This is an honest fairy tale. But it’s not a true story, for who can know the fathomless truth of anyone? It’s about my sister, who died recently.
In this tale the child is led deeper into the hall of mirrors, which was in fact an enchanted forest. A bewitched forest.
And the more frightened she became the farther she fled into the foggy interior of the woods. There she made her stand, a brave and lonely thing, and built her refuge and her prison.
Or course, these enchanted forests are invisible to others. You can walk around in broad daylight and nobody would know you are lost. As the saying goes, you never see the forest for the trees.
So the child couldn’t tell anyone where she was. I’m here, she would cry. Can’t you hear me?
And everyone thought they could see her, and thought they were listening to her, but she wasn’t there and they couldn’t hear her. She was lost in the woods.
And so the little girl scavenged the forest and made beautiful things out of moss and wood and bird’s eggs and leaves. Maybe somebody would see these things and love them and care enough to look for me.
As the child grew, the delicate soul stayed hidden and small, rolled up in a cocoon, but one that wouldn’t unfurl in such a dark place. No matter how hard she tried, the cocoon wouldn’t open. So she lay there beside a stream that seemed to sing to her.
And late one night, alone with all the ghosts of the fog, the voice of the stream became her mother’s voice, calling to her, Linda I’m here, I’m looking for you!
She heard the voice, but only when she kept her eyes closed. If she looked around at the dark forest, the voice would fade. And so she had to follow the voice as if she were in a trance.
And in her dream she flew over the forest and found the spirit of her mother searching for her. And what a joy it was to meet again! They flew through the sky together, visiting distant worlds where people were made of apples and colorful toilet paper, and where the most beautiful faces were hidden in the stones and leaves, and it was all far more real than the dark and foggy world where she was still lying curled in a ball.
And so her only escape from the forest was traveling by trance.
But one day she found herself in a clearing in the forest surrounded by the most beautiful children she had ever seen. Overhead the fog parted and the stars came out. A bearded wizard was sitting beside her. He had been injured in a war, and he was brave and kind and he could hear her voice in the woods and he said “it’s OK, I know what it’s like, you don’t need to panic.”
And then it was beautiful in the clearing, reading to her babies and grandbabies, lying on the soft grass under the moon, showing them the things she learned in the enchanted and bewitched forest.
But slowly the ghosts of the dark drove her to the edge of the clearing. And you know, it’s not very easy to be a husband, son or daughter of an enchanted child living in a small clearing in a dark woods. She was magical and maddening, a shape-shifting spirit, trapped in the turmoil of herself, frantic for freedom.
Of course, she wanted to stay with her children as they grew, but it was hard to ignore the ghosts. They judged her and denounced her. They scratched at the old injuries that had never healed. They told her she was no longer the golden child, but a selfish child who deserved her imprisonment, and then she looked up and her little boy was gone.
And she ran from this grief, chased by all the small errors that a lonely and delicate soul under such terrors inevitably makes, and which accumulate like a looming shadow.
But I can’t tell a sad tale, because something doesn’t sit right. Something isn’t honest enough.
Long ago her mother had given her something, a special gift for the child who had healed the wound of a miscarriage. The gift was a piece of metal crushed by trucks in the middle of the road. A small piece of crumpled metal.
Come, child, look at this jewel, her mother said. This is a talisman. When I die you can have it. Look at it with your dream eye, your artist’s eye.
And the crumpled piece of metal shone in the starlight. It’s beautiful, the child said. It’s a world within worlds, she said.
You are the same, her mother said.