March 11, 2017

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To Know Your Worth and Believe In It

She swore the walls were encroaching on her, inch by inch, without her notice. Every morning, she would awake to them being just a smidgeon closer to her, squeezing the air out of her tiny apartment and suffocating her. Some days, the walls seemed to swim, blurring one into the next, the colors swirling into a mess of confusion and paranoia. She felt dizzy from merely staring at them, becoming nauseous and lightheaded. Most days, she could hardly move from her bed for fear of vomiting or fainting. Normally, she would despise this task. She loved meeting people and seeing new things and going on spontaneous adventures. Or at least she had before…

But she really didn’t want to talk about That. Every time it came up in conversation with her mother, she too quickly changed the subject: Have you heard about that new store opening up two blocks down? Did you see the trailer for that new movie? I don’t think I told you, I got a promotion! Anything and everything to get her mind off of That. She would cope with That in her own way, in her own time. How hard was that for her mother to understand? Everyone handled things differently. Maybe her way consisted of burrowing herself into her apartment and hiding away from the world.

Not that it had worked. Instead, she lost her job. And most of her friends. Even her neighbors started avoiding her, with the knowledge that anything they said might very well upset her fragile mind frame. No one spoke to her but her mother. No one came around to ask how she was doing or check in on her. She didn’t care, though. She didn’t need them to cope. She would handle That perfectly fine without them.

That’s what she told herself anyway.

Slowly, her bank account drained. She had nothing left. Nothing to pay rent. Nothing to buy groceries. Not that she did that anyway. Most nights she ordered takeout on one of the many apps and waited for them to arrive, handing over her tip immediately and taking her food without saying a word. Sometimes, she went for days without speaking. Her mother worried that if she kept up like this she would one day forget how to speak English at all and would resort to grunts and hand signals.

One day, her mother showed up unannounced at her door and dragged her outside. “But, mom, I’m not dressed,” she protested. Her mother didn’t care. All she knew was that her daughter desperately needed to get out of the house and see the world again. She packed her into her car and they started to drive. When she asked her mom where they were going, she received no answer. And so they drove. And drove. And drove. She lost track of the hours they drove. She lost track of the roads they took and the state borders they passed. She didn’t know if they had been on the road for merely hours or if it had been days or weeks yet. Time became nothing to her.

Out of the blue, her mother stopped the car. She looked out of the window and had no clue where they had stopped. Turning to her mother, confusion painting her every expression, she opened her mouth to speak but her mother stopped her, a finger laid gently across her lips. “Chelsea, you need to listen to me. Hear me out. Will you promise me you will?” Chelsea nodded. “I’m worried, honey,” her mother continued. “Do you realize how long it’s been? You’ve holed yourself up for months. He—”

“Mom,” Chelsea started, a warning in her voice.

“Chelsea, you said you’d hear me out.”

“But, mom—”

“No buts.” Chelsea glared daggers at her mother, but her mother glared them right back, eventually becoming victorious. She went on, “He isn’t coming back to you, sweetie. I need you to tell me that you know that.” Chelsea kept eerily silent. “Chelsea, do you know that?” Nothing. “Chelsea, please tell me you know that.” Chelsea broke, the emotional dam cracking into irreplaceable shards. Her mother took her gently into her arms, saying nothing, and the two women sat that way for upwards of thirty minutes, saying nothing.

“I know, mom,” Chelsea’s small voice broke the silence. “I know he isn’t coming back to me. He left me for another woman. Someone prettier. And smarter. Who makes more money than I do. Or did. She has kids, mom. She wants them. She can have them. And I’m just…” She shook her head, her chest tightening, her vision darkening. “I’m useless, mom.”

Her words came across oddly hollow, especially those last few. I’m useless, mom. Hearing her daughter utter such untruth pained Elizabeth. She had worked hard to make sure her daughter knew her worth, knew that she wasn’t defined by her outer beauty or by who was attracted to her or by what she could do, but she still found herself in this position, with her heartbroken daughter as she sobbed over the man who had stolen her heart only to shatter it when he told her that she couldn’t give him what he wanted, whether that be pleasure or money or power. Or, yes, even kids.

Wordlessly, Elizabeth drew her daughter in, planting a kiss on her head. She silently tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear, planting a kiss on her temple. She stared into her daughter’s eyes, willing her eyes to tell her that she was anything but useless. That she was kind and beautiful and strong. That she worked harder than anyone she knew. That she had this gentleness about her that even some of the best mothers she knew didn’t have. That she was worth more than the fact that she couldn’t have kids. It didn’t matter that her now ex-husband had only wanted her for what he thought she could give him. He was a shallow prick who had taught her beautiful daughter exactly the opposite of what she was.

Still staying silent, Elizabeth started the car and drove them to a little diner where she bought Chelsea a milkshake, just as she used to when she was younger and would come home crying from school because someone had teased her. As they sat there, sipping their milkshakes, the silence between them slowly shattered itself. They became the mother-daughter pair that they had been back then. Chelsea’s heartbreak never came up once, and not because they actively avoided it. It happened organically.

As they left, Chelsea addressed That. “He was an asshole.” Her mother stared at her, jaw hanging slightly open in shock and awe. “I can’t believe I loved him.” Her voice sounded strained, as if struggling to keep cool.

“I can!” Elizabeth comforted her. “He was handsome. He had a great job. He was so, so slick and charming. Any young woman would have fallen head over heels for him like you did.”

“But I thought he loved me back, but all he loved was himself and what he thought I could do for him.”

“Like you said, Chels, he’s an asshole. You don’t deserve that. You deserve someone who will treat you right, who will love you despite the fact that you fell for an asshole who only wanted you for your body.” A small laugh bubbled up and out of Chelsea’s chest. A welcome sound. Elizabeth hadn’t heard her daughter’s laugh since That happened. It brought a huge grin to her face.

“Do you think anyone can love me despite that?” Chelsea’s laughter asked.

Elizabeth scrunched up her face dramatically as she paused for effect. She already had her answer. Had it before the question even broke the surface. “Absolutely.”

***

Prompt: Location, a small modern loft. Complication, recently gone through a divorce. Emotions, stress causing severe anxiety. Detail/Twist, forced to give up personal belongings.

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