Seven Summers Past
Seven summers past my firstborn child fell down a well.
We were walking through a meadow on a golden day. The sun was shining, the air warm. A host of flowers had congregated within the mixed, long grasses that gently swayed in the breeze while the flowers turned their faces towards the sun. Delicate petals in an array of colours: roseate, shell-pink, violet, periwinkle, lemon, cantaloupe. How does Nature create such an impossibly harmonious palate? Perhaps there is a god, after all.
A bee buzzed busily from one bloom to the next, diligently gathering the precious pollen. Butterflies, hitching a ride on the zephyr, glided gently past. Gilded, winged creatures with storybook names: brimstone, peacock, clouded yellow, speckled wood, holly blue.
She was at that awkward age and clothed in black, but I knew her artist soul felt Nature’s majesty as I did. How could she not? Her heart was bigger than anyone’s I’d ever known.
We stepped over a tinkling brook, its crystalline waters caressing the pebbles and moss. A scattering of silver-flecked fish darted downstream.
There was no sign of any hazard ahead. No rocks or stones. No clearing in the vegetation. No warning to tread carefully. But as we walked barefoot and carefree through the grass, gently humming along to the song of the bee, the earth softened underfoot, just a little. My daughter hesitated for a moment, and then put her other foot forward. As it touched the earth, the soil started to give way. A hole opened up beneath her. A long-forgotten well, overgrown with a fragile covering of soil and flowers. My child was sucked in, down into the belly of the earth, as I stood helpless, frozen in horror.
She cried out as she fell.
I dropped to my knees screaming. I didn’t know how far she’d fallen, my precious girl. It was pitch black in that hole. I called down, desperate for a sign that she was okay. Nothing. I wanted to clamber down into the hole to reach her, but every time I tried to follow her down, the Earth just spat me out. Over and over and over.
I lay helpless in the dirt at the top of the well, calling my child’s name again and again and again. All that returned were the taunting echoes of my cries. The sky darkened. Panic spread through my body. It all felt so hopeless.
After what seemed like an age, I heard a small voice float up in the air from the bottom of the well.
“Mum,” my beloved child said. “Help me.”
I jumped to action. “Don’t worry, my love,” I called back. “I’ll get you out. Everything’s going to be all right.”
How did I know? How could I know? I knew nothing.
The meadow was now covered by a canopy of stars. I blindly searched for something to throw down, something to help my child climb out to safety. There was nothing for miles and miles but grass and flowers, their useless moonlit beauty no longer lifting my heart.
“Mum,” came my child’s desperate cry. “I need help. Please help me. I can’t get out.”
“Don’t worry. I’m coming.” I tried not to show the panic in my voice. “You’ll be okay. I promise.”
I set about weaving together the grasses into a rope. I worked as fast as I could, not stopping for a moment, dismissing the blisters, my fingers red raw, until I finally had a length of rope long enough and strong enough. I threw it down into the well.
“Here!” I shouted. “I’ll hold the rope and you climb up it. Can you do that?”
“I think so,” she said in her small voice. “I’ll try.”
And try she did. With all her might, she started to pull herself up the rope, putting one hand above the other. It was hard. Harder than anything she’d ever done. But she kept going. One hand above the other. She hauled her body up. Up, up, up. She cried in agony. She howled in pain. But she kept going. Finally, in the dim moonlight, I could see a glimmer of my child’s face down below.
“You’re nearly there,” I said, overwhelmed by relief. “I see you. You just need to keep going, just a bit further.”
My daughter was crying. “I can’t do it, Mum. It’s just too hard.”
“Don’t give up now. You’re a fighter, not a quitter. You’re strong. Stronger than you know. Come on. There’s just a little way to go. Here, grab my hand. I’ll help you.”
“No. I can’t do it. I can’t make it. I can’t get any further.”
My heart sank as my child loosened her grip on the rope. She fell back down into the well. Down, down, down to the bottom. Out of reach. Out of sight.
I didn’t give up. I would never give up.
“You can do it,” I shouted. “You have to try again. You can’t stay down there. There’s no other way. You’ll just have to climb up again. I promise it will be okay. We’ll be back together and you’ll be okay. I promise. Come on, my love.”
“Come on! You need to try again. There’s no other way out.”
My child lay at the bottom of the well in the darkness and did not speak. She did not speak. She would not answer.
Dawn was breaking. The sun was rising over the field. It was still beautiful. I couldn’t wait to help my child out so that she could see it all again. So that we could share the wonder of this world.
I called down again. Nothing.
“There are thousands of flowers up here,” I said, “and bees, birds, butterflies. The world is so wonderful. It’s so sad that you can’t see it. You’re missing so much. You’re missing everything. Please climb out.”
Panic gripped my heart again. What if I couldn’t get her out? What if she stayed down there forever? In the Underworld. In the depths of the earth. Away from the light. My Persephone. It must be cold down there. And dark. Nothing to see. Nothing to do. No joy. It was more than I could bear. It was more than any mother could bear.
Once more I called down into the darkness. “My love, how can I help you to get out? What can I do? Please let me help you.”
“Leave me alone.”
Her voice was angry now.
I couldn’t understand it. Why did she want to stay there alone, away from everyone who loved her? Everyone she loved? Why didn’t she want to climb out to the light? Why wouldn’t she listen to me?
I began to cry. I beat the earth with my fists. How could you take my child? Where is she? Where has she gone? Please send her back.
But it was no good. My child didn’t come back. I couldn’t get her out. I tried calling down to her again.
“Go away. I don’t want to talk to you.”
“But, my sweet, it’s glorious up here. Why do you want to stay there alone in the dark? I don’t understand.”
“Leave me alone. I don’t want to talk about this with you.”
“I don’t want to talk about this with you.”
The sun was shining again in the meadow. All looked peaceful and calm. I looked around again for something that could help. Anything. There was nothing. Nothing but flowers and grass and butterflies and bees.
My heart was broken. I missed my daughter. I missed her more than I could explain. I wanted her to come home.
Why didn’t she want to come home? Why would she prefer to stay in the darkness? It was impossible to understand.
Just then I noticed a bird perched on the edge of the hole, head cocked to the side, one shining eye looking at me. It twittered and fluffed up its feathers. We looked at each other for a few minutes, and then the bird hopped onto my hand. Its plumage was a shade of gold never seen on this Earth; a golden orb like a miniature sun. Its tiny body felt warm in my palm, a warmth that slowly spread through my veins and into my heart. The little bird lightened my mood. It calmed my breathing. And I knew what I had to do.
I held the bird above the hole with both hands. Then I let it go. I watched as it flew downwards into the darkness, its brilliant feathers glowing, lighting up the walls of the well as it descended, its divine song echoing through the blackness.
Seven summers on I am still here, in that meadow, sitting by that well. Waiting. Eternally waiting. Waiting for the golden bird to reach my child.
This blog has been contributed by Bella Reed, a mother of a daughter with anorexia nervosa, who uses her blog to share her story and reduce the myths associated with anorexia.
To find out more about Bella, or to read more of her inspiring insights about being a mother to a daughter with anorexia, visit https://www.anorexiamyths.com/.