I get the question often–“How’s it going?”. It’s a fair enough question and I usually answer with a smile and non committal answer about our present life going well, par for the course, all things considered, and so on.

The great thing about this answer is that it sort of satisfies everyone without actually saying much at all. The problem with this answer is that for someone genuinely cares, “The Course” is a little hard to understand if you’ve never walked this particular path.

Imagine that you suddenly find yourself in a whole new world. Imagine that you are like Katniss, in The Hunger Games, and you’ve just come from a battle not of your own making. A battle that you were, just like Katniss, chosen for and you don’t know why. You’re dressed in everything that you’ve used to survive, your knife in your belt and your bow on your back. Now, you suddenly find yourself in a space station. How you got here, everyone wants to know, but you don’t want to tell because the contrast between your world and this shiny new world is too great. You are different and you feel it in every fiber of your being. You feel “Different” tattooed on your forehead, so you try to hide your face. Now your life is divided into two landscapes, the Before and the After.

Everything is gleaming and white, polished and glittery, and you feel desperately out of place, but you even more desperately want to belong. So you try to find your way in a world where everyone knows the rules but you. These Shiny People in your new life, in your After, smile at you and try to speak, but everything sounds garbled in your ears. When you try to speak back, they smile in that way that means they understood nothing at all. But they pretend they do. And you feel even more alone. The Shiny People have kind faces, but you’ve learned that faces lie so you keep your weapons close and your heart guarded, watchful.

The things that you’ve done in the Before, the things that have helped you survive, don’t seem to fit in this new sterile landscape. When you feel threatened, and throw your knife at the wall, the way that you’ve always done, the Shiny People frown, and sometimes they yell. You know you’re doing things wrong, but after a while you might start to wonder if You are what is wrong. It seems like the Shiny People see all of your mistakes, but you think that they don’t see their own. You think that you will never belong in this world that is so different, and you’re scared.

If you’re lucky, you can find someone to share bits of your Before with. You’ve kept it locked up inside, but you carry the weight of memories with you everywhere, like a heavy bag filled with stones. You’re worried how they will see you after they Know, so you only let them glimpse a little, but every time you share one of your stones, your bag becomes a little lighter. You don’t notice at first, because you’ve been dragging it for so long on your own.

Sometimes, people smile and tell you how lucky you are to be in this space station with cappuccino machines, buttons, sliding doors and slippery floors, and with the Shiny People. Aren’t you so grateful? You think about your Before and your bag of stones, and you don’t feel lucky. You feel dark and scared and alone. You wonder if the jungle was better, because there at least you knew where you belonged.

This new life is hard, and some days you want to hide from it all. But then, some days are beautiful. Some days the Shiny People understand, and their words are not garbled. Some days you feel like you are starting to slide into this new space. Some days you forget to put your knife in your belt, and you smile because you feel free. Maybe someday you will be able to merge your Before and After, and tattoo a new name on your forehead for everyone to see, a name that you are proud of. Someday.

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