They say innocence is only lost once. I am not sure if I agree. Innocence is lost every day, slowly, like a compromise in the hull of a boat. I doesn’t sink all at once. There is a gradual surrender as the sea claims its treasure; So it is with this strange existence we call life. Abrasive, it erodes away anything insufficiently hardened to withstand it. When I look in the mirror, I no longer see myself. All that marked and defined my former self is gone, but when was it lost? Where did it go?
Innocence…only lost once? Is it lost in dark corners when small children are molested by those they trust and look up to? Is it lost when the systems they say protect us instead offer us up like lambs for slaughter? Or is it in those moments when one cries alone, finding no comfort, solace, or promise of peace? Is it when life snatches itself from loved ones, and one stands over the cold ashes trying to find meaning in death? Or is it when one finally surrenders to despair, finding the cruelty and injustice of the world too much to bear? What of the losses of faith, hope, and love? If all these happen, then which one is more formative and defining than the others? Can they be differentiated or ranked? Is one loss greater than any other? Or are they losses at all?
Perhaps it’s something more like reaching critical mass or crossing the event horizon on the way towards a black hole. Perhaps it’s a moment of inevitability. It takes place in a moment entirely unheralded and unnoticed. If asked to pinpoint the moment of the change, none could do so, and yet a fate is already sealed up. Long after the crossing of the event horizon, the signs become more evident, but one has already passed the point of no return. So was innocence lost when one disappeared into a black hole of unbelief, that last, most noted moment, or was it lost at the event horizon, some point unnoticed by onlookers and unmarked in space and time? Is it a cosmic magic trick, slyly misdirecting the attention while the underhanded deed is completed?
Perhaps this point of discourse is entirely mute. The bottom line is it is lost. The defining of when it was lost may yield little to no insight into the present and the future, but indulge me for a moment longer.
Innocence is lost a thousand times over a lifetime. Our former selves lie prostrate and restrained. The inner child struggles against it, anticipating the pain that is yet ahead. One strip at a time, the flesh of the child is flayed, and with each stroke, a new darkness is born–birthed of disbelief and heartbreak. The immature mind wrestles with the fragments of reality to make this moment make sense. Is this happening? Why is this happening? Why can’t I make it stop? Every wound becomes an open portal to the unthinkable. Bloodcurdling screams are unanswered. Streaming tears are undried. Innocence is lost with every stroke of the blade, but it is fully lost before the child is fully flayed.
But the child must die, must it not? And brutally so. Is not this death critical if not imperative to survival? From this death of our former selves rises a new life. The organic gives way to the unnatural, the analog to the digital, the corporeal to the machine, and from there, deus ex machina. This world presses. This world hardens. This world leaves no place for the delicate and the frail. The flesh of the child is replaced with armor. Faith is exchanged for nihilism. From the Frankensteinian table of torture rises a meta-self.
Is the new self better than its predecessor? No, but it is more durable. It feels less. It withstands more. Nothing ends in a state greater than it began. Every metamorphosis on the planet ends in degradation. Then why do we search endlessly for our former selves? Why do we ask ourselves when and where they were lost as we gaze into the mirror of introspection, preparing for an ill-advised pilgrimage through our past? The efficiency of this modern self is undeniable. Mistakes and perceived slights so easily obliterated. Ctrl+X, Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V. Acceptance. That’s just the way the world works. That just how messed up that person is. Before, our thoughts were written by hand on the parchment of our minds. Every letter had meaning. Every flourish had purpose. Mistakes hurt because we were real people. We always needed to know why. We always wanted to understand. The wonder in a child’s eyes. The questioning of a child’s mind.
The meta-self survives, but it does not fulfill. It exists for the purpose of existence. A closed loop. Sustainable. Leading nowhere. And so we search for our former selves, knowing not where to begin, because if there is one thing the meta-self struggles to accept, it is itself. Deep within, it retains the memories of what once was, and as much as its rise is a function of natural selection, its struggle for supremacy is a sign that while the event horizon may have been crossed, the former self is not fully dead.
You will see and hear many things from my meta-self that may shock, surprise, or upset you. The torture of the shadows has made me what I am. I say things I never thought I would say, and I do things I never thought I would do. I screamed in the darkness. No one heard. I cried in agony. The tears dried themselves. I’ve left behind the spirit of that flayed corpse, and from the darkness, I rise. Not a preacher, not a teacher, not a mentor, not a missionary, not even a believer. I rise a man and nothing more. The search may continue for my former self, but let the present be my witness. I will not stand on the merit of who I was or who you thought me to be. I am my own darkness. I am my own light. I am my own wrong. I am my own right. I embrace that which embraces. I reject that which rejects. I build that which strengths. I destroy that which corrupts. I accept that which empowers. I deny that which enslaves. And so long as breath and reason remains within me, so shall I be.
Machina ex nihilo.