The woman stood under the spray of the shower, lost in thought, while steam filled the room. She had planned on having a solo dance party, as she so often did when happy. Alas, a segment of the morning’s conversation looped through her mind, the bump and grind rhythm of Madonna all but unheard in the background.
He had expected her to cry when he said it: the thing about not being a slave, about not being able to be a slave because of who she is, because of her home life. He was correct in this expectation. A short time ago, in the relative timeline of their relationship, she would have cried, insisting that of course she could, that she would try harder, that she could live up to that title – and that is how she had once thought about the word slave, that it was a title. Instead, she lifted her left shoulder in an almost imperceptible shrug, I am not now, nor will I ever be, a slave This is not news … And? she thought, while the conversation moved on to other things.
In the shower, some hours later, she was contemplative. When did this change? When did slave become just another word? When did it lose its title status? When did she decide it is of no importance what she is called? When did this happen? When did she stop torturing herself, trying to live up to that impossible ideal? When?
She stood exploring the possibilities and, just as the water ran cold, she realized it – The day His collar was removed, she heard, and understood, she wasn’t good enough. The crystal clarity and accuracy of this thought was so powerful that it should have stolen her breath, caused her to stand stock still with shock, a hand on the cold tiles while she regained her equilibrium … something … anything. Instead, there was that same lift of the shoulder and Of course. Of course, that’s when it was.
That day destroyed everything she believed she had become, destroyed the idea of what she thought she was to Him, destroyed her identity, destroyed the small amount of confidence she had managed to gather, destroyed the germ of the idea that perhaps she was worthy.
In the aftermath, she was able to pick up the shards of some of those things. She glued them back together imperfectly. Gaps, where slivers that had been completely obliterated should have been, an agonizing illustration of the parts she could not restore. She pretends she is a piece of Kintsugi, though she fears the reality is that she is held together with passed-its-expiration-date white glue that will surely fail under the most insignificant pressure, leaving her in fragments once again. She doesn’t know what she will do if that happens. It took her so very long to reassemble even this admittedly shabby approximation of what she had been.
Many fragments were left on the ground to be crushed underfoot, waiting to be pulverized into unrecognizable powder, as if they had never existed. Being worthy of anything, finding pride in providing the best service of which she is capable, proving unquestionably to her community that she is who she says she is, having her best efforts lauded. She understands that the only place these things ever truly existed was in her mind, no one else’s, hers alone. These are the things that were left to return to dust. She no longer speaks of them, refusing to engage if any one of them comes up in conversation. Fully grasping now that they had never been real, she will not be seduced into believing again.
Slave is just a word. A meaningless arrangement of letters with which some choose to label themselves or, perhaps, their dynamic. It is not something to aspire to. It is not something remotely attainable. She moves through her days applying herself to her service with the same level of dedication that she always has. Serving Him to the best of her ability, knowing she cannot be proud of her service. It is not good enough. It never was. It never will be. It cannot be. She will always forget. She will always need to think things through. It will always take at least twice as long for her as it does everyone else. She will always be horribly inefficient. She will always miss at least a beat when frightened.
She wishes she could become an unthinking being, obeying perfectly, without error, and without thought or hesitation. She knows that, too, is unattainable.