Dear Peter Pan, I’ve left my window open tonight. Please come rescue me.
As I blew out the remaining candles to go to bed, the pure blackness of the dark pressing against my eyes, I thought about what it would be like to fly. No strings attached, no worries, just flying. Almost able to touch the stars. A blur of beauty and no scares.
The blackout left us with no electricity, so as I shimmied into bed the cold blankets made my skin tingle and I shivered a deep shiver that reverberated up my spine and made me scrunch my nose. I couldn’t wait for sleep to come, and for my dreams to wrap me up like a warm blanket and take me to where I don’t have to think anymore, where I don’t have to be perfect.
But, as always when you want something to happen, sleep never came. I drifted in and out of consciousness last night, my thoughts laced with boys in green leaf suits, red feathers in their hair, of flying with fairy dust lighting the way for us, of the perfect place where no one is perfect and you don’t ever have to wake up. I wish it was reality.
I woke up with a violent shiver, as if a hand of pure ice had squeezed over my heart. I slipped out of my bed, where the sheets were still freezing cold, and walked over to the window. I opened the glass, an old-fashioned, Mary Poppin-esque slide up window, and felt the biting chilly breeze dance over my bare skin, the moon hanging in the deep blue-black sky like a Chinese wishing lantern. A sudden gripping fear clenched at my heart, and I felt like I was being pushed deep down into the black earth, the ground closing up above me and the pressure pressing down on me. What was I doing here? I needed to get away.
Peter Pan wasn’t going to come for me.
He never was.
I didn’t want to put anything warmer on. I didn’t want to take anything with me, to remind me of this empty shell of a life that I had now that both my parents were dead. I didn’t want anything from this orphanage, where the sympathy is all ‘how are you?’ and ‘how’re you holding up sweetie?’ – made-in-China sympathy. The cold was welcome to me, just like the magpie children were welcome to pick at my things until they found what they wanted.
When my parents died, I felt like I would never be real again. Like I could never continue as the person I was before; yet the sun still moves up and down, the stars still shift in the sky and as long as there are movement and harmony, there is life. I had to continue, because otherwise I would be failing in the memory of my parents, but now I don’t want to play this game anymore. I don’t want to continue this empty shell of a life with no one who really does care how I am.
The two girls I share a room with, Shelly and Layla, I might miss them. They were nice to me when I first moved here and they might be sad to see me gone, but nothing compared to the pain I feel staying. So I slip on my old converse and debate about putting on a jacket but decide that I want the cold to bite at my skin, to remind me that I’m alive. I don’t bother with my phone.
As I left the room and walked quickly and quietly to the bathroom, to bust my way out the window there rather than even bothering with the front door, I thought about how my chest felt like a gutted walnut and wondered, even once I left and made a life for myself somewhere else, if that sensation might last forever.
The window was easy to pop out of its frame and once I was out in the freezing cold air, I decided to leave it. It wasn’t my problem anymore. The trees lining the long path down to the gates made noises like I’d never heard, hissing and sighing like a new kind of animal. I felt a little like Dorothy, following my yellow brick road to my destiny, except she had a happy ending. In real life we rarely ever get those.
Getting over the fence wasn’t a problem; I’d had plenty of practises getting over those with my brothers. I twinge of pain broke through my heart of ice when I thought of my brothers. Max had promised, as an eighteen year old, that he’d come back for me. He never had. And Joseph… Once he’d been adopted, the parents didn’t want him to have any contact with his old family. He wouldn’t remember me, or Mum and Dad. See? Life rarely holds happy endings for people like me.
I had no idea where I was going, my feet seemed to be leading the way while my heart ached with a raw pain that I had come to associate with all things that happened in my life and my head was a jumble of confused words, like a washing machine, a constant swirl of what ifs and what was I going to do with my life? Though I hadn’t been sleepy earlier, I sudden wave of exhaustion broke over me and my knees almost gave up on me, though my feet dragged me on.
Finally my feet decided that I had reached my destination, a small patch of woods that I distinctly remembered visiting with my Dad when I had been little. I didn’t know how long I’d walked for, maybe hours, but I didn’t regret it. In the middle of the tiny woods was a small blue caravan that had been there for hundreds of years, allegedly haunted. I didn’t believe a word of it, but I did believe that whoever had owned it had died in there, so I was unwilling to go inside. Instead, I lay in the spiky grass of the woods, feeling the spiky petals of the early spring daisies springing up beneath me, the cold still making me shiver, but I was too tired to care.
When I woke up the next morning from a deep dreamless sleep, a quavering disc of fire was emerging over the edge of the trees that I could see from my spot on the floor. The early morning light conquered the blue with hot gold light, the rays of sun stretching out like a plant opening to the sun. The world looked beautiful, spring flowers creeping up around me and the skies showing no sign of the harsh coldness they had cast down on me last night.
I could almost believe everything was going to be alright.
I didn’t want to leave my tiny patch of woods, the daisies and the huge trees reminding me of my Dad and the many times he had taken me and my brothers in there to play. It felt like my home, and in my head I began to imagine a world where everything was perfectly balanced, where I could live in the woods without anyone disturbing me, my own little safe haven, like Neverland, where no adults could come and ruin the illusion.
Deciding that I would stay with the trees for a while longer, I wandered through the mossy barks and wading through the thick undergrowth, ignoring the gnawing hunger in my stomach. Soon enough, a small stream came to view, snaking through the trees with a gentle hiss and burble as it flowed over the pebbles. If my memory served me correctly, edible berries grew nearby.
The day passed in a blur of wandering through more and more trees, until they began to thin out and I could see the real world again. I turned straight on my heel and headed back into my preservation of my perfect life, leaving the chattering mess of people behind.
As the sky began to darken and the sun blushed a deeper colour, I began to think about things. And with thinking, came tears. I would always miss my family, like the stars miss the sun in the morning sky, like the summer misses the warmth of a winter fire. Tears traced a track down my face, racing to reach my chin first and dripping down to the collar of my shit, soaking through the fabric and warming my skin. Life is so unfair. And in those moments, however long it was, seconds, moments, hours, I don’t know, I realised that all you really have…. Is now.
I pushed myself off the floor, the leaves sticking to my hands, and wondered how I had gotten to be with my face streaked with tears, lying on the woodland floor. I was better than that.
As I thought about what to do with my life, I realised that I didn’t want to be normal anymore. Not that I had been in the first place, but I realised that I didn’t want to be human anymore.
Crazy, I know.
Fairytales had always fascinated me, especially the ones where normal children get to escape their real lives and come back changed. When I had been little, Peter Pan had been my favourite and I would get my Mum to read it to me over and over before I went to sleep, and once she left I would turn over and look out of the window, always certain that Mum had left the curtains open as instructed and left a crack in the window. I would stare at the stars and pretend that I could see four people circling the moon, fairy dust fluttering out behind them like nectar on a windy day. I would fall asleep imagining myself as one of them, free as a bird.
When my parents died and my brothers and I were separated, I clung onto the story of Peter Pan like a child will cling to their favourite teddy bear; Peter Pan seemed to be my only reality.
In that moment, I realised that Peter Pan could be my reality too.
Terrified that by doing this, I would shatter my childhood memories, I slowly lowered myself to the floor again, the river gurgling beside me and the sun slowly sinking further into the ground and willed myself to remember everything I could about my favourite story.
I remembered that Peter Pan visited Wendy’s house because she told amazing stories that he loved to listen to and I remembered that he later went back for his shadow.
With this in mind, I took in a shuddering breath and began to speak. I told stories of mothers who loved their children so fiercely that when they died, they ripped out their own vocal chords and trapped them in the bodies of immortal birds to sing their love for their children every day, even when they weren’t there.
I told the tales of Rapunzel and Snow White, my own interpretations of the story where being trapped in towers are the least of any girls worries, where a red apple is only eaten by Snow White because the life she leads is one of misery and a pain so soul deep that the only way to end it is to succumb to the evil stepmothers wishes.
I told stories until my throat was dry, and then I sung and sung until my throat was raw and the words dried on my tongue and the sobs racked my body. I curled up in a ball on the floor and cried, my hot tears leaking into the ground and warming my freezing face.
I cried for hours, until the sun was well and truly gone, the sky was a deep, deep blue and the stars twinkled in the sky like my mother’s eyes had twinkled when she sung. I cried until I had no tears left to come, until the only thing that stopped me was the silence that enveloped me and pressed down on my ears.
As I drifted in and out of consciousness, I thought I dreamed silent feet landing beside me on the ground, strong arms enveloping me and lifting me up, the soft wisp of hair whispering against my cheek and we rose into the sky.
What a beautiful dream, I thought. Finally, I can be with Mum and Dad.
When I awoke, the sky was still deep blue, the edges teased with the pink of an awaiting sunrise. Birds flew in circles above me in the sky, silhouetted black against the blue sky. The sky was clear, not blocked by trees like it had been the night before. I propped myself up on my elbows, looking around myself blearily, sleep clogging up my eyes.
Surrounding me was walls of bark and thin reeds, like the Lost Boys made for Wendy in the real story of Peter Pan.
‘I heard your stories.’
The quiet, masculine had me on my knees, eyes searching the musty darkness of the room until I found him.
‘It really is you,’ I breathed, awe colouring my voice. He was just like the storybooks described him, sandy coloured hair, a button nose and freckles sprinkled over his face, his eyes the colour of melted chocolate.
He smiled, his teeth flashing in the early morning light.
‘Fairytales really do exist , Hannah,’ he told me. ‘Welcome to Neverland.’
I couldn’t believe it. I was never going to have to face reality again. I was never going to have to be someone I didn’t want to be, I would never have to grow up. I threw myself into the waiting arms of Peter, whispering ‘thank you, thank you’ over and over, tears wetting my face yet again.
‘Wait.’ He moved back, his face losing the traces of all his happiness. ‘Hannah, there is something you need to know before you get all excited.’
I nodded. He could tell me anything and my mood would never be ruined.
‘Hannah… you’re dead.’
Those two words… My life came crashing down around me. Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe. Peter’s hands fluttered on my back, anxiously checking if I was okay.
I was dead. Of course I wasn’t okay.
In the end, Peter called for help that came in the form of Tinkerbell, and once I had fairydust sprinkled over my head I felt a warm tingling down my spine and making me feel more awake, well enough to choke out my only question: how?
‘All these people that are here Hannah, they’re all dead. Neverland is Heaven, or the equivalent of. I am a beautiful lie told to children in the form of an angel so that I can safely guide their lost souls here. That’s how the Lost Boys got called the Lost Boys. They were the first lost souls I had for company. That’s why we never grow up here. Hannah, we’re dead. You left your body in the woods and I saved your soul. Those stories you told, that’s how the trees will remember you and in years to come, they will still whisper your stories to travellers and you will still be here, living the life you always wanted.’
Except it wasn’t the life I always wanted.
My favourite fairytale had turned around to bite me in the butt and leave me trapped with the rest of the lost souls, forever wondering how different my life would be if Peter Pan hadn’t come for me.