As a child, I was strange. I put myself to bed early, drank from coffee mugs instead of bottles, and avoided eye contact at all costs. I hardly played with toys—or other kids for that matter—and spent hours in my room, staring at the wall. I counted my steps in increments of eight. I created sentences out of license plate letters. I tensed up whenever people hugged me, and panicked at the mention of a birthday party. I ate the crust off of my sandwiches first. I slept on my back, arms folded over my chest like a corpse, and awoke in the same position. I laughed at inappropriate times. I enjoyed alphabetizing the last word in sentences. I found the “Emotions” poster in my school hallway confusing, because the children's expressions for hopeless and exhausted and ashamed were indistinguishable from one another, while the happier ones seemed forced, ingenuine.
The only emotion I understood, and felt deep within my bones, was lonely.
I spent a majority of recesses hidden behind a tree, talking to ants. Sometimes I told them about my Wolf and his claws. Other times I told them about my mother, who drove towards the sunlight that one rainy afternoon, and was still searching for its rainbow. But mostly, I told secrets. I confessed about my magical powers, and how I could arrange the texture on a wall with my eyes alone. Or how I turned into a vampire at night—one who wasn’t afraid of the Big Bad Wolf down the hall—and slept on my back to stay alert, ready to sink my fangs in him at any moment.
You are going to lead an often lonely life, the Reader says with pursed lips and weathered eyes, but will create something that will help a lot of people.
I am thirteen and don’t believe her. It is summertime, and my lips are stained red from a cherry snow cone I am slurping. Corn syrup hardens into the creases of my fingers, and I am sticky. I am freckled and bright-eyed and glistening. I am alive.
And standing beside me, giggling secretly behind a mountain of blue shredded ice, is my best friend in the entire world, Sarah.
I first met Sarah in the sixth grade, after her pencil accidentally skidded under my desk in English class. When I turned around to hand it back, I saw a girl just as strange as myself: Rapunzel-blonde hair pinned back in “cheese” clips (which were just normal hair clips, but Scotch-taped with cut out, handmade illustrations of Swiss cheese), gapped front teeth, and a T-shirt of gummy bears holding butcher knives.
She was the most beautiful person I had ever seen.
I complimented her cheese clips, and she sheepishly batted her clumpy Maybelline eyelashes, then asked me what my favorite food was. I said anything involving potatoes.
So she spent the rest of the period hunched over a notebook, sketching intricate drawings of potatoes and then cutting them out—taping each one carefully onto a glittery, multicolored barrette.
From now on, I am Cheese Girl, she said while pinning my bangs back with a gentle smile, and you are Potato Girl.
I look closer at the image before me: a man hunched over a snowy mountain top, holding a walking stick in one hand and a bright, flaming lantern in the other, looking down at society with silent understanding. The Hermit: a tarot card characterized by a period of self-reflection, contemplation, and solitude. A card which predicts isolation, withdrawal, and removal from social situations. A card I drew after asking the Reader what my future holds, now and for many years to come.
My eyes tentatively scan the mass of people surrounding me: mothers pushing their babies in strollers. Fathers, necks sunburnt and wearing khaki shorts, waddling cheerfully behind. High school girls scrunched together, knees bent and Crest white-strip smiles forced, snapping multiple selfies. Couples tearing elephant ears, feeding the flimsy strips to one another, and then wiping cinnamon dust off their lips.
A feeling so crippling, so familiar, resurges throughout my bone marrow.
But will I be happy? I mutter, eyes locked on the lantern.
She exhales in short, nervous breaths.
While my Big Bad Wolf prowled in the kitchen, smashing plates and growling at whomever crossed him, Sarah’s deprived her from food.
Her father was a paranoid schizophrenic who believed the world was going to end at any moment. Refusing both medication and therapy, he coped with his symptoms by shopping at Costco on weekends—buying rice, dry milk, paper towels, and other essentials in bulk. He was a closeted doomsayer, who was also a member of our small town’s city council, and maintained his reputation through a fabricated appearance of high functionality. Outside of their household, he was poised, polite, and considerably charming. Inside, he was anxious—cutting out jagged newspaper clippings about Democrats, local crimes, and natural disasters. Since Sarah’s mom was disabled and perpetually bedridden (for a reason I never understood), she remained oblivious to his paranoia, and spent her existence in a delirium, either napping or high on painkillers.
The problem was that he only bought food in preparation for doomsday, so their fridge was often frighteningly scarce. Sarah developed an impressive ability to steal because of this, and survived school days through free hot lunches and extra sandwiches I packed. All the while, she was tormented by an abundance of untouched cuisine in her attic, secured by a padlock, and whose key was vigilantly guarded by her Wolf’s sharp, deadly claws.
But like a shark who just caught their first whiff of blood, I watch as her pupils dilate to the sight of it on the kitchen counter.
Come on, she whispers while snatching it quickly, we need to hurry.
And so we sprint up the stairs in silent velocity, driven by a hunger so ravenous, not even the deadliest of predators would understand. As waves build in her eyes, pulled by the gravitational force of resentment, she fumbles through a multitude of keys, jamming each one in the lock.
Suddenly, I understand what hopeless means.
I can hear her Big Bad Wolf pacing downstairs; roaming freely, unaware.
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The door props open, and displayed before us is an incomprehensible amount of food: boxes, containers, and packages stacked high.
Sarah collapses into herself, and bursts into an eruption of quiet sobs.
Let’s grab what we can, I whisper while stuffing a set of Top Ramen under my sweatshirt,
————————————————————————everything is going to be okay.
Nothing was okay. A couple days later, after her Wolf sniffed out the Top Ramen from underneath her bed, he became so paranoid and angry that he—being the wild animal he was—shit on their bathroom floor.
After he barked an order for her to clean it up, she unraveled herself from the snag of his claws, and fled straight to my house.
During the day, my Wolf was tame, domesticated. While he prowled and paced throughout our household, snarling every so often, he mostly kept to himself. My Wolf was also a Lone Wolf, a recluse, a hermit. Although he craved intimacy like prey, he feared social gatherings and everything they entailed: the small talk, the laughter, the eye contact. Outsiders found him strange, for his tendency to laugh at inappropriate times made them feel unbalanced, insecure. Although my Wolf was a therapist, he had trouble understanding emotions, and found reassurance for his social ineptitude by blaming his father: his father who bestowed him with the last name of Fagg, his father who repeatedly thrusted his cock inside his sister. His father who held a gun to his temple and yelled Goddammit-I-will-shoot-you-boy-if-you-don’t-man-up. His father—my grandfather—who instilled a feeling of neglect so crippling, so hereditary, that it sifted throughout his bone marrow into early adulthood.
This feeling later crystallized into determined rage, and my Wolf—aged eighteen and fearless—fled into the wild, escaping from his childhood den, and created a new identity to bestow onto his future pups. He changed his last name to Andrews, in honor of his grandfather Andrew Martin, who guarded him from the deadly teeth of his father. Through baseball games and Bible scriptures, Andrew gave my Wolf a taste of a healthy childhood, and this flavor lingered in his physiology for many years to come. Baptized by a new identity, my Wolf embarked toward dark territories of the human psyche with that same, determined rage, earning a Master's in Marriage & Family Counseling. He found purpose in helping delinquent boys, crippled by systemic and generational neglect, and spent therapy sessions tearing his paws open— interlacing the blood of righteousness Andrew once instilled within him, into them.
Through blood, my Lone Wolf formed a pack, sworn together by an oath to rewrite their past traumas.
But each tear came with a loss of blood, a drainage of purpose. And once my mother returned home from her search, eyes lifeless and ring finger newly barren, she told him that true fortune does not exist at the end of rainbows. It is something we manifest within ourselves.
As he watched her leave once again, driving towards another stormy sunset, his blood cells desiccated into a state of necrosis, relying only on the flow of rage—inexorable, apathetic rage—to keep him alive.
Why don’t you like your Dad? Sarah mutters later that night, curled up on the inside of my twin-sized bed, our bodies distant, untouched.
I stare at the moonlight poured onto my ceiling, white and dense like milk, and arrange its texture with my eyes.
Because my Mom caught him scrubbing blood off my underwear when I was four.
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With silent understanding, she coils her limbs around mine—locking them tightly like human vines—and together, under that full moonlight, we shapeshift into two wolf pups: whimpering, huddling, vulnerable.
As I tally her breath, lungs deflating from the gravity of grief, I understand what exhausted means.
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While Sarah was prone to seizures, I was susceptible to strokes.
I remember watching her body convulse on my kitchen tile for the first time, ocean eyes purged white, and shaking off the memories of her Wolf. To her, epilepsy was a renewal, a baptism, an opportunity to be electrified by the currents of God themself. She viewed each attack as a discovery, because only through unconsciousness did she gain newfound appreciations for reality. Although it was physical hunger which triggered her episodes, she always craved something else, something greater, right afterwards.
She craved life.
Isn’t it such a beautiful day? She gently muses, eyes fixated on a sunset before us.
God is an artist.
Like hearing nails on a chalkboard, I shudder to the sound of those words—for a feeling of neglect so crippling, so hereditary, surges throughout my bone marrow and into my blood, multiplying into a state of unholy rage.
How can you believe in God, I spit at the horizon, when we have such fucked- up lives?
With silent understanding, she chews the inside of her cheek, digesting my words.
Well, because I also believe everything happens for a reason,
Five years later, that same unholy rage would clot my vertebral artery, interrupting the flow of blood to my brain. With blurred vision and right arm limp, I shapeshifted into an injured wolf pup, whimpering in the night, paralyzed by a resurfaced memory of claws.
My flesh, a feast for my Wolf; my body, a sacrifice for the ritual of generational trauma.
Blood for blood.
The pact lives on.
Shortly after my attack, and long after my friendship with Sarah ended, I packed a noose and two tabs of acid in a backpack, and drove to a base at Mt. Hood.
Two years prior, I told Sarah I loved her. Standing together in that November rain—our bodies distant, untouched—I confessed about the hollow in my bed, the void in my heart, both perpetually growing from her absence. I expressed how, with her, I am able to recognize the beauty of sunsets; how their passionate reds and graceful yellows create a composition within me. I admitted about the rage in my blood, the loneliness in my bone marrow, and how both of these disintegrate through her presence.
With ocean eyes crashing in high tide, pulled by the gravitational force of betrayal, I watched her vanish into the wild, counting the sound of her heels.
Suddenly, I understood what ashamed means.
That’s the problem with the world, I mutter to an ant scampering away, you’re afraid of me, and I’m afraid of you.
Swollen branches. Breathing moss. Watercolor sunset.
I lie on the forest floor, tugging grass, molding my spine to fit the curve of the earth.
The grass screams. I pull harder, faster, broader—comforted by their genocide.
Isn’t it such a beautiful day?
I jolt up, claws gripping soil and back fur raised, to find an older woman crouched several yards away, fixated on the horizon.
Gray hair. White coat. Low, ocean tide eyes.
It is, I muster in cautious agreement, snarling.
With silent captivation, she keeps her gaze on the sunset, chewing the inside of her cheek.
Isn’t everything just so beautiful?
I relax my muscles, slowly softening the flow of rage, and become curious about her presence. She is not a predator, for a gentle smile suggests otherwise; she is not prey, for her healthy, able body squats steadily on the forest floor, ready to pounce.
How is it this woman, this creature, appears in my vicinity—a considerable distance outside of the written trail—deep within the wilderness? How is it that, of all the landscape offered, she unknowingly embarked toward my secret destination? How is it that suddenly we are alone together at the same place, the same time, looking at the same sunset?
Am I already tripping too hard?
Is she even real?
Yes, everything really is.
With ocean eyes rising to high tide, she finally turns her gaze toward mine, drowning me in their waters.
What’s troubling you?
Like hearing nails on a chalkboard, I cringe to the sound of those words—for a feeling of loneliness so crippling, so hereditary, surges throughout my bone marrow and into my blood, multiplying into a state of bitter regret.
Regret for every moment I spent looking at the ground, avoiding eye contact at all costs.
Regret for letting Sarah vanish into the wild.
Regret for every hug I didn’t embrace and sunset I scoffed at and nucleus of unholy rage I let flow throughout me, plaquing the arteries of my youth.
As I stare into her eyes, jaw clenching and claws combing soil, I tally her blinks.
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Everything I’ve experienced in my life, I confess, staggering slowly towards her now open arms, has happened for a reason.
—————————————————————————————— I’m meant to be alone.
As I collapse into them, a feeling of righteousness so electrifying, so holy, flows throughout my body—devouring each nucleus of rage, each fiber of neglect. My cells reincarnate, entering a baptismal cycle of mitosis, and birth faster than the currents of God themself. My flesh, once a feast for my Wolf: renewed. My body, once a sacrifice for the ritual of trauma: reborn. Under that watercolor sunset, I shapeshift into a foreign entity, molting off my fur, fangs, and claws. I am a human: whimpering, huddling, vulnerable. I am human, with extraordinary hopelessness and relentless exhaustion and deep shame for all the times I didn’t look around; for every person and opportunity I pushed away; for every moment I didn’t appreciate my strange, fucked-up life.
Alone or not, she affirms, tightening her arms around me like human vines,
the most important thing you can do in this lifetime is choose one path,
and do it very, very
Through her words, I finally understand what Sarah said.