We learn what we are taught. We use crayons to draw up a life that’s already been planned in permanent ink. But we still try. Still try to outline the places we’ve been and color in spaces we have yet discover on maps that we stole from our parents bedrooms in the dead of the night and tucked away behind black patent dress shoes in a closet full of collared shirts that never seem to sit right on our shoulders and pleated plaid skirts we wiggle on our hips like the roles we squeeze ourselves into shaped like the bottle in the back of a liquor cabinet that was empty more times than it was full, the bottle we snuck sips from when we were children and the one we emptied through bittersweet teenage years, the bottle that we spun at parties we were never invited to, the bottle we held onto in our sleep that held us together through each night visiting those places we scribbled on the roadmaps of our mind in dreams that never lasted until the sunrise, but we didn’t care. Our throats were too dry from screaming at mirrors that casted shadows instead of reflections and too tired from swallowing pills that sank into guts behind ribs that couldn’t protect a fragile heart, stagnant and stale, filling the hollows of our stomach, leaving too much room to feel satisfied, pushing against lungs that were still searching for a reason to breathe. He was my oxygen. No matter how many times I let him inside, embraced him through trembling lips that had long forgotten the taste of fresh air, I needed him more than he needed me, so I exhaled. Exhaled a different person, a different chemical compound that reacted to me like an experiment gone wrong. A chemical makeup that went from oxygen to carbon monoxide and clung to each blood cell obsessing suffocating crushing me under a weight I couldn’t carry, an idea of me that I could never obtain, a poisonous concoction made up of elements that just didn’t fit right together, atoms that were never meant to bond. And in a body full of 206 bones in which all were shaken and broken down by the ones we trusted most who used the secrets we whispered into ears that weren’t meant to listen as the bullets in a pistol that was always pointed at the back of our heads only we couldn’t see it, we’re still picking up the pieces and fragmentations of this place we once called home, in a body held upright by a thinning and breaking tightrope that we’re still walking across, only we aren’t acrobats. We aren’t performers, we were victims of a marionette show run by a father who held all the strings and forced us to dance when our feet were blistered from running away only to be pulled back onto a stage that never welcomed any friends, only critics who paid for an act with a penny for their thoughts spitting curses at the doll with the painted on smile and the clenched teeth that knew how to keep shut but forgot how to bite, tipping their two cents into greedy pockets filled by filthy fingertips that caressed the cold metal sweeter than it could ever touch a mother or hold a child. A boss, never a father, that put us on the top shelf in a dusty trailer covered in cobwebs next to jars filled with the coins, the profits of our tears and the blood money made from our humiliation, legs tangling over an edge that was too high up from a ground that could send our hearts sprinting out that back door, toes that reached for concrete in a circus full of abstract nightmares finger painted terrors made from the minds of a ringmaster who was never an artist always a conman, a comedian that laughed at his own jokes who always found a way to make us the punch line at the end of filthy fingertips that curled to form fists with white knuckles that were always bruised on a hand that never hit but poised like a cobra, raised, ready to strike not if but when provoked. We poked with short sticks at the foul creature with fangs dripping with words that could turn our souls black with the malice of self-loathing and disappointment because the anticipation was worse than a wound that would never heal but at least we would know that the pain was a choice in our control. We buried our burdens so deep beneath the grounds of our minds that the only way we could find the venom coursing through our veins was to spill our own blood and watch as our body shed crimson tears that held the stories of why we were broken and let the scars remind us that we are still here. And we are. We are the lost generation still fighting to be found. Even with mothers who used a belt more often than words to express affection and needles to sew our eyes shut with thread made from the binding of our family bible, we found a way to open our eyes on a world too beautiful to turn our backs on little sisters who crawl into our beds late at night when the darkness sends chills up each vertebrae on her spine and the silence is scarier than the monsters under her bed because being shipwrecked in a sea full of people who are capable of love but choose not to and when drowning is easier than paddling to shores that aren’t in sight we still have sunsets even on rainy days, sunsets that we made with the roads and yellow traffic lights that we drew onto the maps that became ashes in a house that was eaten by a fire and torn apart by a divorce, we still didn’t care. We had memorized those places we colored in with hope more than crayons. We grew up reciting our escapes only to become one of them ourselves because even though we were outlined, our definitions became smudged by the fingerprints of those who tried to erase us so we had to rediscover who we were. And we are not the same. We did more than just grow up, we grew from the dirt we were pushed into, and our cells divided our imperfections only to fuse again to form beauty. We didn’t need mirrors anymore to look inside ourselves and find what we were looking for. What we had been searching for wasn’t an answer, but an arrow pointing up because we can only keep growing and changing and evolving from here. We learn what we are taught but we teach each other. We learn from ourselves. We are the lost generation but we have a map, we have an arrow leading us in the direction we always knew we were headed.
We were taught our beginnings, but we still are learning that we are far from the end.