There’s a single window in a grey stone room, with exactly three vertical bars that cross it. I stare at that window every day. Some days, the sun shines in, and for a few hours, it touches my feet and I feel warm. Calm. Happy.
Other days, it rains, and the wind blows cold raindrops into the room. I can’t get far enough away to avoid getting wet, so I turn my back and bury my head in my chest, minimizing the amount of my body that ends up damp and chilly.
If a thunderstorm rolls through, I end up soaked. It takes me days to dry out.
Sometimes it snows. Sometimes it’s windy. Sometimes it’s just plain cloudy.
But that’s the beautiful thing about weather: it changes.
In that cold stone room, though, the weather is the only thing that changes.
The walls stay the same—grey bricks layered to the ceiling, crumbling and dusty with age. The door stays the same—black iron bars with a black iron lock. The chains stay the same—heavy black shackles that bind my wrists to the walls and ankles to the floor.
I am a prisoner. Alone, in a cold grey room. I’ve never so much as seen anyone walk by.
But I’ve heard voices.
Voices that seem to waft through the hall just beyond the barred door.
But they’re all in my head—the imaginary people I’ve created so that I feel less alone. They speak to me all the time.
Anytime I call out in hunger, asking for food: “The world doesn’t revolve around you, sweetheart! The rest of us are hungry, too!”
When I start to sing to myself to pass the time: “You talentless prick. Shut up and let us enjoy our silence!”
Whenever my chains rattle as I moved towards the sun: “Don’t even bother—you’re never getting out of here. This is where you belong.”
Every time I cry: “Aww. Poor little baby is crying again! Boo-hoo! Get over it. You don’t see the rest of us crying, do you? Sensitive, petulant child.”
You might wonder why I choose to entertain these voices; after all, I have a choice, don’t I? Why not think about rainbows and kittens and hot tea and Pixar movies?
I try to sometimes. I think about sunflowers stretching towards the sky in the summers, and pumpkins and flannel and autumn leaves, and cozy winter days with hot chocolate and fluffy blankets, and fuzzy bumblebees flitting around tulips. I think about walking free in the fresh outside air.
But the voices are incessant; no matter how hard I try to push them from my mind, they find their way back in.
When it rains: “Ha! It’s raining again—I hope it’s blowing straight in through your window!”
When I start drifting off to sleep: “You deserve to be here!”
When I’m in the middle of a halfway pleasant thought: “Keep dreaming—it’s the best you’re ever going to get.”
Most days, I believe the voices. I believe in my heart of hearts that I deserve this miserable, imprisoned life.
Other days—days which are few and far between—I don’t. Today is perhaps one of those days. My blood pressure rises, and I feel the anger coursing through my body, wondering what I ever did to end up here because for the life of me, I cannot recall anything I have ever done that would warrant a lifetime of lockdown.
“It doesn’t matter what you did or didn’t do. You’re a slave and you always will be.”
“You heard me. Who are you even talking to anyways?”
“I’m telling a story.”
“Well shut up. None of the rest of us want to hear it.”
“I don’t care.”
“Yes, you do. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t listen to us at all. You do care. A lot. Which only proves just how pathetic you are.”
“Aww. Is the tiny little baby upset?”
“Wah wah wah! How cute! She’s getting all worked up again!”
“Ha! Please. What are you gonna do about it?”
“Nothing. That’s what you’re going to do about it: nothing. Because you’re a pathetic, immature, spineless, good-for-nothing—”
“SHUT UP. SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP!!!!!!! Get out of my head, I don’t want you here anymore, I can’t take it! I don’t care what you say, I don’t care what you think, I don’t care what you think I ever did to you, I am MISERABLE. I cannot live like this anymore!”
“Well, too bad, toots. So long as you’re here, you’re stuck with us. So get ready for a long, miserable life.”
“No? Lol. Well, you can’t just leave.”
I look down at my shackled wrists and ankles. I grab the shackle on my left wrist and begin pulling my hand backwards as hard as I can. I can see my skin turning red and purple as my fingers contort to try to fit through the heavy metal ring.
With a gasp and a cry, my left hand slides through and I drop the chain with a clang.
“What just happened? What are you doing?!”
I move and bend my dirty fingers in an attempt to regain circulation. I grab the right shackle and repeat the process.
“You’d better stop that right now, or…or…”
With both hands free, I grab a piece of broken stone and begin smashing the shackles on my feet to break the locks. Several minutes of work yields successfully broken ankle bonds, and a few bruises on the bottoms of my legs.
I stare at my now free limbs in awe, wondering why I hadn’t tried this before.
“No! NO! Stop it, stop it right now, you piece of—”
I turn around and run to the door. My empty lunch tray sits in the slot, ready to be picked up. I grab the fork, feed my hand through the bars, and start picking the lock.
The latch gives. The door creaks open. I push it a little further. I hesitate at the doorway.
“Don’t even think about it. Do you know how much trouble you’ll be in if you leave? You’re a prisoner, remember? You’re CRAZY.”
I take one step out, looking both ways down the hallway I’ve never seen before, unsure which way to turn.
To my right, I see a patch of sunlight streaming in from the end of the hall.
I break into a sprint.
Faster and faster. My legs carrying me as quickly as they possibly can.
I run down hallway after hallway, passing cell after cell, chasing windows and sunlight.
I hear bits and pieces of the voices, but I can’t hear any of them long enough to catch a full phrase or sentence.
I don’t stop. I keep running.
I keep running until I find a door—a large double door. When I reach it, I push with all my might, and force my way outside.
Into the sunlight.
I don’t stop, though.
I keep running.
My bare feet graze the soft green grass as I run past blossoming trees and blooming flowers. I inhale the fresh air into my stale lungs and I feel life returning to my muscles and bones.
I keep running until I can’t hear the voices at all anymore. Until my legs beg for rest.
I stop at the edge of a quiet stream, taking several minutes to simply breathe before I enter the water to wash off the dirt and grime and misery of my jail cell.
I revel in the silence. I feel at peace. At home. I soak in the sunlight that I have spent so many years dreaming about, embracing those few moments I was able to experience a sliver of warmth through my window.
Yet even in the silence and sunlight, I cannot fully relax. I am waiting for the voices to catch up; I brace myself for their return.
I wonder where they are right now—how far behind are they? Are they still in my cell? Or are they in the forest, mere minutes behind me? Or are they still roaming the halls of the prison, floating from cell to cell?
And then something hits me, something that I didn’t notice on my fervent quest to freedom.
Those cells I passed?
They each held a prisoner of their own.
I was never alone: I was always surrounded by others.
Those voices were never in my head. They all belonged to someone else.
To many someones—someones who were just as trapped as I was.
I never knew those someones, or anything about them. But if I never knew them, then they couldn’t possibly have known me…
They couldn’t have known that I deserved my place there. Or that I was a pathetic, sensitive child. Or that I was crazy.
I’m not crazy.
I’m not crazy.
I’m not crazy.
I realize I’ve been holding my breath; I exhale in revelation, and feel my body fully relax into the warmth of the sunlight and coolness of the stream water.
I’m not crazy.
… … …
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