Innocence Revisited
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When I was thirteen years old, a woman approached me. Old and hunched, she held only an acacia branch in her bony hands. She had a wicked grin, yellow and brown teeth shifting and fluttering, threatening to launch themselves into empty space when she spoke.

She told me terrible things. She spoke of purpose, of suffering, of all the things forced upon me. Of us.

Oh, and how I begged her to free me. And how that wobbly smile faded. A lost look in her eyes, like tempests and hurricanes swirled within her, twisting her insides and drowning that smile I almost began to miss.

Calloused hands held my cheeks, brushing away tears that had begun to leak from my shining eyes. And though her eyes held such guilt, she steeled herself.

She told me they know when we are afraid.

She was gone before I could ask what she’d meant, the branch she held splintered and broken where she once stood.

I’ve never quite mastered the stone face as she did. I can make my mouth into a hard line, fix my face so to rival the smoothest of statues, but my eyes remain the same. The fear shines so bright, like a beacon calling them to me.

And every night my body aches. She aches with the ghosts of many unspoken desires. The ghosts of fingers pressing in too hard, of teeth and nails and bony joints. Every night I stare at the four walls surrounding me and try not to feel watched.

But like snakes burrowing into desert sand, they are cunning.

They’ve made God a man. So that when I kneel before them, a small part of me still feels holy. So that begging for their forgiveness feels as natural as breathing. So they can tell me what love is.

And because I have nothing to compare it to, I decide I am not meant to love.

Oh, but I want.

Desire is like religion to me. The constant state of longing, the suffering, the self flagellation. How holy they make me feel. How clean.

That is how it will remain. Ghosting lips and heated looks. I know I’m impossible to love. But I still have dreams of it. Of care, of adoration, of trust.

There’s always something off about them.

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