Inspired by this story, written by my friend.
To Esther Stargirl Suson, a Guardian brave and true.
Through the crackle of static, a few choked cries. She sighs. Oh no.
She knows better than to speak, to ask what’s wrong. Eventually, the incoherent sobbing will form into words, turn into familiar polysyllables mumbling, through the blowing of a nose and–strangely–the occasional giggle (Is it ever possible for a giggle to be sad? She would have never thought so, before.) the familiar refrain of lonely-alone-sad-left out-they don’t like me-what do I do-what’s wrong with me?
It’s a refrain anyone else would get tired of, but she never does.
Today, she hears echoes, indicating a large, empty space. She can almost see the girl, slumped into a comforting heap on a marble floor, body curled inward around herself as if warding off some invisible chill. Bag, books, bright guitar lie in a careful yet artless heap around her–messy enough to show the excess of emotion but careful enough to indicate that she is still conscious of the value of her laptop, her instrument, her handbag with its jumble of cosmetics and notebooks.
The sobbing wills her to speak. “Hey.”
“I’m s-sorry.” The voice that rushes towards her, as if on some invisible wind (and what is mobile signal but an invisible wind) is more like a muted guitar string than a brilliant, brassy chord.
“Don’t say sorry.” she replies, voice almost angry. She can stand most things, but when the girl apologizes it’s something she can’t stand. In the apology rings so much self-doubt and–more irritatingly–lack of trust in everyone else, that it’s all she can do sometimes not to yell. Instead, she asks, “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know.” But then the girl never knows, she just cries. She’s more emotion than intellect when caught in this maelstrom, and it’s only with the last bit of rationality she has that she reaches for the phone and dials the number and trusts invisible winds to bring to her a friend.
She doesn’t say anything. Instead, she lets the girl cry. After months–no–years of this, she knows better than to coo and offer sympathy. Sympathy is the last thing the girl needs. Instead, she needs to know someone can still hear her. The steady sound of her breathing is enough encouragement, as a stream of tears and spinning narrative and self-revulsion pours out of a tearful, digital mouth, her voice rising and rising in pitch and intensity and clarity as the rawness of tears turns slowly into the callous, jaded, self-deprecating humor that indicates the guards going back up, the carapace hardening.
Then, when the tears have subsided and crescendoed and subsided enough–when the slight hint of laughter creeps back into the muffled strings of the girl’s voice–she breathes, loudly, into the phone.
She does it again.
“That’s creepy.” The girl says, the strained half-laugh of recovery ringing in her tone.
She blows into the mouthpiece.
“What are you doing?”
“That’s the wind.”
She has tried to reason with the girl before, saying that it’s not just her fault, told her that she isn’t alone. But when the girl spirals, she spirals hard, and so deep down that even the best arguments can’t penetrate her grief. Instead, she reverts, becomes a wandering child, a girl looking to be something more than a girl, a Guardian (they both love that movie) longing to be seen and felt instead of just referenced as a metaphor. The girl needs something deeper than explanations.
The girl, she understands, needs a story. So she spins one for her.
“It’s the wind. Can you hear it?” and she blows into the mouthpiece again.
“Yeah, I can.” The brassiness is back, a veneer of cockiness and teenaged bravado, but she knows better than to believe it. She laughs, instead.
“Good. Most people believe it’s a figment of their imagination. But it’s not. It’s really there. It’s the wind.”
She smiles and continues. “Note, I say the wind. It’s not a wind. Not the stuff you learn about in science class. It’s the wind. A new wind. By new I mean it didn’t exist yet when God created the heavens and the earth.”
“It wasn’t always the wind. Once upon a time, it was a girl. A girl who could have stood on tables and banged pots to get noticed, but didn’t. Instead, she did something more dangerous–she hoped. She hoped someone would see her.”
“But no one did. So, one day, she curled up, buried her face in her knees, shut her eyes, and faded. She became a wind.”
“To be a wind is glorious. She flies, weightless, soaring, free, unfettered by loneliness or bitterness or burden. Instead there is a lightness, the joy of spinning upwards, of joining other winds and, together, rustling feathers and pushing clouds and blowing leaves and bringing the gentlest rain or the softest snows. There is power in being the wind, because even though nobody sees her, they feel her, and she cannot be ignored.”
“But though she could do it all, could run wild forever, full of reckless abandon, she doesn’t.”
“Close your eyes. Can you feel her?”
“She could have been just a wind, just a breeze among other breezes, blowing away test papers and flying paper airplanes. But she doesn’t. Instead, she remembers. And so she slips into the hidden places, into the corners of stairwells, the ends of hallways, the spaces under gymnasium bleachers, the loneliest corners of the world, because she knows, she knows she’ll find people there. Young people. Old people. Children. Teenagers. Adults. All with tired-looking eyes and choked-up voices, curled in on themselves and slowly, slowly disappearing, all the while hoping someone would see them.”
“She lets them feel her so they know someone does.”
“Most people think she’s their imagination. A few realize she’s real, but think she’s just a wind. It doesn’t matter. She knows they’ve gotten the message. The little breeze buoys them back up to the surface, gives them, for a few moments, the same weightless, soaring feeling of flight and freedom and being that she’s learned to feel. It’s enough, she knows, so that in the back of their minds they know that in that lonely, crushing moment, someone saw them. Someone knows they exist. That they aren’t invisible.”
“And that’s what makes her not a wind, but the wind.”
“You’re the wind,” she whispers, “You are invisible so you can see the invisible. You are broken so you can make things beautiful. You may never be seen, but you will always be felt, and when you are gone, something will always be different.”
There is a long silence, followed by a few, muffled sobs. These are not the blunt blustering of earlier. Instead, they are delicate things, their sound ringing pure and clear like a first string struck with just the right pressure. She hears a smile in them.
Finally, the girl whispers, “I’m not the wind.”
“Yes, you are.” She insists.
“No, I’m not,” the girl says. Then, after a long pause, there is the sound of a gentle whoosh of breath. The voice that follows is bright and clear, the sound of a whole chord, pure and strong.
“I’m not…but you are.”