Until the age of five, right around the time my brother started kindergarten and accrued knowledge of his own, he faithfully believed in the fabrications of his older sister.
We lived in our forts made of sheets safely and contentedly in fantasy.
My pockets filled with chicken bones from the day before’s lunch, we trudged to the top of the hill in our backyard like little soldiers bent on claiming new territory. I nudged the bones into the dirt ground before urging my brother to dig—claiming we lived on land where dinosaurs once plundered. He did. Wide-eyed, his eager hands produced a chicken leg, which if I think back on it now, probably still had a measly scrap or two of meat on it.
We clung to kid world the way I watch my young sisters, nine and 11, do together now. I am reminded by necessity, as an adult, of the importance of the fantasies we can live in. How, if we are lucky, we can harness the slippery recesses of our minds to build worlds with one another that take on secrecy.
Allow me to tell you of the pitfalls of my youth, good and bad—of constant muddy knees and dirt under my fingernails, too many tangles to coax out of my hair—my head full of the forest from hours of getting lost in Evergreens—of plunging front wheel first into a meridian with my birthday bike only to do it again once the cuts healed. Of a worn briefcase I packed full with bundled dollar bills, and no matter how many times I organized them they never reached the top.
How my room began to fill with water. I read the way a person might swim—to save his or her life. I daydreamed that way too.
The many volcanoes, alluring and dangerous, indifferent and punishing, which began to surround my house. The struggle of voicelessness as hot, molten lava seeped towards my bedroom window. I protested the danger. I kicked at it, spat at it, tried to crawl over it, climbed sturdy trees to look out, ran away to the point of exhaustion.
A terrible ghost began tapping nonsense on my keyboard at night, a strange emittance of discord settling firmly over my small body. How heavy I felt in my sheets as I escaped into pages that, at once, expanded my world and touched parts I somehow already had inside.
My mother’s mental illness eventually became acute and inescapable.
I perfected fort building in the mess of questions too big. The confines of terms I later was handed by specialists to describe my youth included terminology wrought with cold calculation. Words that did nothing for my imagination. Ideas that offered me nowhere new to inhabit. Instead, I collected verses like ropey scars of intuition to give visibility to my coming of age plights. You know the ones. And our subsequent private consolations.
If I drew you a picture it would be on the first page of a novel, the blank one, the one that separates you from discovery, the pause to consider the marshy animal of your body and it’s want. I wouldn’t give it to you, though. No. I am selfish this way.
The normalcy of despair, how utterly boring it can be until a thought takes spark then a fumble through an idiosyncratic reconstitution. How personally tragic it feels until you find the one thing that illuminates: a story that takes place in another country, a song, a few pebbles in a vacant lot.
Like Henry James’s dark room we grope until we find something that works.
A dinosaur bone.
Or a sentence.
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Editor: Bryonie Wise
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