“As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight. You breathe. Keep breathing. When there is a storm and you stand in front of a tree, if you look at its branches, you swear it will fall. But if you watch the trunk, you will see its stability.”
– The Revenant
(circa August 2016)
Last night the electricity went off.
This is common in Limuru. As the lights shuttered off, the house was enveloped by the surrounding night. Like a creature trapped in a cave, I used my hands to feel my way down the hallway, and into my bed. Into my room, the room of my childhood.
The rest of my night goes like this:
I shudder out of a half-sleep half-trance as I hear a sound by my door. It is my little sister with a candle, her long legs visible just through the crack of my door.
“Do you want to sleep in here?” My voice, a cusping whisper, a gust, vibrations echoing gently through the caverns of my skull.
“Yes.” Her voice, soft, timid.
So she crawls under the blankets with me, her warm body cuddled up next to mine. Dark locks and a gold mane splay out on the same pillow in the pitch black inkiness of the room. Moon and sun. The same strands of DNA, amplified into two girls, a woman and one on the brink of the abyss. Two cubs from the same den. Our breaths, the same. Unified.
It’s quiet. And then the tears start streaming and my lungs heave, a flying, drowning creature of their own. Me, the little girl from a decade ago, suddenly woke up and found herself in the shell of an adult with strange scars. My mind’s eye falls into the eyes of woman and of child, plunging deeply into images, flashing like lightning, churning like the world on fire. My breath, the sea, laps into childhood and womanhood, into chaos. Fire, flowers blossoming, the smell of testosterone, full lips, succulence, groaning bones, widening hips. The moon, blood, cycles. Woman. Woman, and life trickling from gold to ash. A panic possesses me.
“What’s wrong?” My sister asks.
“I just feel like these are my last two weeks in my home-” (sobbing) “-and what if I never come back? And I’m thinking back to when I was a little girl and Daddy used to tell me stories before I went to bed… And I’m not happy, Kate. What I wanted to be when I was little – I’m not that. I wanted to be happy. And I’m not. I’m a failure. I’m a failure because I’m messed up and I’m not happy. My life isn’t what I wanted it to be. It’s not how I wanted it to be when I was little.”
My sister is crying now.
“I’m afraid,” she whispers. “I’m afraid of growing up. I wish I could go back to when I was five.”
“Me too,” I say. I continue. “I wish you could have met me when I was little, Kate. I wish you could have met me when I was younger than you.”
“Me too,” she says. After a pause, she ventures to touch the elephant in the dark room. “I don’t want you to leave in September. I want you to stay here. Maybe you can change your plane tickets.”
Me too. But I can’t.
The night is spent like this. I have a growing sense that I need to share my story with my sister, before I leave and it’s too late. So I start telling her about my life, through tears, through laughing. I hope she learns something from it, starts learning from my mistakes. I hope that I, and the spirit of the girl within me, trapped in a cave, never allowed to manifest herself except through DNA, can teach my little sister how to be happy.
“Do you remember those giant trees that used to grow over there?” I ask, one of the last things I will say before sleep finally overcomes us and our bloodshot eyes and our tears.
“Their branches reached out over my window. Sometimes I would wake up, and the wind would be howling through those branches, and they would be moving and shaking. And I would watch their silhouettes for what seemed like hours.”
And I feel sadder when I think of those ghost branches, the phantom guardians that both terrified me with their claw-like fingers, and captivated me with their power.
Why am I leaving this place? This is my home. Why did I grow up? I only was cut down, reduced to an unhappy soul confined to a woman’s body.
I think that nymphs aren’t maidens imprisoned as trees. They’re wild children trapped in the female form, subject to all sorts of weathering, and axes, and uprooting.