There’s something growing beneath my skin; I can feel it, when flowing through my veins, cobalt and electrifying, numbing and overpowering. I tried to take my temperature, but the thermometer froze and cracked, sliding mercury bursting between the roof and floor of my mouth, weaving beneath the tongue. It took me a second to even notice before I’d swallowed it all.
I don’t know what it is, or how it got there, but I know that you’d be proud. My skin is cracking, scales beginning to form. My eyes are changing shape, changing shade. I am adapting, evolving, becoming something foreign, something new, something you wouldn’t like to see but would smile to know is here and breathing.
I fall asleep at five in the morning, wake up at six in the evening and in my bedroom I hide ‘til eight, waiting for the sun to set, but this time of year it stays in the sky until nine on some nights. I wait and watch the ground grow pale, watch the fading light cast the world into a glow of gray and white that I wish would never leave.
The skin on my back is peeling away and bones are beginning to twist free. There are wings growing out of me. There is filth beneath my fingernails, and when I scrape them with my bottom teeth they taste just like you. I drag them across my mouth until they bleed, and when they bleed I wait until I dig further into the soft black earth that I know will give way to something greater, something grander, something purer than this. If there’s something else beneath my skin, I can’t be the only thing with something truer hidden.
I remembered what you used to tell me, that thing I’d somehow forgotten. You’d said “Light’s just temporary, bulbs all burst and flames die down. Darkness was here first, and it always survives. The first star burned and the last star will die and then it’ll all just look the same as before.”
And then I thought of the light you’d brought with you, and how it was just another one of those temporary events, mistaken for permanence. Now in this darkness, eyes having seen your glow, I’m free to change into something else. I’ve seen how the skin of my wings flaps like leather and shines like dragonflies in the sprinkler-bathed sun of summer sweat and air.
I tried to take off; I tried to fly. You used to ask what superpower I wanted, and I’d tell you. I’d tell you how much I wanted to soar and twist and turn and wave off into the cool night air and leave everything behind. You’d ask if that included you, and I’d say, “Of course not, I’d take you with me.”
But we both knew that wasn’t true.
I tried to take off and found that as I bathed within a bed of clouds, accumulated weight and moisture beating off my wings, that all that was left for me was to fall. And so I did – I fell just like one of those fireworks you’d pointed to on the front porch in bare feet on New Year’s nights and Fourth of July’s as sticks dug into your soft heels and you leaned, weight shifting onto me. I fell just like those stars you’d like to point to as we laid on blankets set on the soft grass you’d watch me cut. I fell and I knew that these wings, they weren’t for flying. I knew that I’d always come back down, sun or rain, night or day, always doomed to descend again.
As I dig down into this hole that has become a pit and then into this pit that has become a tunnel to some unseen hall I have begun to question why they ever grew to begin with. I won’t fall for the illusion of light unending again, not after seeing how beautiful this black space is.
I look in the sky and look at the moon and know it’s all I’ll ever need to see again. Cars start and people move. Fires burn and ashes spread. My reflection isn’t any truer than it was before any of this, but I know what’s underneath it; I know what’s underneath it, just waiting for the rest of the skin and all of the scales to finally fall away. Wounds turn hard before they finally heal for good, and I have turned so hard.
I just keep digging, hands like claws and caked in soot, sifting through the remnants of something we both burned a long time ago now. Maybe once all of this is over, you’ll see me for who I really am, not for who you thought I was, not for who I was told to be. Maybe I’ll split free of this body entirely, and when I do, I’ll bury it, and these tunnels will become its tomb, and you can come to visit them, and I will finally be beautiful – I will be just like you.