Written and illustrated by Kay Cook
Date Posted: Monday, 14 June 2010
Kay Cook is a Family Support Worker at a Pupil Referral Unit in the West of England.
The Little Girl Who Was Lost Inside Her Armour
“Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death” Anais Nin
Once upon a time many shooting stars ago, a child was born. It was in the time after the last imperial battle had been fought in Europe and before the arrival of the beaded flower people who brought with them the hope of better things to come.
The time of her birth nestled uncomfortably between the two, but had a quality of its own that seemed to be steeped in nostalgia and harkening the arrival of many strange and wondrous things unknown to the people of that time.
People began to acquire little boxes that showed you moving pictures of things happening in parts of the kingdom that they had only heard of before. The horses were put to pasture as they were no longer needed. They were being replaced by mechanical machines that could carry people to their destinations swiftly and with greater comfort. Washing day was no longer washing day. There was now a throbbing,vibrating piece of equipment that did the task by itself!
She was blissfully unaware of this however, as she stretched and curled in the great belly of her mother, warm and safe, nurtured and nourished.
She was totally unprepared for the big day when her mother’s body seemed to want to expel her from her deep confines and she came hurtling and screaming into her new world, a place of bright light, white noise which was unfamiliar, strange and hostile. She felt certain that nothing would ever be the same again.
She smelt out her mother and tried to focus on her features. She wanted to be sure who this woman, protector, comforter and nurturer was. She smelt of fresh lavender and sunshine and her beauty was dazzling to all. Chestnut curls framed a face full of gaiety and laughter, eyes as green as emeralds and deep as the deepest ocean. The child felt truly blessed at her good fortune.
However, it was quickly evident that all was not well and her mother’s pretty features would more and more often be distorted by rage. The infant would be left to cry herself to sleep,soiled, lonely and hungry.
Nonetheless she managed to thrive although it could be seen that she had not inherited her mother’s gift of beauty. Her mother was obviously disappointed, say, “I can’t understand why you are so ugly. It’s a great pity you do not look more like me.”
As she grew she would sometimes peep in the mirror and was saddened to see her plain little face with eyes lost in jam jar spectacles. She so much wanted to be the pretty daughter that she felt her mother deserved.
Luckily, for no child is completely overlooked in the luck stakes, she had a very kind grandmother who used to wrap her tightly in her arms and sing to her. She would put curls in her long straight hair, rouge her cheeks and deck her in beads and flowers and waltz around the room with her. They would laugh together and she would tell the child the story of the ugly duckling which gave her hope that she too one day would shed her dowdy feathers and turn into a beautiful swan and finally win the love of her mother.
The grandmother was a little quiet but the girl thought that she must be apprehensive at the thought of this new experience.
Woosh, click, clack, chuggety, chug, woosh, chug chug woosh, and they arrived at the end of their journey where they walked through fields and meadows, sometimes stopping to dip their feet in little passing streams and they refreshed themselves with the ice cold water.
The girl could see a big house a little way in the distance and with the natural curiosity of a four year old, she ran towards it. In her excitement she forgot to think about where she was putting her feet and stumbled and fell, grazing her knee very badly and tearing her pretty new dress. Tears fell from her eyes, flowing hot and furiously and without control, but she could see her mother and grandmother approaching and so hope that comfort wasn’t very far to be found.
Her grandmother scooped her up into her arms and carried her to the big house, the door of which was opened by a tall, stern, efficient, brisk woman dressed in the uniform of a nurse. She took the girl from the grandmother and led her down a myriad of dark and winding corridors that seemed to go on forever. The girl kept trying to look over her shoulder to see if her mother and grandmother were following but they were nowhere to be seen.
She was taken to a bright anti-septic room that glistened with the sterility and coldness of the white tiles that adorned its walls. For a fleeting moment the girl was reminded of the strangeness of her ascent into the world that this room seemed to reflect.
The lady,whom she later learned she was to address as Matron, dealt with her wound efficiently, too efficiently since the ointment she used stung the girl’s knee badly, but Matron ignored her cries saying, “We are not going to get along very well you and I if you make a fuss over things like that.” The girl gritted her teeth and asked if she might now be reunited with her family but was told that this was her home now and that, “Goodbyes were never any good for people.” There was no point in prolonging the moment. So this is how she discovered that her mother and her grandmother had chosen this new home for her. It was obvious to her that neither of them had or ever could love her and that now she was truly alone.
From that day forth she retreated into a world of her own where she did not feel heard or seen. She could barely bother to create her own physical image for others to see and because of this she began to fade ; just a little at first and then more and more.
One day she could barely discern her own reflection when she combed her hair at the mirror. On this same day her guardian angel, who had been watching over her and had become concerned about her deterioration, appeared to her and said, “My dear sweet thing you are in danger of disappearing altogether into the spirit world from which we all come. It is not time for you to do this and yet I see you lack the courage to continue. What I shall do for you is create a suit of armour in your image that you shall mantle yourself in from henceforth. This will give you time to heal yourself and gather your strength back together.” And with that she was gone! The girl turned to the mirror and could see her outward features sharpening and taking on a more distinct appearance.
People around her noticed and acknowledged her a little more now. She felt comfortable and protected behind her shield. She was a quiet studious girl who was gaining popularity as she was always so happy to please. She was never one to argue, make demands or lose her temper when others might.
From time to time within the safety of her outer protection she would attempt to express a feeling of something she didn’t like. For example one day, when she went to visit her mother, one of her mother’s many suitors spat and jeered at the girl when he noticed her look at her mother longingly and wishing that her mother return her gaze. Inside she felt angry, cheated and rejected but by this time her armour had become the stronger part of herself and would not give her a voice. So it went on until she shrivelled up inside of herself and her protector took on the role as spokesperson for them both.
The time came when it was decided that the girl should take a husband. Willingly, for she was always willing to please, she accepted her mother’s advice in this and was subsequently wed in a gown of white velvet and was given away by her beloved brother Graeme in the absence of the father she had never known.
It was a grey and dull day just before Christmas when she was wed and she but just sweet seventeen. Her husband was a merchant from a nearby village. Although he was a man older than her in years he wasn’t an unkind person and I really do believe that he did his best to make her happy after a fashion.
The beaded, barefoot and bejewelled ones had arrived and the girl was content to go to their gatherings and listen attentively to the changes they would bring. She would join them in their euphoric, psychodelic search for better things. She was happy to sit amongst the trees and watch their deep and ancient breathing. She would lie on her back staring at the sky and listen to the clouds as they passed and shifted creating sounds of celestial orchestras. She felt for the first time a sense of belonging to something as if her roots were embedded in the same natural source as the roots of the elders and the oaks that gave her so much pleasure. It was as if the nature spirits saw her armour for what it was, disregarded it, and connected to the essence of herself which for so long since the dark days had been imprisoned within.
The merchant did not like this. He complained bitterly to her mother that the gold she had given him to take the girl off her hands was no compensation for her wayward behaviour. Why oftimes he came home to find her just gazing out of the window dreaming while the hearth remained unbrushed and there was no dinner on the table. And worst still, the marriage was not fruitful. The girl must surely be barren though maybe that was a blessing considering her mother had always told everyone that a girl as plain as she would surely only bear a child in her own image and that would be no good for anyone least of all the unborn child. All this the girl heard and yet in her sorrow she still desperately wanted to please as she awaited the cycle of the moon. With each month passing her sorrow grew for the lack of a child growing within her.
Time passed by and into all their lives came a young woman whose beauty was second only to the girl’s mother. Not only this, the young woman was already with child having lain with a young knight. The knight had been sent overseas to fight in another land and it was thought he might never make it back to his own shore to see the dappled sunlight dance upon the fair face of the young babe.
The girl’s mother and the merchant were enraptured by the woman’s charm and beguiling ways. As her belly began to swell they swooned with love for her and never failed to rub this like salt into the girl’s wounds. With each cruel jibe and comparison her armour grew stronger and more resolute. The real voice within her was now locked away deeper in her depths and never audible.
Not a long time had passed and the girl was still in great sorrow when she came across a young jester who would woo and court her and tell that she was really quite pretty. She was so suprrised that someone should see her thus that it turned her head completely and she decided to leave the merchant, her mother and the woman with child behind her and start a life long happiness with the jester. However that was short lived because she could only see herself as pretty through the jester’s eyes and when she looked at herself through her own eyes she still saw the plain drab girl that had always been there.
Just when she herself had given up hope completely and, quite often reader, this is the case, her handsome prince did appear! He was everything that a handsome prince should be. He was handsome certainly but there is an intriguing twist to this tale. It would seem that in her absence he had been to her village, seen the lady and child and he too had been smitten by her beauty, so much so that he had fallen on his knees and begged her to marry him.
Alas the marriage had been a troublesome union and he came to the girl in deep sorrow The girl didn’t mind. She knew that she could use her love to heal and comfort him. Besides she thought that if he could truly love her then surely she must be just as lovable as her one time rival and that at last people – especially her mother – might begin to see her as beautiful. The girl and her new love were happy in their life together. She used to gaze at him while he was sleeping and thanked all the lucky stars in the heavens for sending him to her. She lived more comfortably within her armour and began to forget that it was even there at all.
One day, great joy ! Three moons had passed and she discovered she was finally with child. There were great celebrations and even her mother was radiant once again delighted at the birth of her first grandchild. She was a beautiful golden child and the girl thought she would burst with joy for her. This was soon followed by the birth of a son and their happiness was whole and complete or so they thought.
One cruel day after the celebration of the winter solstice, she went as usual to suckle her son at her breast. She looked forward to feeling his soft young body in her arms and to breathing in his warm sweet smell but as she leant over his cradle to lift him to her, she found that he was cold and lifeless. Without reason the angels had plucked his soul from him as he slept innocently and unaware.
Once again she plunged into the depths of her deep sorrow, grateful now for the strength and rigidity of her armour. The face of her once handsome prince was now etched and distorted with his own pain. I think this was when the girl first began to realise that he too had armour which he had shielded himself with. Now they were both impenetrable to each other. He made his son a beautiful casket which he worked on night and day till it was completed, decorating it with rainbows, painting in the colours with all the love that he felt that he hadn’t had the chance to share with him in his short time in this world.
Although the sun continued to shine, the light had gone out of their lives and nothing was ever the same again. Sometimes they gazed at each other longingly but all they could see was all the sadness that reflected back from each other from the cold, hard, shiny and metallic outer protection that encased them and trapped them beneath. And so the seasons passed.
The girl became more and more oblivious of the real essence within her even though it tried to make itself heard by displaying behaviour that was weak, difficult and demanding. The girl was embarrassed at her attempts to make herself known. She felt nothing, knew no one and was unheard and still incapable of giving and receiving love.
Perhaps it comes as no surprise that yet again she was ripe and ready to let another have chance to prove her worth. She showed no resistance when she heard the faint strain of a lilting penny whistle calling to part of herself like a siren weaving its evocative spell and entrancing her. Like the pied piper the minstrel from a far off land arrived at her feet and she could put up no resistance and let him lead her to his new land across the ocean taking two young daughters with her and the loss of her son that still lived within her.
Although they didn’t share the same language the girl felt the minstrel spoke to her from his soul. There was great passion and it was as if he had woken something deep within her. He knew of her great sorrow and would declare his deep love for her and the promise of creating another son between them. She put her handsome prince out of her mind as his pain continued to make communication difficult between them and threw herself into her new life, learning the customs and habits of her new land.
But once again this new happiness was short lived for the girl was so out of touch with her needs and desires it was impossible to satisfy them. She felt driven by a force that she did not recognise and, wrapping her daughters in her great cloak and whispering reassurances and singing tales of hope and new things to come, she ran away into the night. For now her daughters were the only ones she would let come close to her. It was as if with them she could be a child again and they would share her truth with her. To them she was truly beautiful; the most beautiful being in their world and this helped to heal and give her strength. For many days and nights they wandered through this unknown territory looking for shelter and a place to stay, living on berries and nuts and fruits that the woodland creatures shared with them. Swimming in the streams that trickled across their path and at night they snuggled together ‘neath the great generous folds of the girl’s cloak.
One day they were laughing, carefree and happy as they sat weaving flowers into one another’s hair when they felt a shadow descend upon them. It was the minstrel who had been scouring the land for them. He had come to claim the girl back for his own. She passively relented, grateful that indeed she must have some merit in his eyes for him to search her out thus. They lay together that night at the foot of an ancient oak tree gazing at the stars and the constellations. He played her tunes of love on his pipe and once again she felt almost drowsy with happiness and the feeling of belonging to someone. On that very night a son was indeed conceived within her but despite all this her armour would still only deflect the love that was offered to her and would not penetrate her depths and inner self to free the girl within.
Their son was born bringing great happiness and a feeling of uniting the essences of the different lands and cultures of his parents. To hold a boy to her breast went some way to ease the ache of the son that would now have been through seven summers. Still this was not enough for the girl. She still felt fragmented, splintered and incomplete.
Once again she ran away, fleeing blindly, needing to feel the roots of her own land and its people once more. As the vessel bobbed and weaved its way through the waves she saw her homeland in the early morning light looking to her like a beacon, solid and beautiful as only travellers who have been away could testify. She stood on the deck with her small children telling them tales yet again of a new future, another beginning and for the first time in a long while she felt that she believed in the hope that she was offering to them. She must stand still and find the peace and the knowledge that she knew they would all need to grow,learn and discover.
She settled with her children in a beautiful part of her own country that seemed reminiscent of the old days and ways before the great changes that had taken place in the warring ways of her people and the foreign tribes struggling for power and land. Beauty nestled in the graceful landscapes of the green valleys and grazing sheep, and in the plentiful abundant forests. In these surroundings the children and the girl began to think of a future that felt like it had a chance of really belonging to them and not being borrowed from others.
The girl heard talk that there was to be a gathering of wise ones who wished to initiate and teach the message of truly knowing yourself and others. Looking deep within yourself to confront in a gentle way those hidden aspects of yourself. How to really really see, smell, feel and free your senses in a way that would make this possible for others to go out and take this message with them into the community Something in this touched the girl and she decided to go and see for herself whether she could be part of this experience.
Remember this : that on this she was no more aware of carrying herself within her armour than any others that have lost themselves within.
A wise man came towards her as she entered the circle looking at her kindly with great compassion and wisdom for he had met many others in her predicament. He led her to a great meadow rich with the flowers of the field and told her to lie down in the lush soft grass. He told her to relax, close her eyes and just listen to him with all her senses not just her ears. He then spoke to her gently and soothingly asking her to imagine that she was travelling along a great beam of light and told her that at its end she would find things that she had forgotten that she had been searching for. It was a truly magical moment as she suddenly became aware of and acquainted with golden images of her inner self at various stages of their growth and journey.
They were filled with the light and love and they embraced and held each other close recognising their separatedness but at the same time celebrating their oneness. She felt great joy and freedom and felt that she never wanted to leave this space but she could hear the distant voice of the wise man telling her she could return here whenever she needed to, knowing that what she had learned would now never be forgotten.
I was going to say that she came back to her senses but I think maybe it was the other way around and that her senses had come back to her! What is left to be said is that the girl now recognised her armour for what it was and how it worked. It was now no longer an incumbent that suppressed and hid the delicate parts of herself for these parts she had now recognised, embraced and empowered. It was more like a diaphanous sheath, no longer solid and unyielding but light and with some transparency that no longer locked her away within, but enveloped her with dignity and grace working with harmony and respect with and on behalf of the little girl within.
And do you know what ? Sometimes now when she catches herself in the mirror, the reflection that looks back at her is actually sometimes rather beautiful!