I believe in my stomach. When the world falls out beneath me, my stomach is the first to know. My conscience doesn’t twinge in my skull. My heart doesn’t flip when a pretty girl walks by. These things I feel and know in my guts. I can rationalize anything in my mind, but there’s no reasoning with my stomach. Ancient Greeks believed we thought with our stomachs; they thought our souls were in our bellies. Perhaps they were right. The abdomen is the most painful place to be shot. And it takes a long time to die from the wound.
A teacher once told me there is nothing worse than finding out who you really are. When I was in fourth grade, a bully had me pinned on the playground during recess. My best friend pulled him off, and for his trouble, was lifted off the ground by his neck. I just stood there, watching, and did nothing. But I felt empty. Empty, nauseous and disgusted with myself.
Shame is a special kind of pain. Ten years later, I watched as a priest and a friend was unjustly fired because the son of the president of the board that had started rumors. When a student died, I knew the truth about the accident, but I allowed the teachers to tell the school a different story. Private schools can be like that, but only because people like me stay quiet.
There is no bitter taste like cowardice. It starts with adrenaline in the back of my throat, but I swallow it, choosing inaction. I’ll mask the shame with black coffee or a hangover or the stale ash of cigarettes. People tell me I’m destroying myself. I’m really just hiding my self-destruction. Sometimes I worry that the pain will get worse; mostly I fear the pain will stop, when I won’t feel anything any more. As long as that shame is there, that ache, I know my soul is still fighting. I want to believe in my soul.
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