I stared into my eyes in the mirror, and heard that voice in my head.
Chaos. A cacophony of thoughts, of feelings, of beliefs erupted inside me. “I’ve lost everything.”
“Yes.” The flash of anger I saw in my eyes shocked me. I’d never noticed such violent emotions in myself before. “Everything.”
“Have you?” Such an innocent question. Such a simple question. “Have you?” That damn thought echoed through my mind. My hands shook. My heart raced.
“Everything I was! Everything I had! Everything I built!” I’d never known I could feel such anger. I wondered where it came from. What powered it. What fueled it.
And that damn question echoed through me again. “Have you?”
“I worked so hard to take care of them!” That was my answer. Them. Everything was for them. Everything was to take care of them. Help them. Give them what they wanted. Hold them when they needed holding. Dry their tears when they cried. Give them the means, the tools, the inner strength needed for happiness. To smile. To live. To love. To be what they wished. Do what they wished.
“Have you lost everything?”
“I can’t take care of them anymore!” I was a failure. I’d failed. Everything had imploded. My job, gone. My income, wiped out. I wasn’t taking them to the doctor when they got sick. No. Not anymore. This time, it was me. Visiting the doctor endlessly.
What did I feel? Numb? Broken? Defeated? A failure? I heard the words of my doctor, “All his greatest fears have come true.”
Was that it? Was I afraid?
“Do you remember?” I stared into the eyes looking back at me. “The nights you couldn’t sleep. The endless days.”
I remembered headaches. Every day I went to work. I remembered eating naproxen pills, two of them, every morning when I reached my desk. Before I did anything else. I remembered, the pills didn’t help. The headache was always there.
I remembered nights. Spent with my eyes open. Staring at the ceiling. Not seeing anything. Not thinking anything. Wondering if I could ever sleep. Wondering if I’d stagger to work having been awake all night. If I could function on three or four hours of sleep. Wishing I could close my eyes, and dream. Just for one night. But sleep never came, until I passed out from sheer exhaustion. Until I pulled the covers up, and without thinking, without trying. Without turning out the lights, turning off the TV, brushing my teeth, or any of the things I did to get to sleep. I pulled the covers up, and passed out.
It was the only time I slept.
“Have you lost everything?” echoed through my mind. “Or have you found something?” My eyes in the mirror wouldn’t let me go. “Have you found something?”
I knew the truth. I knew what had happened. I knew what I’d done to make everything happen. To make everything inevitable. I knew I wanted out of the work I’d had for years. I wanted change. I wanted a question answered.
“What about me?”
Every decision I’d made, everything I’d done, for nearly 30 years, was never about me. Never had been. Never what I wanted. What I felt. What I believed. Everything had always been to care for someone around me. To help someone around me.
“What about me?”
I’d never seen such fear in any eyes I’d ever studied. Such confusion. “How hurt am I?”
I didn’t know. Staring at my eyes I saw a lost little boy. A child. Wounded. Confused.
“I don’t even know who I am.” That changed everything. Every part of me “I don’t know who I am.”
And that voice in my head laughed. “Now I can change.”
I’d lost my life. The life I’d worked so hard to build. The life I the world taught me to want. The one we’re all supposed to want. That dream, of a family, a job, success. It was gone. All of it. Burned to the ground, turned to ash.
As I stared into my eyes, the chaos faded, the cacophony grew silent. Until there was only me. The lost little boy. “Now. I’m free.” I actually smiled. I hadn’t smiled in days. I couldn’t remember when. I couldn’t remember feeling anything but anger. Burning through my blood.
And I smiled.
“Now, I’m free. To learn. To grow. To be.”
I wasn’t defeated. I wasn’t broken. I hadn’t lost everything. I’d gained everything. I’d broken free from the life I’d been trapped in. The life that owned me. Suddenly, I was free. To feel. And to learn the answer to that question I’d never answered.
“Who am I?”