Of a Kind
When she was one, Ally was gifted, walking and talking months before all the other babies the suburban housewives had made in 1995. She already had a full head of blond hair, and her green eyes could pierce like a voodoo needle. They were strangely pointed and intelligent, as if seeing things she would not be able to voice aloud for years.
At two, Ally was creative, dancing from room to room. She liked using the finger paint she got for Christmas when she poked at notes on the baby grand piano in the living room. All this was encouraged, of course. After all, researchers said creativity was good for babies. It built their brains up so they would be smarter than the other kids. She’d be better at math and sports, and grow up more confident. She’d be the star of her school, and of course her parents wanted that. Her mother, an avid reader of parenting magazines, played classical music for her when she slept. The articles she read suggested Mozart, but secretly she played Philip Glass. Classical music was classical music, after all, and what harm could a little postmodernism really do? She preferred it.
At three, Ally was studious, already reading. She knew all her numbers and preferred a book’s company to her mother’s when she had nightmares, which happened often. She would wake up drenched in sweat, thinking of drowning inside an aquarium while tourists took her picture from outside, but she wouldn’t scream or cry out. She would just reach for one of the books in the stack she kept next to her twin bed and read to calm herself. In fact, Ally managed the nightmares so well that it took her mother months to find out she was having them. When she did, her mother dragged Ally to the pediatrician, who said they were night terrors and that plenty of normal kids have them. The doctor said if she was handling them well, then they were under control. The reading was good. She was smart.
At four, Ally’s book characters became her imaginary friends. Her parents thought it was cute, but the other preschoolers thought it was strange that the little girl could have friends so completely intangible. They all had inanimate friends, of course, but theirs manifested in plush toys and plastic supermodels. Ally’s friends couldn’t be touched or hugged. They couldn’t occupy a seat at the snack table or sit on her cubby shelf awaiting nap time, and that was strange to them. They didn’t like it. But still, Ally was gifted and creative and studious.
At five, Ally was hell to live with. Her bright green eyes got paler, and her blond curls got tighter, coiling like snakes. She liked to stare at the air like something was there, and she had more imaginary friends, and they started telling her things to do. She turned to calls that only she could hear, drew on the walls, not in crayon like the other kids, but in blood that only she could see. Blood drained from the imaginary foes that were just as real as the friends who told her what do. At school, Ally hit Mary Bishop in the face with a block to help her lose her first tooth, and she told Robby Lewis that she wanted to suck his blood through his forehead. She was just trying to be friendly. At home, Ally had a new baby brother who she liked to take out of the crib and hold by his tiny arms that were just strong enough to stretch, but not break off. She would dangle him, and he would make cries that sounded like laughter, and her imaginary friends would make laughter that sounded like laughter, and she would be happy until her mother came and cried and told her not to do that. Once, Ally tried to cut her own hair and accidentally slashed her ear. She thought the red in her blond curls made her look like the Little Mermaid, so she kept going until her father came in and cursed and took the scissors from her tiny hands with their little pink-painted glitter nails. Once, Ally shut the cat’s tail in a door and left it there.
At nineteen, Ally met someone else like her. He was a boy, and he had dark hair and purple-grey eyes, and his name was Steven. He had stories of imaginary friends too, but his were newer. Apparently they don’t usually show up until college. She must have been lucky, to get to know hers for so long. And when she told Steven her stories of stretching baby arms and lost teeth and aquarium drowning and forehead blood sucking and ear cutting, he didn’t cringe away like everyone else, like her parents and teachers and Robby Lewis. Steven leaned in closer and asked her to tell him more, and together they remembered their minds for hours, dreaming lost dreams and making plans to drown together in the air while everyone else took pictures underwater from the other side of the glass.