Rummaging through old boxes and packing her life away felt very surreal to her now. Melanie could not imagine living that life anymore. For that matter, she really couldn’t imagine what had happened ever would. Sweeping long strands of stringy blonde hair out of her face while looking through a mess of old pictures and trinkets suddenly flooded her with past memories. Some were amazing, but most of them for Melanie were a small reminder of how fragile life is and how beautifully painful and healing it can be. When Melanie was sixteen, she had all kinds of plans for her life. She was not going to be like her parents who worked at odd jobs just to make ends meet. No, Melanie was going to be somebody someday. Her name would be on the big screen or in big lights and lots of people would know who she was. The glitz and glam of Hollywood was beckoning Melanie at such a young age when she still had stars in her eyes. She thought she was going to be a singer, or an actress. Yes, an actress starring in a soap opera, and that was the dream. Little did Melanie know, life would take her off course and far from her dreams; in fact Melanie Combs, would not achieve much of anything in the next twenty years. A long list of failings would lead to personal struggles and uphill battles fraught with low income, never meeting the end of the month without a struggle and finding that she would not even come close to what her dreams used to be. The stars left Melanie’s eyes in her mid-twenties as she stumbled through job after job and stressed more and more over her pathetic life than how happy she could be if for once she could have let those old dreams go. Between heart aches and heartbreaks and headaches and mistakes, her life would seem unfulfilled and full of agony and misfortune. Melanie can only reflect on a childhood which was very fleeting, but the time spent there would be remembered her whole life long. For it was in those years, those glimpses in time that Melanie treasured who and what she was. She would spend hours and hours outside dancing under the stars or singing songs that only in her mind made sense. And the memories she had playing with her dolls or writing stories about wonderful, fantastical places that only existed because she believed they did were some of the greatest memories she ever made. The happiest she had ever been was the summer right before the fall when her parents got divorced and her then perfect world would forever be changed. Her soul would no longer soar. It would slowly sink into the ground and reality would take hold jailing her from living any kind of life at all.Melanie’s childhood and her endless dreams quickly faded and a young troubled adult emerged inside a sweet fourteen year old body. She was much too old for her young age and appearance as life had been a little harsh and it made her spirit that used to soar, fade into the background. She got a glimmer once, of that fantastic life and true happiness that comes from innocence. But life for her became dull and it was as if a film was covering who she really was inside and if that layer of film would have been removed, she would have been able to see everything clearly and perhaps in Technicolor like she used to. She felt utterly alone most of the time and had to raise three brothers into teenager’s by doing the cooking, cleaning and babysitting while dad had to work. Her father put bread on the table and kept them in nice clothes and they had nice things which offset the pain a little for her having to grow up rather quickly. She began to not care about too many things and depression guided her towards an ill-fated relationship that no one would deem worthy of her. But because Melanie had struggled for so long to be happy again, she took this young man as her boyfriend and showed him love and care as he was a troubled kid himself.Melanie had a kindness like no other and saw in others what very few people could see. She didn’t judge anyone by the cover, but only focused on their inner beauty and was very empathetic to many. At first, he seemed like prince charming and showed her a love she never knew she could feel. His heart seemed open, warm and giving and the light in his eyes made her fall for him. He was by no means a good looking boy, but the hours and hours they would spend talking on the phone about life and everything and anything in between began to fill an emptiness that was there for quite some years. She loved that he adored her and wanted only her. It made her feel on top of the world, and for once, she was finally happy.Over time, his love became intolerant of things that she would do that would be quirky to others. To him, it was as if she was stupid and naive and knew nothing about nothing. Melanie would often chime in when her boyfriend and a friend were in a conversation, and she often regretted butting in because he would make her feel like a fool. “Just shut up Mel, you have no idea what you’re talking about, are you too stupid to say anything intelligent?” he would say. If she said something dumb, he made sure to point it out. Everything he used to love about her started to make him loathe her. Since they dated all throughout high school, when the signs of mental abuse really began to kick in, Melanie was disillusioned and began blaming many things on herself for not being good enough for him. She would spend countless hours talking him out of a break- up with her and state, “I just can’t live without you, I would be nothing” Begging him to stay became everyday life and the hurtful words and little slaps when she got out of hand became normal. He would say things that made her feel like she would be nothing without him, so in return, she felt like nothing without him and had to be with him. As her neediness grew at a frantic pace, he was slowly morphing into a monster right before her eyes. Nothing she did was ever right and he had control and he knew it. She remembered driving with him and he knew she was afraid. Instead of making her feel better, he would purposely drive as reckless as possible because he knew it scared her. She would grab the seat belt and clutch the door handle and hold on for dear life until the drive was done. After that, she had become afraid of driving a car for fear she would wreck. Still, the neediness she felt to have him near her did not subside and they moved in together after she turned nineteen. There were many lonely nights inside this apartment. Many hours where she would wonder about him and what he was doing without her. That worry led her to fear many things and anxiety took hold where love used to be.Melanie knew she was changing. It was around this time that she began to close herself off from the rest of the world. When her boyfriend would come home, he was often bitter and angry all the while yelling and cussing her out about whatever his problem was that day. But Melanie had admitted defeat and merely gave up existing anymore. She listened to all he had to say over and over as if an old record was repeating the same parts. One night while he had been out for most of the day, something different happened. Melanie used to just wait and be anxious for him to get home. Often, it would turn into a crying fest. But this time it was different. A new strength emerged from the depths of her soul as she cried out for help. She could not stand living this way anymore and for some reason, she just felt she deserved better. Melanie began to realize what her friends had been saying about him was true. “You deserve better Mel, come on girl, you have to see that he is treating you just awful”, one of her dear friends would say. Shocked with the realization of all that she had given up to be with this lowlife finally flipped the switch. She realized who she became, and did not like the person she let this man control. Melanie had had enough and was finally able to quit her habit. He came home in a bad mood as usual, and her normal remark would be to hide or just simply take the bombardment. But this time was different and she felt strength in her like never before. She remembered that day in her mind as one of the proudest moments for her when she finally stood up for herself. He was walking to the kitchen that day and he ran into the corner of the couch, stubbing his toe, and in a lot of pain I imagine, he started ranting at her for not having moved the couch, as if it were her fault it was where it always had been. This time without fear, she stood up and glared at him, and she could feel the anger that was repressed starting to rise. “Do not blame me for your stupidity”, “you did this all by yourself”, she shouted right in his face. He started to yell back at her and before he could, she cold cocked him right in the lip. Utterly shocked by her behavior, but relieved at the same time, he ran out of the room and was yelling at the same time. “Don’t ever speak to me that way again, you prick, you have no right to hurt me ever, and I will not let it happen again!!” She remembered the strength it took to stand up to him and immediately after the incident, she called her father to come pick her up. She was done taking any more of it from him. That habit had almost broke her, but in the end made her just a little bit tougher because of it. She broke it off with him and felt the weights suddenly lift and the chains slowly began to break apart. Melanie was free and for a little while, she felt good again. During the in-between years, (years from Melanie’s twenties to where she was two years ago) Melanie felt the numbness creeping in slowly day by heart wrenching day. She often cursed herself, “How stupid Melanie” or you really are dumb as rocks, and the worst was “I am not worthy to even exist”. Of course, she had no idea that the mental abuse afflicted during that turbulent relationship in her early to late teens would have caused her such tremendous low self-esteem and self-doubt as well as all the negativity those powerful words would hold. Her past mistakes were marked by years of depression, lost youth and an unhealthy relationship with a mental abuser that only made her feel worse about herself. Melanie’s life had become a meaningless existence of which she had created. Every bad thought she held onto, every empty feeling she felt, led her life down a road filled with misery, bad luck and most of all regret. Regret for not being herself. Regret for feeling sad all the time wondering why she had such trouble being happy.Starring out the window through blurred glass, Melanie resembled the gray, damp, rainy day that she was experiencing by being here. She slowly wrapped her shawl around slim shoulders feeling like she was eighty years old. Melanie experienced a lot of pain in days past. She would awaken with horrible back pain and every limb of her body would feel a dull ache as if her whole body were falling apart. Her fears and anxieties grew during that dark period of her life. The void settled into her soul and she could not see exactly what this despairing state of mind was doing to her. Melanie just knew that because of that relationship, that crucial turning point from childhood to adulthood left her with scars that she could not easily heal or bounce back from. She lost contact with many of her friends and began working full time and missing a great opportunity to go back to school. For the next couple of years, working seemed to fill a void and the numbness actually soothed her broken heart. But that was also fleeting as the stress of work became overwhelming to her. She often wondered why she would cry immediately after a stressful day. Melanie was often angry at herself for not being able to handle everyday life events like most people did. At the age of 22 she met another man, a quieter more subtle type of man that would for a long time, balance her in areas where she still felt unsettled. This man would treat her well enough, and they stayed together for ten years. But, her dreams were soon dashed when he proposed after five years and she said yes. Normally, someone would be happy when they are proposed to, but for Melanie, something just was not quite right. So they remained engaged for a year, and soon after that, they slowly began slipping away from each other. He became distant and she would try to talk to him about his day or how he was feeling and he would say nothing, but okay. She would try to regain the close connection they had only to find there was nothing to hold onto. Melanie was at the losing end of this battle and often blamed herself once again for the state of this relationship. After a while, she realized the reason’s she was staying with him were not what she expected at all when it dawned on her that she had not loved him. Melanie simply stayed because she thought she had to and she thought it was in both their best interests to do so. One night about nine years into their relationship, the electric was shut off and it was a cold November evening. He was an avid hunter during this time of year and would spend countless months away from home on hunting trips. At first Melanie hated when he went on these trips because he would go away for five or six days at a time and she felt lonely without him. But like many things, over time you get used to certain things and they no longer have the same effect as they initially did in the beginning. She was happier when he was away than when he was at home because they were both unhappy together towards the end. This particular time was very crucial as the reaction would pave the way for Melanie to realize that both of them no longer cared for one another the way it should be. She had called him immediately and notified him by cell phone that the power was out and he had to come home to get it back on. She had tried to get it back on but they needed to speak to whoever paid the bill and he would not give her his personal information over the phone. So, he had to drive all the way back home to get the electric back on only to find out someone would have to come out here and fix the meter and that would not happen until Monday. ”Well, there is nothing I can do, you will have to figure this out,” he said as he grabbed his things and headed for the door. “So you’re just leaving to go back up to camp?,” Melanie said dumfounded by his reaction. She figured he would at least stay with her over the weekend or maybe they would go someplace that was nice and warm. No instead he said “why don’t you call my Mom or better yet, call yours and see about visiting her this weekend.” For some reason, his reaction struck her with the truth and the inevitability that at the time she did not quite understand but realized soon after. Their relationship had ended years ago, and no matter what she said or did would not change that fact. Melanie had been beaten by life, and now she sat in this little apartment from which it all began. With her cup of cold burnt coffee, sipping it slowly and gulping down her feelings like the bitter coffee she tasted once again, Melanie almost choked on those emotions that arose daily and just by being here even for a little while it was wreaking havoc on her soul. This apartment, this place had led her down roads she wished were different. She had so wished things could have been different in both relationships. As she began questioning it, she had gotten exactly what she wanted in different ways from both experiences. She had wanted someone to adore her and shower her with attention in the first relationship and she got that in the beginning plus more. With the second relationship, she had wanted a more quiet and peaceful life without the arguments and she got that as well. Now Melanie found herself craving balance and happiness. After she had broken it off with her second boyfriend, she began heading down a slippery slope and began to spiral downward out of control. At this point Melanie was truly lost. She had found peace with drinking and she began to drink a lot more. She began to question many things that led her to where she was and how to become stronger seemed elusive at the time. But the elixir helped her through her personal struggles and Melanie became more restless and reckless stating that she missed her teen years and just wanted to live. She did not care about tomorrow or the next day, just as long as she was living it up today. Drinking wine became her choice and she loved how she felt after a glass or five. It did not take Melanie long to realize this was not the right path for her. She did not want to lose herself to the drink. No matter what, she had to face what was causing her to replay every bad decision in her life. No more broken records, she thought, “I am going to figure out who I am now and fix it so my future has a good chance at success.” Knowing that if she kept telling herself such mean things, and that those words would soon would become her reality, did not stop her from having word vomit when in this place that brought back such horrific memories. But it was so hard not to feel the deep seed of pain. She could not take one more bad relationship, or one more bad road to go down which seemed the same as all other roads. Feelings of guilt and depression were tying tiny tendrils around her new found heart, that she loathed being in this place even a minute more. Melanie could not exist here anymore. This place and all the bad memories brought her nothing but bad decisions, bums and losers as well as mistreatment of all kinds. Maybe it was because she felt worthless at the time that she was being treated worthless by others. Reflecting on that notion would have to wait for another day since she knew her mother was coming in a half hour to take her out to lunch. Melanie always looked forward to their visits. Sometimes they would just drink coffee and catch up on all that was done during the month, and other times they would laugh at something that was only funny to them, or talk endlessly about things that only they loved. They had made up for lots of lost time during the turbulent teen years and she felt closer than ever to her Mother. She would be forever grateful that her mother loved her so much and regretted so much that every day her mother would not hesitate to make up for lost time. Glancing in the mirror at her reflection was something Melanie did not enjoy. She felt like her features were beginning to sag even though she was only 35. “Still some life left”, she said hesitantly as she tried to smile through a thick pair of glasses and straight wiry blonde wisps of hair that cascaded around her face down to her shoulders. Her thin frame ravaged by time and too much alcohol was starting to fill out in certain areas that needed filling. Overall, she was beginning to come alive again, and feel better as if light had entered where darkness once reigned. Her half smile showed her crooked two front teeth, which did add a lot of character and for years she hated to even smile because she felt so ashamed and embarrassed by her teeth. She looked awkward and frumpy, but this time, she did not care. “Okay, here we go, it’s show time”, she said in a breathy voice. Melanie knew her Mother would be there soon to take her out to lunch, and then on to her new life.The honking of the car horn drew Melanie back to reality and she knew it was time to say goodbye. She wrestled with her past demons long enough that it was now finally time to lay them to rest and move on to her future. Her bags were all packed and the moving van came by this afternoon to get the rest of her things. The only thing left was sitting on the mantle in the living room. Melanie slowly strolled over to the trinket that sat there waiting for her to play a song. It was her music box from when she was 11 years old. Not much more than a year before her life had changed. She hesitated wanting to play the song, but afraid of what she would feel if she did. The car horn subsided and with shaky hands she wound up the musical box and listened as it played singing in the rain one more time. A single tear rolled down her cheek and with that she grabbed the rest of her things and left the past behind.After lunch and much needed discussion about future plans and one excited Mom in tow, they were off to the new adventure that lay in front of them. Melanie felt the butterflies in her stomach and knew she must be dreaming because she never felt so good. Once they arrived at the hair salon, the girls were already gathering in the lobby and all Melanie could hear was excitement and a bunch of whispers and then giggles when she walked in. With her mother not far behind, Melanie left to speak with the hairstylist. Her Mom was a stickler with her hair and nobody was allowed to touch it accept her, and accept this one occasion. The girls all gathered round and began asking if she was excited, nervous or afraid. She was all of the above; however fear had left Melanie when she left the apartment for good today. Standing in the hall, she couldn’t quite wrap her mind around what was happening. She was reeling on the inside always dreaming, but never seeing how this could be for her. The dream of her childhood and the memories of her dancing under the stars and singing while swirling around in her back yard all came flooding back to her and she laughed so hard she almost cried. But she could not cry just yet. “Just hold on” she said whispering to herself. Next to her appeared her Father in a nice tuxedo as he grabbed for her arm. She was shaking, trembling inside, wanting to scream out loud how happy she was in this moment. Her Father looked her in the eyes and said “For you daughter dear, I would give the world, and because of you, that man in there is giving you his heart”. Melanie wanted to sob tears of joy because she never quite figured it all out until now.The walk down the aisle was the longest walk of her life. Melanie realized with “Technicolor” and vivid precision that she did not need to fix what was broken in the past; she merely had to accept that as part of who she is today. All those broken dreams, missed opportunities and shortcomings, as well as stumbling around in the dark for a while was part of the human experience. She was thankful today for the lovely, humble person she had become and grateful that life had unexpectedly given her a second chance to make it right. Having the dark times, made her appreciate what joyous times were. Right now in this moment she was finally free and laying to rest the past that Melanie held onto was for her an awakening. The chains that bounded her and kept her afraid of living finally fell away from her and she felt the immense joy that only fleetingly existed during the precious years of her youth. Melanie had finally got it. The seed to success begins with the willingness to try. This time she would fly higher than ever before. This time when she smiled that goofy smile of hers it would be adored and treasured and the self-loathing would no longer exist. She was accepted for all her faults, short comings and quirks and nothing or no one could take that away from her again. She might not have her innocence, but her spirit would forever dream and she would flourish knowing that she finally accepted herself so she could let love in.Seeing Jack made it all to clear, and Melanie saw her own reflection in his eyes. They were kind and loving eyes and his soul matched hers as imperfect as they both are, they knew they found the missing pieces in each other. For Melanie, and Jack, this would be their first official marriage, neither having ever tied the knot before. She could hear the onlookers sniffling in the pews and it made her heart swell. When she held his hands and vowed to love him forever, those words carried weight in volumes to her. As imperfect as life is, she found the missing link to her happiness. Jack made all her imperfections seem beautiful and her past was water under the bridge.After the Ceremony had ended and all the family headed to the reception, she told Jack to give her a few minutes alone in the church. When he left she glanced around at all the empty pews and stood in the middle of the aisle. Tears streamed down her cheeks and Melanie could not hold it in any longer. “Thank you”, she whispered, and then she happily walked toward her second life…..