Denise Callaway’s Picture Choice: 1st
Olivia snuggled into the sweater. The fall morning greeted them with a chill as the group huddled around the fire. Olivia pulled away from the perimeter. It was her morning...her rebirth...yet she fought tears. She remembered how Katherine had poured out her story the previous morning. Her rebirth was followed by rebuilding. Today would be focused on Olivia.
“Liv?” She looked up at the counselor. Arranged by her parents, Olivia knew they just wanted to make the past year go away. Make everyone else more comfortable. Ignore it. Deny it. It never happened. The counselor moved closer and dropped to the ground next to her. “Olivia. Are you ready?” The words were gently spoken, encouraging. Lifting up her eyes, tears started to fall unbidden. Her lip quivered as she slowly shook her head. She didn’t make a sound, but the others knew the atmosphere had changed. They watched the interchange quietly, not daring to approach, fearing that their morning would lead to their own undoing.
“Olivia? Let’s start slowly. We have all day. It doesn’t have to happen at a certain time.”
Biting her lip to keep it from quivering, she nodded slowly. The counselor removed a doll, blank and faceless, from the bag. She then pulled out the markers. “How do you see yourself?”
Liv stared at the doll unseeingly at first. Then she reached out and took a marker. In bold, ugly, black letters, she wrote “DAMAGED”.
“Is there more?” Olivia nodded. She traded colors. In red, she drew a mask across the face. “Hiding”, “not good enough”, “imperfect”. Blue - “lost” “afraid” “unheard”. She stopped, holding the marker loosely in her hand, staring in space. Everyone waited. Each word seemed to strike a chord with at least one person in the group. Picking up a gray marker, she added “rejected”. Someone gasped...tears started to gather among the others in the group. Her hand was still, she had something else to say but it was hard. She felt a hand on her shoulder. As if borrowing her strength, Olivia slowly wrote the words “stolen innocence.” Dropping the marker, everyone in the group understood.
Each member of the group wrote the words that needed to be said. “It is not your fault.” “We can be strong again.” “Warriors together”. “Little girls lost-UNITE!” Each empowering bandage was wrapped around the doll.
Her story was private. She did not wish to share it and had hoped that the small words would suffice. Looking around, she saw others watching her with understanding. They knew. She didn’t have to say. They knew at least the bare heart of it. The rest was details.
The counselor guided them to the fire. The doll was laid into the flames. “The victim is no more. You are reborn, strong. Your past does not disappear with the flames. But the fire shows that when the surface is licked away by the flame, you are still you. You are still valuable. You still matter.”
The ritual was complete. Liv looked at the ring full of ashes. Empty. The ritual was empty. It all still remained. Putting the mask back in place, she went through the motions. Expected behaviors in place. Tell them what they want to hear. She didn’t know yet that her ritual was not for herself, but for them. Her healing came later, as she reached out to the others, as she let go of her pain. She had only just begun to strip away the layers.
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Denise finds herself lost in a field of dandelions. With one blow, her dandelion dreams transform into the words on a page. Some of those dreams have found their way to her website: https://lostinafieldofdandelions.wordpress.com/