Whitlam Institute

What Matters 2019 Shortlist

What Matters 2019 Shortlist

Just. Breathe.

Just. Breathe.

Kotoko Takehara

Year 8

There is a little light flickering in my mind- a lightbulb, desperately trying to stay lit, as they drive lazily on the hot asphalt. They're talking to me, but I can't hear them. I'm lost in my own mind, just trying to keep my breathing in check. The world is too bright, too sharp- the sun glares down on me, the engine of the car is too loud, the clouds in the sun so blindingly white that I have to close my eyes to block it out, block it all out. The walls of this car confine me, and it feels like they're pushing against me, and the space is narrowing, until I'm crushed. My breathing becomes tighter, faster, but they take no notice.

There is no relief, no reprieve from this never-ending train of thought. It's like a room with the lights on, but there's no switch to turn it off. Sleep is blissful only for a few seconds, until reality shaped and warped as nightmares take hold, paralysing me with fear even in my sleep.

I try to remember what she said: breathe. Just. Breathe. I breathe in through my nose, out of my mouth, but it's far too quick. I try again, opening my eyes, looking out the window, the trees dancing along in the wind, the blur of people, of families, doing whatever that families do. As we stop at a red light, I see a sleeping child being carried in her mother's arms as they cross the road to the park. I wonder what that feels like. Love. Family.

They're still talking. Their voices hurt. Their voices are a drone, like a low hum just below the radar, not too obvious, but listen to it for too long, and it's like a blow to the head. I wish they would stop. Don't they realise that they're hurting me?

But they don't notice me. They say they do, but it seems like all they care about is getting away from me. The only person who didn't, who wanted to stay, is gone now.

They turn into a driveway, the gravel crunching beneath the tires. The sound is like a crash of lightning to my ears, and I wince. They park the car, and get out. My breathing starts to become shallow once more, and fear bites into me. I don't want to go. I don't know where to go anymore.

With rough hands, they pull me out of the car, flanking me. Despite myself, my traitorous eyes look up at the orphanage, and the truth seems to seep in. I think of the child with her mother, remembering myself, my parents, my siblings. We used to be like that. But not anymore. I take a small, shaking step, and a great, shuddering sob is ripped out of my throat.

I need them.

I need my family.