Trigger warning: Depression
She tilts her head up and feels the specks of cold land gently upon her face. She can see nothing in the darkness above save for the pure white of the snowflakes that offset against it. They fall slowly; time is meaningless to them.
It's almost mocking—the slowness—when paired with her ever-increasing urgency.
She can't remember how she got here or how long she has spent clawing at the unyielding stone walls. Her bloody fingers are an indication that she's been at it for a while.
But once she eventually gives in to exhaustion, she finds stopping is a mistake; for it makes her notice the cold. Her flannel nightgown, while long-sleeved and ankle-length, is not nearly warm enough to fight off the icy bite of the wind.
She starts considering the very plausible possibility that she might die of frostbite or hypothermia if she doesn't manage to find a way out of her situation soon.
Amidst her rising panic, she can hear her heart beating in loud, constant pumps. With each beat, her brain asks itself the same question over and over again:
Why is this happening to me?
Her terror is so palpable that tears start rolling down her face. Her breath comes in short, hitched bursts. She doesn't know what to do with herself; the space encompassing her seems to grow tighter with every passing minute.
She's suffocating. She's in too deep. No one is coming to save her; and even if they are, they can't help.
No one understands.
She sinks to the floor and hugs her knees to her chest. The water reaches her waist and soaks her nightgown so that it sticks to her skin, causing more uncomfortable coldness to creep along her body. Maybe it will speed up the process and she'll be dead by morning.
She knows that if she's to die here, no one will ever find her. She thinks of the pain her mother will feel when she finds out she disappeared. The worry, the desperation, the not knowing... They will eat at her for the rest of her life. It will be worse than knowing she was dead.
The thought isn't enough to make her stand up again, though.
Because maybe she doesn't deserve to be saved at all. Maybe, as a result of some sort of divine intervention, she has been left here to spare everyone around her. For she is a void of darkness that swallows the light of anyone unfortunate enough to come near her.
She shrinks further within herself at the thought. She wishes she could just fall asleep and never wake up.
But the cold is ruthless, and soon the falling snowflakes have accumulated on the ground she's sitting on. Her shivering becomes so relentless she decides that trying to fall asleep is pointless.
Eventually, she stops feeling the gentle caress of snow landing upon her skin. She raises her head to look out the mouth of the well and realizes it has stopped snowing. A beam of moonlight is directly illuminating the icy water around her.
The wind howls far above her, and for a second she can swear it sounds like singing. Like mourning.
Inexplicably, the wind shifts. And instead of passing by the well fifty feet above her, it travels down. Toward her.
She feels it ruffle her hair and sway her nightgown. Its chill penetrates her bones, making her take a shuddering gasp. And then it whispers in her mind.
"Where did it begin? What went wrong? And who made you feel so worthless?"
The words sound vaguely familiar, but the shock is enough to awaken some feeling inside her again.
What went wrong? What hadn't?
Where did it begin? It was most likely the moment she decided she wasn't going to take everything quietly anymore. There is a decibel to grief, and when she got too loud, that's when people stopped regarding it as grief and started thinking of it as noise.
They wanted her to suffer in silence, it seems. To be a tragic background. Maybe it's because it somehow made them feel better about themselves. What other reason would they have to silence her once she voiced her sorrows? To undermine her by calling them champagne problems and the exaggerated woes of people who didn't really have anything to be sad about?
They didn't know she felt suffocated in her own mind. And that she didn't allow anyone near her for fear of stifling them too. Maybe she wouldn't be about to die here alone if she hadn't pushed everyone away and then blamed them for leaving.
She has never taken control of her own life. And now passivity will kill her. She can't even gather enough resolve to climb out and save her life.
The thought makes her angry. She is not helpless, contrary to what everyone believes. People have a tendency of associating sadness with brokenness. She is not broken.
She braces her hands on the ground and slowly lifts herself until she's standing. The chill that envelopes her body and soul seems to diminish. She knows she's not worthless, no matter how many times she has been made to feel she is.
And she's going to climb out of this well to prove it.
It shouldn't be possible, what with the frost and exhaustion, but her short fingernails dig into the lines between the stone bricks in the wall and she pushes herself up. Her bare feet scrape against the wall for a second before gravity pulls her down again.
She splashes into the water at the bottom of the well.
She can't do it. It's too dark and slippery and she's not strong enough. The well is too deep; there's no way she is going to be able to climb out of it. She looks up toward the moonlight that seems worlds away and she's convinced she's never going to make it to the light.
But then the wind whistles around her again. It doesn't whisper anything this time, but the mere impossibility of it travelling down to meet her gives her hope that she can do the impossible too.
And so she tries again.
Her already bleeding and freezing fingers are in agony as she uses them to lift her entire body and falls back down. The space is so small that she almost hits her head on the opposite wall.
But this gives her the idea. The third time, instead of putting her fingers through more agony, she braces her back against one side of the wall and lifts her feet, pressing them against the other wall.
She braces her hands against the stone wall behind her to push herself up. And it works.
Her heart beats forcefully with newfound hope and excitement. But her brain forces herself to think negatively. There's no use in getting optimistic if she's likely going to fail anyway.
She tries to raise her legs further up the opposite wall but her knees buckle under the strain and she falls the short distance to the ground again. The accumulated snow cushions her fall slightly.
As she stands up forcefully, splashing icy water along the base of the well, she considers giving up.
What does she want to get out for anyway? She has no life; none that she wants to live, at least. The world outside is as cold and cruel as this well. At least here she's alone and safe from the opinions and expectations of others. At least in here, she doesn't have to worry about people thinking she's not good enough.
That's what went wrong, she thinks. It started the moment she began to care too much about other people's opinions of her. That had been the root of everything. It led to the self-doubt, the lack of motivation, the obsession to appear perfect. It was exhausting.
She decides that if she gets out, she's going to live life only for herself. It has been a long time since she allowed herself to think about what she might want, but she's astonished to find that she still has the ability to dream; and that she wants to climb out of this well. If only to see what might become of those dreams.
She places her back against one wall and pushes her feet against the other once again. She uses her hands to lift her back up the wall and then very slowly, lifts one of her legs further up the opposite wall. Then the other. She's higher than she's ever been.
She continues to push up with her hands and alternate her feet up the walls of the well, resting every so often. Until she's halfway through. She stops, breathing heavily, and looks down.
A fall from this height will not be lethal, but she knows if she drops, she will not attempt to climb out again. She has to make it now.
As she resumes her climbing, she imagines what would happen if she doesn't make it out and somehow they manage to find her body.
What went wrong? they will ask, and she'll know they won't just be referring to the well, but her life in general.
Her muscles are straining with the effort of climbing up the hard stone.
And who made you feel so worthless?
She has a long list of people. Her blood boils as her mind conjures up every single memory of disparaging comments or disgusted stares. Between her blinding rage and her urgency to get out and prove them all wrong, she doesn't notice she's almost made it to the surface.
Tears roll down her face when she sees she's so close to her goal. So close to saving herself. She would have never thought she had the strength or determination. Her entire body aching, she makes one of the final pushes towards freedom.
And just as she's inches away from the top, she stops cold. She knows where the words the wind whispered are from. “Questions for the Woman I Was Last Night” by Warsan Shire. She had been reading it before she fell asleep.
The realization makes her think that maybe the wind hadn't whispered it at all. Maybe some subconscious part of her mind had. She doesn't know what that might mean. But as she finally reaches her hands out and grabs the edge of the well, she doesn't care.
Dawn is breaking and painting the sky in pink watercolor as she thrusts herself up with her arms. She swings one trembling leg over the stone and then the other, until she's sitting on the edge of the well, legs dangling over the floor. She's nervous to stand on the snow, so she just stares at the dawn painting the sky in pastels. And she thinks of everything she's going to do once she steps into the real world again.
For all that she fought for her future, she finds she's scared of it. Of what it might hold.
But, she thinks, maybe that's the point.
And so the girl in the well takes a small step onto frozen solid ground.