It’s this pressing weight on her neck,
depriving her lungs of oxygen,
leaving her unsteady as she walks down the street.
It snakes around her neck,
resembling the bruises from her past.
A patterned array of navies and violets
against her bronzed skin had been all too familiar
all those years ago.
For a while, the weight had faded
into a light touch of a silver locket necklace,
reminding her of her impossible strength
when she took on the beast
who hid behind false pleasantries and feathered kisses,
and struck when she was vulnerable and unexpecting.
Her breath hitched instinctively, hands trembling.
The weight around her neck made her eyes water.
Tears shed for herself and the women who have
long forsaken the feeling of security--
of warm hugs and caresses,
of the enjoyment of walking down the street alone,
of fully breathing in the crisp cool air of freedom--
All because of the noose of fear.
She still sees him
in the laughing faces of the crowds passing her by.
On the way to her favorite coffee shop,
in the playful shoves of her teasing friends,
and in the echo of loud or angry voices.
After those sickening familiar flashes
of desperately buried memories,
shame rears its insatiable head,
leaving her fingertips numb,
her head foggy and disoriented,
and her heart clenching uncomfortably in her chest.
Some days it feels as if this weight will never
be gone…even though he is.
It settles over her throat, crushing her windpipe
just as it does today.
But when it does, she looks to the sun,
the perennial star that shines every day.
Even though it falls reluctantly into the darkness,
it persists even when hidden amongst the clouds.
This yellow orb still finds the will to rise
and share its inner light with everyone on earth,
even though it is continuously depressed by the heavy weight of night.
Today, she raises her head to the sun,
takes a deep steadying breath
and shakes off the heaviness for now.
Eventually it will return--
just as the moon climbs,
her necklace hangs heavy over her heart.
But for now, it’s enough.
Ireland Smith is a junior pursuing a degree in biomedical sciences with minors in chemistry, psychology, and literature. Through her writing, she hopes to express real-life conditions and diseases in a way that fosters empathy and understanding in those reading. She also enjoys writing and reading fantasy fiction stories. Ireland would like to thank her family, friends, and professors for their encouragement in her writing and career goals.