a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
There once was a young lady with bones of glass. She lived in a broken world of brick where she could easily trip and shatter. And her condition was the opposite of a blessing, so by default, it must have been a curse. That’s how all the fairytales begin- the interesting ones at least- with a curse.
Aura’s parents cried when they received the splotchy blur of a prophecy. It looked like a Rorschach inkblot test: their darkest fears reflected in the shape of a fetus. It’s a girl! they would have shrieked, if she had only been a girl.
Instead, they whispered behind closed hospital doors, praying for a miracle to mend the fractures. But their pleas meant nothing against the silent force of a condition. At first, it was only a series of words, words that broke down into mere fragments of meaning.
Osteo- meaning “bone”
Genesis- meaning “origin” or “formation”
Imperfecta (plain and simple enough)- imperfect, defective, faulty
And so these words became the child’s genesis, a fragile foundation for a girl as headstrong as Aura. An imperfect formation, like all of humankind. But her fate was to be separate, lest she fall and fall apart.
The young lady grew up in a world populated by solid people with sturdy bones beneath their flesh. They could attend school without hovering parents who waited by the phone in the case of an emergency summon. They did not have to sit on the bench during recess, longing for just one game of tag that would not end in a hospital trip. Most of the world did not shatter at a single touch.
It was a curse made all the worse for that fact that no one else could see it unless they paid her a visit in the hospital and caught a glimpse of the way her bones seemed to curve like melting glass. But that made her feel less real, less human. So, she built her life upon the illusion of normalcy.
And she prayed that her child would not have to play this charade, shrouding herself to fit the mold of a human she only wished she could fill. That she would not build her fortress of skin so thick to resist the scorn. And in fairytales, prayers- like wishes- often come true. But not how one might assume.
Aura praised the birth as a miracle, but sometimes, a miracle was simply landing on the right odds. A coin toss of genes. Fate’s game of tic-tac-toe on a punnett square. Aura could pride herself on beating fate, but it seemed to have other plans.
She gifted her child the name Sage, meaning “to heal” for it was something she could never seem to do on her own. And Aura gave Sage all that she herself had not been able to experience in childhood, determined to witness her flourish.
And Sage grew under the care of two loving parents, the kind of fairytale union that could only be but a temporary spell. Aura loved the man named Atlas who carried the weight of the world on his shoulders until he could bear it no longer. His world was Aura, then it expanded like the universe to include precious Sage. He cared for his daughter when Aura’s body betrayed her and stole her strength, but he too was battling himself. He too had a curse, of sorts.
It is said that the natural state of life is entropy: disorder. And science has a way of slipping into stories, slipping people from our reach without our full awareness. Atlas bore the name of a constellation and a deadly condition called Cancer. And if he could have written his future in the stars, he might have lived long enough to see Sage’s tenth birthday. But she spent that day unable to leave the previous one where she knelt by his hospital bed, speaking desperately to his silent form.
Aura, perhaps, shattered that day, under the pressure of a million heart-ache fractures. Her entire world had tilted, unbalanced without Atlas and thrust into the gaping solitude of single motherhood. Sage had always been a quiet child, so much more like her gentle father than her headstrong mother. Sage and Atlas had been inseparable while Aura remained present, but separate, afraid proximity might spread her own bitterness like a curse. Afraid proximity might make her breakable in her own daughter’s eyes.
Aura seemed unable to touch Sage’s heart so they could heal together. They merely grieved behind their separate walls because they had always known it that way. Aura had never quite seen how Sage quivered like a leaf in the company of other children or how she drummed her leg when nervous or hugged her elbows tightly as she held back tears. Aura had once beamed and silently remarked, she can touch herself; she can hug without bruising or breaking; she can fully live. Aura tried, but she looked straight through her daughter like a pane of glass or perhaps a mirror. (We often have a tendency to see a vision of ourselves reflected in another, a vision that renders them invisible.)
And once Atlas returned to the stars, Aura did what she always had: mended her broken parts and guarded herself against the next potential blow. It made her feel unbroken; it made her feel helpless to reach anyone else. So, she only saw her healthy child grow into a healthy teenager with healthy bones and the future she had dreamed for her.
And it was true that Sage did not have bones of glass, nor did she fear that a prick on her skin would send her bedroom-bound for the next week. She had solid bones, but she lived in a fragile world: a world of glass. Her awareness could shatter at any moment, but there were no X-rays to pinpoint a fracture, nor surgery to patch up the gaping hole between her and reality.
De- to take or move away
Realization- the act of becoming fully aware
But she didn’t have access to that word, a word that might have helped her make sense of the mind-numbing feeling that followed in the wake of her father’s death. It was a fragile foundation for life. Not fully aware. Living in a half-dream half the time while others carried on like they had a solid form and a solid head on solid ground. It might have been her mind’s way of protecting her, for unlike her mother, she did not have to build a fortress around her body to shield her. She already had a solid fortress. It confined her. It tied her to memories of a childhood that had become bitter.
So, she untethered herself, trapped her fears inside a body that no longer felt her own. She found herself somewhere not a soul (not even herself) could reach.
And the world is a lonely place when separated by glass. Two young ladies who will never know the extent of the other’s pain but feel it all the same. If this was a fairytale, there would be some grand deed, some work of trickery against the fate that so cursed them, some binding of their souls to strengthen them beyond their frail forms. Some way to turn back time and recover all that they lost: their love, their family, their relationship.
And perhaps it is a cruel lesson to tell you the truth, that neither could manage to shatter the wall between them, however fragile it may be. But fate deals blows with coin tosses, not elaborate curses. Some would go as far as to say it is human nature, to bear the curse of pain and still wake up to face the world that dealt its blows. Some would go as far as to say that each human being has shattered bits, invisible to the naked eye, but no one has the power to see straight through flesh and bone. So, it is fair to say we’ll never know.
But there once were stories like the one I have told, and there are more stories still being lived, so they have yet no end. Stories like the mother born with bones of glass and her dear daughter, solid in a world of glass, each of them so desperate for the world, and yet each of them detached.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.