You know how wise man have often talked about the child inside of all of us? That happy, adventurous, joyful and free spirit who keeps us youthful? Creative? Inspired? How important it is to let the inner child out? Well, I've always had a hard time with that idea. I agree there is an inner child inside of all of us. . .
But in my case - and I think maybe in the case of many other abuse victims - the inner child is not as joyful, as free, as at peace as the grownup version of myself. I can still picture her, my inner, younger self. Sometimes - often in the still of the night, or when I am somewhere peaceful like by the water or in a silent stage/rehearsal space - she reappears. I can close my eyes and see her there, like I'm looking in a mirror.
She is short for her age. Her hair is long and brown, hanging well below her shoulders. Her brown eyes are big in her small face. There is intelligence there, and passion. But it's already curtained, hidden by little traces of fear. You can still see the questions, though. Always, always, always a question. Who? And Why? And when?
I wish when I touched my inner child, I felt the urge to cartwheel. Or to dance. But usually, I just end up feeling sort of sad.
Her nose is too big for her face, just like her hands and feet are too big for her limbs. She's a thin girl - very thin. All skin and bone, hands and feet, and brown eyes. Sometimes she is holding a book. Almost always she's holding a worn, well loved doll. Even when she was a toddler, the only thing this little girl ever wanted was a story, her dolly, and enough room to dance.
Sometimes it isn't at all like looking in a mirror. It's like I've become the little girl again. Confidently answering questions, talking too fast and too much and never far from a book. Carefully listening beyond my own chatter, for any sound of instability. Any hint of a threat. The sounds of breaking things: plates, knick knacks, fingers, hearts. They each shatter under different amounts of pressure, each cracking at a different volume. If you keep your insides very still, you can actually feel the vibrations. Way down deep in your core, like the echo of a plucked guitar string. While I've never been very good at keeping still I'm very good at staying still. I'm always in motion, doing something. Even as a kid - but my spirit is still. Calm. Listening for the vibrations.
Tonight was one of those nights, when all I could see in front of me was the little girl I used to be.
There are already circles under her eyes, even though she's barely even ten years old. They're faint and thin, delicate lilac rings, more a suggestion of sleeplessness than a statement of it. If you know what to look for though, you see it. The telltale badges of someone who imagines worlds past the stars instead of sleeping beneath them.
I feel myself sliding back into that old self, who loved the worlds books and ballets brought her to as much as she feared the one she lived in. I feel little and nervous again, as I imagine making decisions others might judge me for. As I think about changing my appearance, embracing the person I'm becoming, so different from who I was, I feel my little self peer around the corner, asking if it's ok. Ok to be someone new? Is it. . . safe?
She always wanted a big brother. Someone tougher and cooler and smarter than her. To show her the ropes. To worry when the shouting happened that she might get woken up. To make fun of her - to notice her. She wants someone talk to, instead of only getting to listen all the time. As much as she talks, she's a good listener - it's her "hidden talent" like the ones beauty queens have.
When I ask a question now, it's with my in-between voice. The one that sounds like me, 21 and self-assured, but comes from me, 9 and a half and without any confidence at all. I ask my big brother questions - oh yes, I have a big brother now. As soon as I became a teenager - all awkwardness and nervousness and strange ideas - God decided to send me someone who'd adopt me as his little sister, maybe because our strange baggage sort of. . . coordinates. And now I reach out to him, asking about how it feels to get a tattoo and what I'm afraid of when I think of moving to a big city alone. And somehow my little voice takes over and I'm talking too about where my fears came from. He's telling me now to be brave - tattoos hurt and moving is lonely. But it's worth it to sacrifice for things you love and believe in. Right?
And I suddenly wish I could summon my elementary school self here, and answer some of her questions.
Does the shouting ever stop? Why do some people get best friends and some people no friends? Did you know ballet terminology is actually a mixture of three different languages (if you don't count English?)
It's ok. The shouting stops - though the vibrations never do. You'll always feel them, behind your closed eyes, in between your heartbeats. . . in the pause in other's stories. Don't worry about friends: I promise there will be good and loyal and true and courageous people in your future. You'll keep learning ballet terminology for as long as I've seen of your life. And whenever you're really angry, or truly ready to cry, or bad dreams creep back in, you will recite it in your head - every step you know, every movement you love, lovingly repeated. You get a big brother. And a big surgery. And a very kind and sweet man will kiss you, right before you leave for college.
It's ok to cry, little one. There is a lot of time left for cartwheels. . .