One of these
You’re gonna rise, rise up singing.
You’re gonna spread your wings,
Child, and take, take to the sky,
Lord, the sky.
~Janis Joplin, ‘Summertime’~
1. I’m a pixie, I’m a paperdoll.
Britney always had wings, for as long as she could remember. That was how she first knew she was special. Beautiful things has wings, things that were destined to be special. Butterflies, ladybugs. Angels. Fairies.
If you had wings, you could do whatever you wanted. You could be Sleeping Beauty’s godmother or a queen the size of a thumb. You could be a princess. You could be beautiful and special and nobody could tell you otherwise.
They never seemed odd to her, because they had always been with her, in some form or another. First as tiny little wings no bigger than those of a dragonfly. She can see them protecting her fragile skin in her baby pictures, fluttering above the water in home movies where she is bathed in the sink. She can never remember them actually growing, just as she can’t remember herself growing, but she remembers gradually noticing that they were getting bigger and bigger, changing in color and shape.
She still has memories of staring at herself for hours in the mirror, just watching the luminescent little things sprouting from her back change shade in the sunlight, turning from blue to yellow to pink as she became more and more delighted with them.
She still has memories of singing for the first time, and feeling her wings quivering on her back in time with her vocal cords, as if they were as happy as she was.
2. You’d better hide.
Britney used to hide everything. She didn’t sing when she knew her family was there until she was older, much older, and then she sang for everyone. She didn’t dance for them until she absolutely had to, when they said she needed a secondary talent.
She hid her wings away until she realized that no one could see them, except for her.
They used to hate that, when she’d retract them back into her flesh with the very force of her will. It was painful, like when she first bleached her hair and it burned her scalp like lye. When she stopped having to put them away, though, they loved it, being out and free while she was dancing onstage or just running around the street. She’d flutter them wildly to the beat of her heart, and she was always surprised when someone put their hand on her back or ran past her from behind, that they could never feel the wings.
Sometimes she forgot that they weren’t real.
3. I hurt myself today to find a jellybean.
They weren’t real, but they were real to her. She could feel them, move them with her mind, touch them with her fingers as she got older and they got bigger. They grew with her, becoming larger and more tangible the older she got, but still no one else ever saw them, ever felt them.
When she was angry, they turned a dark purple, veined with black, and she could feel them disturbing the air around her face with their nervous fluttering. When she was excited, they would twitch like excited children. Like a mood ring, they showed her emotions to anyone who could look well enough to see them.
The first time she got hurt, she looked in the mirror and her wings looked slashed and tattered, hanging limply from her body. Eventually they healed over, the butterfly-thin skin drawing together scar-thick and the dark pink color of pain. They lost some of their delicacy, but ultimately they were stronger.
After that first time, she started to hide them more. No one could hurt her wings if they were hidden inside of her, where no one could see. No one could hurt her if she was as scar-tough as the healed slashes on her wings.
4.You’re already in there; I’ll be wearing your tattoo.
When Britney got the fairy tattoo, no one ever realizes that it’s a self-portrait of the girl she used to be. A girl with no fear, wings revealed to the world, totally shameless. Britney can’t show off her wings, but she’ll show off her tattoo to the world. Totally shameless, because there should be no shame in revealing something beautiful.
Getting the tattoo hurt. When her wings had grown, it had never hurt, just as growing skin or hair never hurt. It felt strange to her, like she had somehow earned it, when it had felt like the wings had never had to be earned.
5. I am you, and you are me.
Britney had only ever told one other person about the wings. She tried to tell Justin once, but he just laughed and kissed her neck, and for Halloween he bought her a pair of feathered wings from some mail-order catalogue.
Christina hadn’t laughed, though. Maybe it was because they were little girls. Maybe it was because she always stared at Britney and her blonde hair and her easy gait in awe, like she couldn’t believe that such a person could exist. It couldn’t be too much of a stretch to imagine that she had wings, too.
It never really concerned Britney, that she was worshiped by so many for doing so little. It was just the way special people were, and she must be destined for something special, because she had the wings. Besides, she could see wings on Christina too, tiny and quivering as if newly exposed to the air, but still there.
6. You made me feel shiny and new.
After awhile, they’d been hidden for so long that Britney began to wonder if they had ever been real at all, if it hadn’t just been a schoolgirl’s fantasy, a wish to be something more than she was. Still, when she tries to put on her wings for the midsummer’s party Jive throws, they feel unnatural on her back, strange contraptions of metal and glittered gauze. It feels like she’s stifling something she doesn’t even know she has anymore.
She ends up simply wearing a toga and sandals, her body sprinkled with glitter and a laurel wreath around her head. Justin hugs her and calls her beautiful, but asks her where her wings are. She shrugs and says, the bathroom, and then wanders off.
She sees Christina by the punch bowl. She is wearing a toga similar to Britney’s, but shorter, and her blonde hair is in curls around her face. The wings on her back are large and violet-colored, speckled with glitter, and Britney wonders who designed her costume, that the wings fade so artfully into the dress.
Nice wings, she says. Christina says, thanks.
They end up talking like they haven’t in years. For so long its seemed like a competion between them, but here, now, in these costumes, they can speak to each other again in the tongue of childhood friends, with simple and beautiful honesty.
They’re only disturbed when some designer comes over to comment on their costumes. Beautiful, beautiful, he says, but where are your wings?
At first Britney thinks he’s speaking only to her, but then Christina opens her mouth.
We already have wings, she says, laughing a little, as if at a secret joke. We don’t need the fake kind.
Britney looks over and sees the wings on Christina’s back fluttering like gauze and metal never could, and from her shoulderblades she feels her own wings springing free of her flesh, bright pink and shimmering with delight.
1. Ani Difranco, “Pixie” 2. K’s Choice, “Hide.” 3. Tori Amos improv 4. Tori Amos, “Cloud on My Tongue” 5. K’s Choice, “If You’re Not Scared” 6. Madonna, “Like a Virgin.”