In the middle of a cold and frozen forest I stand in front of a old, dusty mirror. There are years of dirt and grime caked on the glass and I cannot see my reflection. Over time I have gotten so used to not seeing myself that the collective layers of dust do not bother me. I don’t even notice that I can’t see myself.
I do not matter to me.
I tend to the needs of others.
I make others smile.
I believe that my happiness comes from putting all other’s happiness before mine.
I do this subconsciously.
Day in and day out, I meticulously care for everything around me. Except for me.
I don’t know that I’m doing this. I think that I am happy. I think this because I am making others happy. I believe this way because to think that my happiness matters as equally or more than others is selfish.
Friends stand in front of me, seemingly shouting “your happiness matters!”, but I am inclined to not hear their words, I cannot fathom what they mean. “But”, is my first response. I justify the reasons I do not matter. He has it worse. They deal with this. Her anxiety is more than mine. I must fix all the things, and do all the things and make everything normal for everyone. When they are happy, then I can be happy.
This isn’t normal.
But I think it’s normal.
It’s become my normal.
There’s a man now. We love each other. But we don’t understand what that really means. He stands in front of me shouting “what do YOU want?”, and I look at him quizzically. Is he speaking English? What do these words mean? “Do what makes you happy”, he pleads with me often. But I still don’t know what this means. I try. I see what makes other people happy and I try to do those things. But I cannot internalize it and make it mine. I cannot own my happiness. But I don’t even know what this means. I peer around him to look into the dirty mirror. But I only see a distorted reflection of him.
I can’t see myself. I only see what I think others see when they look at me. So I try to reflect what I believe they want from me.
It’s wrong. It’s all wrong. Somewhere in my clouded thinking I catch a glimpse of how it’s supposed to be. I hear a girl laughing, I turn and she’s running through the woods and she’s full of life. I recognize her. She seems familiar, like how a whiff of an old forgotten scent transports you back in time.
I try to follow her but I am stuck. I look down and vines have begun to grow around my feet. They hold me fast, like old habits, and I don’t know if I can remove them.
I begin to struggle. I think that I want free. I try to cut the vines away, but with the first slice I feel instant guilt. Like I’m not supposed to move from this spot. I have to stay here. I have to make them happy.
There’s a whisper, a smile, a knowing friend tells me “follow the peace”. I stop.
Follow the peace. I look down. There is no peace in the restraints I’ve placed on myself, or allowed others to place on me.
There is no peace in this struggle. Follow the peace, I tell myself.
I take a big breath. I relax. The vines that threatened to wrap themselves around me until I could no longer take a full breath started falling away.
I take a step forward towards the mirror.
I know she’s in there somewhere. The laughing, vibrant girl that ran by.
I try to reach up to wipe the dust away, but my hands are still caught by the shackles of old habits, still held fast by those who want more from me than I can give them
Another friend. This one with kind eyes but with a toughness that does not let me back away from myself. They reach towards the mirror, and their hand leaves a small path in the dust.
I can see someone in the mirror. I think it must be me. But I don’t like what I see.
I think it’s ugly. He tells me its raw and honest.
I try to turn away.
Kindness and tough love turn me back.
Tears fill my eyes as I see the person I used to know staring back at me.
“Do something”, she says.
“Save us”, she pleads.
I look around the clearing in the woods. I find a rag,
and with a mixture of fear, relief, guilt and curiosity,
I take a step towards the mirror.