The One Before

“What was I like before?” she asked me, taking the dried socks off the clothes line and collecting them in her arms.

I stopped for a moment to think about it. What was she like before? I remember the bits and pieces she wants to hear about, but I can’t talk about them. I didn’t know how to. How do you tell someone that they emerged out of their struggle worse than before? 

“Well, I don’t know,” I glanced at her. “I think you were more…passive… before.” I started taking down the shirts. “Yes, that’s the word. Passive.”

She stared at the vegetable patch behind her. I could sense her heart beginning to palpitate. She probably understood.

“You mean to say that I was less angry back then?”

I looked at the growing pile in my basket. “Well, no. You were angrier back then. Absolutely furious. With people and with yourself.” I looked at her. “You just didn’t show it.”

She frowned. Her eyes were earnest, almost sadly confused. “Was it a good thing? Pretending to be cool when I was boiling inside?”

She stood still, waiting for an answer. Nervousness reigned my body. I shook my head. 

“No, it wasn’t.”

She returned to her socks. “So, I guess it’s a good thing now: I show exactly what I feel.”

It wasn’t a question, so I didn’t reply. The truth was, in showing what she was feeling, she always lost control of herself. She let her frustration take over, so she no longer thought before speaking. She said things she regretted. She made things complicated.

 But I can’t say it out loud like that. Not yet.

I hoped she wouldn’t catch me lying to her face. It would give her fits. But I was her conscience. How long could I possibly run away? We don’t do laundry every day, and spend most days in each other’s minds. I was scared of her and she was scared of me.

Before things got better a while ago, we hardly talked. It was like I was a part of her, but invisible and voiceless. I remember becoming utterly terrified whenever she used to think of all the ways she could wreck herself: knives and pills, she was obsessed with pills. I watched with stifled sobs these past few years, as she stood with one foot on the edge of the cliff and one foot hanging over the mouth of the abyss. She despised me. She thought it was me trying to push her over, when really I was the one holding her back, with my own head stuck in the guillotine: trying not to die and struggling to keep her alive.

After months of silence and distance, she began to calm down. She let me talk to her about things. I gently spoke to her, assured her that she will be alright, that she can brave any storm rushing her way. She listened to me, and for the first time in a long time, didn’t push me away. She was healing. Finally. 

There were things about her that worried me still. She was a blooming flower alright, but with thorns instead of petals. She protected herself ferociously, but no longer believed in love. She was much stronger now, but her faith in family was fading. She used to talk so much, sharing things with the people she loved. Now, all she wanted was to be left alone. My only relief was that she didn’t try to silence me anymore. I could tell her things she needed to hear, truths she needed to accept so that she could keep on growing.

So how could I tell her that she didn’t come out the woman she wanted to become, when she has only just started to accept and love herself? 

“I remember. Everything,” she said. She walked over and gently tossed the socks in my basket. “It’s important to remember who I was because she made me who I am now… Right?”

I smiled. “Yes.”

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