Little girl, alone in the dark. Hears sounds in the quiet, shadowed house. Footfalls. The creaking board in the floor. Near silent steps. The soft swoosh as her bedroom door opens. The monster breathing. Hiding under the covers with her big red flashlight clenched tightly in her hand, she waits, holding her breath. Feigning sleep. Hoping against hope. But the covers are ripped out of her fingers and tossed aside. Her flashlight falls down the crack between her bed and the wall. Her protests are ignored; her pleas shushed. Hands take what they want of her young body. Use her. Leaving her gasping for breath. Trying to survive. Broken. Her “Man from Uncle” posters watch with an unflinching gaze as her face turns red with shame. She is drowning in shame. They are her heroes. She doesn’t want anyone to see, especially them. She doesn’t want them to know.
The darkness mercifully takes her.
Even during the day, she is not safe. She tiptoes cautiously on beige carpet, praying she will momentarily go unnoticed. She seeks invisibility, melding with the walls. Trying to exist without disturbing the dust. Without sound. There is never enough air in her house. Her haunted house. And even on a sunny day, it is consumed by darkness. It is always too quiet or too noisy. Secrets or explosive anger and danger. Predators watch her from the corner of their eyes, waiting for opportunity. She knows. She feels them measuring the moments. Waiting. She feels their hungry eyes. There is no safety. No one to protect her. No place to hide.
Air. She needs air. But there is no air.
At school, she remains silent. She has been warned. People will die if she tells. The family will be destroyed and it will be her fault. She speaks only when she must. Softly. Carefully. Her words measured and planned. The airless bubble follows her wherever she goes. As does terror and uncertainty.
Yet, the little girl grows. Somehow, she survives without essentials. Without air. Without sleep. Without protection. She must remain vigilant; therefore, she can’t rest or let down her guard. She hides in the blankets each night, alone in the dark, waiting, watching, listening. Praying. Praying for morning to come. For reasons to be away from them. For just enough air to make it through.
Until, at last, she is finally old enough to leave.
The airless bubble goes with her. Always, just as before, she struggles to carry on. While feeling as if she is continually gasping for breath.
Years go by. Swiftly. Swallowed up in the struggle to exist and survive. She performs, to the best of her ability, trying to appear normal to a normal world. Mimicking those around her. Working hard…always harder than everyone else. She must prove herself. Justify her existence. Do more, be more, give more. Nothing in life is free or easy. Not even air.
She doesn’t want anyone to discover that she is not a real person. She holds her mask tightly in place and paints on a smile. Laughs at appropriate times. Acts. But her dead eyes…she can’t do anything about her dead, tortured eyes. Luckily, no one looks that closely. No one really sees her. And she is good at hiding in plain sight. She is good at holding her breath. At living without. At pretending that everything is fine.
But instead of getting easier with practice, it becomes more difficult to wear the mask and hide. She is surprised. This is not what she expected. Decades without air take a toll. The little girl ages, weakens, wears out, tires. Becomes discouraged. Loses hope.
So many years of looking for a tiny place to exist and be secure. A place of soft breezes and brisk winds that lift her up and let her dance on their currents. Daydreams. Fantasies. Reality is so harsh. So airless. So cold and unforgiving.
She has been trying to recover, only to discover there is no cure.
She has spent a lifetime trying to catch her breath. Always gasping. Still, all these years later, she wheezes and pants. After all this time, she is yet sealed in a near airless environment. She is, always, forever, struggling to survive, gasping. Gasping for air. Wishing she could breathe freely.