No Space for Wild Girls

I never stop marvelling at our changing world.

When I was young, and could have sailed away on the sheer volume of my tears as I looked for somewhere I belonged, the world made sure I was buried alive; pushed down to explore fierce underworlds illuminated only by rock quartz and fireflies. Spittle on the bus and fractured fingers, and later, blister packs full of soothing syllables to keep the lid on a boiling girl. These were the days of dial-up AOL taking wobbling steps toward the future; of plastic barbed wire bracelets and grimacing around smeared cherry lip gloss and wondering how to be like them. Girls. Girls My Age. The ones who could talk without creating silence; they went to town in groups and got good science grades despite laughing through class and the boys liked them. They didn’t embarrass their families by getting caught naked in the open-air community swimming pool after breaking in to feel the water against their limbs in ripples of living silk. They didn’t sleep in their clothes. Or see ghosts.

I know, things were different for me even beyond the realms of alternative then. Lying on scratchy hospital linen, I wondered how I’d got there. I knew girls in baggy grunge shirts and thick kohl eyeliner, who streaked their hair pillarbox red and wore their outcast status like medals. They were spat on too, sometimes, but they were never in the bed next to mine. Perhaps they hid their Otherness better, or kept their scars from stumbling through womanhood’s bramble patch a secret underneath their long sleeves. I didn’t hurt myself that way, in descending ladders of shiny white tissue; but I saw the world in wild paint and heard music in empty rooms, and spent too many hours in an obscure and mystical world of my own. I tasted the fresh trails of other lives and infinite possibility on the air the same way you know the season is changing; when the sweet breath of spring exhales itself into the world, or a frost yet to fall on orange leaves flicks out an icy tail in premonition. I worshipped the world too strongly, saw it without veils.

Back then, you didn’t talk about it. You took your pills and were mute as a novice under new and silent vows. It would upset your family, damage your chances, if anyone knew you weren’t a real girl. You took step after blind step through the thicket, heart and eyes held out in your hands for wicked queens to eat. There was no space for wild girls. When your ears pricked up, you flattened them down before anyone could see and cry wolf. When a rogue feather sprung out through a papercut, you apologised, smoothed it back down with handfuls of spilled oil, and brushed the fledgling stars firmly out of your hair.

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Now I see them in colourful crowds or unapologetically alone. On the bus, online; packs of wild girls, with watercolour hair and winged dreams. The world blinked while I was away, busy being an aura floating in drugged isolation; it had code pumped straight into its veins that changed its digital DNA forever. In just five, seven, ten years; the lungs of the globe expanded and suddenly all those girls like me could breathe easier too. I see them striding purposefully through the tube station, across the road, with sleek fur and smiling lips, hips that demand space to swivel, teeth out and dipped in ink, and know they are bolder than I could ever be. Whether they live with or without diagnosis, minds clear or clouded, they live.

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It feels too late for me.

I know – it sounds so defeated, so self-pitying – but I have years of this enforced solitude and doctor’s orders like bleached cotton bandages wrapped around my head, and don’t know if my skin could take this new sun after all. I feel too old to join the pack. I’m just a handful of years ahead of this tidal wave of new women tumbling sand and sea glass into something more refined, but what a difference those years have made. Or perhaps it’s the toffee time effect of all those waiting rooms blurring into one another; perhaps I’ve sat behind so much shatter-proof glass it’s simply grown around me.

Now there’s space for wild girls. They tap destinations into online journey planners with foxes’ claws. When they get papercuts and a hawk’s feather springs out, they laugh, and test its strength against the wind.

Fly. Fly.

I hope you soar as high and far as you wish, now that the sky is open.

Prometheus

I tell them in my letters that I am well, that I am eating properly, that I have found a modest little job which covers a modest little room where the crime rate is low and the streets are lined with whispering trees. I tell them I have made a few casual friends, in cafes and music venues. I talk about health food shops and real coffee. I sketch out for them in ink the warm cream pastries of the bakery a mere two avenues away, slow walks along the sea’s shifting edge.

There is a lot I do not tell them. I think how stupid it is that so much of my life, so much of importance, has to stay hidden like incriminating photographs. There is Will. I can tell them about our public transport system but I cannot tell then that Will has become my life. That I have given up the drugs and replaced them with Will. That a bold knight errant has weaved himself into my life tapestry, with his clever sculptor’s fingers.

The sun rises, throwing ethereal steaks of pink and gold across the sea; angels dancing in the morning waves. I smoke, continuously, savouring the dawn silence. Later, when I get back to the flat I will clean my teeth as though possessed, trying to erase the smoke gripping them so that my tongue is sweet and fresh for him. Not that it matters, if there is anyone who smokes more than me it is Will as he paces his studio floor. He exhales like a dragon, a fine bluish stream rolling from his nostrils.

The studio is bright,  sun pouring in through two tall windows looking straight into the sky. If I twist my neck I can make out the spidery sprawl of the rooftops, the outline of the city. I pull the windows open on Sunday to hear the church bells for miles around piously singing. Then I become angry, and clap my hands over my ears to block out the gong and hammer of weekend praise. Will gently picks apart my distress, deftly reworking a tight seam. I clasp his strong fingers around my wrists, handcuffing myself.  The muscles of his arms are well-developed from practicing his art. He is slicing away my exterior, setting free the minimal thing that lurks beneath the crude outer layers – all clean lines and near-transparency.

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I taste fennel on his breath. He is Prometheus, fashioning men from water and earth, and giving me the stolen fire through that mythical spice on his tongue. He presses the taste into me, and makes me immortal, immortal.

Sometimes, on a grey day, I see him staring out of the windows at the heavy clouds, booming overhead, storm-pregnant and lazy. I imagine him reaching up and up, working them until the texture and form of the very atmosphere is different. Sculpture is a strange discipline. Will’s work squats defiantly in three-dimensions; drawing the gaze the way a black hole pulls in the universe, eyes orbiting his creations like stars about to make that irreversible leap of faith.

Later, we will drink rum and work; his fingers deep in the damp clay, my pen leaching midnight blue. I will watch the cigarette smoke hit the mirror glass and vanish, as though it has passed through the silver into superstition. I smile secretly, turning suddenly at the sound of my name. Will is there, watching me spin under the bleeding trees, and I am eager, very eager, for him to continue his work; until the sculpture emerges from my centre. A masterpiece that echoes down our lifelines, replete and terrifying in its fulfillment.