Once upon a time

~ Jennifer Spang ~

Once upon a time is such a cliché easy start to a story, but here we are. So…

A bitter smile formed on my lips as I was staring at the black letters on the screen in front of me, but then I sighed.
I knew I couldn’t leave it like this. Or, well, I could. But handing it in like this tomorrow would definitely make me fail my class. So maybe I should reconsider it. Maybe.
Another deep sigh escaped my mouth: So deleting it was.
I was already about to erase it, but then I paused. If I did, if these few words were to vanish, only a huge white screen would be left. Staring back at me. As if it was mocking me. Teasing my inability to write anything down. Just anything. But no, right now I felt like I couldn’t. Not even if my life was depending on it.
Which was actually more than just ironic: The girl who once used to think she couldn’t survive without a good book to read and a story to write suddenly couldn’t bring herself to write down a few sentences for a stupid short story for a stupid assignment for school.
The very same girl who once got lost within pages, characters and adventures, who could fly on the back of a dragon, learn magic, fight battles, find true love and friendship, travel the world, discover a new miracle around every corner; the girl who used to have a head full of distant worlds, of wonders, of stars…who could create a whole new universe, simply by typing on a keyboard…This was the same girl that was now only filled with fear when she was staring at the screen in front of her.
And the worst thing about this was that I had absolutely no clue what in the world had happened to her. Why she was gone. And most importantly why I was left only with an empty, numb head and an aching soul.
I missed it. Missed the song of my fingers typing on the keyboard. Missed the colourful worlds inside my head that were slowly coming to life on the screen in front of me. Missed all the amazing people who had become my companions, my friends, over all these years. Who had always been there to comfort me, to take me in, whenever life had become too much for me to bear. Whenever I hadn’t even been able to bear myself anymore.
I knew, all of that had never been real. But I missed feeling like it actually was. Missed how much it had mattered to me, the way it had made me feel. Missed feeling like I could be part of something greater, bigger. Like life could offer more to me than just the ordinary.
Without this part of me everything around me felt muffled. Colourless. And the best thing I could do was to survive this world. To get up every morning and face it, day after day. While trying my best to hide how broken I was really feeling. How lost. And scared.

Once upon a time…You’d think it would be easy to write a story, starting from that sentence. A love story, to be more precise. Once upon a time…

What had happened to the girl who used to gaze up to the stars and dream herself away? The girl who had believed in once-upon-a-times and happy-ever-afters? Who had believed in fairytales? In miracles? Who barely had been able to stay patient and wait for her own happy ending? Without a doubt that she would eventually get it?

„Life. That’s what happened“, a cynical voice inside my head answered me. „That’s what happened to her. That’s what broke her.“
It made me think. Of all the obstacles that had been thrown in my way. All this pressure to be perfect. To know exactly where you want to go in life and don’t waste any time to get there. Without much looking around and checking on others.
Perfect body, perfect style, perfect grades, perfect life. And, as if all of this wasn’t already enough, the perfect relationship. Hobbies. Friends. And, if you’re really lucky, even enough time to get some sleep at the same time.
It made me think of all the people who had been mocking me. Simply because I hadn’t been like them. Because I had been different.
More likely to be found sitting in a corner with my nose stuck inside a book and my mind lost in adventures than at the center of every party.
Rather introvert, at least until the right people came along and made me feel comfortable enough to bloom and show myself.
Always thinking and worrying a little bit too much. Caring about other people too much. Feeling too deeply. Loving too deeply. Despite getting hurt, time after time.
Always a little bit too scared, a little bit too kind, a little bit too soft for this world that never seemed to give anything back.

Gosh, how deeply I had been wishing to be someone else. How hard I had tried to hide my true self, to fit in, act differently.
How much rejection and hate I had been feeling for myself.
So much, that I had ended up chasing away the girl I had been. The daydreamer. Me.

But the truth was that there had never been anything wrong with her. Wrong with me.
It had always been about the people bringing me down, claiming that the way I was was wrong. That I should change. Grow harder, stronger, braver, less concerned. Put myself before others. Give less and take more. Enjoy life to its fullest instead of burying myself in books. Finally begin to experience the „real life“.

And I had been stupid enough to listen to them. To believe them. Stupid enough to try everything in my power to change myself.
Stupid enough to let anyone convince me that there was anything wrong with being kind and creative. Caring.
Convince me that there wasn’t anything valuable to find within books. That they couldn’t transport me to any kind of place, places beyond imagination, making me experience more than I possibly could in the span of ten lives.

Sadly enough it was only now, when I had already lost such a big part of me, that I realised how much all of that had taken away from me. How terribly wrong all of these people had been.
The truth was that I really appreciated these parts of me. And that I missed them. And that I loved them. Loved the girl I used to be.
And that I was willing to do everything in the world to bring her back.

And then, all of a sudden, I knew exactly what to write.

Once upon a time there was a girl who had stars on her mind, a sparkle in her eyes and a deep warm glow within her heart.
She was happy, staying at home, wrapped in a comfy blanket, reading the nights away. Happy, sharing meaningful words with people who had earned themselves a spot inside her heart.
Happy, being alone from time to time, making just enough time all for herself.
And she found joy and wonder within the whole world that was surrounding her, just as well as in the world she was carrying inside.
But the people around her would always find her strange. They just couldn’t figure her out, couldn’t understand her.
Why was she always so quiet? Why did it take so much courage for her to just talk to others?
How could she spend so much time dreaming herself away, creating made up worlds inside her head? How could she not focus on the real world surrounding her? How was she even supposed to get anywhere, with this behaviour?
How could she care so much about the characters from stories, characters that weren’t even real?
And could it be healthy to be so incredibly soft? To always seem so scared?

Since they didn’t know how to handle her, they eventually began to tell her to change. Told her to get herself together. Grow stronger, colder, harder. Told her to live her life rather than missing out on it while reading it away.
And even though they thought she wouldn’t even notice she could see the way they were laughing about her behind her back. Mocking her. And making her feel extremely small.
She was trying her best to hide her feelings, but it was breaking her heart. Until the point when things got so heavy for her that she began to wish to become someone else. Just anyone. Anyone who would fit in more. And get appreciated.
Slowly, the flowers inside of her, once so colourful and flourishing with life, began to shrivel away and fade. Leaving the world inside and outside of her deserted and cold.

„Please“,she would whisper every night to the countless stars in the sky, „please just help me. Help me to feel better. To fit in. To change myself…Please…“
But every single time all of her pleading would go unnoticed, vanishing somewhere in the darkness and loneliness of the night.

Today was one of these nights again when she would be leaning out of her window, her head resting on her arm, gazing into the darkness without really seeing anything. Her mind and soul aching, filled with sorrow and pain.
She let out a deep sigh. Of course no one would answer her calls. Of course there was no one out there who could help her. Save her.

She was about to turn around and hide herself underneath her blankets when she noticed something in the corner of her eye: A flash of light, followed by a golden gleam.
She only had enough time to get a glimpse of something…strange…Something like a floating cloud, made of golden dust. That was shining and sparkling in different shades of gold.
And that was right in front of her.
But before she was able to take another look at it, it had already vanished again, only leaving behind a trace of golden glitter in the dark sky.

She turned her head from one side to the other, leaning out of the window again, searching for the sparkling cloud. But it was nowhere to be seen.
Had it even been there? Or had she simply started to imagine things?
She shrugged and let out a sigh, unable to shake off the feeling of disappointment.
But as soon as she turned around, her mouth fell open: Her whole bedroom was filled with sparks of golden dust, levitating through the air. Bringing a sparkle into every single corner. Making the familiar room look stunning, almost…magical.
Just as if it had been turned into the most breathtaking nightsky she had ever dreamed of. Or, to be honest, even more than that.

For a while she just stayed on her bed, silently admiring this incredible beauty right in front of her. Trying to take it in as much as she could. Since she wanted to be able to remember it forever.

The moment she got to her feet, the gleaming dots around her started to move as well. To approach her. Slowly and softly, almost cautiously. As if they were giving their best not to scare her off.
Without as much as thinking about it, the girl lifted her arm, reaching out to her new companions.
The moment they touched her skin, a wave of warmth was flowing through her whole body. Giving her the comfortable feeling of being inside a loving embrace.

Slowly, more and more of the floating lights began to accompany the first ones until her whole body was covered in golden glitter.
The girl looked down at herself, completely in awe, and eventually a bright smile appeared on her face. It was the first true smile after a time that had felt like an eternity to her.
But now that it had started to spread on her lips, she couldn’t even stop it anymore.
And she didn’t even want to. It felt like it was chasing away all the dark clouds that had been hanging above her head for so long. Chasing away all her pain and doubts.

And there was also something else that happened: All of a sudden her head was filled with different impressions and pictures.
She could see herself, sitting in her favourite reading spot, completely lost inside the world within her hands.
Her hair was tied up in a messy bun, she was wearing her almost antique hoddie that was far too big for her and she generally looked like she had just crawled out of bed.
She could also see all the little flaws she had begun to hate so much over the time: The pimples on her face, the slight double chin that appeared everytime she was looking down like this. Her curls that could never be tamed enough to look anything close to tidy.
Her chubby body.
But, more than all of that, she could see something else: The flush of pink on her cheeks, the excitement and affection that was shown all over her face and a soft, radiant glow. The shining sparkle of passion inside her eyes. Characters and places dancing around her head, around her heart.
And in this moment, for the first time ever, she was able to spot some kind of beauty in herself.
It was not the same flawless, perfect kind of beauty one could find in the famous models that were ruling over the kingdom. But a different kind of beauty. A realer, truer kind, maybe.

And there was still some more that the sparkling dots wanted to show her: The small and the bigger acts of kindness she had shown to the people around her.
The way she was always taking care of the people she loved.
Her big heart and compassion.
And, only now, after all this time, she finally realised how many people she had already touched, how many warm traces she had left behind inside their hearts.
How much she had been able to give. How much she had been helping to make the world a tiny, little bit better.
For her whole life she had only been aware of all her flaws, but this was the first time she actually acknowledged how much good there was in her. How much sparkle and light.

„Thank you“, she whispered as the golden stardust let go of her and began to fade away. „I promise that I will always remember this. And that I will never try to change myself again.“

And it was true. The sparkling cloud might had left her, but from now on she would always carry a spark of it inside her heart. While living happily ever after.