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There is something human in fire. 

I wrote this line in the sputtering flicker of ash and laughter in the background of a California springtime, legs crossed, feet stained with remnants of dried blood and crumblings of dead weeds. My time in El Capitan always began with fire, but the endings came ever so unremarkably. The nighttime murmur of sanguine childhood and whispers of mountain lions’ howls all a cacophonous comfort, one I learnt to see as a resurfacing of innocence, an “out” from the perilous deformities of uneasy adolescence in Los Angeles. El Capitan crossed through humanhood and nature and knit dry greenery to heartbeats. Ambivalent and moody, I felt distrustful of the forcible juvenility and smack of loneliness synonymous with my weekends spent there. The younger years tasted fragile, a pale nectar of saccharine, morbid lust for the times spent unafraid of myself, in the dry woods and buzzing clamor of the shallow creeks. I caught frogs in bare hands, stepped over logs to bellyflop into insect-infested, murky water, and I did not imagine what these places would become after the fires burnt out and my body grew into someone I could not recognize.

I liked to look at fire. I would melt into a crumbling, elderly scrap of a beloved camp chair and brush my feet against the brusque burning of the bottom of the fire pit. I scraped my feet, ashen and scarlet, but did not move, imagining myself as a guest inhabiting Tartarus, solemn and cold, unaffected by external, inferior stimuli. I thought about everything and nothing at all, my skin toasted and rough, body slumped like a crumpled tissue, coughing intermittently at the gusts of smoke on my tongue.

I got stung by a bee at the top of a cliff. It crawled into my hair and proceeded to pierce my earlobe, leading seven year old me to tear up and attempt feverishly to derail the potential of a public bawling. It didn’t work. Dirt and crying and heatstroke, all at once; a sour combo for a seven year old girl afraid of everything. I liked to think invincibility could save me, that such a fantastic concept even existed at all. I liked to think I was good, and magic, if small and transient, existed somewhere, throughout all girls.

Seven years later, and my brain plummeted. Criss-cross applesauce and Star Wars expelled from my vocabulary, with my head held low and body slumped, shallow and unaware, insecurity permeating through my insides to my skin. I acquired a pair of bone-scissors and tore myself into drainage, sewer feed, a tongue-twisted mutilation of heartache and doubt. I lost the remnants of fire in the confinement of girlhood. I carved myself thin, into shuddering panic attacks and lopsided, half-smiles pale and untrue. I spoke without language, only through hurt, through the cuts on my wrists and hipbones. I spoke thirteen, that year in this sugary, mildew city. The porcupine edges of my gender and my thoughts cornered me into a love for bleeding and a hatred for vulnerability. I scarred the flesh to dislodge that golf ball trapped in my throat, that golf ball called growing up.

In California, the heat is dry. The water is hard to find, and the beach is never enough. In pools of water thick with the flush of litter, in the greasy sidewalks with the bare legs drowsily slipping into the next hollow activity, in the spaces in between the land and sea, where there is no greenery, you cannot remember there is anything else but the sweltering dryness, the stagnancy, that brash dullness throbbing underneath your flesh. The water does not enter you. You live inside of the quiet, the shy sunlight gnawing at your eyes, the soft headaches that become background murmurs.

I went to El Capitan to drain myself of the city, but came back with a hunger. I threw scrawled drawings of trees into the meager creek, the surface simmering with that isolated planet of wildlife, of dusty leaves and snake corpses floating quietly around the brown water. The snails, birds, rodents, they all fit in there. The heat fits in.

I do not hate my city, but rather, the way it hurts. The way girlhood hurts here. To knit the throat thickly shut, the tongue trimmed, the burning of the dust and sweaty foreheads and freshly painted nail-polish and homeless women with angel smiles. To thirst for the stomachache of feelings and escape and the unadorned, uncomfortable, ugly nature of youth. To revel in the pimply, cracked skin spurt of existence that is this teenagehood. Instead, Los Angeles demands a sheen of invisible composure.

The drama of selfhood cuts into the psyche and dwells latently within the putrid parts of my thoughts. I quivered underneath its rot. I swallowed misshaped rage and let myself be translated into passivity, let myself be swallowed by a grotesque imagery painted by the common eye, of a girl abandoned by confidence or self and only invested in survival. I could not glance at myself in the nausea of mirrors. Unacknowledged, ravenous for recognition of my existence, zealously committed to overachievement, and tired.

Yet the world is wide enough for everything you feel. The world is a saucer of tumult. To crawl through the mountains of the familiar and reach the sight of the far-away and extraordinary is to lessen the drought of heart. I tore my kneecaps as I dug my way out of Los Angeles, into the other world beyond everything that had raised and made me. I crack open my calm and travel back to that invisible space whenever the city closes in at night.

I gravitate towards the stranger pieces of home; the daisy bedsheets, the traces of crayon on the sidewalk, a web of hairless dandelions splattered underneath the drip of the hose. I look upon what I became in Los Angeles with something like appreciation. It is an inimitable thing, this place. It is a frontier of melodrama, but also of people, of a unity that is incomprehensible anywhere else. It is ravaged by inequality that lurks in the atmosphere, heavy, skittering across your veins as you walk downtown. It is also where we march, the city in which we fight for our right to exist as we are, without compromise. It is a city of unconscious sentiment and smashed expectations. It blooms with soft-edged promise.

Girlhood tastes of saltwater, it is hard to digest. The simmering of its intensity down your throat is a journey you never forget. The aftertaste of girlhood is always there. Pale pink ballet tights tugged off, thick with the phenomena of newfound blood. A vocalized thought is always a risk, even when you tell yourself it isn’t. Girlhood is always there. It does not drain you, it energizes the insatiable part of you. It cleanses out the jaded tissue and sparks it with the matches of what you used to be. It clasps at your neck while you let a boy touch your dormant flesh, and you quiet it away, shush it, when it speaks to you, reminding you of crossed-off memories. Girlhood bites and spits. It aches in your hair and teeth and unsure smile. It is the uncertainty and the craving; the pit of invincibility and doubt. It is everywhere even as the forehead crinkles into trickled flecks of memory. Girlhood persists. The idea of who you were is the idea of who you can be again, that everything is evolving all the time and the idea of a concrete thing is impossible. It is who you are, that dirt-speckled girlhood. It is living.


Emilie is a 14 year old California native. She loves not only art but conspiracy theories and binge watching New Girl. In her free time, she is either drawing or sleeping.

Sofia Sears is a 17 year old writer, activist, and professional rapper on matters of the Founding Fathers. She is a self-proclaimed feminist killjoy, literary nerd, and political junkie. She has been published in various magazines, such as Rookie, Dark as Day, Sea Foam Mag, Cry Baby Zine, and others. She is editor-in-chief of the Odyssey Zine, a lit mag for queer and marginalized youth, and founder of Project Femme, an organization dedicated to uplifting and empowering young women of color and LGBTQ+ youth to get involved in politics and run for office. You can find her at The-Abditory.com.

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