I’ve always been obsessed with stories. When I was younger, loneliness would feel like a hole in my stomach and instead of letting the space churn inside me I would fill it with stories. I told myself a story about a girl who met a boy; they went on walks together, sharing the crunch of frosted leaves beneath their feet and spent the evenings curled around each other. It was a story I told myself a few times. The details would change; faces would twist and transform but the moral was always the same. It was a story of love that knew no ending.
Eventually that story began to bore me. As time trudged on it began to seem unrealistic. So, on one less then eventful New Year’s Eve I told myself the story of the girl who had it all under control. She woke up at 6am to chase the sunrise before returning to her home for a smoothie and still had time to twist her hair into perfect curls before work. She met every deadline and aced every test lay out before her. But before January had ended that story had been shoved to the back of my desk, covered with old post it notes and old letters.
I was starting to think that stories had lost their meaning, they never seemed true or concrete anymore. It was a fickle thing, to fill the emptiness with an imagined happiness that would only be diminished when reality comes back into view. What was the point in building a world in my head that could never be matched in the real world? I put my stories away.
But then she phoned me. At 3am, an old friend drowning in tears and cheap wine phoned me and told me it felt as if she had a hole in her stomach and the emptiness was too much to bear. She cried through the static, she didn’t know how to make the churning stop. She needed a story. So, I unpacked my imagination and by the light of my bedside lamp I let a story grow.
It was the story of Wandering Girl. Making her way through the world with dreams stuffed in her backpack and only her freckles to use as a map. She was lonely at first. It’s hard to walk around the world on your own and the paths kept changing their minds when she was halfway to her destination. But on her journey, she met three strangers. They were wanderers just like her but they had learned not to be lonely. Their names were Love, Courage and Hope and as Wandering Girl stumbled into their paths, each stranger welcomed her.
Love invited her to sit by the fire, let the warmth relax her toes and fingers then maybe her heart. They spoke of people Wandering Girl had known, the memories she held close. Her mother’s voice; the sweet songs she heard before bed, melting away her worries as she was guided gently to sleep. Her father’s arms, pulling her into a warm embrace before he left to work the day away. As they spoke the memories swirled around her and as they grew, Love painted their echo onto the Wandering Girls’ chest so she may always hold those moments close to her heart.
Courage challenged Wandering Girl to duel, offering to teach her the ways to defeat darkness in the world. Through the night they began to fight and as they did, Wandering Girl talked about her fears. The fear of being forgotten, she had wandered alone for so long she no longer knew if people would recognise her tired eyes. The fear of being lost, her map had faded long ago and her path was so unclear. What if she never found her way back home? What if it no longer welcomed her? Fears from deep inside her swelled into reality becoming shadows that surrounded the pair. They clawed and scratched at Wandering Girl’s back until all she wanted to do was run but Courage held her in place. Courage armed the girl with truth and instinct so together they could stand against the nightmares. With the guidance of Courage, the girl let her weapons swing, slicing through the shadows she had created watching as they crumbled into nothing. When morning came, Courage tucked the weapons into Wandering Girls’ belt, saying they were gifts. So, she could always fight the nightmares.
Hope did not ask Wandering Girl to stay with her like those before had. Instead, Hope offered to join her on her journey. They walked together, past the meadows and through a darkened wood until Hope and Wandering Girl reached a river. She searched her backpack and her pockets but Wandering Girl could find nothing that would help them cross. She collapsed on the river bank, convinced they’d have to turn back, that they would never be able to find a way across. Hope sat down beside Wandering Girl and placed a soft hand on her shoulder. From a hidden pocket, Hope pulled out a telescope and handed it to Wandering Girl telling her to look forward. As she peered through the scope Wandering Girl could see for miles, she swung her eyes up the river and in the distance, she saw it…a bridge. Hope laughed and told Wandering Girl to walk that way, for a while it would be rough terrain but it was a way forward and that would make it worth the wait. Wandering Girl asked Hope to continue walking with her, hoping they could find her old friends and they could join her too. Hope could not, but instead tucked the telescope in the backpack next to her dreams and said. “Use this to look forward, never back. It won’t always be easy to find us but Love, Courage and I will always be nearby.”
It was a simple story; in many ways, it was nothing more than a fairy-tale. But as I let it escape down the phone lines I felt my friend become calm and that was when I remembered. Sometimes we need a story, to help remind us that everyone is wandering through the same world we are, to guide us to who we want to be and show us what we need to get there. So, as my friend hung up the phone and drifted into sleep, I allowed myself to drift back into stories. And now I never have to wander alone.