Sunday, February 01, 2015

Rack'em up, knock'em down

"We live in a take-down culture. And it's not just about proving them wrong, you also have to have more fun than them." - Taylor Swift
Like her music or not, the kid makes a crucially valid point. It isn't enough for someone to succeed. Their every flaw, mistake, and even any awkward move must be picked apart, until their accomplishments pale in comparison to their missteps.

Is it any wonder so many people feel unworthy of their own breath?

I used to squirm ashamedly beneath the weight of the ugly words and the cold stares, and when it got to be too much I'd have to find some hiding place. I'd escape to a new neighborhood, a new town, or a new love. I'd drown in the distractions until the memories drifted to the surface to gasp for air, and then I'd float away again on my sailboat made of anchors.

It never got worse, because really, nothing is ever worse than the faded cries of lost little hearts. Oh, my heart, with the cracks that only got deeper by the day. The nights I would allow the crevices to rip another chunk of my soul from my chest, lying on the floor in a pile of agony, begging and pleading to a God I didn't believe could possibly believe in me anymore. And then the tears would dry, but the soul never truly healed. Lungs can't breathe oxygen from a vacuum, and dead things can't be healed.

I didn't want to heal.

I wanted to be shredded to ribbons by white-hot knives, feeling every millisecond of the searing pain, just as I'd heard in that trembling, small voice on the phone. I wanted the pain to swallow me whole, and to never feel the breath of hope whispering in my ear. I didn't deserve it. I deserved the empty, cavernous void I'd built myself.

Except that sometimes I wanted out.

So I'd climb, but only halfheartedly believing the chains would break. Then the tug. I'd look down and see the shackles, and instead of putting up a fight, I'd convince myself it would be best to let them be. The chains were stronger, looping through the iron rings of self-hatred, embedded in crumbling concrete walls that dripped with desolation.

Little lights would shine, but when the flames were weak they'd only blow out and their wicks disintegrated, destroying the hope of ever being re-lit. When the flames were strong, they'd light the way for a little while, providing some warmth. Eventually, though, toxic flames will singe and burn and leave scars. So for a while, I began to try to grow in the dim light drifting through the cracks around the door. But few flowers bloom at twilight.

What I hadn't expected was that the roof would be so permeable. It began as something to pass the time: I'd poke a few holes, and a few stars would shine happen to shine through. Those few twinkles of light would encourage me to poke a few more. Soon, a skylight. Not long afterward, the roof began to crumble, and those small little voices were in my ears again. Only now they're not small anymore. And they're the music of angels in my ears.

Sometimes I'm afraid of being buried under the weight of falling debris of wasted past memories. Sometimes the scrape my cheek, or graze my side. But though the cell is still there, it's at least as big as an amphitheater, with a clear view of the sky all around. I suspect I'll climb out eventually, once I've rebuilt the steps to the door.

But outside the door, that's where the light truly changes, and the trees take over the crumbling paths with thirsty roots and fill the sky with shimmering leaves that reflect the sun.

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