Dear Little Me,
Here’s a letter to you…from Big Me – a week away from turning 21. Yes really…you make it that far…
Guess what? I cried myself to sleep last night. Deep, gut-wrenching sobs, felt like I would cry until I was empty. In a way, I guess I did. I cried until I was too exhausted to keep crying, and then I lay there…sticky soaked face, swollen eyes, wet pillow…curled up, my arms around myself, and I gasped through my breathing, staring sorrowfully into space. I cried so hard I pulled a muscle in my chest, which is quite a bizarre sensation today!! After a few moments of still silence, the sobs returned, but without tears. My eyes couldn’t cry anymore. I dry sobbed, choking into the pillow…until eventually my whole body went limp with absolute and complete exhaustion. At some point I must have fallen asleep, into a fitful sleep, and I woke with very sore eyes and a tired body. I know you’ll be reading this with amazement, probably not believing me that you ever had the energy or safe enough space to cry like this. The best bit is this: I cried in my safe bed, in my safe bedroom, in my friend’s safe house whom I live with. My friend is safe. If I’d wanted company, I could have gently woken him, and cried safely on his shoulder. As it was, some kinds of tears are needed alone. Yes, a safe friend. A safe friend who respects my right to cry, either with friends or alone. I can cry my eyes out without fear of Grandad coming in and raping me to silence. Can you believe it?
And most importantly, I can cry. Do you know something? It turns out it isn’t wrong, or naughty, at all to cry. And I have the energy to do it. I’ve got to say, in an ideal world crying would be less slobbery, red-faced, messy, and generally unattractive and tiring. But that’s okay. You get to a point where you can cry like this, safely. Hang in there. The energy and tears will come, and you can cry for all of this. You’ll get your chance. Don’t feel guilty that you can’t yet. That’s not your fault.
I know the world is a terribly lonely place right now. I know you don’t even know who you are, and where you fit. I know the pain is unbearable. I know the exhaustion is out of this world. I know you wish you’d died there… I know you already have too many memories of unspeakable horror, and you are still just a child. I know you don’t know if you will wake up in the morning. I know you’re half-scared to go to sleep, in case your body gives up. I know you’re also half-hopeful this would happen. I know you don’t know if, or how, any of this could ever end. I know you’ve hit a wall, where the frightening realistic prospect of this being your life…forever…is unbearable.
You get out. You make it.
I won’t lie to you and say it all stops soon, or that the journey is going to be easy. But I will tell you this, amongst all of the horror…all of the pain to come, of the grief which chokes me today…you will see more beauty in this world than the majority of the population. There seems to be something about life, where you can only see the most profoundly beautiful things, if you’ve also seen the most traumatic and soul-destroying things too. I don’t really understand it. But I appreciate it. It will be impossible for you to drown in a world that’s entirely black, because the world you grow up in will also move you to tears, catch in your throat, make you smile so much your face hurts, make you laugh, feel the most powerful kind of love. The world might seem all black now. Hang in there, you will smile soon…
You will watch the world walk past trees without batting an eyelid, and you will instead stare at the many unique leaves….you will feel a sense of inner peace and warmth from seeing so many individual leaves making a beautiful tree. You will see their different stories…how their different colours tell you how much sun they’ve seen, how much rain there’s been…how newborn they are, or how near to gently flying to the ground they are. Their texture will tell you who they are, any holes will tell you who else lives on the tree. The various colours and shades will captivate you as you realise there are an impossibly huge number of various shades of green. You will watch the same tree change throughout the seasons. Even in torrential rain, you will see the red, orange and yellow leaves waving to you. You will see, again, their various stories. Who will be red? Who will be yellow? Which one will fall off and gently fly into your face? How funny it is that so close to them dying, to them falling from their tree, they are so intensely colourful? They don’t fear becoming part of the Earth. You will share that, one day. In Winter, you will watch the barren tree, but don’t feel sad. Don’t. The tree is having it’s chance to show you it’s story, whilst it’s not covered in so many leaves! You will see the various branches, the way they twist and turn…the different textures, the way thick branches grow thinner and thinner, stretching out around them eventually with tiny pencil-thin branches, and you will appreciate how these tiny branches are just as important as the trunk. You will run your hands over the trunk, breathing slowly, mesmerised by the different lines and indentations. You will notice the tiny creatures, and realise that even in the depth of winter, in the darkest time of year, there is still so much life. You will watch the tree patiently carry snow, making the world even more beautiful, and you will see another way of nature showing you black and white work together. That nothing is entirely black. Because the dark, barren branches will just carry the bright white snow. They will work together to make a beautiful scene. Without the dark branches, the snow would be on the ground. But with the branches, the snow has a chance to make stunning patterns and transform the dark tree into an image of beauty. Without the darkness, the light would have struggled to make such a powerful impact, such a beautiful image. Don’t be scared of darkness…when the snow falls on you, you will see how that darkness provides a platform to make the world more beautiful.
In Spring you will smile as the baby buds start to grow, as the tree begins a new cycle. Eager, baby-green leaves grow, ready to tell their story as it grows with them. You will watch the barren tree transform into a healthy one. You will see buds as blossom begins to grow, and for a few stunning weeks…the world will be snowed on with blossoms of all colours – white, pink, blue. Yes…the snow never really leaves, the light stays on the trees, and when the trees are ready to turn green again, the trees gently let the snow go…and the snow is now blossom, ready to transform the world around it into something also quite beautiful. The blossom gone now, you will grin as you hear birds singing down to you, hiding in the green. Squirrels run along the branches you touched months ago. Where snow and ice had been was now life, so much life. Birds nests, with babies nestled inside waiting to be fed. Grass will grow thicker by the tree, and if you watch closely, you will see butterflies sometimes. And daisies. The tree had turned barren in winter, so that this moment of transformation, of life re-newed, is ever more powerful and captivating… so that it all has the best chance at success and growth. The emptiness of the tree in winter will help you appreciate even more how full it is in Spring, and Summer. Again you will be mesmerised by the various shades of green, and of life hiding within the tree. You will watch children playing around the tree, chasing each other around it, with faces of such complete joy…joy provided by the same tree which once stood empty.
This is but one example of how you will look at life so differently and completely as a result of the horror you’ve endured. Relieved to see the sky again, you will pay close attention to the shades of blue, the shapes of clouds, the wisps of white. You will stand on a balcony, with your arms outstretched, feeling the rain gently cool and calm your skin. You will feel the sun hugging your back, the breeze caressing you, stroking you, soothing you. You will notice patterns and colours that the rest of us might have overlooked, or unintentionally taken for granted. You will help us see the world again, but with more beauty in it.
You will have survived unspeakable pain, and be able to cry for that pain. You will know the joy, relief and power of holding your newborn baby, and of that first eye contact, and of hearing your baby make her first sound. You will choke on tears as your baby clutches your finger and stares at you intently. A feeling of intense, sudden love will choke you, and you will be grateful for it. You will know the simple pleasure of stroking your baby’s hair, gently singing her to sleep, and watching her heavy eyes slowly close. You will find that the thing you love the most is not money, nothing materialistic…the thing you will love the most is holding your baby to your face, and breathing into her hair, breathing in the baby-smell… milky, sweet, pure… and this smell will haunt you years later, as you hold the memory…
You will also know what it feels like to have your heart broken, pulled out, as you lose her. The overwhelming grief, the staggering pain and horror that she’s gone…the way your legs will buckle, your heart choke you, your lungs simply forget how to basically function. You will feel your arms ache, throbbing with the need to hold her again, and you will wonder if you can ever recover from this. I still do. I cannot prepare you for this level of grief and pain, other than by saying…some beautiful souls will become close friends, and hold you if you need to cry, and you will frequently be left moved by their compassion…you do not need to grieve alone….and in time you won’t run, scared, from the beautiful memories you had with her. In time you will see these memories as even more beautiful, because they hold so much more meaning.
You will learn even more about the power of compassion, and humour. You will laugh with the children, sometimes until you are crying and half-gasping for them to stop, because the laughter is so painful!! Even when the men come in the room, sometimes that won’t interrupt the laughter you are all sharing. They’d be infuriated, but who cares? All of you were laughing. You will have your wounds cleaned by soldiers – children of the strongest and most heroic kind – and you in turn will clean theirs. You will run your hands through their hair as you tell them stories, and they fall gently asleep. You will fight together, love together, laugh together. And you will feel guilty that you got out, and I still struggle with this a lot. But you will find your voice, and in turn will put their memories into your voice, and they will never be forgotten now. None of them were forgotten soldiers. None of them were children gone without anyone knowing they existed.
You will reach 18, through various extreme methods of survival – some of which you’ll feel ashamed of. It’s okay. You never lose your core values. You will know the desperation from selling yourself on the streets, of lying numbly on a bed whilst a man grunts in your face, and you will feel that you’re worth nothing more. In time, you will realise you were always worth something more, and you won’t ever want to go back there again. You will move away – yes really. Not completely safe, but certainly safer. And it is here you will meet the beautiful souls who become close friends, who I have mentioned. Here you will learn invaluable lessons… that anger is not in itself dangerous. It is healthy and needed, but you’ve only ever known it as a tool to hurt you. You will learn, over time, that anger is okay. You will still be scared, of course, and deeply upset for any rows with friends. But they will never hurt you, and their anger will only ever be constructive and followed by a discussion to understand what had happened. Maybe this sounds bewildering. It was for me, initially. But this will help and equip you in so many ways, as you realise anger is okay, and from that you will accept your own sense of fury at what has happened. They have, by the way, also the most wicked sense of humour…and you will spend so many times either facepalming (you will learn this term), smiling, giggling or full-on laughing. Even in your darkest periods in this time, even when you cannot find it in you to smile, they will gently still try…and sometimes, you will feel a warmth inside, and you’ll know that your spirit is smiling. That you are not broken. You will experience terrible flashbacks and re-live all of this, but don’t panic. You aren’t alone this time. When they can, your friends will sit and hold your hand, speak gently to you…you won’t be alone, you’ll hear their genuine tones and words – that they would never want you going through this. You will wake shaking and/or crying, and be held. Each terrible memory will gradually be conquered by compassion. As ever, with each memory, you will look for even a glimmer of light. Of hope. I know it feels that you’ve lost this, but it comes back. Give yourself time, you need to get your energy back up…
With the help of these hero friends, and amazing professionals (yes, you muster up the courage to seek professional help), you will find the strength to cut off all adult members of your family. This will scare you, and for a little bit afterwards you will have an identity wobble. I suddenly felt orphaned, despite never really feeling like I had parents anyway. If I didn’t have a family, where did I belong? Where was home? Who was I?
You will decide you deserve better than that tying you to them. That your family are not necessarily those related to you by blood. You will discover yourself through music, tears, laughter and staring at lecture slides. You will change your name, making the profound move in your life to create yourself. This will perhaps be the most powerful thing you could do, and you will be moved beyond words at everyone’s efforts to call you by your new name, to make the move into your new identity as smooth as possible, and within a matter of months it will be more natural to you than your previous name ever was.
Gradually, you will learn your right to safety…and from that, gradually you will become safer. You will dip through periods of being intensely suicidal, little wonder I guess, but I’m still here…so you make it through that too.
Hang in there little one. Life will continue to be brutal. But life will also continue to be powerful, moving, and beautiful. Brutally beautiful. I would never wish your life on anyone, despite the appreciation for life and beauty that it gives you, but if you must live through all of this…then I’m glad you discover the light still.
You will be hit by an overwhelming amazement that you are still alive. And from that, you will be hit by absolute horror of what you’ve survived. You will cry, several times, until you just physically run out of energy. But these tears will help heal you, and help clear your head out enough to laugh.
And sometimes, those tears will be out of being moved, being grateful, being astounded, and seeing the beautiful pockets of life.
You survive. At least until May 5th 2014. I promise. You will suffer, you will feel absolute despair, but you will grow and love. You will, somehow, be okay.