By Elena Montanye

Innocence is in-definitive. There is no list of elements that must be missing from a human experience to label someone as “innocent.” Our perception of the world depends entirely on our perception of ourselves. We pull from the darkest depths of our minds, the things we’re unsure of or ashamed of. The things we’ve experienced selfishly without regard for our moral compasses. The things we were policed for or conditioned to believe were ‘wrong.’ We clear the mental slate of these things, and arrive at our personal concept of innocence.

You see me as small and innocent because I’ve never preyed on a body and forgotten the human that inhabits it. I create meaning in nearly every intimate moment that I share with another living, breathing mind. You find pleasure in heated moments that rarely spur an emotional pull. You’re never invested and always satisfied, protected from the emotional pain of losing yourself to someone else. But you find that you can’t shield yourself from feeling guilty, wondering if you’re moving through life as less human and more animal.

I’ve never experienced that flavor of guilt. I’ve never mellowed it with substance and surfed the waters of the high to justify the dark, uninhabited edges of my mind. You find me innocent because my reality hasn’t been distorted the way yours has. That pill, that pipe, that powder, holds much more weight for me than it does for you. You’re a bit desensitized to it now, knowing that even the craziest trip will not cause you to fall. I have no such confidence. I don’t know that I wouldn’t condition myself to depend on the chemical-induced ride to escape the world and the brain that often pain me. The possibility is frightening, and you label my fear as innocence.

But you don’t realize that I think you’re innocent, too. You’ve never thrown your entire self into another person. You haven’t cracked open your ribs to expose the bloody, twitching hunk of muscle that keeps you alive, so much smaller than we make it out to be, and handed it to someone before they ever told you they were willing to hold it. I’ve allowed my insides to be set on fire by a lover holding a match. I’ve watched my organs burn to ash and thought only of what a lovely glow the firelight cast upon my beloved’s face. You haven’t lain on the ground, engulfed in the torturous heat of the flames, and apologized to the person who no longer wants you for burning their nose with the stinging scent of your scorched heart. You’re innocent, not familiar with the feeling of being addicted to adoring.

It’s that addiction that drives me to near insanity when, inevitably, I can’t make everyone happy. It eats away at my mind, sending me into frenzied spirals that eventually lose all meaning. I spend my days fighting the negativity that has become my brain’s auto-pilot, seeking positive reinforcement at every turn and living in fear of the moments I can’t find it. You settle into your negative thoughts to let them feed your creativity.

Maybe it makes you feel dark, but I only see purity. You can live there because you don’t fully understand how toxic thoughts can be, how they can make you physically ill and chain you to your mattress. You are naïve in the most beautiful way, and I am ravenously envious.

Even so, we’re more alike than we’ve acknowledged, both afraid of and intoxicated by the possibility of understanding unsettling pieces of our lives. We desire innocence where we don’t have it, and we see it in others only as reflections of the ways that life has tainted us. The word innocent often holds a negative connotation, used to wave off those who can’t make sense of those intricacies of our beings that we can’t make sense of ourselves. It sets others below us in a desperate but feeble attempt to bring ourselves higher, to feel more validated.

But maybe we’ve been wrong all this time. Maybe innocence is unscathed stability, and maybe finding it brings us closer to the peace of normalcy. Maybe we spend our lives working and reworking our definition of innocence, and what it becomes is just as unique and human as every part of us.

Image: Alex Costin

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