The Girl and Iron door (a vaginismus story)*
Like many stories, this one begins like this: there once was a girl. She was smart and happy. She lived a quiet, simple life in her small village where she was very comfortable. She had books to read, music to make, and friends to laugh with. Although she was very happy she often dreamed what life outside the walls of her village would be like. There was a stonewall surrounding her village but with age came the privilege to come and go and the girl was excited to see life from a different perspective. When the time came, her friends and family watched as she packed up her things to begin her journey. The morning she was to leave dawned clear and bright, full of hope and promise. The girl was excited but also a little nervous to be traveling into the unknown. It gave her courage that all was well as so many people came and went from the village each day. She hugged her loved ones and promised she would soon send them news of the new people and places she was going to visit. With a bittersweet feeling she walked out the door, head held high and began to walk.
She bounced through town with a spring in her step, waving and smiling to friends she came in contact with. Slowly but surely familiar landmarks became fewer and farther between but she continued down the path towards the wall. The wall, which always seemed small in the distance, was becoming larger, looming in the distance. She began to wonder where exactly there was an opening. She hadn’t come this close to the wall in a long time and couldn’t remember. Her mind felt hazy and she felt her heart start to beat more quickly. The path was reassuring; it must be taking her to the exit. Why would this path be here if there wasn’t a way out? She tried to reason her racing heart and kept foraging ahead.
Finally, she was close enough to the wall to see. She sat on the ground momentarily to catch her breath and set down her pack. There was a sturdy-looking iron door, “that must be how people are coming and going” she thought. No one had ever mentioned a door to her before. Everyone always seemed like coming and going was the easiest thing in the world. She wondered if it needed a key or if it just pushed open. “Don’t be silly!” she scolded herself. “If it needed a key you would have one! Someone would have told you! Just go and open it!” Before she could get up she saw another girl walking towards the door. “I’ll watch and see how she does it, then I will do what she does”. There was a nearby tree she leaned up against as she watched. The other girl walked without a care in the world. In fact, she did not even slow her stride when approaching the door. She watched in awe as the other girl sailed right through the door without even flinching. How had she done that?! It looked quite easy but almost too good to be true. She stood up and straightened up her shoulders. If that girl could do it then obviously so could she. As she approached the door images of a heavy iron door smashing her fingers played out in her head. She imagined it slamming and never allowing her back inside the village if she did get through. Anxiety started to choke up her movements, her stomach felt like someone was wringing it in their hands. There was a knot in the small of her back and she felt light headed. Why was this door having such a strange effect on her? What was wrong with her? She forced herself to put her hand on the doorknob. She was jolted by an electric feeling that shot up through her hand when she tried to turn it. She put both hands on and tried to push it open but it would not budge. It singed her hands and she turned and ran back to the tree.
She tried to regroup. What had just happened?! That other girl had simply floated right through while the door couldn’t have been more troubling for her. She looked down at her hands expecting to see them bubbling up with burns. Her skinned looked normal as if nothing had happened! What was wrong with her? Was she cursed? She was so embarrassed that she couldn’t figure out the secret of the door and had given up so easily. She decided to sleep on it and try again in the morning. She curled up under the tree and fell into a sleep filled with nightmares.
She awoke to the sound of birds chirping and to footsteps. The girl from the day before who had left the village was walking down the path carrying an armful of flowers she had picked from outside. She was humming and looking so carefree, it was maddening!
“Excuse me!” she called out.
“Yes? Can I help you?” the other girl peered at her.
“Please, tell me your secret!” she begged, beginning to feel desperate.
“How do you leave the village? How did you get out?! How do you open the door?!”
The other girl looked at her with a very confused expression.
“I just walked through” she said with a strange look on her face and continued on her way.
She slumped against the tree. She buried her head in her hands. Was it all a cruel joke, some kind of hazing? Was she not meant to leave? Her stomach churned and her face burned in shame. Soon her family would be expecting news of all the exciting adventures she was having. What would they think when they found out she couldn’t even begin? She spent the day crouched under the tree watching people come and go. At night she crept back to the door, not wanting anyone to see her try and miserably fail again. The same thing happened only this time the door seemed larger, more scary, and somehow more tightly locked. Every time she approached it she would break out in a sweat, her heart would pound, and her stomach would curl into a tiny knot. This was not normal. No matter how brave she tried to be she could not master the door. Some days even the thought of it made her sick. So she tried to put it out of her mind.
Time passed and the girl discovered many ways to entertain herself in her new abode under the tree. It was pretty interesting to watch all the commotion of people coming and going. She made a cozy tent and filled it with books and flowers. She tried to be happy and accept her new lot in life. Anyone who tried to befriend her she held at arms length. She was friendly but nothing beyond surface talk. She didn’t know how to tell people about the door. She knew they wouldn’t understand, just like the incredulous girl she had asked for help. She had nightmares about the way that girl looked at her, like she was crazy and out of her head. She couldn’t bear her family looking at her that way or her friends from the village. So she kept to herself.
One day, the girl was sitting up in the branches of her tree reading a book and daydreaming. She felt the tree shake and noticed a boy was climbing up. She scowled at him when he got to her branch but that didn’t seem to bother him. Couldn’t he tell she preferred solitude??? She didn’t want to tell anyone about the Iron Door. He sat down despite her unwelcoming attitude and said, “I hear you have a lot of good books, do you think we could make some trades? I’m going on an adventure and need something new”. He held out a bag of well-worn books and they began to talk. Then they started to laugh. They traded books and read aloud and sang songs. The boy didn’t leave. The girl didn’t mind. It was very nice to have someone around that made her laugh.
Time and seasons passed. The rains came, the snow came, the flowers came, and the door and the girl remained the same. Watching as friends came and left with tales of the cities they saw, the new ideas they had learned, made the girl melancholy. Everyone else was changing and growing and they were stalled with no hope of moving forward. Having someone else around reawakened the excitement to explore life outside the confines of the village. Some days the boy and girl would rail at the door and try to approach it. Then long periods would come where the door wasn’t addressed. Every passing minute the door wasn’t resolved chipped away at the girl’s soul. It left her empty, a shell of her former self. The girl that was excited that day long ago was long gone. What was to be done? She had never heard of anyone else having this problem so there must be something wrong with her. To her core she felt humiliation and the burden of letting down friends and family that after all this time she couldn’t do a simple task that all people from the village could do, and do it with ease. And not only could she not do it but was terrified of it. One particularly bad night the boy woke to her pounding and clawing at the door screaming into the night. “Why won’t you just go without me?!” She raged when he approached her. “Just leave me here! This is where I belong. I’m stuck!! You don’t belong here!” She collapsed on the ground and felt the last bit of light escape from her. He sat down beside her and said he wanted them to go together. He didn’t know how to make that happen. She cried for the millionth time over the iron door.
After many, many days of sameness something happened that set things in motion for change. The day was just like any other. The girl was selling and trading books to people coming and going from the village. She got a new book from a traveller and was interested immediately. It was about a girl who had trouble with doors. Her heart stopped. Dare she get her hopes up? It must be some kind of mistake. She sat down under the tree and poured over every single word. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Every line was as if it was from her own head. Doors that wouldn’t open. Sadness. Pain. Isolation. Stagnation. But then….hope? Hope was a foreign concept to her. The book detailed a girl who also fought the demons of a door. She couldn’t conquer the door on her own but got help and defeated it. Defeated it?!? It was possible? Who helped her? The book called them the “Door Keepers”. Was it real? Could these Door Keepers really help?
With fear and excitement she showed the book to the boy. It was as if something inside her had shifted. He seemed interested but skeptical, was it just a work of fiction? Was it real? It seemed like they needed to make a decision. Choose the safety of the tree and forget life outside the village or decide once and for all to defeat the door. The safety of the tree had turned into a strangle hold; safe but smothering. Enough was enough, they decided to send for the Door Keepers. The girl decided the sameness was more crippling than the fear. So the fear would have to be dealt with to reach change.
The Door Keepers sent word they would come. The girl was the most anxious she had ever been. What if she failed? What if opening the door hurt beyond what she could bear? Finally, on the day they arrived the girls fears were put at ease. With kind confidence they reassured her others had been suffering like her and that she too could move past this. They could teach her to open it if she would follow their guidance. Then she would be free.
With determination they began to work, the Keepers teaching her the ways of mastering the door. Talking her through her fears and motivating her to keep going. With each small victory the girl began to feel the chains on her heart loosen. In a few days time the door didn’t look so intimidating. Finally she was ready to go through to the other side. The Keepers told her to just walk through. They said to trust and just do it. She took a deep breath and walked without wavering. As she approached the threshold something miraculous happened: the heavy iron door became an open tunnel! She blinked. It was still a tunnel! There was no door in sight! She could see mountains, a river, and a field of wild flowers on the other side, and a fork in the road and signs pointing in many different directions. Where did the door go?! She turned excitedly to the Keepers. Maybe it was magic.
They smiled. It had always been a tunnel but she had always seen a door. It didn’t make the door any less real, but the fact of the matter was NOW it was an easily passable tunnel and she could see it that way. She knew beyond a shadow of a doubt without the Door Keepers she would never have been able to make her mind open and teach her eyes to see the truth. “How can I thank you?!” she cried, hugging them. They laughed and told her to go have adventures and let any other girls who might be held up by a door know there was hope. They gave her a necklace with a key on it as a departing gift and a reminder that she had the key to the “door”. The Door Keepers packed up their tools and headed off to help another girl who was waiting to be released from the prison her door had created.
Fresh waves of joy she never thought she would feel again bubbled up inside her. She ran to the tree where the boy was waiting and grabbed his hand. “We’re finally free to go!” she proclaimed. They left the village and never looked back*.
By C. Berry (July 2014)
* Results may vary from person to person