Back when what adults said seemed true, you were told you were the cheerful one in the family. Your role was necessary in a home where your dad paced and checked through net curtains for your mother to arrive back from some errand, saying that maybe there had been a terrible accident. It was necessary when your mum’s eyes had lost their light: a mannequin mother.
Communication came in code. When you unpicked the fabric of ‘cheerful’ you found in tiny stitching: don’t be anxious, don’t be sad, don’t be like us. You found ways to add patches over the cloth until you had a cloak of many colours.
There was a secret thrill to self-sufficiency: feelings squished under your ribs and donated to your toys. An angry husky that craved a home, barking for attention. The tatty Labrador puppy that wished it were pretty as a poodle and cried at night. To soothe the animals, you cut up pictures of each breed and decorated the walls of your bedroom as if it were a classroom. You asked your dad to come upstairs and rate it out of ten.
Now you spend your paid time sitting with the still agony of others. Giving voice to what is underneath the smiles of people who have been so busy surviving they forgot who they were and what they longed for. It is a painful privilege. Slowly, you turn your advice towards yourself with kindness. Peek under your armour. Hold the hurts gently.
Out of dreams and stories, wisps of emotion emerge. You watch them swirl and change in daylight. The start of a journey. You re-read what you have written and consider changing from second person to first. But one step at a time.
About the Author: Stephanie Hutton is a writer and Clinical Psychologist in the UK. In 2017/18, she was nominated for Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize, shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize and Bath Novella-in-Flash Award, and was a finalist in Aesthetica Creative Writing Award. Her novella Three Sisters of Stone will be published May 2018 by Ellipsis Zine. Visit her page here and @tiredpsych.