When I was younger, I had no castle.
I think having a castle is important. A castle made of rock. Something firm you can stand on and stand behind to protect you from the ills of the world. A friend. A family member. Someone who can be there for you in a way nobody else could or would.
A castle made of sand. Playing in a box with a bucket, forming towers that crumble at the edges despite your best efforts, yet still eliciting smiles from those brave enough to pat it gently and pretend.
A castle made of the bones of your enemies. Skills bested, obstacles overcome, the more goals checked off your list, the higher the castle grows, the sweeter the clouds taste.
I had no castle. I had myself, vulnerable to the catapults and arrows shot at me.
I woke up and went to school. I was bullied by the boys and laughed at by the girls. The bell would ring in the afternoon, signifying it was time to unshackle my bike and make the ride home, fresh bruises stinging on my arms and in my heart.
I went home to anger. My father angry at me. Room not clean, grades too low, height sub-par, weight supra-par, sports aptitude laughable, work ethic shameful. The second son he was dealt late in life, less than the sum of the son he wanted.
Maybe a word can fix it. Maybe a scream. Maybe a slap, a fist, a belt, a candy bar thrown at the face with a “fatass” thrown in for good measure would turn things around. Maybe with enough tension, stress, and pressure, a diamond would form from the coal of his disappointing offspring. The alarm clock would ring in the morning, signifying it was time to unshackle my bike and make the ride to school, fresh bruises stinging on my legs and in my heart.
I had no castle. Every sling would find its mark and every arrow would pierce my flesh.
Through the years, I build a castle out of myself. My skin would shed, fall to the ground, and I would scoop it up, mix it with glue, and reapply it… my new armor. My bruises were still warm underneath and skin makes for poor protection, but it felt better. The ability to not let people in. To keep everyone at arm’s length. To let them see the Mike I wanted them to see rather than the Mike of truth. Anything was better than my truth.
I have on more than one occasion slipped out of my skin and let loved ones into my heart. I have on more than one occasion, though not on all, been made a fool and a foil. When my trust was well-placed, I found strength. I found good people standing tall, rocks and mortar at the ready, willing to help me build my castle. When my trust was ill-placed, I found my new home in tatters around me.
I am 32 years old now, and I have a castle. I have a wonderful fiance, a bright shining star of a stepdaughter, a lovely home and a great career. Echoes of the past still hammer at the walls.
My ex-wife, who saw fit to exploit my darkness for her own gain. Her son, who I loved like my own, but never bonded with me entirely. Six years of holding his hand, feeling him slip it out of mine like an obstinate toddler in a parking lot , and now that ways have been parted, fading further and further into fog and shadows, every day a little more out of reach.
My parents, with whom I’ve since reconciled, still both worry and frighten me. I fear for their well-being, and I fear the booming voices from two decades ago echoing through my hallways.
Depression is a horrible thing. It’s a shadow at dawn. The sun rises, you face the light, and it sits behind you, stretched thin, no threat. The sun continues rising and your shadow grows ever closer. You can feel it. Words hurt more. Thoughts weigh heavier. Smiles are harder to find. You know noon is approaching and your shadow will find its way fully onto your shoulders, ready to buckle your knees.
Every compliment to others is an insult to yourself. Every positive quality you see in others is a lacking in your own character. Why can’t I dance like him? Why can’t I be thin like him? Why can’t I be everything to everybody? Maybe if I’m perfect I will have value because when noon strikes, I have none. I am nothing. I am a crying child huddled in the corner, face greasy with snot and sweat trying to ignore the heat from fresh wounds and urine-soaked underwear.
I have no value. Why would anyone want to be around me? Why would anyone love me? Why would anyone stay with someone so lazy, so fat, so worthless? My fear of loneliness begets loneliness.
The sun is highest at the longest minute of my life. On my knees, buckled and bleeding from the pressure of the burden I carry. A hand appears on my shoulder. My fiance is there, trying to get me to stand. She braces me when I can and holds me when I can’t. I just need to survive this minute. I cry into her chest. I hurt so much. So much pain, I can barely stand it. She reminds me to breathe. She speaks to me coolly and with love. She strokes my hair and helps me through this minute.
12:01 pm arrives. My shadow slinks away. I get up and brush myself off, with my fiance there to embrace me and remind me of the value I have.
I’m amazing. I work hard for my family. I have an internal strength that others can envy and admire. I’m beautiful. I’m fun. I’m funny. I’m intelligent. I’m introspective. I’m empathetic. I care so much for those around me. I’m Michael Christopher Stone and that’s a pretty goddamn incredible thing to be.
The sun begins to set, my shadow as far away as when dawn broke. I walk forward confidently… but always knowing that noon will come again eventually.
When it does… I have a castle.