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Zahara Foster

I wanted to be one of the saints.

My dressing table had many images hanging from it. Models, landscapes, movie scenes. What I remembered most though were the saints. They adorned every aspect of my existence. They guarded me; let me know that my suffering had meaning. They gave me valour.

Each one had their own story, a different lesson to be learned. Whilst brushing my hair I would see St. Agatha – see her unwavering, consecrated virginity. The price she paid. Full-length mirror in the corner, image of St. Thaïs taped to it. A beacon of reform, the potential for a new life. As I left the house, I kissed the magnet of St. Philomena on the refrigerator. She says to me “You don’t have to have even existed to be remembered.” I carry these deities and their devotion with me throughout the day.

One may surmise that I was obsessed. My mother thought that all the trinkets – the rosaries, the prayer books, the often gruesome images of saints – were driving me off the cliff of sanity. What no one seemed to get was my divine need for absolution. Rosary beads between my fingers were my only chance to liaise with a happy ending. Some have their national flag draped across their walls; I had the still of St. Denis holding his decapitated head.

I adored the Virgin Mary the most. Selfless, the epitome of love. It says something about someone when their image is plastered on everything imaginable. I saw an image of her on a gun, now that’s iconography. Most of my self-induced pain was attributed to becoming like her. Violently coughing up blood as a result of smoking? Mary didn’t get to where she is without torment. Her glowing halo blocks the “Smoking seriously harms you and others around you.” label on the cigarette box. I had a figurine of her on my bedside table. If that was the last thing I saw before I passed, I would die happy.

All of this abated my anxieties in the short-term. Later, the navel-gazing began to hurt, and it was no longer pain I could justify as being for the ones up above. I was prolonging any pain I could grasp onto; thinking it would make me a better person. It worked for them, why not for me? I cut holes into my palms, desperately trying to emulate the most famous case of persecution. I don’t know what I thought was going to come out of all of it. Maybe, that someone would come down and tell me I was good, worthy.

I earnestly thought I would become one of them. I even had my portrait planned out. It would be full of pinks and reds, none of the melodramatic tones they typically use. It would be prayed too, put on shrines, lit up by ardent candlelight. It would intercede their prayers and take it to the man himself. I would be remembered.