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Chosen One

By Kael Knoxton Martin

Content warnings: mention of suicide, pedophilia, animal death and child death.

I’m disappointed. I don’t think I could ever sacrifice myself for someone else. I don’t think I could do it. I’m too afraid of death, too petrified of the unknown. I don’t want to suffer. I don’t want the people I love to suffer, either, which is the real kicker here, because if I couldn’t make the grand gesture where I get them out before the whole thing blows up, I’d kill myself afterwards from the guilt, but I still don’t think I could do it in the moment. What good am I, then? I’m supposed to be the hero, the titular character, the main attraction. What good is a hero whose heroic tendencies are lost in the overflowing shadows of cowardice? What good is a main character who can’t do what needs to be done? What is the use of just writing story after story in which I am afraid, never changing the chorus, never letting my imagination breathe?

When I was 16, I splashed around in the pool of my cousin's apartment complex, swimming lap after lap in a futile effort to outrun each of my realities. When I stopped to rest between laps, my mind wandered, nomadic through each memory of suffering I was forced to endure again in the moment, the ones that carried the sensation of lightning striking my very core, my essence, my all.

I became so engrossed in my own pain that when I witnessed the boy's head go under, right next to me, it didn't register. I gazed into the water, as if trying to scry my own future into sight, and I watched the young boy begin to drown, without realizing the implication and emergency that surrounds his head going underwater. He couldn't swim. He was no older than six. If his mother hadn't jumped in to save him, and it was up to me, I don't know if I would've processed it in time.

Another example:

I can count the number of times I’ve felt alive with one, singular strike against my own flesh. The cataclysm: I was eleven years old. The cataclysm should stop there, the cataclysm should not melt me into molded, polished monuments to a time of suffering - but life isn’t fair, she tells me. The cataclysm: I was eleven years old, and my best friend-for-one-month had the same name as me; it felt as if I was looking into the sole reflection of myself that I did not, at the time, find repulsive. I was eleven years old, and she had the same name as me, which meant I was a good person, a person worthy of love, by association. That’s how my brain works, how it has always functioned, in illogical conclusions and hopes shattered on the tile like urns made of porcelain.

The cataclysm: I spent the day at her house. Her parents told my parents that they’d stay home to supervise, but five minutes after my mother left their driveway they both piled into their car and drove to a restaurant far too expensive for me to even imagine. My best friend gave me a tour of the house, showing me her bedroom, bright and organized in a way I could only feel envy towards, and then she took me to her parents’ room. We went on her father’s computer for a while. A man on an anonymous video chatting website told us to make out with each other on-screen, and in her gaze I saw her consider it, consider what it would be like to kiss me, before my innocent-paranoid young mind closed the browser tab in panic. This is not the part that made me feel alive, it’s just important context.

I leaped into the air on her trampoline, slammed an unsteady landing down into the band of it. We took turns jumping. When it was my turn, I started to peer over her backyard fence, into her neighbor’s yard. There were no cars there, and part of the wall was missing, allowing me to see all the way into the house’s main room. Various objects were scattered across the floor, and some had been dumped into their empty pool. I kept jumping, at a quickening pace, until she begged me to stop because it was making her too dizzy.

As we laid next to each other on the trampoline, covered in one big blanket, I told her about what I had seen in the neighbor's yard. I saw her expression shift with rapid force before my eyes, from confusion to intrigue to spark. She looked at me, smiled with the right side of her mouth curled upwards, a single tooth poking out, and she said, "I dare you to go inside."

I was eleven and I wanted to be loved. It's funny, the wanting, and how it mangles you. I had no hesitation. I would've done anything for her attention, because in her shadow I was good; I would've done worse if she asked.

I climbed off the trampoline and bolted to the gate that would open directly into their yard. She stood guard, prepared to cover for me if anyone walked by.

When I walked in, I saw, up close, a dozen pigeon carcasses strewn throughout the room that had been torn open. They were in various states of decay. The objects on the floor were eclectic; there were several knives, children's clothing, fishing gear, firewood, and a rather heavy unicorn statue, which I decided, for some fucking reason, to steal and give to her as a romantic gift.

I felt alive here; I was so reserved and quiet that no one suspected I would be okay with essentially breaking into a house. In that moment I was something different from myself, something ascended to the eleven year old's highest concept of admiration, someone who wasn't afraid. I wasn't afraid. I was acting out of the want, the strongest desire that cooked me from the inside out, the need for attention that grew inside of my chest untameable.

(I even threw a bird carcass at an older male neighbor who tried to harass us, but let's not talk about that.)

I've always strayed from this mythical path of normalcy I've felt obligated to follow to the end with canine loyalty my entire life. I keep trying to emulate it but every time I try to be alive, to exist as something higher and lively and whole, I only end up burying myself at the end. It's inevitable.

I'm starting to think no one has a heroic nature, or I'm starting to think that I just can’t recognize positive traits in other people anymore, too consumed now by my own vicious paranoia. I'm the chosen one, the main character of the franchise, I'm the wife who died long before the story began, the mourned. I'm everything and defined by the lack of all things, a lack of color, a lack of breath. I'm so scared.