[Content Warning: The following post discusses sexual assault and rape.]
We get comfortable inside the stories we’re told as children. Fairy tales, bedtime stories, stories of distant pasts heard from grandparents and older relatives. Even our own narratives are weaved by the people around us, and we know that the stories we are told are true and right, and they become familiar. All the stories, real and surreal, imagined and grounded in reality, experienced directly or indirectly, complete us.
My favorite movie growing up, and to this day, is The Neverending Story. At its core, it emphasizes the importance of story and imagination. The movie also shows how necessary it is for us to experience stories in our own way and to grow and learn from them. At the end of The Neverending Story, Atreyu, the warrior, returns to the Ivory Tower to tell the Childlike Empress he has failed in his mission to find the human child who can cure her mysterious illness. The Childlike Empress then explains to Atreyu that the Earthling, Bastian, has been with him the entire time. She says that just as Bastian’s been sharing all of Atreyu’s adventures, others [namely, us who are watching the movie] have been sharing his. This explanation blew my mind as a child, and it was the first time I truly understood the power of story:
“He has suffered with you. He went through everything you went through. And now, he has come here with you. He’s very close. Listening to every word that we say. […] He doesn’t realize that he’s already a part of the Neverending Story. […] Just as he is sharing all your adventures, others are sharing his. They were with him when he hid from the boys in the bookstore. […] They were with him when he took the book with the Auryn symbol on the cover, in which he’s reading his own story right now.”
Just as others share their stories with us, be it via a book, a movie, a TV show, social media, a conversation, or any of the myriad ways stories are told in the modern world, so we share our stories with others. As Fantasia is falling apart around her, the Childlike Empress explains that Bastian is the only one who has the power to stop it, but he doesn’t believe in himself. She says “He simply can’t imagine that one little boy could be that important.” She then implores, “Bastian, why don’t you do what you dream, Bastian?” Like Bastian, we tend to appreciate the stories of others, but we rarely acknowledge the significance of our own stories.
I knew that I wanted to help people recognize the value of their own stories after watching The Neverending Story as a child. I wanted to be the Childlike Empress, encouraging every Bastian to do what they dream and IMAGINE. I wanted to help as many people as I could understand that one individual can be, and is, significant. Everyone has a story. And everyone’s story is important.
Like Bastian and so many others, I never considered the importance of my story. I have never felt comfortable sharing that I was abused growing up in every way a person can be abused. I was beaten, molested, and raped repeatedly by those who were closest to me and by those whom I was forced to see and engage with on a daily basis. My abusers told me that I was stupid, and ugly, and worthless. From the age of four, and for about 20 years, every time my abusers were bored, or horny, or needed to feel powerful, a piece of my beautiful world disappeared. My Gmork hunted me while the Nothing encroached. I was lost in the Swamps of Sadness, trying to keep my head just above the mud. My story was literally beaten out of me, consigned to the abyss of my memory. The most important people in my life, the people who were supposed to be teaching me about life and love and sex, instead imparted self doubt and pain and condescension. They regaled me with stories of submission and powerful men and worthless women. They weaved a narrative of insecurity in which I became rooted and comfortable.
My abusers told me the same story over and over again, a story that became me. I believed that fighting was futile. I believed that I was crazy. I believed that I was ugly. I believed that I was stupid and worthless. I believed I would never have any power. I believed no one would ever want me, someone who was broken, a VHS tape that had been watched one too many times. So instead of telling my story, instead of fighting my Gmork, I made a nice, comfortable space for him in the darkest corner of my mind and caged him there. If I never told my story, it wouldn’t have to exist. I allowed the Nothing to sweep over me, destroying my imagination and my soul in its wake.
I thought that if I just suppressed hard enough, I would stop feeling altogether. And once my emotions had completely disappeared like Fantasia, I would never have to hurt again. I continued to feed my Gmork, who grew stronger with every destroyed hope. Toward the end of The Neverending Story, Atreyu loses his luck dragon, Falkor, and is stuck in a cave with the Gmork as the Nothing sweeps everything away. Atreyu asks the Gmork why Fantasia is dying, and he explains to Atreyu what the Nothing is and why he is trying to help it:
“[Fantasia is dying] Because people have begun to lose their hopes and forget their dreams. So the Nothing grows stronger. […] [The Nothing] is the emptiness that’s left. It’s like a despair, destroying this world. And I have been trying to help it […] Because people who have no hopes are easy to control; and whoever has the control…has the power!”
I had lost my hopes and dreams. I had become easy to control. My abusers had the control, and therefore, they had the power. I thought that suppressing the emotions gave me power, but in reality, I was feeding my Gmork, and he was growing stronger by the minute.
Like Bastian, I didn’t believe in myself. My story was too painful, too terrible, too wretched to tell. Instead of subscribing to the agonizing narrative others had created for me, it was easier to remove myself from it. I became so detached from my life as to believe it had happened to someone else. I sunk deeply into the Swamps of Sadness. I refused to acknowledge my abusers and the emotional and physical harm they had caused me, because if I did, it meant they had won. I refused to fight the Gmork inside because it was easier to give him the power and allow the Nothing to take over than it was to fight. I had caged my Gmork to protect myself, but that didn’t stop the Nothing from destroying me. In fact, doing so gave the Nothing the power it needed to annihilate. I became a shell of a person, unfeeling and automatic. Once the Nothing had taken over completely, inside, I was empty.
Once all of Fantasia is destroyed, Bastian asks the Childlike Empress why it’s so dark. She responds, “In the beginning, it is always dark.” She then pulls out one tiny grain of sand, which is all that is left of the vast empire of Fantasia. It glows in her hand, and Bastian is distraught, saying that everything has been in vain. The Childlike Empress then smiles and says, “No, it hasn’t. Fantasia can arise in you. In your dreams and wishes. […] And the more wishes you make, the more magnificent Fantasia will become.”
I may have allowed the Nothing to destroy me. I may have given my Gmork the power. I may have believed the sordid narrative my abusers had woven for me. But deep down inside, that one grain of sand glowed, and if I could find it, if I could just be strong enough to fight my Gmork, I could be rebuilt.
It took many years and many rough experiences, but I finally found that grain of sand. About two years ago, I decided it was time to “Do what thou wilst,” which is written on the Auryn and means “do what you’re meant to do” or “live your purpose.” I left a stable job in healthcare IT and decided to open a bookstore. I had always known that my purpose in life was to perpetuate stories, and with the bookstore, I could fully embrace that purpose. By taking the advice of the Childlike Empress and doing what I dreamed, I knew I could create a safe space for all the Bastians of the world to be free to imagine, to be themselves, and to tell their stories. I was finally taking the first step in fighting my Gmork. I started, at first awkwardly and suspiciously, to wish. I dared to dream. I dared to believe that if I let my Gmork out, maybe he wouldn’t kill me. Maybe, if I faced him, I could win.
I wanted to scream. I wanted to lock him back up. But I knew I had tried that already, and I knew my Gmork would never go away. He would just lurk in the shadows, destroying my hopes and gaining power. So, I kept trudging through the Swamps of Sadness, grabbing onto anything I could to stay above the mud. When I felt myself begin to sink, I told myself that I’m a warrior, I’m a survivor. I’m not Artax, I’m Atreyu. And I will not let my Gmork win. I took hold of the broken piece of stone that was my soul, brandished it, and let him out. He’s still here with me, taunting me every day, and every day, I yell at him to come for me, because I’m not going down without a fight.
Armed with the power of being a survivor, I began rebuilding. I made wishes on my glowing grain of sand until it began to form a whole new world inside of me. And with every wish, my world became more and more magnificent.
Now, I am Bastian at the end of The Neverending Story, flying free on Falkor’s back, observing the world that I’ve built for myself, and it’s more beautiful than I ever imagined it would be. I keep close the glowing grain of sand that, with every wish, with every hope, with every dream, is becoming a new me. We are all a part of the Neverending Story. And as I share my story with you, I hope that you will, in turn, share your story with others. Because every story is important. Every story is powerful. The thing about stories is they transcend what they’re written on, whether it’s paper, stone, or your soul. And now, I have a world to explore and a grain of sand to wish on, and I can finally begin my adventure.
This was originally published in the October 31, 2016 edition of violet windows.