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You were a child, once. You wandered with confidence. You had small searching fingers that read noses and mouths like books. You learned, from that voice of god, the ever-present drone of the television, that butterflies taste with their feet. So you tasted the world through the tips of your fingers and became a young connoisseur of the cosmos.
Flower petals rubbed between your thumb and forefinger were mermaid scales and swatches of silk. Dusty gray stones in your palm were skulls, diamonds, and ancient coins that you traded for carelessly whittled bars of fragrant soap. On hot days you would lie in the grass and bathe in the rising mist from the midnight dew. On cold nights you would turn your soft cheek to the stars and feel the delicate dance of light across your raw skin, listen to the music of the movement of the planets along their sightless circles of the sun.
The world was full and beautiful to you then, gentle like the guiding hem of your mother’s skirts, mysterious like the yawning emptiness of your father’s forbidden closet. Waking each day to the sonorous trumpet of the sun was like a new birth and a first breath with each ritual revolution of your planet.
If only you had managed to keep hold of the newness, of the magic, of the breathlessness of dawn. If only there had not been that door to stumble through, that broken glass to bleed you nearly dry, that winding road to coax you away from the known world. If only there had been a net to catch you, a leash to lead you, a bar or two across your open window. A cage could have saved you. But like the shrieking creatures of that place which first taught you the sound of pain, that place where animal voices bubbled through glass and plastic and where your mother scraped away the tears which were the first fallen pieces of a crumbling consciousness, you craved liberty. The more you explored the world the darker it grew, the larger the shadows loomed in vacant corners of your mind, and the weaker the light which chased them away.
When the waves finally closed over your head during the turbulent crossing of Childhood’s End, all of your knowledge of the nighttime and the starlight and every voice and footstep splintered across the middle. Ship and sail and captain and crew drifted down into the deep in two careless cracked pieces, settling with a silent thunderous shudder on the ocean floor. Into the crevices of each half crept the monstrous crabs and eels and white-eyed wraiths of the infinite unholy trenches. The wrecks disintegrated slowly beneath your skin, parts of the whole forever parted by immovable mountains of cold and weightless water.
You lived for a while on this Great Divide, your decaying soul split across two continents. Miracle or monster? you wondered. And why? Always and always, fear like dissonant drums clattering away in your perpetual nightland, asking why why why until even words, your tenuous link to the light world, were osmosed into the ocean of your asking.
It came upon you, later in life, that reason had no bearing on reality. Because houses burned to the ground with children still inside them, and telephone poles sometimes fell on parked cars without warning and with no wind to push them. What miracles were these? And what kind of miracle is an invisible sunset or a flower that has wilted without you knowing? Life and death passing unnoticed, unchallenged, neither one meriting awe or agony as it whispers away into shadow. A monster then, you decided. Because monsters, unlike miracles, do not need to be seen in order to be understood, and monsters, unlike miracles, are better off unreal and unremembered. Revel in it, you told yourself. Revel in the relinquishing of reason as a limit to your imagination. Be a monster and be perfect, be whole, be as real as any monster can be. Be everything that is monstrous and nothing that is miraculous, and thus reclaim a singular, misshapen soul.
Colors leaked from your eyes the more you wept and the more you walked in the rain, like dye leached from cheap cloth. Strange, but you once had known red as well as you knew Roethke and Rand, even though it was impossible. But what was impossible for a monster? you said. Who can say what cannot be done by the thing that cannot exist? you declared. Red was a feeling, like your heartbeat or the fire of a paper cut or the choking sorrow of final understanding. Red was as real as the wind clasping at your hand or the younger brother who loved you until he realized he was the better being, the greater good. Then red became your enemy and you raged against it. When you were finally victorious the world recoiled from your searching fingertips. You could no longer imagine what your planet might look like. Things became less than they had been, became smaller and sharper and crueler. Where before you had looked for color, had believed that it was there, now you expected only black, and encountered only black, which tasted like dying with every descent into sleep.
Sometimes on those precious cold nights when the stars danced and you strained to touch their singing, a hand would rest lightly on your shoulder and for the smallest of moments you would imagine a brightness in the infinite space of dark, a light like the moon seen through the wrong end of a telescope. Yet sure enough even that touch could not break through the layer of arctic ice that had claimed your ocean. Because skin, like flower petals and star songs, was too soft and too forgiving.
In time you forgot what it was like to be a butterfly. You forgot how to taste the world with your fingers. You forgot how to touch people's faces without fear. You let yourself freeze all the way through and you stopped listening to the whispers of remembered wishes.
You forgot how to dream in colors that you had never seen.
What could you do then? How could you learn to love without touching, without tasting?
So you laid your head on the wet grass, splayed your withered hands against the smooth, unfeeling earth, closed your eyes, and died.
And when you saw the light, you sighed.