by W.A. Smith
At first I figured we all arrive with our innocence enclosed, or attached like a novitiate’s insignia. Then (I guessed) we mislay it somehow or cast it off during the flight to knowledge and adulthood and all those rich discoveries life has concealed deep in our pockets. I considered that one of the few pressing commitments was to dispose of innocence, in our own peculiar ways of course, as time would provide.
When I heard grownups allude to the Innocence of Children, my mind’s rippled eye would fix on someone like crisp little Margie Hagerty: a fluorescent smile was chiseled into the moon-shaped face, her auburn hair tingled with crazed ribbons, there were jokers up her ruffled sleeves. And it occurred to me that my elders’ brave conception of innocence, with its natural absence of guilty parties, had more to do with packaging than with content ‘ the unstable borders shifting easily as impulses and generations surfaced and resurfaced, with the regularity of mutant offspring.
Or another theory: innocence as sealant, the original evening wear ‘ yet fashioned from material so unprepared for the new world’s onslaught of sensory stimulation and dull wear and tear that it disappears in a flash like the skin of an alien apple entering the earth’s atmosphere. Even jaded phenomena suddenly take on exaggerated and catalytic overtones: artificial lighting, fingertips extended & vibrating, the stench of scrubbed tile, eyes above white gauze masks squinting, magnified through lenses, half-closed & rolling, fixed in a stare by nothing more complicated than renewed awe or the physicians’ ennui ‘ all this, every casual tremor, even the broad, chirping alligator shoes of the three-hundred-pound obstetrician, gather to assist life, open it up ‘ but as the newborn is pushed and tugged out of the only universe that fits like a glove, into the sharp bright angles and disgruntled harmonies of here, perhaps the stuff of innocence is irreparably dislocated, melted, merely vaporized, in silence vanishing absolutely ‘ a sort of molecular swan song.
That may help explain why the baby offers up its perfect wail even before the giant’s immaculate plastic hands have time to wake it and show where it’s landed. Breathing isn’t second nature yet, and already the kid has lost something substantial ‘ split the seams on his first tuxedo. Are those astringent, sweet, raw odors of birth the scant remains of innocence, lingering only until the child is washed, the doors are swung open, and the room is disinfected ‘ incapable of sustaining its fragile design in a hostile environment, no matter how sterile or well lit? Maybe innocence and afterbirth have more in common than anyone cares to admit.
I remember feeling burdened, misunderstood, unjustly treated. I remember being left alone. I recall accusations ‘ crimes never committed, at least not in the manner in which they were recounted ‘ but for the life of me I cannot call back a sense of innocence. The prevailing wisdom was that surely the whole situation must improve around the next bend.
Having come this far, I cannot allow myself to disregard the outside chance that innocence was meant to be a pinnacle, a resting place, the perfected result of trial and error ‘ the far-fetched possibility that our headlong passage through this fleshy phase is finally toward innocence, rather than away. Do we at some point reverse our direction and begin to move backwards ‘ or do we trace the classic configuration of a circle? I’m sure Margaret Hagerty and I share more common ground now than we did back-when.
At this moment I am thinking very simply. I’m thinking we fall or rise together; landing ought to be the least of our projects. Our inclination toward extremes ‘ as natural as our eccentric demands on infinity ‘ prompts us to twist along that sly border between holding one another back and then urging on. It may be one of the reasons we live longer today than we did yesterday. Something to do with remembering what was once forgotten but being unable to recall the exact circumstances.
Dreaming or awake, I am occupied by these gathering gestures, trying to remember more than one thing at once: the womb just after first light, the resonance of everything being lost and then made up again.