You were born on the coldest day of the year, in the middle of the biggest blizzard this rat nest of a city had ever seen. Before I took you home they warned me not to take you outside, not to let you breathe the air. I laughed and asked why we even live in a place where the air is so cold it hurts to be alive. They did not laugh back. I bundled you up and held you close to the beating part of my chest, but when the wind picked up you screamed and I murmured I know, I know but I did not know. I didn’t. I’m sorry.
mama did you know? what, sweetheart?
i’m not a girl and i’m not a boy what are you, sweetheart?
i’m a meteor
are you from outer space, then? maybe. maybe i am.
On your fifth birthday you were sent home from school because they found you melting crayons. I was still so young that the disapproval in the teacher’s eyes made me want to cower. I took your hand and walked you to the parking lot and you told me you wanted to see the colors be free, and when I asked you what you meant you said it wasn’t fair they had to spend their lives being used by other people. They’re allowed to be crayons, you said. Okay, I said. Just don’t do it again.
mama look look mama mama look
At ten I sent you to summer camp and you were pissed about it but I needed a break. You retaliated by lighting the pigtails of some girl on fire as you were standing in line for bug juice. You said she called you a weirdo and it made you mad. Next time, I said, just punch her in the face. You looked so startled and then you understood. Am I weird? you asked, looking very small. And I said no, honey. But you do have to protect yourself.
look look look mama
At sixteen you blew up the car. It was an accident. You were pumping gas and it happened in an instant, like the twinge in your legs just before you fall asleep and your brain tricks you into thinking you’re dying. A tiny flame jumped once, twice, boom. It made the papers. You were lucky to walk away, they said. Barely even singed, they said. The next day we bought you a bike.
The day before they came for you, I bailed you out of jail. You sat in the passenger’s seat and lit a cigarette with your thumb and scowled and for longer than a moment I didn’t even recognize you. You don’t understand, Mom, you said. I didn’t ask to be here and now that I am there’s nothing here for me. I’ve been here for you, I said. I’ve always been here for you. You rolled your eyes, big beautiful baby my baby eyes. Yeah, you said. Okay. But you don’t know. How could you? And you turned away and looked out the window and made the flame dance in the crevices between your fingers where I used to hold you tight and the sadness I felt scraped the bottom of my jam jar heart and I was empty, so empty. How could I.
You’d been away six years, four months, nine days, eleven hours and thirty-two minutes when I saw it on the news. I ran out of the house without shoes on. Like a maniac I drove until they stopped me and then I got out and ran, red dirt caking my feet and my knees when I stumbled. The cities were already blazing so I knew it was too late but I didn’t care. Hot hot air, unimaginably hot, burning my lungs and choking me but I kept going, fighting against the searing wind to get to you.
if i am a meteor, what can i be? when you grow up?
when i grow up whatever you like well, what do the other meteors do? they burn
And in the middle of the inferno there you were, arms spread hair wild fingers splayed. You were so far above me but I reached for you anyway, fell to my knees and you screamed and I wept I know, I know. And I did know. I did. I’m sorry.
mama look what i can do
-- Alyssa Zaczek is a fiction writer, playwright and journalist from Chicago, IL, currently living and working in St. Cloud, Minnesota. She is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago’s interdisciplinary Writing for Performance B.A. program; her plays have been performed across the Midwest. She is currently working on her debut novel. She lives in a hundred-year-old house with her fiance, Brian, and their three cats.