An Undergraduate Literary Journal from UW-Milwaukee

The Lotus Flower

by Meghan Skyla Perna

In some ways, the alphabet carries a childish connotation. It’s considered a norm to memorize the alphabet, and as children, it is expected that the letters become confidently learned. Afterwards, an entire world of magic comes with that wonder, the individuality of the child becomes inevitably more beautifully and clearly defined. Alphabetic letters equate to the creation of words–of language. With the necessary expectation of children memorizing the alphabet, comes the expectation that language comprehension become increasingly expanded. The breadth of knowledge that comes with the ability to comprehend words is a magic within itself. Words lead to the creation of sentences, which lead to the creation of stories. The accomplishment of alphabetic memorization for the child undoubtedly expands a sense of creativity. Sentences, put together by use and application of the letters which consume the alphabet, are the very definition of words being used as a form of magic.

I started seeing a psychologist when I was seventeen. I felt like I was different from other people. My perspective on things seemed twisted, which is something I genuinely loved about myself. However, dealing with peers as a seventeen-year-old was not very easy for me. I was called chicken legs, geek, nerd, weirdo, and worst of all, loser. These are such negative words. I consider them to be dark magic. I liked to articulate that in my conversations with people. I sought help from teachers throughout high school when I felt like I needed it. I enjoyed school so much. For this, I was picked on. I would speak with my psychologist about how I definitely felt like I was from Venus.

“It’s normal for you to feel that way,” she would say.

I don’t feel normal, though,” I would respond.

“Maybe you don’t feel normal right now, but you will. It’s high school! Everyone feels a little bit on the less normal side of things right now. You are not alone.”

My psychologist often made me feel misunderstood. She didn’t help very much. I had come to the conclusion that I was on my own for real. Hell, even my psychologist didn’t realize how different I felt. Regardless of the names people called me, and regardless of what my psychologist told me, I still pushed for a smile everyday. I didn’t like being picked on, but I liked my mind. I enjoyed how different I felt, even though being different came with consequences. I often compared myself to a lotus flower. It’s the only flower that can grow from the dirtiest of water and muck, and still bloom into something so extraordinarily beautiful. The best part about feeling like I’d come from Venus is that I could get lost in my own world every time I opened up a book, or brought a pen to a piece of paper and began writing. Words mean everything to me.

I finished high school, attended my graduation even though I didn’t really want to, and read my summer away until it was time to attend university. My parents were proud of me and I was proud of myself. I was very excited for a new sense of independence. I was finally going to be at a place where I could rule myself. No one knew I was chicken legs, loser, or weirdo like they called me back in high school. I was looking forward to being able to represent myself with strength in my weird, twisted-perspective ways. And then I fell in love with a demon.

They say that there’s an arbitrary line when entering a relationship, and trying to figure out at what point it turned abusive. I met him my freshman year, second semester at university. By the fall semester of my sophomore year, I stopped reading books. I didn’t enjoy writing. I was being belittled, demeaned, criticized, controlled, manipulated, and brainwashed, all through the use of words. Psychological trauma is dark magic. Then came my junior year, and I stopped smiling. I stopped spending time with the friends I had made in my classes. You could see the pain in my eyes, and if you tried to look for my soul, all you would find is darkness. No, I was not evil. Yes, I was tainted. I was unable to find this world’s normalcy. My reality was ultimately distorted. My trauma was all I knew at the time. It had consumed my mind to the point of insanity. When I looked at myself in the mirror, I saw a lost darkness and a contaminated soul. When I smiled, it was unnatural because my eyes weren’t smiling with me anymore; they just looked sad. Empty. Lost. Confused. One day, as I stared at myself in the mirror trying to find myself somewhere behind this mask that I was putting on– this fake smile, this make-up, these clothes–I thought about myself as a young girl. I imagined that she was standing right next to me. She smiled with her eyes, with her soul. She took me by the hand. She led me toward happiness, reminding me how strong I used to be. How strong I wanted to become again. I just didn’t know how.

I have a little cousin. Her name is Jackie, but I call her Jack Jack. She always loves me, even when I have forgotten how to love myself. She was six years old at the time. Her mother (my aunt) was planning to take a trip to Minnesota and insisted that I join them. I was hesitant at first to go with. I wasn’t myself, and I didn’t want Jack Jack to see me at my worst. I was ashamed, and I would be faking my happiness. Things would feel forced if I went. But I decided to go anyways, only with “permission” from my psychologically abusive boyfriend. Still, I went, and it was the best decision he could have ever made for me.

The drive to Minnesota was about six and a half hours. Aside from myself, Jack Jack, and my aunt Bianca, who were partaking in this trip, my uncle Alex and my grandparents came with as well. The drive to Minnesota felt long. I was anxious the whole time thinking of normal things to contribute during our road trip conversations. My personality felt forced. Jack Jack didn’t seem to notice though. She was so happy to be spending time with me. She giggled at every little joke I made, and wanted to sit next to me the whole time. I began to feel wanted. Things began to change.

Once we got to our cabin on the lake, I was in awe of how beautiful a place we were staying at. Our cabin was newly built, and we had the perfect lake view. Lost Lake Lodge was the name of our vacation-home. Immediately, Jack Jack announced that she wanted to share a room with me. I felt honored, and again, wanted. We unpacked our things together as she told me about her best friend in first grade, and how she loved being with friends at school.

“Do you like to read?” I asked Jack Jack.

She fell silent and put her head down. She changed the subject. We changed into our swimsuits and met the rest of the family downstairs for our first swim down at the lake. Jack Jack took me by the hand, and ran for the dock. Clearly, she wanted me to go with her. We were running so carelessly toward that dock, it seemed so far away. I thought for sure she would stop at the edge for us to sit down and dangle our feet toward the water. Instead, we kept on running and before I knew it, we jumped off the edge of that dock and straight into the beautiful lake-water. As our heads reappeared above the surface, I felt like we were moving in slow motion. I was laughing so hard! So was Jack-Jack. She swam towards me and asked me to carry her back to the dock so we could do it again. I did. We jumped. We laughed.

The next few days of the trip were similar. Slowly, I began to feel more normal. My input for family conversations during dinner did not feel forced or unnatural. I was being myself again. Before I knew it, it was the day before we had to leave Lost Lake Lodge. It was lunchtime and I was reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. It’s my comfort book, and I hadn’t opened it since before fall of my sophomore year.

“What’s that you’re reading?” asked Jack Jack.

I filled her in.

“Isn’t that about magic?” she asked.

“Yes, Jack Jack, this book is about magic and makes me feel happy. Do you want to read with me?” I asked her in response.

Jack Jack shuffled her feet a little bit and turned bright pink.

“I’m having a little bit of a hard time reading. I’m slower at it than the other kids in my class” Jack Jack said.

I shut my book and looked at my little cousin’s brown eyes; this wonderful cousin of mine, who looked up to me and genuinely adored me.

“Jack Jack, how would you like it if I read to you while you followed along in your own book? We can practice reading together.”

She responded, “I think I would want to do that.” So, I promised her that we would buy another copy of the book before starting the trip back home, and we would read together for the whole ride home from Minnesota the next day. She was absolutely thrilled – and so was I.

Later that evening, Jack Jack wanted to go out onto the lake one last time before we had to leave for home in the morning. It was dusk outside, but still some daylight to spare. My grandparents stayed at the shore to keep an eye on us, but my wonderfully little cousin and I went out onto the water on a paddleboard. She was sitting cross-legged and was so small at the back of the large board. While I sat at the front facing her, I paddled us out to the middle of the water. An hour went by, and we were talking about life. Jack Jack wanted to know everything about me. She wanted to know where I had been the last couple of years because I wasn’t myself and she knew it. I told her I was a little bit lost, but that I never forgot about her. I told her I was sorry. She told me to stick my sorry’s in a sack and throw them in the lake. We giggled together.

Another hour went by and the sun had set, but the waves were calm and my grandparents could still see us. We felt safe. Jack Jack and I were silent for a few minutes, and then she looked at me with curiosity.  She said, “Megan, do you ever look up at the stars and think about how small we really are? I feel like I’m in heaven. Sitting on this paddleboard with you is my heaven. Especially because of all the stars.” I beamed at my 6-year-old cousin.

“Jack Jack, I used to always look up at the stars and think about how small we are. I haven’t for a few years, but I’m doing it right now with you. You’re my little reminder about how perfect life is. I love you.”

“I love you, too,” said Jack Jack.

As I started to paddle us back to land, a single lotus flower floated by our board. The moonlight shined directly on it. I stopped paddling for a moment.

“Are your arms tired?” asked Jack Jack.

“No,” I said, “I just wanted to watch the lotus flower float by.”

Jack Jack responded, “Isn’t it so beautiful?” I told her yes. The lotus flower was so beautiful.