Person laying on bed with a mask

I think I remember when I first met Molly. She was fourteen months old, standing just a little bit above my knee. Her hair was short and messy, clinging loosely around her shoulders. Her mom greeted us by the door with a smile when we walked in, and I returned the gesture. Peering over the baby gate, I could just catch two tiny legs running rampantly around the playroom, a blur of little limbs and pastel pants. I don’t think we stayed too long. An hour, maybe? Probably less. It was only a meet and greet after all, to see if I was a good fit for the family. 

I, on the other hand, was fourteen years old, just easing into ninth grade. Well I guess “easing” is the wrong word. More so barreling into at full speed, like driving a car with a broken steering wheel. My first day of school started out on crutches thanks to an ACL tear that happened at volleyball tryouts a few weeks prior.

But I kept my head up. It could be worse, I’d say silently, looking in the mirror. At least now you have this babysitting job! That was true—I’d gotten the babysitting job. Things weren’t so bad. 

The second time I met Molly must’ve been on a Tuesday, as physical therapy took up the first day of the week. My mom dropped me off. I remember thinking how pretty their house was. The trees must’ve been pretty, too, as it was just settling into October. The leaves seemed to change more quickly then.

I can’t recall what we did. Play pretend picnic, maybe? “Curious George” would’ve been on—that’s her favorite show. It became something I looked forward too, going there after school. When the sun started going down, we’d curl up on the couch while the TV played in the background. More than once she fell asleep on me–she always wanted to sit on my lap. At first it was a bit of a hassle, as I’d go home with aching thighs. But then I grew very fond of those moments. It was one of the very few times I felt warm again. 

Warm. I missed feeling warm. With each passing day I only seemed to grow emptier. I was falling with the leaves. What had happened to me? Who was I becoming? I’d look into the mirror some nights and ask those questions, staring into a pair of eyes that used to be mine some months ago.

There was no answer. 

My leg got worse. That’s what’s the orthopedist said when I went back for my visit. “We’re going to have to put you in a cast.”

Cast? What? I knew what a cast was, obviously, but what purpose would that serve for an internal knee injury? 

“We have to get your knee straight,” he answered, as if on cue. 

And that was that. They sealed me up in plaster, extending from my pelvis down to my ankle. I got to pick the color, though. I chose green. I don’t think I even cared anymore. It was almost a blessing in a way, to be distracted from a pain that hurt much worse on the inside. 

It was at school where I finally broke down. I ate in the lobby that day; the cafeteria was far too crowded to prop my leg up anywhere. Life was imploding rapidly–that’s what it felt like. That deep, dark emptiness had grown, and finally swallowed me up in it. I didn’t even touch my food–I didn’t want to eat. 

I left straight from lunch and walked to the nurse’s office. I just laid there for a while. I was in the bed closest to the wall–I remember that well because I wanted to face away while I cried. Why was I even crying? My emotions were so deeply entangled that I couldn’t trace anything back, not even now. I couldn’t tell what I felt–or rather, didn’t feel–or why.

I went to the guidance office after that. I’d never been there before, but it was only about a stone’s throw away from where I was, so finding it was easy enough. “Can I see a counselor?” I think that’s what I said. They got me in right away, and there I was, sitting across from Mrs. Markowitz. 

There’s something so liberating about letting yourself fall apart, as if you must allow all the pieces to hit the ground just to pick them back up again. And that day I didn’t care anymore. Nothing mattered in that moment. The tears fell without restraint. I told her everything. I think it was when I mentioned taking pills they finally called my mom in. Parents only got notified when you did something suicidal. When we were done, Mrs. Markowitz asked me if I wanted to go back to class. “Can you tell I’ve been crying?” I asked. 

“How about you just take the rest of the day off?” She said, giving a soft, sad smile. 

I did.

I had to babysit that day. I’m not sure if I had a choice, but I knew I wanted to go regardless. My mom came since I didn’t have much mobility. Most the afternoon was spent on their couch in the playroom, watching Molly entertain herself on the floor below. As the hours passed by, I tried to dissect that day, imagining what life would be like now. The gig was up. No longer would I have to wear a mask that signified everything was ok. I couldn’t tell if that was good thing. But I did know that it felt good to let go. It felt good to breakdown. And it felt good sitting on that couch in the playroom, watching the sun go down as “Curious George” played in the background. 

Things changed after that, not immediately, but they did change. Soon enough, freshman year was over, and I realized that I could get through anything after getting through that. Sophomore year came and went, too, along with junior and senior, all with their own unique battles and triumphs. 

And now, I’m a freshman in college–a milestone I never thought I’d let myself reach. My knee healed up, too, though I never really went back to sports. Molly’s five. I went to her birthday party last month just before leaving. Slowly, I’ve been crawling my way back to the person I used to be, the girl before all the bad things went down. It’s easier now, because I see pieces of her in places I didn’t before. I see her in the deer that run wild and free in the fields behind our house. Or in the soft colors of the sunset. I even see her in myself again, when I write like no one’s reading. And I see her in Molly, too, in the way she loves life so zealously. 

I remember watching Molly play at her party. They rented a moon bounce that day. She must have fallen down a hundred times, but she got right back up again. She’s always been that way–resilient. How strange it was that we were both infinitely different people when we first met, how many things I’d gone through that she’d never known. I wonder if she realizes how much I cherish all those little peaceful moments we shared together. 

Maybe I’ll tell her someday when she’s older. 

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