by Carolyn Dunk
For the first time in my life I feel warm. It is glorious and frightening. This feeling is unlike anything I ever imagined in my fifteen years upon this earth. How could I have dreamed of something that I never knew existed?
My earliest memories consist mainly of sounds. Slamming doors, raised voices, cries that crescendo then fade into whimpers. The sounds are followed by an eerie silence. The absence of sound was never a calming respite, but an agonizing wait for the sounds to begin again.
Even then, I was cold. From the beginning I welcomed the cold that spread from the center of my soul outward. The cold was my best friend, my only friend. It made me numb. The sounds were less real, when I closed my eyes and let the frigid fingers move from the pit of my stomach through my veins. I pictured the cold as sparkling silver spears of ice flowing through my body. I was safe when I was numb and frozen. It was only when I allowed the spears to melt that I could feel the pain.
This was my childhood. I experienced fleeting moments of what would pass as a normal life. There were, at times, days or even a week of tense normalcy. But always the sounds would return and with their return the chill that was my constant companion would grow into the frozen barrier that preserved my existence.
This morning everything changed. I awoke from another night of fitful sleep. As I gradually came awake, something clung to the edges of my conscientiousness. Instead of forcing my self to full awareness, I allowed my thoughts to drift back to where they had been before my sleep was interrupted. I felt enveloped by a brilliant light and a strangely comforting warmth. Only light and warmth, no voices or faces. But from the light and warmth came something new………….hope. I had never experienced hope before that moment. And suddenly here was this most exquisite feeling and it grew. In a matter of moments hope became certainty. And I knew without a doubt that my life would never be the same.
I opened my eyes and let the world back in. Everything looked the same. The dull walls and familiar objects were exactly as they had been when I closed my eyes last night. But I was different. I rose from the bed and quickly began to gather a few meager belongings. Rather than feeling dismay at how few possessions I had that meant anything to me, I felt relieved and light. I finished collecting the items and quietly stuffed them into a small bag. I silently left the house that had been my prison for fifteen years.
Outside I take my first breath of freedom. The chill inside me begins to recede as I face a sky filled with the orange pink glow of impending sunrise. I walk quickly down the sidewalk toward my new life. The neighborhood falls away behind me as I pass homes and businesses. I never look back, only forward. And with each step the cold fades and the warmth grows. The streets begin to wake around me. Lights glow behind windows and the sounds of people and their machines begin to hum. The streets that were deserted only minutes ago are now filling with vehicles, lights and noise competing for my attention. I stop to savor the new feelings and only now do I question what has brought me to this place.
From the warmth inside comes the knowledge that there is a greater power at work in my life. I do not yet have a name for this power, but I cannot deny its existence. I owe my new found peace to more than just a fleeting dream summoned from the depths of my soul. But there is time enough later to explore the source of my new life, for now, I must find a way to survive in this new world. I have heard of a place that might help and as much as I would hate to relinquish my newly discovered freedom, I am wise enough to know that I cannot make it alone on the streets of this city. I will do what is necessary to survive until I am able to truly be independent. In the meantime, I know that the certainty born of despair will remain strong.
I rouse myself and continue down the still dark street. Ahead, in the dim glow of a street light, I spot a small ball of fur curled up at the base of an over flowing dumpster. I can’t help but stop to check on the welfare of the tiny animal, which I soon determine is a kitten. The feline does not run from my exploring fingers, but lets me know with a hiss and arched back that she is more than capable of taking care of herself. After a couple minutes of tentative stroking on my part, the kitten seems satisfied that I intend her no harm and actually begins to purr loudly. I scoop up the scruffy animal and hold her against my cheek. I can feel her ribs vibrating with the force of her purr and marvel at the trusting nature of the tiny creature. I gently set her down and wish her good luck.
Someday I will have that trust in someone or something. Somehow I know this will happen. The vision of that day is as clear to me as the headlights of the cars crowding the now busy street. The strange new warmth inside will not fade and I will be happy. I am certain.