Afraid of Shadows

You see, I want a lot.
Maybe I want it all:
The darkness of each endless fall,
The shimmering light of each ascent.
-Rainer Marie Rilke, The Book of Hours


I am terrified of goodbyes. And cowered by conflict.

You see, growing up, I kept losing people. They disappeared promptly about the time I could draw them, as stick figures in homes with apple trees. I had to erase my mother, mindful to draw her sometimes, sitting with me by the swing at the school playground. Another day I had to blot out a father, and again and again the fathers after. Wipe off a sibling or two, cousins, childhood friends, and tweak the scenery about twenty times.  Keep sending off, that exact time you found the pluck to trace a heart around home.

And then there was the fighting.  Things broken. People too.  And you identify amplified voices, the banging of doors and the shattering of glass with someone leaving soon. That, or the fighting never ends and you’re helplessly unarmed but for a closed door and a muffled cry. Fighting back inflames them even more. Invites retribution that bounces off you but will strike at those you love. And you don’t want to stand up against rage, as one day you might not be there to lock the doors or get everyone to huddle inside.

So the shards of pain take shape. Into fearful shadows that you tuck away in a corner. And the shadowy self will teach you to be stoic. Never to have attachment to things, to places, or to people. Train you to swiftly run away from loving enough because it feels wretched when they run off. Teach you every trick so that no one walks out anymore, you cast them aside instead. Goad you into imagining you are unfazed by goodbyes.

And the years of dulling cries behind doors and huddling, numbs you to injustice. You can’t stand to be around piercing sounds.  So you keep the peace. You will not want to fight, even for yourself. Stay rather in the shadows of solitude. Let someone have the coveted prize, even when it’s yours. And it kills you to say no, afraid you’ll provoke someone’s ire. And every time your insides flare up, the anger won’t let out. So your heart races, your skin gets cold and clammy, your stomach churns, and all you can do is cry.

But you begin to live and understand you have to wrestle with demons.   Otherwise you will balk at attachments, and so never experience the brunt of joy and pain from loving someone enough. Otherwise you never get to unfold your own myth, unwittingly live off someone else’s.

And so you revisit the shadows you tucked away. Dare notice that if you feed them enough light, they are balked of their prey. That if you named them bit by bit, they answer to you.  And that the shards that once shaped your shadows could create the same cracks where light can enter.

I have yet to tame my shadows. But I reckon, courage means you fear something, and yet you attempt and be brave anyway.    Just like you learn to be bolder about love because you’ve risked abandonment here and there and people stayed on.  Or that you have confronted, opposed, said: “No” rather than maybe, and saw that nothing was broken. Believe that you’ve freed yourself up to daringly venture into things, places or people because you are unfazed by goodbyes. See how you can transmute your detachment into compassion because you can step into someone else’s shoes without being them. Consider that maybe you have a skill for conflict, because you can resolve them without amplified voices or shattering glass. And so you find your courage in these dark shadowy places. Ease your way into befriending the dark twin that enslaves you.  I’d like to own up to it all. “The darkness of each endless fall, the shimmering light of each ascent.”

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