All You Have to Do

Last night my son drew a picture that he said was of me, a swirl of green squiggles, the barest suggestion of eyes and body, surrounded by a mess of black lines marking the edges of a cage that kept me trapped. All I had to do to become free, he told me, was to find out which was the right button to press. It was all I had to do. He’d help, he said.

I looked at all those black lines and thought about demarcation, the act of “marking off the boundaries of something,” and how I wasn’t any good at it, how I had never been any good at it, learning where to draw the lines, even when I knew there must be some, learning how to stop straddling the border between, trying to give others what they wanted and yet retain enough for myself that there was still a self to be had. How too often I had learned to find the limit of a thing only when I had reached mine, when, weary, all I had wanted to say was “enough, enough.”

And I thought too about the ways I felt stuck. How there were people who kept offering me things I didn’t need and yet so little of what I actually did, even if what I actually needed was, in itself, little. How even after I asked for what I needed I kept taking those scraps as though they were all I deserved. How sometimes I started to see myself the way they must, as inconsequential, something so small that it must not matter in the least. How there were days when plans with new people were approaching and I found myself canceling, not because I wouldn’t enjoy them, but because I just couldn’t take the possibility of caring for another person who might not see meor who, in seeing me, still treated me as though I were small, or who saw me and still walked away. Because I have had enough of loss. Because the last time broke me. It just broke me.

Even my son can see it. I looked at that swirling, fragmented self on that white paper and I wanted to tell her that she was only as small as she made herself. To let those who saw her as such stay gone. To forgive herself for loving the ones who were gone even still. I wanted to tell her to find that door that might set her free. To open it. To be whole. I wanted to lie to her, to tell her such a thing would be easy.

Find the door. Open it. It is all you have to do.

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