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Never Land

 

Note: this poem is inspired by “Straight On ‘Til Morning,” a work of fiction I wrote for my creative writing class at Princeton University. I did not post it on Curyosity for length reasons, but contact me if you would like to read it.

 

They said Never Land was somewhere we could

Close our eyes and never feel anything again

All these lights strung together could build

A ten-mile wide city but that’s not enough

For you, not enough for me

Anymore

We need to escape

 

In a back alley in the black of night

Or a room tucked in a forgotten corner

Of your maze-house

Where we lay languorously on golden chaises

We let reality fly by like it never even existed

 

What’s real? I touch you but feel nothing

There’s no magic in Pixie Dust save for the magic in our minds

But our minds are cages for shadows

Your shadow so intertwined with mine

I could never find it if you asked

 

You raised a glass of stars and said

“Here’s to never growing up”

And all the boys and girls who are lost cheered

I looked up at you like you were made of magic

And brought my glass to my lips

I’ve felt old, so old, ever since

 

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My Final Night in Neverland (Updated)

2/10/2015

I was always the child who wanted to grow up—who dreamed of having boyfriends and SAT books, of walking through pristinely green Ivy League lawns, of looking important and wearing heels while taking on a bustling city. Hardly did I ever find time to slow down, as busy as I was with making small-time fame at my Orlando elementary school. Every spelling test, every art contest, every math equation existed to prepare me for the future that, I was convinced, shone brightly ahead of me. I tried to be a super-kid. But I was still a kid—one who cried out in happiness whenever my family went to Disney World on the weekends. There, I did not have to impress anyone, not even myself. There, it was as though the seconds I willed my clock to tick away suddenly stopped.

It was our last night ever at Disney. We were moving in a few months, to Virginia, away from Orlando. I was happy about it then—Virginia had better high schools. It saddens me to think about now, though.

The park extended its hours on certain days, and we decided to stay at the Magic Kingdom until it closed. I remember standing in line for my favorite ride, Peter Pan’s Flight, bathed underneath pink and blue and orange light that made everything in the night sparkle—my mom’s eyes, my sister’s tennis shoes, the princess pins on the rose-colored lanyard around my neck. It was ten-thirty, and hardly anyone else was waiting to hop on one of the big purple ships to Neverland. It was just us, and Peter Pan watching us with a twinkle in his smile from the sign above.

The cheery instrumental of “You Can Fly” played in high, carnival-sounding notes from above our heads. I filled in the lyrics in my mind:

“Think of all the joy you’ll find/When you leave the world behind”

To this day I still have dreams about waiting in that line—the sky a sleepy black outside, the lights dizzying and cotton-candy-colored inside, my head full of pixie dust and visions of my animated childhood crush flying to my window and taking me to a fantasy land.

We got in our ship and flew to Neverland. My belly went cold every time we dropped in chase of Peter’s wayward shadow, but seconds later the ship would soar again, up toward the sparkling artificial stars, leaving a gray and miniature-sized London further and further behind.

When I stepped back into the black night I wished I could return to the ride, zoom past the mermaid lagoon again, defeat Hook a second time, extend my hand out toward the red-rimmed volcano that had been just out of reach below me, the chill of the ride sweeping forward as though I actually were in a flying ship. But there were other places I wanted to go one last time.

We left the Magic Kingdom and took the monorail to the Grand Floridian hotel, a stately palace flooded with chandelier light and smelling of cleanliness and magic. I have always liked to imagine what it would be like to stay there—not just to visit its lobby and shops. Seeing the large, gold-handled doors that led to deluxe suites made me think of wealth, success—the things I wanted to have in my future. But we bypassed the inside of the hotel tonight.

We snuck into the concierge lounge and surreptitiously took the soda and desserts they were giving to hotel guests. With a Sprite and a beautiful mini fruit tart in my hands, I felt like I was truly a guest at the Grand Floridian. We walked out, past the gushing fountains, spray hitting my face and sparkling like crystals in the night. I could smell the magic in the water, as though each droplet had just been made by a fairy.

We reached the dock that extended over the lake facing the Magic Kingdom and sat with our legs dangling over the water below. There, we ate our pastries and drank our sodas while we watched the fireworks over Cinderella’s castle. Reds, greens, golds—bursting in the sky with the symmetry of snowflakes, the timing of a musical maestro. The lights reflected in my eyes, washed over my wonderstruck face.

“Think of all the joy you’ll find/When you leave the world behind”

With the fireworks show’s grand orchestral music still ringing in my ears, I followed my family onto the Friendship, a steamboat sitting in the lake in front of the hotel. The water was black under the night sky, save for the moon’s reflection, lapping lazily in the waves. The lights strung on the sides of the boat and hanging from the ceiling gave the vessel a dream-like glow. In my memories, it drifts though the lake just as peacefully as the pirate ship in Peter Pan drifted through the sky, taking Wendy back home to London. At the time, it was my transportation to the parking lot, where I would leave Disney World—my Neverland—for the very last time.

Since that night, I grew up as quickly as I had wished. My childhood slipped from between my fingers like a handful of pixie dust.  Never did I return to Disney; instead, I spent my weekends writing and pouring over homework and books. I still do. But if Peter Pan were to show up at my window in a big purple ship, his eyes gleaming and his hand outstretched, I wouldn’t hesitate to follow him back to Neverland.

 

 

 

Update: 3/5/2016

Turns out my final night in Neverland wasn’t my final night in Neverland.

I went back to Walt Disney World last August with my parents—a trip to let me feel my childhood once more before I left for Princeton. I was seventeen, but felt happier at the resort than I had when I was seven. Seeing Cinderella’s Castle before me still gave me a flicker of excitement. I wanted to ride all the rides—plus some that I had been too scared to before. I wanted to eat all the Mickey-shaped food items I could, to trade my old Disney pins for new, exciting ones—preferably of Peter Pan. There was not one day where I took my sparkly Minnie Mouse ears off my head.

It wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say I was literally raised in Disney World. But it took going back to the resort as an (almost) adult to see how much of a mark it made on me. The little things brought back years’ worth of nostalgia—the signs that lead up to the parks, the clean smell of the water in the rides, the background music that had played over and over again in my dreams once I moved away. It’s hard to articulate, but going back to Disney stirred something within me. In the mornings, when I would lie down in a hammock underneath the palm trees and intensely blue Florida sky, knowing I had a full day of magic ahead of me brought me absolute bliss.

That summer I was propped up between the medals and cords I had worn at high school graduation and the black and orange that marked my next four years at Princeton. But I didn’t care about any of that. At Disney, I’ll always be the happy kid who just wants to catch a glimpse of Mickey Mouse before hopping into FastPass line for Jungle Cruise.

Oh, and I still think Peter Pan and I are meant to be.

 

What Awaits

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Jane St. Vince saw the ghost every Sunday. She would sit in the Princeton Battlefield, her bare calves tickled by the warm grass, her back cool against the marble colonnade she always leaned on. In her hands she cradled a book, the pages of which her long fingers turned gingerly as her eyes scanned the words in small print. Too often, she would look up and rest her gaze upon him—the ghost. He would be tucked away in the shadows, behind a column at the opposite end of the colonnade. She saw him like one saw a fading dream in their head—with a blurry sort of beauty you feared would disappear if you looked away.

Edgar Briar—as she would later come to know was the ghost’s name—sat like a statue, like an extension of the marble memorial around him. He set his chin upon his fist, and his elbow upon his knee, and stared out into the road with scrunched eyes Jane St. Vince imagined were once sharp, piercingly dark. His mouth was fixed into a sad frown. The wool brown coat of his military uniform, dating back to the Revolutionary War, was battered and unbuttoned; a dishearteningly dark stain spread on the cotton shirt underneath, on the left side of his chest, near his heart. His hat sat in tatters at his feet.

Edgar Briar had been an American soldier in the Battle of Princeton. Jane St. Vince was a graduate student in History at Princeton University.

One Sunday morning, as spring gradually sweltered into summer, Jane St. Vince realized she was remarkably excited to go to the Princeton Battlefield—an excitement that had nothing to do with the thick history textbook she would read there, or with the delicate April blooms she would feel underneath her fingers. What she was doing, or where she was, hardly mattered. No, it was what was before her eyes. The wonder of someone so intangible, of a clear tragedy that trickled down into her chilled bones. Jane St. Vince’s heart fluttered for a man who wasn’t truly there.

It was on this day that she stayed in the battlefield until the sun set—half reading her course book, A Colony of Citizens, half memorizing the hazy angles of Edgar Briar’s face. He did not acknowledge her presence in any way; he only gazed into the lush green in the distance. As the sky slowly darkened, and Jane St. Vince had to strain her eyes to read, he remained there still—staring off at the shadows, his face growing more contemplative. More sad. Jane St. Vince’s heart sunk at the thought of leaving him once night fell.

But the stars blinked into shaky existence despite her wishes. She resignedly slid her book into her JanSport backpack, smoothed her skirt, and left.

As she walked along Mercer Street, she found her thoughts drifting back to Edgar Briar. She wondered what would happen if she touched his face. She imagined her fingers slipping past his immaterial cheek as if he were made of air. Would it feel like ice? Would it feel like nothing?

She wrapped her arms around herself. Suddenly she felt cold. For no real reason other than instinct, she turned her head back. There, outlined by the yellow-orange light of a lamppost, was the ghost Edgar Briar, following Jane St. Vince home.

A soft gasp escaped her lips, although it was not fear she felt. Rather—the unexpected pleasure of seeing him outside of her head.

He regarded her with an unsaid question in his black eyes. Can I continue to haunt you? Jane St. Vince gave a little nod—I’m not scared of ghosts. She wanted to walk beside him, to watch the way his translucent form rippled into sight under every street lamp. But she didn’t want to spook him. Instead she turned around and continued walking toward the Princeton Graduate College on the shadowy, empty road. It was just she and Edgar Briar, whom she could not see, but felt acutely.

Soon the mass of Gothic stone buildings that marked the college became discernable. As they approached nearer, Jane St. Vince could pick out the rows of chimneys and the lit up bay windows; the pointed archways and the ivy crawling up the walls. The occasional turret made a gentle attempt to shoot up toward the sky, but none did so on the scale of the Cleveland Tower, which rose up dramatically toward the heavens with tapering spires that nearly dared to touch God.

When she looked back to make sure Edgar Briar was still there, she noticed he looked more in place in their surroundings than she, with his breeches and turned-up hat and his musket in his hands. She pictured him, weapon at the ready, running into Nassau Hall, where the British cowered from the American army before surrendering. She wondered how he had died in battle.

They walked through an arch and entered an outdoor corridor surrounding a darkened courtyard. Jane St. Vince’s dorm was through one of the heavy wooden doors here; she pushed it open and took the staircase up to room 202, where she lived alone and generally kept things neat, other than the multitude of books strewn upon her floor.

As she stood in front of the entrance to her room, she knew Edgar Briar was closely behind her—if he were alive, perhaps she would feel his breath upon her shoulder. She closed her eyes and pulled on the doorknob, uncertain of what was coming next. This was the first time she had invited a ghost to her room.

Edgar Briar followed her inside, seeming mildly confused by her furnishings but mostly tired. He set his musket down and sat with his legs crossed upon her floor. Jane St. Vince doubted ghosts could sleep, but he looked like he needed two hundred fifty years of rest after nearly that many years of haunting the earth. She gestured for him to lie down beside her in bed.

At first he looked hesitant, but after a few seconds she was pulling the covers over the pair of them. The fabric instantly fell through Edgar Briar’s form. This made him frown a little. He shifted his body an inch closer to her.

The two of them did not speak, did not move except for when she tentatively reached out and touched his cheek. It wasn’t cold, but it felt like nothing. Or perhaps like air that had a bit of electricity running through it.

Outside, an owl hooted. The laughter of graduate students rang in softly from time to time through the open window. And there, in room 202, beside the awake yet tranquil body of Jane St. Vince, a ghost closed his colorless eyes and slept for the first time.

 

The next Sunday, Edgar Briar silently followed her home again. He began to appear in her room nightly after that. It surprised her at first, to see him lying in her bed on a Monday. She wondered if he had walked through her wall or somehow just materialized. But quickly it felt natural, having him there. At the end of each day she longed to return to her room, to see Edgar Briar in his beautiful translucence, to lie down beside his immaterial body upon her bed.

She had loved him since the curious instant she saw him on the battlefield. But she had not noticed her own sentiment—he was, after all, a ghost. Now, there was no way of denying the way she felt.

Jane St. Vince was in love with Edgar Briar.

One day she asked the question that had been lingering in her mind: “What is your name?” The words felt odd floating around the pair of them—they, who were so silent with each other, who used their tense proximity to communicate instead.

His voice was low, yet hoarse and wispy, as though it were coming from somewhere beyond his throat. “Edgar Briar.” He cleared his throat. “And yours?”

“Jane St. Vince.”

Tears began to well in his eyes. “That was the first time I’ve ever spoken—since… the end.”

Gently she held her hand just above his cheek. Not being able to touch him frustrated her—she wanted her fingers to feel something other than air. He looked at her with wet eyes, and there she saw a softening—a deep-rooted sentiment she had only glimpsed flickers of before.

His shimmering tears vanished as soon as they fell from his face. He brought his ghostly hand up to hers.

“Do not look at me with such sorrow. What awaits me, Jane, does not await you. You will not have to live this drawn-out fate that God has chosen for me. You will not leave this life before your time, wanting for something you departed too young to achieve. No, you will die old, and satisfied.”

Here she drew a shaky breath—she, too, had begun to cry. “How could I ever die satisfied if that means I would have to leave you?”

He looked pained. “Because I would leave you before you left me,” he said, glancing away. His face had become as thoughtful and sad as it had been in the Princeton Battlefield. “The prospect of a life unlived will not haunt you. You will find love—normal, mortal love. You will find fulfillment, even if that means I must get away from you.”

A little, hurt whimper escaped Jane St. Vince’s lips. “What are you talking about? What we have is strange, beautiful. I would want for you endlessly if you were to go away.”

Edgar Briar shook his head. “I am merely a ghost. You would forget me with ease. And my cursed fate does not await you. Is that not far more beautiful?”

Jane St. Vince imagined what it would be like to be a ghost. Would she be able to touch him? Could her hand lock with his?—when night fell, and they ran together through a dark, lush grove until the end of time.

She was not afraid of ghosts. She was afraid of an eternity without one.

 

The Cleveland Tower was most breathtaking in late afternoon, when the sun’s slanting rays made glorious the warm brown stone of the surrounding university, the emerald green of the golf course facing the Graduate College and the leaves of the summer trees.

It was here, at the very top, that Jane St. Vince stood, feeling the light May wind tousle her shoulder-length hair. The dizzying height to which she had climbed did not faze her. In fact, she pictured herself taking flight and remaining suspended there, in the clear blue sky until it deepened purple, then to the black of night. She wondered if she would feel weightless, like Edgar Briar must feel as a ghost.

Jane St. Vince had always been in the habit of imagining these things. One thing she could not imagine, however, was heaven. Was it a gilded land in the clouds, where everything you wanted to happen happened as long as God gave His seal of approval? Or was it a vast field you followed Jesus around? She could not see the appeal of entering the gates of heaven if she could not enter with Edgar Briar—cast away to earth for all eternity.

It was perhaps more comforting to think that when you died, all went black. For at least that way, when her wrinkly corpse was in a box under the ground, she wouldn’t be cognizant of her being forever separated from him.

But she thought of leaving him behind—of his ghost roaming the world aimlessly, alone. And she thought of him leaving her behind, so she could grow old and resign herself to satisfaction.

She leaned forward, against the intricate stone wall that stood between the sky-reaching spires. She fancied she could see the rippling form of Edgar Briar below her, on a bench overlooking the rolling hills of the green that stretched out to Forbes College.

The tower on which she stood was one hundred seventy three feet tall. There were an infinite number of moments in which she would have to be without Edgar Briar if one of them let the other go.

One hundred seventy three was far less daunting than infinity.

♦                  ♦                 ♦

Whispers tell that, if you look carefully, you can see the ghosts of Edgar Briar and Jane St. Vince on Sunday afternoons, on the Princeton Battlefield. They sit upon the marble colonnade—he, leaning against a marble column and looking down fondly at her. She, lying in his lap while she holds open a history textbook above her head. His tattered, eighteenth century hat sits on her white Keds. The dark stain over his heart has dried.

 

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Everything At Once

If my mother asks why I left the Bernini, tell her the noise gave me a migraine and I needed to get enough sleep for the Wythemans’ brunch tomorrow.

If you ask me why I left the Bernini, I would tell you that the black ties and floor-length dresses crowded closer and closer around me until the smell of champagne suffocated me in a pink-bubble sea of lights.

Had I seen you before I left I would have made sure my white-gloved fingers slipped through yours. I would have turned to look back at you fleetingly before the doormen shut the golden doors on the scene.

A clink of crystal glasses, a pearly peal of laughter. And I ran.

Everything hit me at once. The muggy night that kissed my bare shoulders wetly. The buildings, lost in shadow. The summer green ethereal and dark, like a Burne-Jones painting I’d seen at the Met.

And then there was the sky, a darkness that filled the space between dreams. A black slowly fading into midnight blue—the faintest hint of morning.

I found myself at the Central Park Lake, in a field overlooking the old buildings of the Upper West Side. The warm lights rippled onto the water. I slipped off my black Jimmy Choos and tossed them to the side.

I lay down on the grass and thought of you till the sun rose.

 

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Gesper Diamond

Gesper Diamond tasted the way New York City felt. If you closed your eyes and put your lips on his, the world turned into a black and white photograph of a skyline. But it wasn’t black and white because the colors had faded. No; the colors were still there, but they weren’t what mattered. It was the light. The window squares that twinkled to life one by one, thousands by thousands, as soon as the sky went dark. The radiance that reflected onto the river and shimmered as the black waves rippled. The lit-up antennas that soared up toward the stars. You feel the tip of his tongue and it’s the windows again—the promise of millions of stories you could write onto his back with your fingernail.

He bites your lip. A gust of cold night air whips toward your cheeks.

You have photographs of the city you look at sometimes. They’re in a nightstand drawer, and every six months or so you pull them out to remember what life used to be like, in the city.

It’s funny that Gesper Diamond tasted the way New York City felt. Gesper Diamond owned the rubble that now kneeled in the place where skyscapers stood.

The city was dead, nuked down, just like all the other big cities in East America. But I promise you, if you could have seen the way that Gesper Diamond thrived in the shadows of all that once was—led his band of intelligent thugs like a mafia in a neighborhood that didn’t exist—counted his cash sitting like a king upon the giant pile of debris that was San Remo—you would think it was still alive. You would have seen the way he pressed his tongue against his cheek and you would swear the world was as it used to be.

There were dreams, and there was Central Park. Gesper Diamond had both in his hands and he twirled them around his fingers until you couldn’t sleep without seeing green grass and massive rocks and white buildings overlooking it all.

None of it was there anymore. He was all that was left on the map—a speck made with the last ink spurts of a used-up pen. A light in a window you see in your head.

 

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3:23 a.m.

It’s only a night if you end up on the balcony of an Elizabethan-style mansion, freezing in a black skirt and a thin button-down. Your sweater’s tied carelessly around your waist, but you don’t want to put it on. You’ve spent an hour in a muggy mass of bodies and you need to feel the cold air. Your face burns. The wind soothes it like an ice pack. You look up and notice the stars—dozens of them, lined up to gleam down at you. They wink, like they know the things you talk about to your friend on the phone. He’s here with you now. He takes a drag.

“Doesn’t it feel like tonight will go on forever?”

It does. But your voice is too hoarse to reply. The cold seeps into your skin—it’s getting to you now. You cross your arms tightly.

It’s 3:23 a.m. when you make it back to your dorm. The morning comes eventually and you wake up disoriented, your eyes smudged black like a raccoon’s.

The night had ended, as nights do. But millions of little things take you back—the first sharp intake of air when you burst out of a building in winter, the moon and stars arranged like an art gallery. No, the night wasn’t truly over. In fact, you’re not entirely sure when it began.

It was already taking place months before, when you found yourself sitting in the laundry room at two in the morning, your hair disheveled and a secret on your mouth. Your heart stumbling through the world laid out bare before you.

It was still going on, weeks after you stood on that balcony. You held your friends’ hands and ran across the deserted road, your face lit-up by the street lamps and your scratchy laughter ringing out in the night.

Every time your legs are numb from dancing to music that hurts your ears; every time the December cold clashes with your overheated body—that night is there, and so are the gleaming stars. They’re in the text you were waiting to get, the floor of the friend’s room you crash in, the shoes you bought just to get dirty.

The universe has it wrong. No time was ever attached to that night.

“Doesn’t it feel like tonight will go on forever?”

It does. Your voice will always be too hoarse to reply.