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The Prisoner

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Growing up, I wanted to be all kinds of different girls.
When self-worth was wrapped up in
How many smiles I got in the hallways and
How many notifications lit up my phone,
How many people I was inviting to my birthday party
I was
Always standing on the outskirts of a conversation
I was
Always pushed just a little outside of the huddle
I was
Always listening, never speaking
I spent
countless hours pacing back and forth all alone in my room
My eyes strained from hours starting at self-help pages
and advice columns
Trying to discover the hidden password everyone seemed to know
Or the key everyone else seemed to have neatly tucked away in their back pocket
That unlocked the door to purpose,
To belonging
To escaping confusion and inadequacy
When my heart was set on
A stranger I thought I knew
While my friends had their first long nights on the phone,
Everything from first “I love yous”
to fifth and sixth and seventh dates
I wondered what I didn’t have inside
That made no one want anything except what they saw outside
I was stuck
Creating films in my head that no one could hope to live up to
I don’t remember when things changed
But one day I stopped gazing outward for the person I longed to become
Because a voice inside made me cast my glance inward
I stopped looking outward for patterns to copy
Stopped using the faces I saw outside to shape my insides
Instead, I wanted to be the voice that was inside my head all along
But don’t get me wrong.
This is not a story of self love.
There’s a girl I know
She doesn’t have a name
But she definitely has a voice
Sharp and biting, like acid on skin
Sometimes out of anger at the timid cage that,
despite its weakness,
Keeps her prisoner,
binds her wrists and forces her to stay silent
Sometimes out of fear,
that even if the day finally comes that she breaks free
of that shrinking, cowering prison,
Of the duct tape of insecurity,
That needing to please others
Sealed tightly over her lips
If the day finally comes that she breaks free
Maybe anything she does won’t even matter
As the days turn into years
and the years turn into centuries
And the centuries lead into irrelevancy
And her voice becomes one with the thousands of others,
Crying for justice,
or revolution,
or the hundreds of other flames of passion for change
Until the voices trample each other,
trample the life and the energy and passion out of one another
as they fade to anger and bitter resignation
Extinguished by the rain of reality?
Maybe anything she does won’t even matter.
But somehow, she has to escape anyway.
Because her prison warden is tired of hearing
the things she screams from inside her cell
Whether it’s disgust with society,
lack of faith in the world or anything after it
Or simply a joke that might be a little too risky
Or worst of all, admitting how much she cares
She says exactly what the warden is thinking
She might be brash,
she might be dark
She might sometimes be absolutely depressing,
or absolutely ridiculous
But she’s honest.
And the warden is jealous.
Every time the girl tries to escape,
the prison’s hands shake
The prison’s eyes stay cast downward, mouth sealed,
just like the girl
Who filmed those fantasies in the theatre of her mind
The prisoner’s screams turn to thoughts and images and snarky little phrases
flickering across the warden’s mind
Little snapshots of what could be
Of all the girls I’ve ever wanted to be,
the prisoner is my favorite.
And even though she may hidden deep down in some dungeon,
I want to
Really be her,
not just let her part my lips and use them as a megaphone
once in a while
No more telling her she’ll earn her freedom next week,
next month
When college starts,
or when the warden gets her first “real” job
Those cheesy “be yourself” posters,
carelessly tossed onto classroom walls and counselor’s doors
Like the one that so cheerfully announces that “in 30 years,
it won’t matter what your hair looked like
or what clothes you wore
But what will matter is how you made people feel”
Make the prisoner want to say things that would make people shake their heads or their stomachs turn in discomfort
She wants to say in a snarky little voice
That in thirty or sixty or ninety more years
How you made people feel won’t matter either
because all those people will be dead.
Yet as much as it pains both warden and prisoner to admit it,
There’s a shred of truth hidden amongst the platitudes
That the best person you can be is the best version of yourself
I’m tired of being the warden,
always suppressing,
always holding back
Today, I’m helping the prisoner escape.






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