“Ouch! Hot hot hot!”
My blistered feet swelter on the burning pavement as water droplets from my afternoon swim prematurely evaporate, leaving my naked feet aching for reprieve from the scorching Texas sun. I thrust my body into the air, attempting to land in the shade by catching my shadow. Yet to no avail, my shadow jumps ahead of me, as she always seems to do.
As a young child my shadow baffled me. At times, she frightened me to my core as I sensed a monster looming around the corner. Then, a wave of relief would gently wash over me, slowly relinquishing fear clinched fists as I discovered the ghost was simply “me.” Perplexed, I pause and stare at her, my mind slowly grazing over my body’s perpetual inability to outrun her. Confused by her concrete fluidity—my shadow, my depression.
When crisp air turns lush to bare, the shadow’s appetite quenches, and when life exhales nourishment, awakening the hibernating green, her stature falters. Light rises and hides. She shrinks and expands between the seasons of life, and the cycles of the moon. When the shadow grows, life retreats.
You can manipulate a shadow and reshape her. You can even teach her to dance and pepper her with grace, making her beautiful again. But there is only one way to kill your shadow. And one night almost ten years ago to the day, that feat was nearly accomplished.
For almost ten years ago to the day, I collapsed onto my concrete balcony, wound my arms tightly around my curled legs in an attempt to pulse life into petrified skin while I silently begged, “Give me something, anything to hold on to.”
My life was at stake, but the villain had a superpower-an invisible persistence directly intertwined with my very existence. No matter how far I ran, I could not escape her, so that night I melted into her. Until I was met by a whisper I had yet to know, in response to a prayer, I didn’t know.
As I walk outside, the rare brisk temperature sends an instant shudder down my spine as my jolted thoughts return to this time and place almost ten years ago to the day. I close my eyes and cautiously stroke awake this painful memory I keep crisply folded away.
Cautiously curious, I let the motion picture roll on repeat, awaiting a shadow truth I feel I may have missed before. I see a girl shaking, rocking slowly back and forth, her arms wrapped tightly around her quivering folded legs as if bracing for a disaster of some kind. Leaning in I catch a glimpse of the storm in her fragile eyes. Her eyes possess a foreign mirror of recollection. It is dark, frigid, and the tear streaked evidence of pain is plastered to her face.
“Is she in danger?” I try to remember, whisking closer.
Staring deep into her eyes, my heartbeat quickens. I lower myself to her level as she sits petrified in a lifeless state.
My strong arms embrace her limp body, and I rock her—slowly, persistently. Gracefully, I inhale an ounce of her excruciating pain and exhale a gift that will take her nearly nine years to fully comprehend. Placing her tired chin in my warm hands, I gently turn her head to the side and softly whisper a truth.
She thinks she is alone, with only herself to hold and be held by. I see it in her defeated eyes.
“You aren’t alone. Quick, hold on to this.” I softly plead to my self.
A stirring magenta swirls through the midnight black sky, and her shadow delicately retreats. Her face held still in my wrinkling hands, she looks deep into my eyes, yet through me. And that’s when I see what I came back for—a soft flicker of hope.
I hold her hand, and we walk side by side for a moment, our shadows one. Then I let her go, knowing I will find her again a little further down the road.
Walking down the road lined with lush green gardens and brick homes, an echo of erupting belly giggles rips my focus back to the present. The bright sun paradoxically laughs at the dropping temperatures, and my face responds with exalted rose pinched giddy. Glancing down at my hollow hands, I silently chuckle knowing they won’t be empty for long.
Turning around, I hear, “Mammmma! Dance with me,” my three-year-old curly haired mini-me squeals with delight, as she tightly weaves her delicate fingers through mine. Filled with elation, I smile at my lively shadow when suddenly I feel a sharp tug on my pants as my one-year old cherub boy begins to climb up my leg. My withered hands fill up instantaneously, arms wound tightly around their tiny bodies, breathing in their enormity of life. Immersed in a canopy of intertwined limbs, I glance down at the pavement and realize I cannot decipher my shadow anymore.
Once back inside, I hoist my curly haired angels into my arms, catching a glimpse of our reflections in my living room gold plated mirror. My daughter takes my chin into her petite fingers and stares so intently into my eyes, I feel her gaze burn straight through my soul, as if we met years ago. In the bright of her iris, shines a reflective truth I felt somewhere deep inside—a gift that saved me on an unseasonably chilly fall night, almost ten years ago to the day.
Holding on to the curiosity of hope of an unwritten life, I exhaled, opened my heavy eyes, and flexed every muscle in my tired legs until they burned with the inevitability of motion. I stared down at my shadow, suddenly comforted by the fact that I wasn’t completely alone on this barren night.
I walked on, feeling a strange lightness and dizziness as I confronted all that was possible and yet to be. Somewhere deep inside I was certain this story had just begun, and I would not be forever alone. In fact, somewhere deep inside, for the first time, I realized I never really was alone. My story was waiting for me—all I need to do is keep holding on.
To this day, this memory best secures residence as metaphor as it holds as much fear as it does strength in my broken armor.