I see myself in a cat, eyes wide, trapped in harness, tied to a thin leash around my wrist. It lies low to the ground, trying to disappear, horrified by the sound of the wind. A tree. A leave scuttling by. And yet — it does not want to go inside.
I see myself out on a camping trip, by a fire, squinting to see into the wall of darkness. From the unknown sounds rise. I sit up. The same look is in my eyes. My heart pounds out of my chest. It is just a wave crashing or a rock sliding down a hill.
I was born into a tepid, easy, comfortable life. And by that life, I was domesticated hard and fast.
Timidness and a desire to trust the goodness of others made my captivity possible. When goodness was abuse, I hollowed out a hole inside me instead of self-respect. It was easy for those with selfish goals to fill it with fear. I was quick to listen, to sit quiet with chains around my neck, hands, feet. I did not know that things lived free, moved without bounds or walls, made choices of their own accord. I did not know what autonomy was. I was taught to be afraid to breathe.
I lived on shallow half-breaths and dreamed, at night, of long deep sighs.
My leash was short and I was trained to trot along. A lovely breed with weak hips who walks elegant along the rope to win best of show. My trot was perfect, my head held high, my smile bright for I was taught to never let the darkness of cages show in the light behind my eyes. I blinked the tears away just right.
The rod is efficient when it is kept near and employed quick. When it is never out of site.
Adulthood has been not so much a growing out of old ways, but a coming into an understanding of how to live. Not a realization that I had the wrong identity, but that I should have one at all.
This transformation did not come because I was loved, but because I was left alone. To sit in empty rooms and parse the panic I felt from life. From my inability to distinguish needs and wants. From my fear of the unknown. From my own voiceless cry.
I had to live with that broken self in order to know that I could create out of that shell one I liked. I had to understand it well enough to throw it out. To burn it up. To wash its ash away, make soap and cleanse myself for the first time since being born.
Now in this dark outcropping, I know that if I get up and step forward, out of this shelter — I will stand directly in the sunlight. And my whole body will hum with the energy of life.
I am terrified, but I am strong.
And, just in case, I have set failsafes in place so that — should I panic even now — I will still have to go. The first step may be the hardest, but never taking it is the worst of failures to endure.
I would rather burn up from the heat of the sun.
For as I burn, I learn that I am ready to love.