“Sometimes, a teacher learns from a student; a healer is healed by the wounded; darkness nurses the light in its very heart. And sometimes, imperfection saves your life…….”
She was a piece of work, that one. She talked in cryptic words with a playful smile on her lips and her eyes full of mischief. She knew how to dodge a bullet with mere words. You would end up being so frustrated after talking to her because her every answer was a riddle in itself and I was nowhere near solving any of the old ones, let alone the new ones piling up.
I was a curious soul and she knew it. She knew she had a great deal of power over me. I was supposed to be treating her but instead, she knew me more than I could say about knowing her. But I never gave up. She had to have some buttons that I could press, to make her talk. I just had to figure out a way to stumble upon one, even if by mistake. A fraction of a moment when she didn’t have her wits about her….. I was looking for a loop hole, a slip up. But it seemed as if she was invincible….
Running was one of my most favourite activities. I would go jogging, at dawn, every day. I loved the rush of adrenaline in my veins. Everything moving in a blur past me when I ran….. That was my happy place; a place where I went every single time after meeting her, to clear my head, to calm my nerves and to get rid of surplus energy, coursing through my body.
“You can run but you can’t escape.” I heard her voice behind me one morning as I passed an old Oak tree, standing proud and erect at the rear end of the park. I often ran through the thick woods where most people didn’t even dare to go. Her, being there, was weird. The place was always deserted, partly the reason that I ran there every day.
Hearing her voice, I came to an abrupt halt. I turned around to see her beautiful face but instead my gaze landed upon a pair of haunted, empty eyes and pursed lips. It felt as if I had accidentally hit another dimension, an alternate reality. In my 26 years in that town, I had never seen her face wiped off of that refreshing smile. She seemed as if she was about to collapse. I stepped closer to catch her, anticipating her possible fall.
“What are you doing here, in the middle of nowhere?” I asked.
“Walk with me…..?!” She half asked half ordered me, completely ignoring my question, like she always did.
I fell into steps beside her. She looked fragile.
“What are you so afraid of? Isn’t that the question you once asked me?” She recollected one of our previous, futile talks. Without waiting for an answer, she continued, “Let me answer that for you today. I…. I think I’m afraid of everything. But most of all, I’m afraid of my unfed mind, devouring my soul. I’m afraid of being a prisoner forever. I’m afraid of myself.”
I was speechless for a moment. I mean, I had spent countless hours trying to get into her head, trying to get her to talk to me only to get the answers that never made any sense. What changed now? Why did she, all of a sudden, decide that she wanted to talk?
“You know, you are still not making any sense.” I replied, a little on the edge. When it came to her, I always tended to run low on patience. I wanted immediate gratification, direct answers. I could and would surely even tolerate bluntness, if it meant solving the puzzle that she was.
A faint, ghost of a smile played on her lips. “You know, for a shrink, you are quite an impatient one.” I ran my hand through my hair and closed my eyes, a habit I picked up over time. Her smile grew, seeing my obvious impatience.
“You are not going to make it any easier, are you?” I asked, exasperated.
“I don’t plan to.” She replied, still in a cheeky mood. I sighed.
We walked in a complete silence, save the rustling of the leaves around. Her home was adjacent to the park. I could almost sense that our talk was over by the time we neared her doorsteps. But as she slowly climbed her stairs, she turned towards me and said, “It’s almost time!”
“Time for what?” I asked. She stayed quiet. “Time for what?” I asked again.
“Soon.” She said.
“Soon….? Soon, what?” I almost silently begged her not to leave me hanging there, as she opened her front door. “Patience my dear, patience!”
She smiled again as she turned, that smile not reaching her eyes. She entered her home and closed the door behind her.
This time, I wasn’t only frustrated, I was angry and scared. A smile on a face as white as death was enough to rattle someone. But I was more afraid of what her words might mean. They had an aura of danger about them. My insides kept shouting, trying, to be heard, over her every word that was playing on an infinite loop inside my head. She seemed sick but still she held strong. Anyone would have called her stupid but I had a feeling that she knew what she was doing and I was just too dumb to figure it out quick enough.
She first came to me after her folks died in a car accident a year ago. She wasn’t the first disturbed person that I had encountered but she was definitely the first one who didn’t look the part. She came voluntarily to the sessions, always on time and never missed even a single one. She would sit for an hour, saying very little or sometimes, nothing at all. I always did most of the talking, asking her questions which were mostly answered by her silence and sometimes with words that were plain English but somehow, I always failed to understand.
Whenever I would ask her why she was here when she didn’t feel like talking very much, she would reply with a serious face that she liked it here. What was it that she liked, still beats me. And then she would go on and say “Some people are just not meant to be caged….. You know, one of these days you’ll get really tired but nobody will care. You try too hard, you know…….”
Or she would sometimes bombard me with questions. With her, I never knew what was coming next……
I woke up with a start, the very next morning, my eyes, still a little groggy from staying up late last night, trying to figure out what she meant yesterday. I barely heard the faint knock on my front door over my thudding heart. One look at the clock and my whole body went limp for a bit. I should have been up and jogging, about half an hour ago. I cursed under my breath as I peeled away the sheets from my body, for a moment, forgetting the pounding on my door that woke me up in the first place.
Rubbing my eyes, I hurriedly walked towards my door. It was already March but the mornings were still pretty chilly around here. Whoever was out there, had a good chance of freezing to death. I opened the door and my arms barely caught her before her knees hit the floor. I was fully awake, that very instant.
“What the hell do you think you are doing? Are you trying to kill yourself?” I hissed, darkly, anger seeping into my blood, and me, barely controlling it from oozing out.
“I waited for you. You didn’t come to the park today. I had to see you!” She replied, her voice a mere whisper, her eyes pleading, silently, to be heard. Seeing her face, my rage went out the window.
Her rosy cheeks had been completely replaced by a lime, papery thin skin. It was as if she had aged decades in a single week.
She was in no condition to walk so I carried her to the couch in my living room. Her breaths were shallow, her hands, freezing cold. I put a quilt over her tiny body and said “I’ll be back in a jiffy.” But as I was about to go into my kitchenette to whip up some hot cocoa with cream, she grabbed a hold of my sleeve and stopped me, saying “There’s no time.”
I stopped in my tracks, that nagging feeling from yesterday, returning with full force. “You need to be warm.” I said, reluctant, by this time, to leave her side.
“No, I need to give you this.” She took out a diary from an inside pocket of her jacket. “For once, you should be glad. I listened to what you said. I kept a journal.” She continued. “You’ll get your answers now. At least some of them….”
A tear escaped her eye and was followed by several more. Internally, I slapped myself out of my shell-shocked state, sat by her side and put my arms around her.
“You know, it’s so hard to put up a brave face when there is nothing left inside of you, when you are just an empty shell.” She broke down, in my arms.
“People see that composed face and they think that nothing can shake you, you are invincible. That gives them the illusion of being entitled to hurt you. Because you are brave, nothing can break you down or tear you up. But they are wrong. Oh God! They are so, so wrong!!!” She sobbed.
For once in my life, she and I were on the same page. I heard her, I understood her and I felt for her. All this time, she had been trying to give a face to the courage itself. It’s hardly possible for me not to admire her strength. Life does have a twisted, ironic sense of humor.
“But it’s time…… It’s time for me to bury the demons I have fought my entire life. I have battled for so long, I’m tired. I don’t want to fight anymore.”
I held her tighter in my arms. It felt as if she was saying good bye. But the truth is, I didn’t want to let her go. Yes, she drove me insane but over the time, I had come to love that feeling.
From a distance, I had known her ever since she was born. I knew she was strong, like her parents but I never knew how much pain she hid under that mesmerizing smile. I never guessed how much damage her parents’ death did to her. She was like a beacon of light, at the heart of darkness. A small voice that refused to be denied an audience.
She closed her eyes as I wiped tears from her cheek. Her face turned into my palm, as if, savoring the warmth. She sighed, her lips curving into a faint smile before her body went limp. For a moment I thought she was asleep, she seemed so peaceful. But her body slowly turned colder. What happened next, is a chunk of darkness; a blur. A significant part of my morning, completely gone….. Forgotten, unregistered by a grieving mind.
It seems I was on auto pilot mode that day, after she died in my arms. Her funeral passed in a haze. Apparently, she had isolated herself from the world after her family died and she was closest to me in the whole town so I was supposed to recite her eulogy. I don’t know what I said. I think I must have stood there in complete silence. Then I must have broken down in front of the entire town because she taught me that it was okay to cry through the pain sometimes and get over it. There’s no shame in it; that it was okay to not be a hero all the time; that if bursting into tears healed the hole in your heart and saved you from an eternity of misery, then being imperfect wasn’t so bad after all. For this imperfection, this tiny moment of weakness, this window of respite was what made us stronger in the end.
The moment I got back home, I sat by the couch, on the carpet and opened her journal.
The first page read:
‘Some day, the visits to the doc won’t be enough. My mind is already overwhelming me, on daily basis. It’s hard, really hard, not to cry every waking moment. When I go for the sessions, I don’t know why, but I feel calmer, even though the doc keeps complaining that I don’t talk much. I think she is the reason that I’m still grounded. She talks funny and always keeps asking me questions. I answer her every question but I guess, I do it in my head…..’
Another entry said:
‘I can feel it coming. It’s almost time to be free. The freedom I have longed for, so much, my whole life. How can someone force someone to be a prisoner? It’s barbaric. It’s inhumane…..’
The next page consisted of a single sentence only.
‘Some entities are just wild and not meant to be caged.’
I could sense a theme, a pattern in most of the journal entries. Another one read:
‘The hole inside me has grown wider. It’s consuming me. I don’t know how much longer I can hold onto this dear life. I think my crazy mind would be the death of me.’
‘Okay, the train just crossed the ‘weird-ville’ to ‘deadly town’, I thought to myself.
I kept reading. Honestly, I couldn’t stop at this point.
‘Every bird is meant to fly. My time will come soon….’
Again with the metaphors. She was mysterious, even in death.
The next entry was composed of two short sentences.
‘I’m sick. I’m ready….’
I was saved from a severe headache that was slowly building, by the next entry.
‘Dear doc, I’ve never been great with good-byes. I never got the chance to say that to my family. So I’m making sure the history doesn’t repeat itself this time. I’ve been sick for quite some time now. But my sickness is the key to my dungeon. This body….. It has been holding me back. I have always felt as if I was being held captive, against my will. But that’s gonna change, soon! I know I owe you some answers, hence this entry. You have been a real help, even when you thought you weren’t and even when you didn’t know it.
I have always known that I was wild. I was meant to be out in the open. Nothing helped to drown this voice inside me. You are lucky doc. You run and escape from everything for a moment. But no matter what I did, I couldn’t reach my happy place. Finally, it’s time for me to move on to my happy place. This might be the last time I write in here.
My death will be my salvation and I will embrace it with open arms. And dear doc, when the time comes, you need to let the bird fly. With a wide smile, say your good bye!
And then the next page, adorned with her last few words. The words I would never forget….
“Sometimes, a teacher learns from a student; a healer is healed by the wounded; darkness nurses the light in its very heart. And sometimes, imperfection saves your life………..”