As soon as I retreat to my room and close the door, I feel safer. I grab my laptop and go to bed. I pile pillows against the headboard and pull the blankets around me. I’m not tired, but it feels like a warm barrier between myself and the pain I want to escape. I make my personal space as small as possible, shrinking it until there is no room for anyone else. Dealing with others has become so exhausting.

People were always telling me what to do, what to think, how to act, how to feel. When they weren’t issuing orders or trying to influence me, they were needy soul sucking creatures who demanded more than I can give. Can’t they see that I was done? Can’t they see I’ve given everything I can give? Can’t they see that I’ve taken all I can take? Of course, they can. Mom knew something was wrong, so she took me to a psychiatrist who threw pills at the problem. How was that any different than the pot smokers she warned me about?

I open my laptop and turn it on. I start searching for information on Victoria Mallory in Lincoln, Maine, but I can’t find anything related to my family. I go to genealogy websites, trying to find a trail of birth records or census information, but the connections are sketchy, and I can’t get any further than my great-great grandfather. At least, I think he is my great-great grandfather. I’m not really any closer to the truth. The only thing connecting me and Victoria Mallory, is an old bible and some oral history. That wasn’t going to prove anything to anyone. Then again, what was I trying to prove? The tears started to prick at my eyes again.

“Dammit,” I muttered to myself. Why should I care about what other people think? Strong, modern women don’t worry about what other people think. My experience is my experience and I shouldn’t have to justify myself to anyone else. I slammed the laptop shut and got up to retrieve my iPod. If I can’t stop the nonsense in my head, I’ll drown it out with music. I’ll pound my insecurities into submission. I am in charge. I am the master of my thoughts and feelings.

I slip on my riding boots and head for the barn. Some good manual labor will take my mind off everything. No thinking required.

No one is down stairs as go through the kitchen to the back door. I’m glad. Any interaction right now would be unpleasant. I can feel the frustration and rage building inside of me: the pressure to meet everyone’s expectations, the struggle to be perfect, to never upset anyone, to remain calm and pleasant no matter how they treat me. I turn the music up as loud as it will go and stomp to the barn. I’m actually looking forward to mucking the stalls. Maybe I can’t shovel the crap out of my life, but at least I can toss the crap out of the barn. I’m ready for a fight, and picking a fight with the stalls feels like safest alternative.

I’m lost in my anger and the deafening music when I come around the corner. I almost run into it, the huge brown bear lumbering before me. I freeze. Here it is. The thing that didn’t exist, staring me in the face. At least, it looks real. Every ripple of muscle under his thick coat. The slow swing of his head back and forth as he watches me.

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