I can’t describe the empty space. The in-between, where the misty threads of what I call myself danced over and around each other. Where thoughts were indiscriminate from dreams.
I can’t fully describe the feeling when he started writing. As though bits and pieces were being pulled from the mist, sliding into each other, wiggling until they ran like clockwork.
I can’t describe the feeling, because up until 4:35 AM on Tuesday, March 3, I did not exist.
I shoot into existence like a comet, if there had ever been a comet so reluctant. I open my mouth to shout out as my insides twist and turn, but I can barely get a gasp out of my mouth. I collapse on the dusty carpet, numb all over. I can barely move, instead staring at the candy wrappers hidden under his bookshelf. Twix and Snickers. Milky Ways and Almond Joys. I know the names of candies I had never tasted, just like I know the name of the boy. Cameron Blake.
Cameron Blake, with a pen and old notebook, had shaped me out of words.
Cameron Blake stares at me, collapsed on the carpet. He rubs his eyes, then looks again, as though expecting me to have vanished.
“Holy crap.” He says.
“Nice to meet you too.”
“Sorry- uh,” He pauses, biting his lip. “Did you…do you, um… have a birthmark? Like, here?” Stammering through his odd question, he gestures to a spot on his wrist. I check. A star shaped brown mark adorns my otherwise pale wrist. But it isn’t a birthmark. It can’t be, because I haven’t been born.
I hold the mark on my wrist up to prove it to him. In return, he holds up a red notebook, leather cover flaking, pages spilling out from the sides. On one of the creamy pages, filled with surprisingly beautiful looping cursive, it read.
A star decorated her wrist, better than a bracelet, he always said.
“Look- I wrote you, see!”
I stare at him, but I don’t dispute it. I know what he says is true.
“I can show the others what I made!”
It’s a knife to the chest.
“Oh, I see. You made me, now you’ll show me off to your friends, huh? Isn’t she pretty? I wrote her, she’s mine.” I can’t stop the words shooting into space like daggers. I can’t take them back, and I don’t want to. He backs up, wincing as though the words hurt him as much as they hurt me. But I don’t give him a chance to say anything. I run out the door, ignoring his whispered plea.
“Look, that-that’s not what I meant-”
But I’m too far gone to hear him.
Where does a girl made of words go? There’s nowhere for me to run to, no place I can call home. Because, I remind myself, because I don’t need a home. I’m not real.
But what does it mean, to be real? I’m breathing, I’m running. My stomach clenches with hunger pains- would someone who isn’t real need food?
But if I sliced open my arm, would red blood pour out, sticky and hot?
Or would words flow from the wound instead?
I settle down on a park bench. My thin flowery dress- did Cameron pick this, in his stupid story?- barely protects me from the elements. March in Chicago is not spring, and this early in the morning- the time and city are other things I somehow just know- the bench seems to be made of icy iron, sending icicles into my rear end.
A guitar, from somewhere in the distance, sends its song into the sky. The mournful song seems to follow the beating of my heart. A man’s low voice rises and falls with his guitar. I listen, drinking the music up, holding a breath in my chest. My voice isn’t perfect, but when I join in, it might as well be.
Country roads, take us home, to a place, I belong...
West Virginia, mountain mama, take me home, country roads…
Our voices swirl into the sky, carried on the wind to anyone who cares enough to listen.
In the morning, Cameron finds me. He stands in front of the bench where I slept, arms crossed and eyebrows wrinkled.
“You can’t sleep here.”
I shoot up from my curled-up ball, glaring.
“You’ll freeze.” He says. I already practically have, but I refuse to tell him that.
“Well, maybe you should have designed me differently.” I snap. He sits next to me on the bench, shoulders slumped.
“Look, what I said last night was out of line. I know, okay. I don’t see you as my creation- you’re a person,okay?”
“How did you write me? I mean, why…” He flushes, glancing down.
“I was writing a story, about some guy and his sister... it doesn’t really matter. But one character- you- jumped out. So I just wrote about that person.”
“I’m not a person, Cameron.”
“Of course you are. Look, it’s not like I’m exactly an expert- but you’re breathing.”
“What’s my name? I don’t even have a name.” It’s a statement, not a question, and something I only just realized. How can I not have a name?
“I didn’t pick one for you.” I look down, ashamed of the tears in the corners of my eyes. A name would be something to hold on to, at least. One thing that’s mine. Don’t think about it don’t think about it you’re a person you are you are you are-
“Well,” I say, briskly, startling him as I jump up. “If I shouldn’t sleep here, where should I sleep?” don’t think about it don’t think about it don’t-
“Um. My parents are on a business trip, and my older sister’s in charge. She doesn’t bother watching me, though, so you could come sleep… I mean- we, we have a guest room,” the flush spreads over his cheeks again, blotting out his freckles. I jump in.
“Guest room sounds great.”
We walk in silence. It’s morning now, and the sun shines bright, the light masking the cold. I glance at Cameron, but he doesn’t look at me. We reach his front door when he speaks for the first time. He turns to me, shuffling his feet before finally looking at me. His blue eyes are sharp and clear, and they glint as he says,
“I didn’t pick a name for you, because I thought you should be able to pick one for yourself.”
He turns and heads inside, leaving me standing on the sidewalk.
What could my name be? I run through a list in my head, but the names only seem to get progressively worse.
Alice. Luisa. Hailey. Emily. Tessa. Sonia. Lori. Marissa. Zoe. Nola. Rebecca. Maria.
None of them seem right. And I can’t shake the sinking feeling in my stomach when I think about the future. Can a girl made of words even have a future? Cameron’s parents will come back eventually, and I doubt they’d be okay with a strange girl with no family sleeping in their basement. I’m not real. Not truly. And I can’t lie about that forever.
But then, what can I do?
There’s a window in the guest room. I pull it open, letting the cool evening breeze tickle my cheek as I slide out to perch on the roof. It’s rough beneath me, but I stretch out, watching the dark sky swirled with clouds. Chicago pollution should be filling the air, but stars twinkle anyway. Once I truly look, I can see thousands of them, each sending out milky light, balancing each other, none of them overpowering one another. I breathe in the cool, sweet night air, for the first time in my very short life feeling some sense of peace.
The whispers of a guitar float over to me, intermingled with the low, crooning voice of the unknown man. They are faint, but I can still hear the beauty of the music.
Oh, Shenandoah, I love to hear you…. I join in again, my voice high and clear as it mixes with the strains of the guitar. I breathe the music in and out, letting myself be swept away.
“That’s how I know you’re real.”
I spin around, startled. Cameron is climbing out of another window, sliding next to me on the roof.
“Don’t stop.” But I can’t make myself sing again, not when he’s right here. Instead, I turn to him, saying,
“I’m not real.”
“Of course you are. You are your own person.”
“You can’t know that.”
“I know because I never wrote anything about singing.”
I stare at him.
“It’s all you.”
Something is mine. I, the girl without a name, have something I love that belongs to me. Completely, truly, irrevocably me. That… feels really good, actually.
We sit next to each other in silence, but it’s a good silence. Like the whole world has crystalized, leaving us in a single, perfect moment. We sit there as the moon arcs across the sky, and as the thin trails of music swoop up to the heavens to follow.
I wake up on the rooftop. Cameron has gone inside… and apparently, I have slept outside again. But I can’t enjoy the sunrise, because of a thought. It’s a marble, rolling around and around the inside of my head.
I can’t stay here. I’m being pulled, being called with every fiber of my being, away. It tugs on me, and I can’t help but follow.
I burst into Cameron’s room, pulled straight to his red leather notebook. I grab onto the doorframe, knowing exactly where this is going.
“NO!” I shout, falling to my knees. I will not vanish! I only just got here. “Please, just-just a few more days!” I beg the notebook as if it can hear me. I’m drawn to it, though, like iron filings to a magnet. Cameron stares at me, brow wrinkled in confusion.
“What’s going-“ the notebook glows brighter, and his eyes widen, bright with sudden understanding. He comes behind me, pulling me away from the notebook. When I can finally get to my feet, he turns to me.
“Do you have to go?”
“I don’t want to! I won’t!” He reaches out a hand to steady me, but I shake it off. I run outside, bursting through his front door. I barely even notice that he follows.
Halfway down the sidewalk, I hear it. Dancing rays of music, carried with the wind and sun.
Some belong at home with the mountains…some make their peace by the sea.
I stop. The music fills every part of me, letting me breathe it in and out. A sense of acceptance washes over me.
This was my time.
But it has to end.
If I keep running, I’ll be running to nowhere. Stuck on an endless treadmill, running my hardest but never moving. This is my chance to make my peace, on my own terms.
It’s my decision.
I turn back towards Cameron, who stands behind me, the notebook hanging limply at his side. I let myself be pulled toward it. Embrace the change, don’t shut it out.
“I have to leave.” I can’t make my eyes meet his.
“I know.” His voice is impossibly quiet. He holds out the book to me, opening it to my description. Words on the page seem to move with my heartbeat.
I place my palm on the page, and take a deep breath. Words start to swirl, a fine mist around me. I watch Cameron, soaking in every detail about him. I will never see this boy again.
As the page spins and words float around me, I kiss him. A single, butterfly-quick kiss of all the things I can never say. Heat emanates from him like words do from me.
I give into the warmth.
I let myself be swept away, pulled by an indescribable force.
I whisper softly, putting all of my soul into four perfect words.
“My name is Melody.”
My body has dissolved.
I am only me.
I float with the music, carried by the wind and the soft strains of a guitar.
As the man’s voice rises, swelling with pain and hope and love, I join in. I add my voice to the chorus, and let myself be swept away in the river of music.
We chase the moon, the music and I.
We follow it across the midnight sky, across the cosmos.
I am the music.
I am me.