There’s a photo of a little girl in a white dress.
Her red hair blowing gently in the breeze. She must be two-years-old. She looks peaceful—content—straddling a tricycle in front of an ominous brick house. Time perfectly captured.
A little girl with her chubby hand trying to keep her hair out of her eyes, not remembering anything that led up to this moment, but unable to forget everything that came after.
What I would give to be stuck in this photo with her, floating in innocence forever.
Perfect doesn’t exist. Well, maybe for the two-year-old caught in the photo, oblivious to what life will soon offer or rather demand. She was three the first time life slapped her in the face; she has a scar above her right eyebrow to prove it. Shortly after came the one above her left. Then, skinned knees, tears, heart terrors. She races to hide under the bed. Black eyes, fat lips, bruised ego—all of this chipping away at her little soul.
She wanted to run far from home at seven years old. She waited patiently for her family to go to sleep, but had nowhere to go.
Then, a shattered heart; the pieces fly, fly so far away. Small pieces, big pieces, slivers, and dust. The heart can’t be put back together again. She’s left with a gaping hole. This affects the mind. The mind begins to torture the heart. They’ve been forever altered.
The mind and the heart become enemies.
Now 11 years old, she is caught in the abyss of her mother’s death. Time stood still, but somehow marched on. Bad grades, breaking curfew, underage drinking. Teenage angst. A rebel without a cause. Couldn’t date a nice guy; only a bad boy would do.
Somehow, her feet kept walking; so many miles from the two-year-old of long ago.
The mind creates chaos; it’s all it knows. It takes comfort in the knowing as it slowly destroys the heart. It won’t stop for years. Drink; numb the pain. Smile, laugh, pretend. Drink some more. She knows this isn’t living. Drink, drink, drink. She can’t take much more: of the hangovers, blackouts, and guilt.
Slowly the girl becomes a woman, untangles herself from toxic relationships. The most toxic of all is the one with herself. She allows herself to remember her dreams. Slowly, ever so slowly, she chases those dreams. Gaining confidence, she peels away old habits one layer at a time. The mind bucks. The heart is relieved. It starts to beat deeper.
She shoves her past into boxes: regrets, heartaches, indiscretions. Puts it all in a box and shoves it up high and far away. Once again, pretending. Only this time she marches bravely toward her future: promotions, college degrees, new friendships, and fresh heartaches.
She refuses to succumb to alcohol to ease the pain. The mind is confused, but the heart knows. She finds new ways to cope: exercising, reading, confiding. The process takes years, but she starts to love herself. At least the good parts—it’s a start.
The little girl in the photo becomes a friend of mine, because the little girl is me.
It’ll be years before I pull that old box down, knowing I need to crawl inside of it, sort it all out—forgive myself. The work will be arduous. It will shatter the already broken parts of my heart. But it has to be done.
I deserve unconditional love, especially from myself. This is maitri: loving the good, the bad, and the ugly because life is a beautiful ride.