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Innocence is something we all have at some point in our lives. Sometimes we hold on to that innocence for awhile, sometimes it gets taken from us, sometimes we give it away because we have nothing else better to do with it.
There are many people who know me, who will disagree with the story I am going to tell about my innocence being taken away. My innocence was snatched from me at a young age, but I believe that my innocence was taken on a cold night in December of 2010.
Downtown Saint Pete was not the best place to be at night. No matter who you were, pimp or prostitute, man or woman, butcher or baker. This was a place where mothers spoke badly of and told their children to never ever go to, that the scary monsters would get them. Downtown Saint Pete was that big dark scary house at the end of the block that everyone was afraid of.
It was full of bad people, bad children who’d steal your car in the daylight, bad men who would steal little kids right from their mothers in the park. So why would I have been out there in that awful place if I had known the consequences of what might happen?
It just so happens that my best friend of seven years lived here. Now we had never ventured out into the main streets with all the shops and fast food restaurants, we were kept hidden in the neighborhood. But Grey and I wanted to print some pictures so we could make a scrap book for a friend for Christmas, and the CVS was right up the street. Her mom wouldn’t take us for some dumb reason, but we didn’t mind. We wanted this adventure.
So we suited up, jackets, hats, boots, and scarves. With money in our pockets we walked out the front door and into the jungle. We laughed and talked about stupid things. We talked about how nervous we were. We talked about how we should have left sooner because by the time we would be leaving the CVS, it would be night time. But it was okay. We knew we could do this.
While we walked, still in the neighborhood, men whistled at us, I’d tense up and turn to say something vulgar to them, but Grey would grab my shoulder, “Han no, come on now we can’t have trouble.”
I listened and kept walking on. At one point there was a man walking in the opposite direction of us, he was coming towards us. He was young, maybe 18. He had orange hair and a jersey number on his shirt. I got ready to attack if he tried anything, fist in a ball in my jacket, but he looked up at us, smiled and said “How are you doing,” as we passed him. I smiled, thankful that he wasn’t trying to hit on us or anything. “Fine,” we said as we passed him, and that was it.
I was hopeful that more men on the street would be like this young man, but I was quickly proved wrong.
Right after we had spoken to the young man, a large white truck with a cab on it honked its horn and stuck his head out the window, he made a crazy looking face at us, and I gave him an equally nasty look back and continued to make our way to the main road. Right before you hit the main road there is a small mechanic’s shop in the neighborhood. Sketchy right? As we pass it men whistle, I remember the disgust I felt inside, how I wanted to kick them in the balls and scream, “Whistle at me now b****!”
Grey looks at me with concern, “Don’t say a word.” So I didn’t. We make it to the main road and head down the sidewalk. Greilyn is on the outside, so I push her to the inside of the sidewalk.
“What was that for?” She says.
“I’m on the outside, you know that.” I say to her without looking at her.
“Anthony used to do that too.” She smiled with delight.
I hated being compared to her ex boyfriend who she still just “talked” to.
We then discuss the dangers of being out here by ourselves even though we have each other.
“In my head, I know I’m not invincible, but I still feel like I am. I don’t think I’m ever going to get raped or stolen, I don’t see that happening, but I know it could. It’s like a trick. I hate it.” I say to Grey.
“See I don’t feel invincible, I know something like that could happen to me.” She says with her head down.
“That’s why I stand on the outside, I don’t think a car would hit me, but in my mind I know it could. But it’s like I’m not acknowledging it. It’s very much there, but I pay no attention to it.”
We go back and forth on this till we reach the CVS, only one car has the bravery to honk at us in public. We go inside, and the warmth defrosts my face, I love this feeling.
Greilyn goes straight to the “One hour picture printer.” While I go in search of socks, because mine are too short for my boots. When I come back with tall pink “Breast Cancer” socks, Grey laughs at me. I smile back at her as I slip them on. From then on we pick out pictures of which ones we like, print them, pay for socks and pictures, and then leave.
The sun has set long ago, and night has fallen. The air is cold as it lifts my bouncy hair off my shoulders and I breathe the cold air through my nostrils. I always felt like it purified you because the cold would rattle your insides, and your chest would tighten some. It’s like it froze all the bad, and then melted it away.
As we make our way back, we only get a few honks. In that moment though, I felt as if the wind had not only lifted my hair from my body. But my innocence too. I no longer felt 15. I felt older. More confident than anything in the world. I felt amazing. I believe that then was when my innocence left me. I didn’t give it to anyone, no one got to take it, and it left on its own. I picture it flying in the wind like a scarf when the wind takes it from someone’s neck. I remember smiling in that moment. The little innocence that I had managed to hang on to had left me, and I was ok with that.
But the moment is gone just as soon as it arrives; we both become nervous because we have to pass a rinky dink bar full of drunken men to get home. We’re coming up to the neighborhood roads, but we have to cross a main road¸ “Why don’t we just go behind that shed thing, it’ll be faster and easier and we wont have to cross the main road.”
Greilyn stops and looks at me like I had said god was real or something. “No, doesn’t that look sketchy to you? It’s so dark. Some scary people are back there. Lots of drug dealers too. Let’s just cross the road.”
I agree to just cross the road. As we cross it we both know what are approaching, the bar, and the sketchy mechanics shop. Would those men still be there? Waiting to catch their prey at night time? Thankfully they were long gone. We made home fine, passing the bar was nerve racking, but no one ever came out to talk to us. Which we were both fine with.
The next day we walk to the CVS in the early afternoon so it won’t be dark again when we go home. We print out more pictures that we had forgotten about and chit chats with “Steve,” the picture service man who keeps looking over at us.
As we leave the CVS we decide that we are starving, and must get something quick before the scurvy takes over. Across the road is a Publix and a China Wok One, we decide on Chinese food. The sun is shining on our backs but the wind still cools us. Car’s buzzing all around us; we push the cross walk button and laugh at the lady picking her nose in a blue Honda. The walking man sign pops up across the street and we make a run for it, Greilyn always hated crossing streets, whenever we did we had to do it fast, no walking.
When we reach Chine Wok One, the smell is inviting, it is warm from stoves frying up cat and dog, and the lady behind the counter greats us with an ever squinty smile. “How may I ell ohh?” she says to us.
“We’ll be just one moment ma’am,” I say to her as we look over menus and find things within our budget. When we finally figure out what we want, we place our order and sit at the pale colored tables. I don’t remember what we talked about. But I do remember taking pictures of our enormous amounts of food. We each had at least 3 plates of food. Chicken, beef, lots of white rice, crab ragoons, egg rolls, spring rolls, you name it we had it. In a disgusting way we ate all of it, not wanting to lug it back home, but not wanting to waste our fifteen dollars either. Whenever Grey would get full I’d eat some of hers, whenever I felt I couldn’t lift the fork she’d grab it and eat some of my rice. I remember us giggling as we unbuttoned our pants and exhaled loudly about how great it felt, but struggled to button they back up again. We left, fat and full, our eyes had been bigger than our stomachs but we proved them wrong, now the rice was being stored in various places in my body wherever it had room. It almost felt as if we had waddled home, our stomachs so round that we didn’t bother trying to suck it in, and yet we still got honked at.