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The Little Girl

Once upon a time there was a little girl who buried herself up to her wide-eyes in the made-up worlds of novels, songs, movies, or even textbooks. It didn’t really matter what it was, so long as it was anything other than her own reality, for that little girl was afraid. She was afraid of the real world, afraid of what it could do to her. The little girl feared that it would beat her farther and farther down until she no longer recognized herself, and that phobia was true, for it had already begun to happen. She had given her heart to her family, and when that broke apart, so did the precious cargo it carried on its seemingly solid shoulders and in its deceptively gentle, french-manicured hands. She could hear her heart creaking, between the shoulders’ reassurances of “we love you guys,” between the manicured hands’ repetitions of “it’s not your fault,” and between their world-destroying “but we just don’t love each other anymore…”
Soon, the little girl found herself sitting on her brother’s lap. His head was propped on top of her own, and gentle, quaking breaths rustled the little girl’s angel-blonde hair. The brother wrapped his shaking arms around her little, bird body. Those shaking arms were the only thing holding her together. But when they were gone, when he let go, the knowledge of just how brutal and compassionless reality can be crashed down on her, gifting her with tainted, nauseating comprehension. At that moment, she realized what all of the fights, what all of the shouting matches truly meant—her life was a lie. The little girl’s perception of the world shifted that night: there was never such a thing as a perfect family, or at least none that stayed unmarred for long. The world was harsh and cruel to those who occupied it. And that scared her. It scared her so much that the little girl’s grip on herself slipped. She could feel her core, her heart, her soul slide from her grasp and tumble in slow motion to the pitiless, tile floor of the kitchen. The little girl watched her heart collide with that tile, and she watched, entranced, as it seemed to collapse in on itself, then jump away in all directions, being pushed and pulled to different rooms of the house seeking out the places where they had once felt safe. They were desperately searching for a scrap of security to wrap themselves in, to hold themselves together just as the shaking arms had before.
She gathered up the few pieces left behind on the tile and placed them in the fold of her cotton, pajama blouse then went throughout the broken home, lured by the places where she thought the shoulders, the hands, and the children were once happy. She was dragged forward on the the same frenzied quest as the pieces. On forever changed oak planks—floorboards branded by a little girl slipping on a ballet shoe and falling flat on her chin, floorboards scarred from the brother falling off his bed as soon as the safety bars had been removed, and floorboards marked from the sister’s mishap while painting her nails Barbie-pink—she uncovered the shards from where they laid, swaddled in happy memories of the past. The little girl trekked through the forest of tear-wrenching memories, picking up slivers and brushing off the dust. Soon the little girl escaped the crushing thrall of what she had lost, and she protected the shards as best she could. She kept them close so nothing else could ever happen to them—so no one else could cleave them into even more sharp, painful slices. 
Then, the very same boy who had fallen off his bed, the very same boy whose breath had buffeted her stringy hair, handed the little girl a book—a real book, not some silly little 25-page book about two little kids having imaginary adventures in their treehouse. Soon, she had that book memorized. She saw the hero’s strength and courage and decided to try some herself. Like one of her champions bravely challenging his worst fear, she unlocked the box where she kept the little broken pieces and took them out. She inspected the shards, she evaluated every jagged edge and every tiny fissure. To her, they seemed stronger, brighter, and happier than the last time she had checked on them. So, she took a chance. She gingerly removed two of the larger fragments. The little girl put one inside the pages that had so generously given her the strength to heal and gave the other to the only person left she completely trusted, her best-friend-forever, Eve. But as it turns out, forever doesn't last too long. Too soon, Eve grew up to be “cool,” but cold could more aptly describe her. When the little girl bravely offered Eve a sliver of her heart by telling her exactly what had happened that night, Eve replied that the little girl “should have seen it coming.” Eve never once tried to console the little girl for her crippling loss.When the little girl needed her the most, Eve brushed her off as if the little girl didn’t matter, or at least that was how it made the little girl feel. Eve discarded the precious sliver of the little girl’s heart, allowed it to fall to the ground where they had once naively played, and in the absence of Eve’s warmth, all the sliver’s glow was stripped away, tarnished by the harsh environment of its new, unsympathetic home.
Time passed. By now things had changed. There was now a schedule for time with the shoulders and time with the manicured hands. By now she had already retrieved the shard she had so foolishly given away. But it wasn't easy to do so. It took time for the little girl to realize what had happened to the fragment and even more time and obliterating pain to get the shard back from where Eve had left it to fend for itself. She didn't want to accept what had happened to the fragile shard, what had happened to the last person she had fully trusted and loved. And even more that that, she didn't want to give up on them...the piece, her friend, or her family. But the damage had already been done. Everyone the girl had believed in had betrayed her, so the little girl felt betrayed by herself. The little girl no longer trusted herself, for if she was so incredibly wrong about them—her family and Eve—then what else was she wrong about? Would the next person she trusted betray her as well? Could she ever fully believe in anyone again?
  Those ever-present doubts tormented her, tearing away life-giving sustenance right when she thought it was finally within reach. The girl responded to the uncertainty, to the loss by doing the only thing that she knew: she retreated into the pages of books, into the exciting worlds of adventure, into the comforting words of made-up friends. Far, far away from her own broken, dysfunctional, and tuneless reality, she was untouchable by anyone who she might grow to trust. And that was how she wanted her life to be because she feared that when she finally believed in someone once again, it would prove too tempting for fate. The little girl believed that whomever she trusted next would turn around, hurt her as well, and calcify her fears. The little girl was neither able nor willing to carelessly take the risk of entrusting another person to care for a splinter. No, that girl would never give away her heart so foolishly and have to endure that blinding pain again…
Instead, she decided to entrust the pieces of herself to the only people in her life that had not, and would never betray her: the heroes of her heart. Every time she fell in love with a new collection of letters, with a new combination of words, with a new collation of sentences that flowed together so naturally, welcoming her to join their graceful ranks, the girl would accept their invitation and take out a sliver and, like she had so long ago, place it between the wondrous, sacred pages. Whenever the girl needed to calm the mangled stream of twisting, swirling emotions overriding her ever-evolving thoughts, she would return to something solid and tangible—her books. She would take one off the shelf, it didn’t really matter which, and carry it as carefully as she could over to the chair reserved for that very deed. She would open that codex with a gentle, loving hand and see the little fragment of herself nestled securely inside the masterly ink-stained sheets of paper. Sometimes the girl would see smooth edges on the shards where there had once been ragged gaps and note to herself that others looked a tad bit more rounded and some a bit more angled, just like the jumbled parts to a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle. Gradually the shards were gathering up the strength and confidence that seeped through the pages that sheltered them from the outside world. And because those scattered ruby slivers grew more resilient, more tenacious, more determined to become whole once again, the little girl did, too.
For the first time since that heartbreaking night, she entertained the idea of letting someone in once more. The little girl had been alone with her champions for too long—she saw that now. She also noticed that each of the heros and heroines in her books had taken risks. Each had been struck down. All had been broken. And every one of them had picked up the pieces and came out stronger because of what they had been through. Just like the little girl. 




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