She had made her bed and she now had to lie in it: that was what her mother had told her and what she now believed. So she was lying in it, like a good little girl – meek and mild, silent and compliant: behaviour that had got her to where she was now – unhappy, stuck, unravelling. Because old habits die hard, you see, and it is difficult to change. How does one forget three decades of learned behaviour? How does one peel off and discard the labels people attach? They don’t, that’s how, because they can’t – not without brain surgery, a personality transplant, and she wasn’t knowingly booked in for either of those, not that it was presently possible to do such a fortuitous thing.
The problem wasn’t that she refused to lie down, but that part of her was resistant, unwilling to remain – still, stationary: to play at being dead. That part wanted to get up, get dressed, go out, interact with other people, move around in the world and soak up new experiences – dance, laugh, smile. That part (the defiant part, the black sheep in the otherwise unblemished flock) was unable to stall any further, resenting the chains that kept it tied and tangled, that pinned it down. Bending and folding were all very well and good – when it was night-time, when it was considered appropriate to sleep; but in between, on top of, in favour of everything else, to the exclusion of standing up and moving: well, that was unhealthy in the extreme. It meant continuing without change. It meant avoiding challenge. It meant watching the shadow at the end of the bed, acknowledging that it was creeping steadily closer and inviting it to do just that. It meant accepting that her position was futile, herself lost, her death inevitable, already written down – not that death was ever inescapable, but its proximity at her age should have been a lot further off, its shadow less visible, less evident, less of a daily torment and threat.
So, even though lying in her bed was infinitely easier than getting up and even though it was warm and comfortable and secure, it wasn’t safe anymore, not in the way that it once was. Sleep might provide escapism, books and TV distraction, but they only perpetuated the damage that had already been done and repeated and reinforced the cycle of detrimental behaviour that she should be trying hard to escape.
Knowing this, accepting it and then rejecting it as her future, she did as much as she was able as often as she could and although her pace was slow (more brisk stroll than sprint), she covered a little distance each day. And whether she moved backwards or forwards, left or right, up or down: the point was not the distance or the direction in which she travelled but that at least she had travelled at all and that movement (of any description) counted; quite for what she couldn’t say, but she could say something. It was impossible to be right all of the time – she wasn’t a robot. She was entitled to off days, to mistakes, to messing up. As long as she understood this and allowed herself to learn – from her misdemeanours, her failures – they too could be considered good.
She had made her bed, but she didn’t have to lie in it, no matter what anyone else said. And if those who had helped her to create it, providing the bedding and the bed, refused to now acknowledge their part in the procedure, that was their problem, their burden. They might want to wash their hands of her, turn their backs, laden her with guilt, but she didn’t have to take it. No longer a child, she had a choice. Sadly it was either take the blame and be the black sheep on the chilly exterior of a once hospitable garment, or refuse and be cast off. Freshly ostracised after years of compliant acceptance, she was suffering. She struggled to see why she was in the wrong, to understand their rejection, their resentment, their denial of her. It was lonely. It hurt. Her body cried out. She wanted to give in, to pick up the phone and beg for forgiveness. The urge was strong, hard to resist. She could only take it day by day and accept that while she might slip up, while she might even completely lose her way at times, with luck and determination, with faith, she would reach her destination in the end and emerge from the voyage better equipped. And if in the meantime (or even then, after) they changed their minds and invited her back, begged her forgiveness, she could always let them return. Nothing was final. Clinging to that helped, so long as she remained realistic to the likelihood of its physical manifestation in her life. If the past was anything to go by, and it was usually an accurate indicator of behaviour and intent, then her family was unlikely to act without her initiation, the extension of a branch or a flag. It was tempting even now to reach out and extend, to beg, but unwise, very unwise. She needed to unlock the door of the cell not part company with the key. She needed to make her own way, write her own story, be her own guide. Their influence was damaging and pointless. It kept her scared and small. It made her feel like a bad person. Alone might be hard, but it was sensible and benevolent, it was looking out for herself – something she had to do, something she had failed to do up until now. It was a fresh start, a clean slate, a chance to go back to the beginning and start over. She had slept for too long. It was time to wake up.