My fingers brushed the baby leaves still so soft against my skin. The wind pulled around me, and I leaned back against the rough tree bark and looked up at the sky. It was beautiful. The sunlight glancing through the new leaves, the breeze tugging them gently, the smell of spring and flowers and life… it was all so perfect. Even the birds were singing, joining the chorus of the whispering leaves.
“Look at that sunlight, Rach. That’s for you.” My friend called up to me, and I glanced down at her. Her voice held a sense of awe and appreciation. I looked back at the sun shining through the leaves, and I smiled. It was for me. Of course it was. He always did that; he kept showering me with love, no matter how I was doing, or what was going through my head. He knows the things that warm my heart and make me smile, and sometimes he just pours them out on me without holding back.
“Thanks, Daddy,” I whispered, smiling gently toward the sky. The wind tugged around me, and I nodded. I guess it’s part of the child within me, but I sometimes look at things differently than most people. Sunshine is like a hug from God. Wind is him playing with me, especially playing with my hair. Everything is from him, and this wonderful day showed that beautifully.
Stress and tension and depression and cutting and anorexia and suicide had all been racing through me all day. It was finally sinking in that I was leaving, and I was panicking. I was questioning decisions I had been so sure about making, and doubting myself and my worth, and of course wondering if it would matter to anyone if I really left, not just college and that whole stage of life… but leaving life itself. I was exhausted beyond what seemed humanly possible. Sickness had drained my body of physical energy, and depression had drained the rest of my being from whatever else was left. I was shaking so much that I had to be very intentional about holding on and not losing my balance.
They had told me that afternoon. It’s official. I’m going into treatment. Residential, a home for women who struggle with various things… women like me. I’ll be there within a month. I was terrified… am terrified. I had never doubted that this was what I needed to do… not until that afternoon. Was it really? What if there was a better way? What if it doesn’t work? What if it makes it worse? How can I leave my family and friends like this? Am I just running away from the responsibilities of real life?
My emotions were heightened to the point where I was hurting myself. I wasn’t careful. Scratches and scrapes had been happening all day. I kept purposely rubbing and opening my cuts, so that they would hurt more… anything to calm myself down. I wasn’t talking, kept getting lost in my head. I couldn’t think properly, couldn’t make decisions. We were going to have a bonfire, but it started raining. I tried climbing one tree, but I didn’t get very far. I did scrape up my arms a lot, and that fresh pain gave me a burst of hyper energy.
Then… the rain stopped. The sun came out and lit the raindrops like glowing jewels all over the grass. One of my friends got the fire going, and it was real and alive and warm. I let myself become mesmerized by the dancing flames, sinking deep into their enchantment. Sometimes I would hear a bit of the conversation around me, and I would smile or laugh or say something. But then I’d be lost again. I burnt my fingers in the fire, and again, the pain calmed me a little.
I looked up at the trees… they were dancing. It had long been one of my own little beliefs that trees danced. They sing and whisper to each other and to God in a language we don’t understand, and they love to dance. Bowing and swinging and swaying and spinning, they dance the day and night away, and it is beautiful. Sometimes I join them, when nobody’s looking. I watched them, then got up and went to a big one and started climbing it. Higher and higher, closer to the sun and sky, branch by branch, danger rising, spirit calming. And then I was there, among the leaves and sunlight, feeling the strength of the tree as he danced all around me. And the sunlight… the sunlight shone through closer and more beautiful than ever, and it really was just for me. This moment was mine.
I thought about falling. I thought about letting go. But in order to die from this height, I’d have to fall and land specifically in a way that broke my neck, and the chance of that happening was too small to risk it. So I stayed and breathed and existed, and I whispered prayers to my dear God. I’ve finally gotten to the point where I call him “Daddy,” and it feels nice.
Leaves and sunshine and softness and glowing raindrops spun all around me. The sky gleamed blue, and the clouds seemed a very pale gold. Green grass stretched out below me, catching the sunlight and brightening the world. Lilacs were blooming in a huge bush that could’ve been called a tree in the next yard over. My friends were laughing and talking around the fire, and every once in a while, they’d look up and call to me, and I’d answer back. A hint of peace was starting to breathe into my being.
But it wasn’t there yet. I climbed down and sat again by the fire. I ate a little, but not much. I wasn’t hungry. Everyone was talking and laughing. For a while, I tried to participate. Someone asked me about my plans for the summer, about camp and jobs and career plans. I gave my memorized vague answers, and a lump rose in my throat as I remembered I probably wouldn’t actually be working at camp this summer. People asked how I felt about graduating, if I was excited. I said I didn’t know.
The thing is, graduation IS a really big deal for me. I didn’t think I would make it. I was so sure that I’d have killed myself by then, or at least dropped out or been expelled. But… I made it. I am a college graduate. I am surprised, and there’s a warmth of pride in my heart too. I really did it. But at the same time… I was terrified to leave this place that had become my home. I was terrified to leave the family I’d found there. I was afraid of the world, or real life, of failing. I was afraid of myself, and what I’d do.
“Do you wanna go walk on the train tracks?” I asked a friend. She said yes, and we went. I had to get away from the cheerfulness and questions. The tracks were just beyond the property line. We had to walk across a bed of rocks to get to them, and my bare feet welcomed the pain. It didn’t even hurt much, because I’ve been going barefoot for so long, and my feet have toughened.
It was beautiful there. It was nearing dusk, and the tracks gleamed gold in the soft sunlight. I closed my eyes and breathed in. Beauty and wildness and sunlight seeped into me, whispering peace to my soul. We walked a little ways, balancing on the rails, and I wondered how long it would be before a train came by… and if I’d be able to jump in front without anyone stopping me.
My friend eventually went back to the fire. I almost followed, but I didn’t. I stood on the tracks and thought about just following them as far as they went, following them into the sunset until a train hit me or I collapsed from exhaustion. But I didn’t. I sat down, and as I did, that resigned depression set in deeper and deeper. I thought about lying down on the tracks, but I thought that would be too obvious. I watched the sunlight hit the grass and new baby leaves on the trees, and I watched the world dance. And I hoped that a train would come.
The stones were different shades of pale and dark gray. I selected a flat-ish dark one and a small light one, and I scratched the white outline of a heart on the dark stone. Then I filled it in, and it didn’t look right, so I kept rubbing the white stone against it, trying to fill the gaps. But I still wasn’t satisfied. So I scratched a deep line through the heart, and then I scribbled all over it until it didn’t look anything like anything anymore. My throat was hurting. The lump was there, and it wouldn’t go away. I glanced down the tracks… still no trains. On the rusted metal bit at my feet, I began to write. I hesitated at first, wondering if anyone would see it. But no one was there, only me. So I lightly scratched the words “Let me never be alone again” onto the rough surface. But as I was finishing, I heard someone approaching.
I looked up, and there she was, my princess sister, arms out like a ballerina, tiptoeing down the rail towards me. I shifted, rubbing the words with my fingers, but they didn’t go away. So I picked up the dark and light stones and began rubbing them together as if that’s what I’d been doing all along. She came and sat by me, and we admired the beauty and talked about nothing. Little bunnies nosed around in the grass, and we watched them. Then she stood up.
“Come on. Let’s go back to the fire now,” she invited me. But I pulled in toward the ground and shook my head.
“I don’t want to.”
I shook my head and crouched lower.
I shook my head, refusing to meet her eyes. She came and sat across from me. “What’s wrong?”
I stiffened and stared at the ground. The battle raged inside me, the same battle that’s always there. She shouldn’t be here with me. She should be with the others, having fun and enjoying the night. I was keeping her from that. I was keeping her from being happy. But at the same time… I really, really wanted her to stay. I wanted the comfort of her presence and the reassurance of her love. I wanted to open up and let her in, and tell her about how scared I was, and how I was hoping for a train. I wanted to let it out. I wanted to tell her. But I didn’t want to burden her.
I don’t remember how long we sat there, or how many times she asked me “why?”, but eventually, I did speak. She was going to leave. She wanted to go back to the fire. But her kindness had comforted me, and I wanted her to stay. I called her name, and she turned.
“Don’t leave me,” I said quietly. I could feel the desperate emotion show through on my face, and suddenly I felt very vulnerable. But I didn’t look away.
But she told me that she wanted to be with our other friends too. “You could come back to the fire, and then I’d be with all of you.”
“I don’t want to.”
And this time I answered. “Because I don’t feel like being all happy and excited about everything. I feel like crying.” And I ducked my head and forced back the tears that threatened to come when I said those words.
“You can cry with them. They won’t mind. They love you.”
“But they’ll be sad, because I’m sad, and then they won’t be having a good time anymore.”
“No it’s not. They need to have a good time.”
“They love you too much to have a good time all the time.”
I couldn’t talk anymore. I stared at the ground, the sky, the grass, anything but her face, and tried to keep myself steady. But I couldn’t. One tear, one little tear, leaked out and ran down my cheek. My princess-sister came and sat beside me. We said nothing. I just cried, and she sat with me. The tears kept coming.
She started sorting through the rocks. “Look, I found you a fossil!” I laughed a little through my tears. She found another, and I took it. My heart felt lighter. After a little while more, I could breathe again, and the tears had slowed.
My friend stood. “I’m going back to the fire.” I took in a deep breath and nodded. I would go with her.
“Does it look like I’ve been crying?” I asked.
“It just looks like you sneezed.”
“But I didn’t sneeze.” But I smiled a little as I said it. And we walked back. I took my time, half hoping that all traces of tears would be gone by the time I got there. I picked pretty curls of grass and wildflowers. I even found a couple daffodils still blooming. Daffodils are some of my favorite flowers. By the time I got there, I had enough of a little bouquet to give me something to talk cheerfully about, and act like nothing was wrong.
Then… they gave me my graduation present.
Each of my closest friends had gotten together and given me a book from the “How to train your dragon” series. They’d written notes to go along with them, notes of encouragement and love and truth. It was so perfect. They knew me so well. Kids’ books with pictures… these have always been my favorite. My friends really knew me, and they loved me. That gift and those words completely blew to bits my fears of what was going to happen. My family loved me, and they always would. And I’d get through this, and things were going to be okay. I almost started crying again, because it was all so wonderful.
And then the peace was there, and it was real. The night and the conversation moved on, but I hugged those books to my chest, still feeling comfort and reassurance ease into my being. A train whistle blew, and a couple minutes later, a train rumbled by. I watched it and thought about how I wanted to jump in front. It was probably going fast enough that it could’ve killed me, too, as long as I got it to hit me right.
But I didn’t move. I just sat there with my friends, hugging those precious books to my heart. And the train passed on, and I smiled. I was still alive.
“Wow, even the stars are out for you, Rach. This night really is for you,” my friend commented, looking up at the sky. She knew how much I love stars. I smiled and nodded. They were bright and beautiful. Peace settled in my soul. I even ate a little more when my friend asked me to.
Daddy has taken care of me. He made the rain stop so that we could have this fire, even though it was supposed to be storming. He gave me so many things that I love that night… gentle rain, climbing trees, fire, sunshine, baby leaves, bunnies, books, stars… and the love of the dearest friends I could ever ask for.
I still ended up crying again later. I still will cry many times in the next couple weeks before treatment starts. I still shake and tremble, and I’m still so scared about this life.
But I am alive.
And I’m doing what I need to do.
My Daddy’s taking care of me.
And everything’s going to be alright.