After winning a battle, the victors only appear to win. The true winner is the person that walks away smiling but the truth is no one truly wins in a war. Victory comes with a price. For the battle in my heart, the price was the pain of seeing the truth. Depression is linked with intelligence. Why? Maybe it’s because they are able to better see humanity, life, and this world. The realization that it’s not as grand as we’re led to believe is devastating. Thus begins the race to the best antidepressant and counselors to try and function with self-awareness in a society clouded with ignorant bliss. I know plenty of intelligent people who are happy. Intelligence comes in different forms, colors, sizes, and shapes. Some are fantastic with words. Give them a sentence and they create a beautiful novel. Others are phenomenal with numbers. They provide equations to things we don’t even know exist. There are those who are gifted with intuition and know how to interact with human beings on a level we don’t understand. It’s like they can read you and know exactly what to say. People are brilliant in so many ways and it’s beautiful to see. Underlying the intelligence is almost always a layer of sadness left in the dust in their race towards a fake reality crafted in their mind where solutions always work and everything is possible. With intelligence comes a price. The victors, the ones who walk away smiling, at least in the battle of my heart, bore the cross of realization. The realization has nothing to do with the battle, the fight, or anything along those lines; the realization came in the aftermath. It’s an artificial intelligence becoming self-aware of its lack of existence and meaning. To wake up and know that you were created by someone else for an experiment or whatever reason they come up with to play god is horrifying. Yet I believe I was created by a higher power. It’s a strange dialect I hold within myself. Self-awareness isn’t always a gift. It’s staring into a void and trying not to go mad with the knowledge swirling around in your mind like an endless tornado destroying everything in its path. This gift, unwrapped as a child, can be held with the help of parents or caregivers and maybe they won’t go mad. Others aren’t so fortunate and end up alone, face to face with darkness.
The aftermath of a battle against fear, doubt, worry, and cowardice was silence. Faith sat in a corner with its back against the wall, eyes closed, lips mouthing silent prayers to a god it found. Hope was laying down with an arm tucked under its head as a makeshift pillow, legs pulled close, and rested until the next time. Love stood in the corner. The girl that had sat in the middle of the chaos approached. She showed love how to turn its gifts inward and save some of it for itself. Love gives away gifts to change the world, but it had forgotten itself. She held its hands and guided it the way it needed to go, swept away the dust covering the corners, and opened windows that hadn’t been touched in decades. She stepped back as love continued to morph. It grew and began to glow. The uncertainty that once draped those shoulders were lifted and the weight disappeared. The shame that had been tied to its ankles were unchained and the glow grew brighter. The guilt that had tied the wrists together were broken and the hands reached further than ever. The pain that had shattered love to pieces began to drip away as the pieces came back together, stronger than ever. Love was the first one to emerge from a victory and into realization. The transformation was complete and the girl smiled.
“There’s someone you need to meet.”
Love followed the girl into a room it had never seen before. It tested out its new legs, shook its arms, and spun just to make sure it wasn’t a dream. Love entered the room. A child sat alone at a table, scribbling drawings of trees, birds, people holding hands, and sunshine. She tipped the chair back as she stood suddenly, backing away. She wasn’t more than four or five. They had startled her from her position at the table. As they approached her, the child backed up until her fingertips met the wall, the rest of her body joining. The fear that blanketed her made her disappear almost entirely. The pattern on her dress was a smudge on paper, the words could no longer be seen, and the message was gone. The blanket of fear wrapped itself around a body so small and had trapped pain with it. Love’s heart didn’t just break. It shattered into a million pieces on a floor already covered in pieces of a heart broken long ago. Tears streamed down love’s face as it struggled to understand why it could no longer breathe. What happened? Love wondered. Why am I shrinking? Love began to disappear. It slowly became see-through, like a ghost stuck in limbo, neither there or here. You could stick your hand through where love once stood and feel nothing but air. Love’s outline struggled to stay but grew so faint it became a shooting star, something you couldn’t see when you looked directly at it. Love tried to scream, but no sound escaped from a throat that no longer existed. The girl explained,
“She doesn’t know who you are. To her, you’re not real.”
Love didn’t understand. How could a child so young not know who it was? Love was something that permeated each heart, especially ones new to our world with parents who devoted themselves to making their child smile. Love was there in every hug, every tear wiped away, every cut bandaged, every silly photo, every game, every smile, everything. Love thought it had been a part of every family, it was never lonely. But here in this room, the air was sucked out of its lungs and it began to suffocate from the loneliness that crawled inside. In this room, love didn’t have anything to be a part of. When love tried to enter the drawings, the door was slammed when there was no one to fuss over the creation. When love tried to enter the child’s heart, it found no door. When love tried to appear next to the child, the child didn’t see a thing. Eventually, it stepped back, defeated. The girl stood by the door leaning against the frame, arms folded across her chest, shoulders relaxed. Her left leg crossed over the right one and rested on the toes. She just watched the child hover against the wall, eyes darting around the room. Eventually, the child made her way back to the table, pulled the chair upright and sat down to continue doodling. She hummed a simple tune and let her legs swing back and forth. The girl shifted until her back was against the frame, profile to the room, and propped a foot against the frame to steady herself. She directed her gaze towards the floor and spoke quietly.
“The child who has never known love.”
Love looked again at the child. The innocence was heartbreaking. The overwhelming feeling of pain and longing that we get when we look at a child is too intense. We long for the innocence that shielded us from the weight of the world and hurt when we realize we can never again hide behind the wall of ignorant bliss. We envy the child that doesn’t have a grasp on the harsh world and pray silently to any god that will listen to protect the child as long as it can. Don’t find your intelligence so quickly, we mutter over and over. That’s why we try so hard to prolong the childhood of the little ones when they fight back. They fight so hard to break the wall of childhood assuming the adults are lying and really don’t have their best interest in mind. Disappointment greets them on the other side but when we try to run back, the wall is gone and we have lost our shield. We must face the world without the innocence we once held. It was there that intelligence began to soak into a mind so fragile and determined the future. Would they break or stand, looking into the void? This child, sitting at the table, was heartbreakingly innocent yet had been subjected to the cruelest truth: when love is unspoken, it ceases to exist. The wall was gone and she didn’t even know. She never had a chance. Love desperately wanted to reach the child and simply let her know it existed, that the words I love you are real and that she too deserved to hear it every day. Love flung itself against the wall and slid to the floor, crumpled like a piece of paper that had missed the mouth of a garbage can. It heaved with sobs that turned silent when the pain was too overwhelming. Whimpers escaped its lips and the heartbreak was deafening. It wasn’t fair. The child is too young. We hold this unspoken belief that pain is reserved for those past the wall of childhood as if age is the only factor that determines how much pain is dealt. How ridiculous of us to try and control where pain goes. Pain refuses to wear a leash and travels as it pleases yet we fool ourselves, playing king of the hill. Love held its head in its hands that were nearly gone. It looked at the floor trying to will its feet into staying exactly where it was, to slow the disappearing process. Please, just see me. Love couldn’t give up. Love doesn’t give up, ever. That’s not who love is. It had to try one more time. Love no longer cared if the child could see or not, it was going to join the table and simply sit. If the child never saw it, love knew that it couldn’t leave because there’s always a chance. So, it stayed.
When love joined the child at the table, the child glanced up for a moment as if a breeze had tickled her momentarily then returned to her crude drawings. Love fussed over the drawing as if it was priceless and in that moment it was. It pointed out the different lines and shapes, loved the colors, and stared in awe of an imagination beginning to blossom. I’m here. It reached out and placed its hand on a tiny arm. The child stopped. The hair on the back of her neck stood to attention along with the hairs on her arms. Her exhale was deafening in the silence that drowned out everything else. She looked directly at love and love willed her to see it. It looked right back, trying to be visible. I’m here. Slowly, its form began to return and love started to transform back to normal size. You couldn’t put your hand where love was without feeling the heartbeat that was so faint a trained professional could have missed it. The child blinked and love started to grow. She blinked again and the pulse was strong. One more blink and love sat next to her at the table in the empty room, smiling at the child who stared back at a stranger. It’s been too long. Love had to whisper in fear of breaking the silence that had taken on a beautiful form. It was the silence that follows comprehension of a beautiful truth. Suddenly they were propelled to the moment when the child’s wall was broken and the disappointment had greeted her next to the void. She had no protection, no one to hear the cry of terror, and no one to take the hand that reached desperately back towards innocence. Love saw that the child had blocked out the pain and lived as if it wasn’t true, yet her subconscious was too strong and laid a foundation with pieces of the void and pain it picked up in the scene of destruction. That was why she always felt different. The words “I love you” would be spoken to all of her friends at school and her mind would shield her from the noise of joy. The memories of the friends faded and love once again saw the child reaching. Understanding glazed over and love knew why it had been a stranger. A child’s mind is more powerful than we give it credit. When the pain had entered her life, her mind walled her off into a small corner of protection. The door was only so strong and love saw that it was beginning to crack. Love couldn’t just stand there. It remembered running towards faith and hope before and took her hand before the slit closed forever. Love continued to hold tight as the suction tried one more time to yank her through the closing gap. When it was over, the child laid in the arms of love and turned her face towards the sunlight of childhood.
In a moment’s time, they were back in the empty room leaning against the wall. Love had enveloped the child and the shroud of fear slowly fell. The child’s dress had the most beautiful patterns with flowers of all colors decorating her torso. Splashes of color flowed down to where the dress ended right above her knees. Her tiny shoes reflected the light. She was bright and beautiful. The girl was still leaning against the door frame but had turned her face towards them. She wore a smile that melted part of the weight on her. Love saw that she had guided it towards the child to change that moment in time. The moment of damage and pain so great it had seeped out into the rest of the child’s short timeline. The girl had brought in the only solution that would work to bandage up the bruise of time and save the rest of her story. It was no longer dark and murky. It became straight, bright, and clear. She didn’t have to hide anymore.
The child blinked up at love and smiled. Love looked down and wrapped its arms a little tighter around the child that struggled to get free. Love looked up exasperated, afraid it had lost her already, but the child turned around and giggled. She was brave enough to return to the table on her own and begin to create beautiful worlds, people, and stories in pictures and words. Love saw the strength she now had and knew that its role had shifted to a passive one. It would still join the table to color and laugh, but love no longer needed to save the child from the pain. Love had provided the strength to move through the timeline unaffected and joyful; she would be brave enough to face the void on her own one day. Love knew it would return again and provide the extra boost to move forward, but for now, she was okay. A new knowledge had wrestled its way into her mind and the atomic blast of healing swept over the entire room, echoing out beyond the door and finding its way into every nook and cranny of a broken heart, crushed soul, and anxious mind. She stood up and was ready to go outside and grow. With one more glance at love, she smiled and raced past the girl leaning against the frame and faded into a future that was brighter than her dress.
Love sat still. The floor was no longer covered in shattered pieces of a broken heart. The drawings left on the table described a fantastical world of heroes, slain monsters, and happy endings. The child had drawn hope and joy dancing together in a world entirely her own. Love longed to be a part of that world and saw now the door that had been created. The girl in the door straightened up and filled part of the frame. She nodded her head down the hall and began to step out.
“There’s another girl you need to meet.”