death of childhood

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words + photographs  /  nirrimi firebrace

I am standing on the edge of a cliff and I know I have come too far to go back now. Even if I could, there is no way back and as much as I will long to turn around in times to come, I can only go forward now.

When I imagined this moment, I always dreamed I’d jump forward into the open air and soar through the sky like a bird set free. But now that I am here, the emptiness looms below me unknown and I am shaking. I will myself to jump, but my body stays where it is, here, on this familiar path lined with bright flowers that nourished me and kept me breathing and safe since the beginning of the history of my life. I stay still, but one cannot stay still for long and soon the wind has caught me in powerful palms and pushes me.

The dirt scrambles beneath my feet and I am stumbling. I catch hold of the grass with my small hands, but it is uprooted by my fall. I hold onto the edge of the cliff, but the soil crumbles away to dust and then I am holding nothing and then I am falling. Just a child like any other, not special enough to stay. Tears sting my eyes, this isn’t how I wanted to go. I wasn’t ready, but I am gone.

Not flying, falling. Angrily, wildly, painfully, wonderfully. Tumbling ungracefully through the air, with no place in this world. As I fall I grow breasts and hair in secret places. I taste the bitterness of alcohol, the powder of lipstick and the burn of cigarettes. My hair flows like a waterfall of changing colors and scars burn on my thighs, carved from sadness. And while I fall I fall in love. I see their handsome faces flash before my eyes and for a moment they are my world. I feel the warmth of their lips and the softness of their loving words and for a second my heart is so swollen it bursts and I think I will die, but I keep on living and falling and loving again.

The wind is cold so I wrap my arms around myself tightly. I carry the burden of a thousand worries and it makes me fall faster. I hear the laughter of friends and the hollowness of death and the passion of my art in my mind and for a moment I forget I am even falling. I feel everything and sometimes when I feel nothing I feel the most of all. I put myself together as I fall from old pieces of myself and new pieces I collect along the way. I see many different places as I fall and I breathe them in to become a part of me too.

I am imperfect. I make one hundred mistakes and then one hundred more, and through them I grow.

Out of nowhere a crow joins me. He is as black as the sea at night and has hard yellow eyes filled with bitterness. But I am lonely, so I talk to him.

“Am I beautiful?” I ask.

“Your teeth are crooked, your nose is too big, you have spots on your skin and you are not so skinny anymore; how could you be beautiful?” He caws, and I can see he is right, I am not beautiful.

“Will I be okay?” I ask, with tears making trails down my cheeks.

“You are only a girl. You are clumsy and lost and you cry too easily and you are afraid. Maybe if you had a boy to look after you, you would be okay, but not alone, alone you are nothing.” And I could feel he was right, that I had been naive.

“What is happening to me?” I ask, frightened.

“You’re becoming a woman. Soon you won’t be young and your art won’t be special any longer. Age will numb you, the world will lose its wonder and you will never feel this much again.”

And now I cry out into the emptiness for my mother but there is no mother to hold me, just biting wind and the feeling that I am slowly dying. When he flies away, his words make a nest in my mind and settle there.

Nothing else joins me, no more birds or airplanes or clouds, just flashes of feeling and lucidity. Sometimes music plays in the air around me and gets me high, letting me escape for a while. I wonder if I will fall forever. In some ways I begin to enjoy the fall, to channel the energy into passion. I recognise it for what it is, the beautiful chaos that is life.

Then before I know it I am not falling any longer. I am back on the earth and at my feet is a little yellow flower. I lay curled around the flower for many hours and feel the warm rush of familiarity, grateful for the stillness and the way outside of my own mind.

I know I cannot stay here, but I cannot bear to leave the flower that ties me to

my childhood. So I whisper an apology and very gently pick it. I press it tenderly to my chest and it is gone. I walk changed through the graveyard of ended childhoods and feel a stirring within and I know my child self has survived the fall. She is there, breathing into my thoughts. As I leave I wear both a softness that lets me love purely and a hardness born from difficult times.

I walk and I see many roads ahead of me, but I do not walk down them. Instead I make my way through a magnificent forest. Sometimes I get lost and frightened and stumble as I pave a path through the wilderness, but I see such extraordinary things that take my breath away. Things that make me believe in magic again. Sometimes people cross my path and I give them special thoughts to keep them dreaming. When it is quiet, I long to be falling. I am forever learning, endlessly transforming.

Here I meet a prince who holds my hand as we walk and from our love a little child with strawberry curls is born. I am a mama now and somehow I am both different and the same. Still a child, but with pockets filled with life lessons.

In my daughter I can see the wonder of the place left long behind me. I can see it, but I cannot walk it. I can kiss the bruises on her knees from little falls, wipe the tears from her eyes and hold her close, but a time will come where I will not be there to keep her from falling. So I will give her strength and when the crow comes I will tell her:

“You are infinitely beautiful. Your eyes are bright with all the magic you have seen, your skin is warm from years of embracing the sun, your mouth is soft with a thousand loving words and kisses to come. You glow with life, with the immense beauty of the thoughts in your head and the fire in your soul. This body is yours and it will take you to places you can only dream of now. Yes, my dear girl, you are beautiful, but you are so much more.”

“You are growing and as you grow, the world will open itself to you. You will swim in the ocean of possibilities. Childhood is sweet, but womanhood holds power— power to make dreams come true, to find your calling, to shine your light into the world, to create life and to find freedom.”

“You are enough, more than enough. You are already stronger and more capable than you could ever imagine. You are a little universe, brimming with potential. You are alive and you can change the world.”

And these thoughts will be her wings.

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