I walk to the edge of myself and peer into the great abyss that lives behind me.
1. A dirty blond-haired girl with eyes the color of raindrops plays a childhood game of hide and seek. Her name is stamped on her forehead – Unbalanced. She has been saddled with it since birth. Unbalanced climbs into a shiny green-and-white Ford parked in the yard, scorched by the noonday sun, and plants herself on the floorboard. It’s her favorite place to hide. Her imaginary friend, whom she has affectionately named Protector, counts in an emphatic voice. ONE Mississippi, TWO Mississippi, THREE… She runs straight for the shiny green-and-white Ford parked in the scorching heat. She knows this routine by heart. Pieces of her friend lay on the floorboard.
Gathering her up, she carries her inside. She’s done this eight hundred and ninety-five times before. Always picking up the pieces of her broken China doll friend and putting them back together again. A day and a half later, they play this game once more. Protector counts while Unbalanced hides. As usual, she heads straight for her familiar hiding place. She is greeted by remnants of bone and flakes of sallow skin on a crimson stained floorboard. She looks straight into the eyes of the discarded matter.
She doesn’t flinch.
2. A coming-of-age girl, with the body of a fading orchid, stands alone in the bathroom – her mouth wired shut. Pieces of barbed wire are wrapped around her head. Mocking voices of laughter barrel their way down the crowded corridored walls made of concrete block and shove open the bathroom door. She doesn’t know these intruders anymore. She turned her back on them long ago.
She also abandons Protector.
3. A girl, taking up residence in a woman’s body, finds a new Protector; everyone else calls him by a different name. To him, she is a mystery. To her, he is stability. She loves him like a life raft in stranded deep. He loves her like a buried treasure of rings of gold, so they run away together. She doesn’t know how big dreams can be. He cradles her in his arms as her white satin dress, with the white butterfly appliqué on its train, slides to the floor. They move into a house trailer on Wilderness Trail. Sunshine keeps the clouds at bay. Two years rush by.
4. Then they come in succession:
She cries upon their arrival. She’s never felt love like this before. For the first time, she wears the name Protector.
She can barely catch her breath. Lullabies. Late night feedings. Faces flushed with fevers. Giggles. Wide-eyed wonder at some newfound discovery. Bicycle rides and skinned knees bathed in kisses and bandaged with tenderness.
Some days she feels a sliver of herself slowly being shaved away.
5. Thirty looms overhead like a billowing sky of blackened clouds. Old Man Winter seeps into her bones and unpacks his bags, setting up housekeeping. Lullabies and kisses are replaced with deathbed vigils and reassurance from kids wearing old people faces, their wide-eyed wonder slowly robbed of its innocence. She answers to the name Unbalanced once again.
Some days, she summons the courage to stare death in the face. She comes out of hiding. She showers the man, who loves her like buried treasure, with soft kisses. She rides bicycles with the kids behind their house on Maple Street, their sweet, cherub faces returning with rapturous laughter tumbling out of their mouths. They make a soundtrack full of songs like this.
6. She puts pen to paper and writes the story of someone else’s life. Unbalanced names the protagonist Euphoria. Her deep brown eyes perfectly match her long locks of hair that sometimes trail the clear, blue sky. Euphoria plants a Rose of Sharon in her garden. She waters it and watches as it blooms in the shade of flushed cheeks. After spring and summer fade, Euphoria grows tired and lays down on the cool earth blanketed by her locks of long brown hair. With Songbird on her lips, she drifts off to sleep. Unbalanced hides away the unfinished story under her pillow.
7. For Unbalanced, moods bounce up and down like a basketball. Number Four is born. Her birth brings joy and new life into the house on California. That doesn’t keep Unbalanced from bouncing. Summer, autumn, and winter roll into spring. She goes to bed for two weeks with her lips glued shut. Her mother becomes a surrogate. The man who loves her like a buried treasure drives her to appointments and feeds her prescripted medications.
8. Mostly, she stops bouncing and learns to walk a straight line. Sometimes she gets off track. She develops a deeper love and appreciation for the man who loves her like a buried treasure. Occasionally, she pulls out the soundtrack of bicycle rides and laughter on sweet, cherub faces. They decide to make a new one. Its songs sound just as sweet. She buys a camera and tells stories with her pictures. She pulls out the unfinished novel from under her pillow and lets her words flow from pen to page. She fills in the blanks with dreams that are vast as the heavens and wide as the sea.
She climbs to the top of the abyss, arms outstretched. I meet her there.
Lisa Acton Smith and her sixteen-year-old daughter, Sophie, share the gift of artistry. Lisa is a photographer and writer, while Sophie is a photographer and musician. They live in Brookhaven, MS.
If interested in learning more, you can find Lisa’s photography on: