By Gwen Peralta

The first time she looked at me—and I mean really looked at me—my heart ached as she whispered, “You’re real, aren’t you?”. I suppose it was necessary for her to have asked me that, because there are so many demons out there these days, wanting to chew you up and spit you out the way methamphetamine does, or the way watching your best friend die on the battlefield can, or the way your mother’s harsh hand across your face will.

When I told her “I’m real”, all I heard was her crying over the phone. It sounded like waves crashing against each other in the middle of an ocean, but I did not hang up no matter how loud it got. “I’m real, I’m real, I’m real"' I repeated. And the waves finally calmed at 4 AM.

In the middle of the night she would text me, asking me again, “You’re real, aren’t you?” and she was so far away that I wish I could have touched her—I wish I could have let her know I existed, but that’s difficult when she seemed to be an entire universe away. Sometimes she was up in the clouds, and sometimes she was buried so far into the ground that it took me weeks to dig her back up again and give her some life.

When we stayed up until the sun rose, she asked me what the monsters in my head said to me each night before I slept. I told her I didn’t have any at the time, and suddenly her voice was thick with envy. “That’s not fair,” she would say, not coming out from under her blankets until I finally told her I loved her. Since then she had clung hard enough to me for there to be nail marks on my arms, but I did not care. At least the monsters stopped spitting on her when I was around.

There were days when she smiled and they were the brightest. I didn’t know when her happiness had become mine, but it did, and I never had the interest to undo it. We were tied like knots. And she had become the brightest star in the sky. I wished on her and wished on her and wished on her, and still, sometimes, her mind overflows with storm clouds, but there will always be clearer days. Days where she can lay on my lap and fall asleep without nightmares prodding her raw.

“You’re real, aren’t you?” she asked again, and it’s almost been three years since I smiled at her.

“I’m real.”

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