sweet little girl?