What was I thinking?
Have you ever watched someone fall, too far to help, too helpless to not watch?
Have you ever just stood, riveted in place, and watched a person fall?
What is the first thing the person does, after a fall? Do they take stock and check for harm? Do they rearrange, fix the damage, brush off and get back up?
No. Usually, the “fallen” immediately look around to see who is watching Only after a glare or a sheepish laugh in any potential audience’s direction do they pick themselves up and resume what they were doing, as though there had been no fall, or the fall had been intended all along.
What is the first thing onlookers find themselves doing when they are in danger of being discovered as a witness to a fall? Quickly, they look away and pretend to have been looking elsewhere. Then, they might casually saunter over to offer help if it is needed, or walk away pretending it never happened. Never is the illusion countered. It would be unthinkable to bring attention to one who is quietly recovering from such an ignominious loss of decorum.
Where do these invisible, unwritten rules come from, that we follow so carefully? Are they passed on through social conformity? Are they written in our Genes? Are they inherited from our ancestors’ DNA, as some sort of epigenetic manifestations of a species-wide accumulation of wisdom? What intrinsic force outweighs self-care in lieu of perception?
As I thought about how to write the story of Hurtsy, I realized that the abuse cycle is not just one-sided, yet society has put most of the focus on the abuser. After a cursory well-being checkup, the current world we live in intends to leave the victims, for the most part, to rearrange, fix the damage, brush off and get themselves back up, while the “system” spends the majority of the time and focus punishing, reprogramming, and/or incarcerating the abuser. Any alternative might bring unwanted attention to those wanting to remain unseen. Any alternative might seem to be bordering on victim shaming. Any alternative might counter this invisible unspoken law that manifests the falling down phenomenon, where we avert our eyes and focus elsewhere to allow the victim the dignity of illusion.
But is there healing in anonymity? Is there growth in denial? Is there a resolution for the hidden? Or is there merely a short respite before “falling” back into the same pattern, different places, different people, different times, different circumstances, but a “falling back into”, just the same?
To me, the most moving part of this story is the deep sorrow and shame Hurtsy has of her truest, most authentic self. Whatever motivates someone to maintain surface decorum for others’ sake while neglecting their own well-being seems to be contributing to an ultimate betrayal of their inner self. This thing that motivates someone who has fallen to first look around to see who is looking seems shame-based. So many of us are full of shame, over who we are, over traits that make us unique, over how we look, over how we sound, over anything that makes us, us. So many try to blend in, to be nice, to be liked, that often we go so far as to bury who we truly are, in order to be accepted.
No matter how hard Hurtsy tried to fit, not only did she not fit, she ended up inadvertently becoming the target for those aiming to cause harm. Sometimes I think, perhaps the internal violence done by denying her own inner self may have made her more susceptible to the external violence she endured. Sometimes I almost forget “social correctness” and am tempted to think, perhaps outward violence may be just an external manifestation of internal neglect and violence towards one’s own inner self. But even suggesting this may be bordering too much on victim shaming. It has been determined, by whatever the “falling down” force may be, that it is best for some things to be learned from the inside-out, while rearranging, fixing the damage, brushing off and getting back up, quietly. How can one counter this age-old wisdom?
There is often a dichotomy between what one feels on the inside, and what is displayed outwardly. Mark did an amazing job of portraying Hurtsy’s inner self as a little imaginary friend that is always present, bobbing around in the air. Initially, the inner “self” is perpetually crying, no matter how big Hurtsy’s smile is. It wasn’t until Hurtsy had “fallen” to the ground, in complete surrender, that her outside self finally manifested what her inside-self had been all along. Then, once she was finally “at one” within herself, she was able to take the steps to build her circumstances into what she chose, rather than what she “fell” into.
My favorite illustration in this book is where both outside and inside Hurtsy are drawing. All pretense is gone, quills fully exposed, poking through her clothes, she finally looks like a hedgehog and not like an overly plump doll in dress-up clothes. Though she continues on, throughout the rest of the story, dressed and polished again, she no longer has an apologetic pleading smile. She now wields a smile, showing a few teeth, with an inner strength that had been lacking before. There is not much greater than the transformation that takes place when one is “at one” with one’s self. The illustrations show this transformation beautifully.
There are so many more points to this small 10-page story, I don’t have the space to expound on them all. Like a small encapsulated recursive function, each person who reads it brings their own parameters and gets entirely different meanings back; The need for healthy boundaries, or the idea that the abusers, themselves, are victims of the abuse cycle, and have their own inner selves crying for escape, or how victims often feel guilt and consider themselves responsible for the consequences abusers may eventually face, or how some patterns are so binding, it may take an outsider, in this case, a dove, to help break them.
There may be as many hidden meanings in this short little story as there are readers who read it. It is now your turn, to bring your own parameters, read the story, and share…
What were you thinking?
Hurtsy the Harrowed Hedgehog: A Future Selves Series
By Cindy Graves
Genre: Children’s Book
Paperback: 26 pages
Publisher: PageTurner, Press and Media
More writings from Cindy Graves can be found at www.echoesoms.com.