A Reality Based on Fantasy
When I was a child I dreamed of adventure.
We all did, once upon a time. We all think we grow out of it too.
I used to sit for hours beside books and movies and songs living in a world far from this one. Sunbeams lit a floor full of adventure. I used to dream of a future with mystery and hope and victory. I’d look up at trees lit with sunbeams and wish I could lose myself in a journey so fantastic I’d forget this world. I used to dream of days reaching out to a distant sky, thrusting a palm towards the heavens knowing I could never quite reach them.
I ran for sunsets I’d never overcome.
Fantasies with nine-tailed foxes, alchemy at the snap of a finger, magical guilds, blue flames bursting from a sword, mech-suits thundering towards the earth on trails of starlight. They call it ‘escapism.’
And perhaps I was escaping.
This world had none of those things.
I told myself I had nothing to run from. The doubt in my head solidified the fact that I was unwell with the fantastic. Obsessed with it. I had a wonderful paradise I pretended I was unwhole in — my life was a shade of what I’d never be. What did I have to escape from? The chains on my ankles were made of expectations. The future was a dark place full of unknowns. Even Harry Potter had taught me that. Age was a death in itself. I would lose, I would suffer, I would break. Reality is cruel, isn’t it?
And yet…I still wanted to sail those impossible seas. I wanted to fly those fresh skies. Youth was supposed to never leave me. A new morning each day. A story told over again, infinite.
When the years began to cling to me I tried to brush them off. Cobwebs from spiders I would never see. They came at night, prickling my skin, wrapping me in years I did not want.
One day I woke up a child no longer.
The realization collected like a weight on my shoulders. Moments ago, I had been a child in the arms of my mother. Days ago I had endless futures awaiting me. I had spent my youth running. I didn’t know what from. The years, perhaps, that I knew would come.
I started college on a brisk Autumn day. It was a drop off I knew was coming, full of well wishes and smiles. I woke up a new person when I entered those doors. I would not wish for sunsets I could not catch. I would quiet the feet that carried me. Stop running!, I thought. You are here, feet planted firmly, stop dreaming of throwing stars and soul reapers.
You are a child no longer.
I stood on the grounds of my dorm without any of the fantastic that had kept my adolescence afloat. My room was bare. I unmade myself for the sake of others, for the sake of impressing people I always believed I wanted to be. A dressing down of what this world had always told me were fairytales that never come true.
Look, I’m you now! Even though I knew the bottle of vodka I held was the farthest from myself I’d ever been. The cracked mirror in my college home held a me I did not know.
I was not a child anymore.
I followed because I was told to. I sat in a counselor’s office with my hands kneading the dress over my legs. What was it I wanted to be when I grew up, again?
I told them I wasn’t sure. They’d laughed. “No one ever is! You’ll get there one day.” My smile was painted on.
“I’m sure I will!”
Just keep your head down, follow this line right here, and walk on until you fall over. It’s called life, you see.
I spent nights wondering where I was. I vomited my dreams up when I came home from parties I’d never wanted to attend. I stood in waters that threatened to drown me. This is who I am now, I’d said.
The problem is it never truly was.
The problem was I’d always dreamed of far greater horizons.
I rode buses into the night after work, jostled by drunken underclassmen. My gaze was fixed on the lights of the highway, ignoring the crushing noises of youth. I was here. They were there. Was there an in-between? God, I just wanted to get home. Enough, please, where is my quiet? I work this job because I have to. Now let me head home in peace.
To the house I did not want to live in.
I sat on the back porch, shaking hands holding a lit cigarette. Its faint amber glow was a comfort back then. 2 am. Where was I? These fires reminded me of something. What had I left back there? A room barren of all but the sparse colors of a person I never was.
There was a word for the sadness that kept clawing under my skin but I did not know its name. I’d had a dream once of punching that broken mirror in our bathroom and watching its shards flutter past.
What am I doing here?
Desperation. Not for sunsets or horizons — for adulthood. I’d spent my life under the ridicule of growing up. It drove me to an edge I was afraid of leaping off. Stop playing innocent. I am child no longer.
So when he came to me I did not fight him.
In the dark of a terrible blur I was certain was a dream, I let myself be taken into corners I’d never wanted to go. I don’t remember being in them. It’s called life, you see.
That morning was a bright one. Light hit the barren wooden floor in thin beams.
That old house. It was an empty, dirty space with ancient hardwood and an old radiator in the corner. Kids like me had spent years living in it. The walls would scream if they could. We all have such violent beginnings.
Their laughter reached me where I was curled. I heard them outside. Mocking me. Their voices were rich with it. I was a prize won in a battle hardly fought. What a victory. Blood spread beneath me like wings.
They say the best nights are the ones you don’t remember.
I’d once dreamed of growing up on my own.
That day I stood far from myself.
This was what you wanted, wasn’t it? Isn’t it what you’re worth? A girl’s ticket to the real world. Stamped, dated, and torn.
I am here now, on a platform awaiting a train,
what time is it coming in?
The memory was a specter.
It came to call in moments I never expected it to. Moments I was laughing with friends where I dissolved quickly into a quiet I could not explain. When the room seemed to almost fade and I felt something rush through me that did not belong there. I’d clutch at the fabric of my shirt or dress or whatever covered me and I’d think — what is this feeling?
Someone would say my name and the moment would pop back into clarity. I’d forget I’d ever faded. Until it happened again. And again.
It crept along as I grew older, aging in a job I took out of desperation to appease everyone I believed thought it was the best thing for me. I smiled for them, because I did not know what else to do. Everyday, I told myself, was a new sunset to chase. I would keep smiling. I was a child no longer.
One day I almost left. Misery disguised itself as a simple argument. I took a walk through the night until I could no longer feel my toes. I lay in the darkness of the woods behind my house. It was full, so full of moonlight, and I thought I should just stay where I had curled up in the cold. Just fade away, frozen in time. A girl and a story never told. Maybe I’d wake up in a dream where I could do magic, where I could fall in love, where I could be all of the things they told me I could never be. They’d find me in the morning with the leaves in my hair, my lips blue, and wonder how.
“Why would this happen?”
“Can’t someone do something?”
“Who would’ve known!”
That was the point, then, I suppose. I did not think I was suffering, I could not suffer. Not me, not me, not me, please take this away, PLEASE. It is so heavy. I cannot feel myself anymore.
It was then my mother’s voice came to me. A soft, quiet sound. Others joined it. My father. My grandparents. My friends. All of them. Warmth. Sweetie, come here! Hey, let me show you this! Look, isn’t this funny? It’s been too long!
God, you are all so loud
Why are you so…
Tears. I felt them slip as I curled against the ground. I hated being loved in that moment because…
I wanted to fly for you.
I’m sorry I have such broken wings.
The forest gathered its shadows. When I looked up at the moon and stood, my breath a burst of white in the air, I curled in a fist at my side.
It lead me home. The memory of my mother and father reaching out to me, quiet and kind; the memories of my friends — each of them a part of me I could not bear to lose — led me home. They were lights flickering on and off in the distance: be safe, be safe, be safe.
I stood in the shower that night washing the cold away. I was nothing but a picture painted in steam. I leaned my head against the tiles, breathing in sobs. This is not who I am.
And so I gathered all of those books and movies I had discarded in college that night, I brought all of those pieces of myself I did not think could heal anything and I covered my wounds in them. Stories of far-off wars and great journeys — of chasing paradise,
of becoming Hokage,
of learning true magic,
of having the power to protect,
of wandering without being lost,
of soaring somehow,
of geting my body back to the way it was.
The truth hit me in my car during a bitter downpour.
The highway was a series of blinking headlights on a dimming road slick with rain. I was supposed to go running that day when I got home but…I could not move. Perhaps there were no more sunsets left to chase. I sat with my head against the wheel, in a silence as unfamiliar as adulthood itself. My knuckles were bone white where they gripped.
I prayed that no one came to knock on my window — no well meaning co-workers or curious onlookers because I was broken here, right now, and I could not pinpoint why, again, this beast had come.
I had given something, it had been taken from me, and I did not know how to go back to the days before I had lost it. I clutched at a past I was trying to put back together. Where was my childhood? The room in the house that raised me held all of the things that had watered my soul and now I stood among them, a stranger in a room of familiar faces, falling past their memories. What had happened was my fault, wasn’t it? Why was I being so silly?
I was at fault, yes, I usually was, I make such stupid mistakes, silly me, I seemed to have misplaced my —
I still look for things that were stolen from me.
I drove home that day in the crisp winter dark. I listened to the songs that had sent me flying as a child, that had set my heart alight with life. They’d been dug up, kindling I was standing over with a match. I stood drenched, my hand inches from the doorknob to the house that raised me, and realized I had to leave.
Distances I could not reach called my name. I had to shut my eyes and shake my head and curl upon myself and scream this is never who I was. I booked my flight almost without asking if I could.
We make decisions that tick like clocks in our heads. Possibilites endless at each chime.
I was still a child reaching for stars. What was I running from, again? I pinched at the fabric of my shirt waiting alone for that plane. My hood was up, my music on. What if I fail? What if I leave behind something I’ll never get back? What if I lose someone I love? What if this world is nothing like I dream it will be? What if it betrays me? Again? All this hope — for nothing but a gravestone.
I drew out the notebook I had promised to bring with me everywhere, a gift from a friend who had lost something I could never get back for her. That old fast-food joint had held us for far too long. We’d talked well into darkness.
She’d held it out to me, a promise. Be safe, be safe, be safe.
Friends. I had them. So many of them, reminders that had brought me home. My stories had taught me the importance of those, hadn’t they? I was a child then, smiling up at strangers, a hand outstretched. Nice to meet you!
It was the first piece of myself I got back.
Sometimes I’d cry remembering such love. What if my family needed me? What had I done? Why had I gone? My friends had been there for me and I was here, thousands of miles away, unable to be there for them.
I was waiting for a plane to land in a cabin more empty than full. I was curled on the seat. The moon stretched across the ocean. I was miles from all I’d ever known. We each had destinations, didn’t we? The notebook was curled against my chest. I held it tight and cried.
The hours wove together like patterned stitchings. I landed with such little time to spare. I ran through the halls to board my next flight, my legs heavy with sleep. My hood shifting its shadows. I reached out. Take me, too.
When I stepped off that flight, I was unknown.
I boarded a train that spouted stops in a language I did not speak. I watched myself in the window. A new stranger, one I had not met for years. She was resurfacing, all of her bright smiles and kind words, her joy and laughter. A shadow passing over me. A glimpse, a quiver of time.
I stood small on that platform, tucked under all that I had, and waited for fate to take me.
They met me, waving, from a car. Smiling.
People I did not know, had never met, people I had flown countless miles to meet. People I had agreed to work for on a small website in the brighter corner of the internet. A will work for healing sign sent out into the abyss. They trusted me; a stranger from a new country, a girl with a life they did not know about showing up on their doorstep. Broken, and whole.
It was all I had left to go on. That stranger me, that distant girl from a childhood long gone, was tugging at my arm. You have to believe me! I swear this world is true!
I let her lead me and I stepped off that train certain.
Life moved slowly while I was abroad. Calm, serene. At peace in mountains that did not know my name. I held a hand out to brush their reeds. I wandered their misty sides, curious, to meet people I’d never known before. Slowly my smile grew.
I shed tragedy like tattered skin. A cloak from a weathered storm. I’d wake up to find warmth filtering in through an open window. A hand tossed over my forehead, careless. I began to look for sunrises everywhere I went.
I found myself in those forests, tucked under a lemon tree. I still remember the taste of warmth and home and friends. Of honey and fresh bread and laughter. I saw myself return, walking down those old woods, wreathed in fog and certainty and green. Donning such lush new beginnings.
She’d smiled at me, the past.
This is always who I was.
I walked those roads no longer alone, I ran down pathways lit with dreams I had caught again. I danced and sang and plucked at small weeds in the light of a bright morning. We caught frogs with our hands and learned their names. We listened to rain and stood in its gentle flow. Meetings and hellos and homes — I leaned over the red bridge that took me home each night. I imagined it filled with ancient legends, spiriting me away. Chihiro, it called, you’ve crossed a moment you can never get back.
It’s called life, you see.
I stood along the ridge that walked me every day. Below was a place I had dreamed of coming to for more than half of my life. In my headphones was the sound of my childhood. It had carried me up this hillside, through thickets of forest and stone. I looked down at my dirt-covered hands and the lunch that had been packed for me by friends I’d just met.
The sky was a promise I had made long ago.
I had slugged through muddy roads to find it. I had trekked across mounds of sand. I had woken in the night terrified to be alone, in a cabin the size of a small bedroom, remembering what I had lost. I had sat in stations and airports and terminals. I had walked dark roads with doubts I’d ever get back. The journey lit my deepest nights with a brighter fire. This was me, all the cracks in my stitched up wounds. Here, now, constant. My heart was a song in my chest.
I had horizons left to chase.
For all of them — the lighters of lanterns that had lead me home— I would always follow that sun.
So I ran.
I ran as far as my legs could take me. I ran along the farm I’d called home for that repreive, I ran along the grassy roads far from the country that raised me, past shrines that called Gods I did not know, over hills dusted with flowers, over streams crackled with stone. I ran though city lights bursting with unfamiliar colors. Puddles reflecting neon signs shivered as I tore through them. I ran, because it was all I ever knew I could do. I’ve got two goods legs. I should get up and use them.
My blood was lit with days I’d never lived. My soul swelled with people I’d never been. I wept unsung days. I ran along roads I thought I’d never reach. All of my fantasies, my dreams of impossible skies and deep seas. The lessons, the laughter, the joy.
They asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.
“Everything.” I said.
In a small forest, beside new friends, I watched the stars burst open. I saw the stream of their sparks, like nothing I’d even known before. We laughed like children. It’s all we ever were. I looked up at those stars. Teach me what it means to live a life in a thousand different ways.
They say the best night are the ones you never remember.
But I remember those fireflies that blinked slowly in my palm as if I were still holding them. We stood in the field they called home. Their soft glow flit across an old stream riddled with reeds. We held them together. Small worlds right here in our own.
Just like before, those lights brought me home. Be safe, be safe, be safe.
This is always who I was.
I was lead to believe that innocence was a token we had to give up at a certain age. A boatman would take it from us, ferrying the rest of our lives forward. Naivety was a burden one possessed, everyone eager to be rid of it lest this world make them a fool. We traded kindness for cynicism, imagination for ignorance, we bartered our souls for a future we did not want. Growing up was being lost. I stared up at the ferryman of the afterlife of my youth and he waited, impatient, for me to give that token in.
I snatched my youth back, running towards shore. There were things back there I could not bear to lose. Not for this. Not for a future that would drown me.
We walk until we fall, slumped against dreams we never reached out for. A child no longer.
I reached out to the hands that had once held mine, guiding me somewhere somewhere. The things that were stolen from me would never come back. But I was here, unbidden, wiping the blood from my lips, staring down the life I was told to live. A greater demon, perhaps, with claws and promises as lethal as poison. I unsheathed a sword of all I ever was. You can never take away who I’ve always been. Not again!
This body is mine. I raised it in the cities of the fantastic that made me kinder. I raised it in places full of such love that I learned patience. I stood among the pages that populated my reality with new truths. You told me these things were impossible, once. They are the fires I call home, the ones that lit my chilled body on nights I was far too cold. Sandcastles, perhaps, but I’ll build them again and again.
My friends. I had almost lost them once, in the search for who I never was. My family. I had almost forgotten their smiles I loved so much. Everything I’d read, watched, embodied. Had taught me to love. Innocence had rasied me too.
I knew now what shadows lurked. I knew fighting them would have been impossible without the reminder of friends, of family, of hope. Hope in this world, in its endless gentle capacity. If we grow up believing it’s cruel that’s what it will become. So let me paint a brighter picture.
After all, I had always dreamed of adventure.
Those impossible skies. That desperate youth. I had spent bright days with my hands held out. Reaching for laughter and magic and truth.
They called it ‘escapism.’
But I had never been running from anything.
I had been running forward.
Towards a bright tomorrow.
Towards a greater us.
Towards a future.
Let these skies make promises again.
I am a garden of seeds sewn from my past. They burst at my feet with each day I spend looking up at the mountains I call home, the seas I call safety, the friends I call family. Life is not a perfect sculpture, it tilts and rots and ages but let these stories always blosom in my heart as proof that every sunset I chase can lead to a new adventure.
I’ve hiked into valleys lit with moonlight.
I’ve ridden dark roads at night, the trees scraping like cracks of black on a sky bursting with stars.
I’ve swam in a depthless blue sea, miles below and around, and my heart soared with uncertainty.
I’ve run down city streets with friends, our hands held up to touch that sky. Children, all of us.
When I was a child, I’d dreamed of adventure.
It came to me because you told me I could.
And I, with mended wings, flew towards that new horizon.
For all of us, these skies are promises again.