A woman stands in front of a black and brown house with large second story windows. The edges of the house turn black from rot and crumble into the ground, becoming like the fine grains of sand falling in an hourglass.
Shoulders shaking, the woman slaps a hand over her mouth and sobs at the destruction unfolding before her. She wants to go inside and save all the things she’s worked so hard for—all the things that showcase her prestige and worth as a human being.
She takes a step toward the crumbling house, and it roars back at her with the bellow of deep thunder. The hair on her skin bristles from the goose bumps coating her arms, and the woman shuffles back. She gapes at the house now halfway destroyed.
I have to go inside, she thinks. I need to save my things. I can’t lose them. I can’t lose anything more at this point. I’ve worked too hard. Nobody knows it except me.
She ignores the house’s growls and swings open the front door, forcing her trembling body to go inside the blackness ahead. The woman stretches her arms forward in the dark, fingers groping the walls for a light switch. She curses her bad luck, wishing she had a flashlight or even a match to give her light and help her find and save her things.
The house creaks in protest, sounding like scraps of metal in a blender. The woman has no bearing in the darkness all around her. The whole house shakes, and she loses her balance and falls to her knees. The sound of a child weeping stops her breath, and she looks up, eyes scanning the dark. She knows that cry. It’s hers. It’s her cry when she was a child. But what is it doing here? It’s not supposed to be in this house.
The house creaks louder than before. The woman plugs her ears with her fingers. A gust of wind hits her face, and she cowers into the ground, head tucked between her knees. Tears form tracks over her cheeks. She wants to get out where it’s safe, but her she can’t move a muscle.
What if she ends up here all alone forever, trapped in this dying house?
The wind whistles harder and the woman grips her shoulders, holding on to herself to keep from being blown away. In the wind, she hears voices, all of them familiar, most of them hers:
“Your body is gross.”
“You haven’t accomplished anything of value yet.”
“Why is your skin dark?”
“What’s wrong with your hair?”
“You didn’t earn this. It’s not yours. It was given to you.”
“Why can’t you be smarter? More capable? Look at her. Why can’t you be like her? Be like her.”
“Stop dreaming. You’re an adult now.”
“You’ll be poor for the rest of your life.”
“Why are you such a disappointment?”
“You are a disappointment.”
“Why are you so stupid?”
“They’re all better than you are.”
“I didn’t work this hard so you could just repeat this suffering again.”
“Stop trying so hard.”
“You should just give up.”
“You should just kill yourself.”
“Nothing matters anymore.”
“It’s not worth it.”
“Why do you lie so much?”
“Why do I lie so much?
“Why am I always failing?”
The woman sinks her head further into her stomach, hoping to make the voices disappear, but they saturate the air, getting louder and louder. The woman ransacks her mind for answers, looking for anything to help her get out of her crumbling house, but her search yields nothing.
Why am I trying so hard? I should just give up. I’m so tired. I’m so tired, she repeats.
I’m so tired.
She hears the crying child again faintly beneath the cacophony of adult voices.
The cries of her child-self tighten her chest with more pain than all the voices barraging her.
“I’m sorry,” the woman says out loud. “I’m sorry you thought were never good enough. I’m sorry you thought you were ugly, fat and stupid.”
The house buckles and invisible beams crash loudly all around her. The wind wails as it unleashes its most powerful gust, dialing up the volume of the adult voices.
“I can’t hear you,” her child-self says.
The woman raises her voice. “I’m sorry you had to lie so much to escape feeling unworthy. I’m sorry you tied your worth to what you accomplished, what schools you went to, what things you owned, and what places you’ve been to! I’m sorry you didn’t believe in yourself. I’m sorry you hated yourself. I’m sorry you failed to trust in the power and beauty within you. I’m sorry you couldn’t see any of those good things in you. I’m sorry you let people decide for you. Decide who you were and what you were supposed to be.
I’m sorry you couldn’t be honest with who you really were. That you pretended to be happy and didn’t get help. I’m sorry that you were afraid and alone. That you didn’t feel loved or wanted. That you thought something was wrong with you. I’m sorry you wasted your years thinking about the past and the future. I’m sorry you lost time pleasing other people. I’m sorry you wanted to kill yourself. That you suffered so much pain to even want to do that. I’m sorry you couldn’t see that you were in charge of your own self worth.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the nights you cried. For the days you walked with your heart in pieces, your mind heavy with worry. I’m sorry about the people who couldn’t see your pain. I’m sorry you felt so unworthy to talk to someone because you feared of becoming a burden. I’m sorry you gave up the interests and dreams you loved become someone told you they were worthless.
I’m sorry that you had to mourn for the deaths of your dreams, some at infancy. I’m sorry for the callous people, the shallow ones, the racist ones, the sexist ones, the homophobic ones—all those people who brought you down because of their own insecurities and because of society. I’m sorry for the people who hurt you. I’m sorry for the friends and family you lost. Some to death, others to distance, a few to time, several because of your pain.
I’m sorry. Sorry that you felt trapped, stuck, and incapable of moving forward. I’m sorry you had to shut down and withdraw. Sorry you couldn’t hear the music or appreciate beauty because of your pain. I’m sorry you couldn’t find the time to sit down and breathe. I’m sorry for the times you needed a hug and no one was there. The times you needed a touch of assurance, a word of encouragement, and a voice of understanding, but found none.
I’m sorry. Sorry for the times you failed and felt incompetent. I’m sorry you thought had to give up so quickly. Sorry you gave up so quickly. I’m sorry you lost your way and couldn’t find it back. I’m sorry you thought you could never find it back. I’m sorry for the shame and guilt you were made to feel because of who you were, because of your body, because of your desires. I’m sorry you didn’t love yourself, your body, and your spirit.”
The house ceased to shake and the wind stopped howling. The woman uncurled her head from her stomach and pushed her palms against the ground to stand up straight, her shoulders squared and her chin high. Hands dangling by her side, her child-self appeared across from her. A small flame of light appeared above them.
“I’m so sorry,” the woman continues, her voice calm and clear. “But I want you to know one thing. I love you. I love you more than you can ever know. I won’t let anyone hurt you anymore. I won’t let anyone make you feel inferior. I won’t let anyone steal your hopes and dreams. I will always be here to defend you. I will always be here to hold you and give you strength. I will always be here to fight for your cause.
I know I can’t remove all the hurt, pain, and suffering you’ve already been through, but I want you to know I can help you from now on, giving you my guidance and strength. I will help you experience the rest of your days with beauty, dignity, and most of all, love. You don’t have to be afraid anymore because I am here, always by your side.”
The woman reaches her hands out, and her child-like self runs to her arm. The woman hugs her in a tight hold.
Her child-self asks, “What about the things you were looking for?”
“I can’t remember what I was looking for. I found you and that’s all that matters.”
The flame above them bursts into a huge conflagration, lightening up the dark space and consuming the house from the inside out. The fire leaves the woman and her child-self untouched. The house destroyed,the woman now stands alone in the middle of a field with her arms wrapped around herself. She searches left and right for her child-self but the little girl is nowhere in sight.
She sits down on the grass with her legs crossed and stares ahead at the field stretching for eternity. There is no sky, only pure white above her and the green of the swaying grass blades.
The woman closes her eyes. I need to build a new house.
The woman stands at the window of her kitchen’s apartment and follows the drops of rain trickling down the pane. A mug of black tea is nestled between her hands, sending much needed warmth to her cold hands. A smile tugs at the corners of her lips.
Today is a perfect day to write, she thinks. So she leaves the window and brings her coffee mug to her desk. She sits down and lifts open the lid of her laptop. Her fingers tap the keyboards without pressing down. She thinks for a minute.
The words come and the woman writes.