Writing by Lilli Steffens. Photography by Andra C Taylor Jr.
My life is new. I came into the world alone. I sit on a leaf. It feels comfortable, like home. Around me, there is light. Sometimes, darkness takes over, but the light always comes back. It brings shadows, flittering around me. I explore everything around me, the buzzing of others I cannot see, the birds high in the sky I cannot hear. I am here, on my leaf, the plant I call home gently swaying me around. I am just here, alone, in my life that is new.
My life is painful. I am outgrowing myself, my skin stretching and itching and tearing until it breaks, and I escape my small prison, with new skin that is raw and sensitive, that has not felt the world yet. I cannot get used to my body that never seems to stop changing. I don’t know how to move right, how to climb the plant I call home carrying around weight that always grows. Sometimes I see the shells of my old self, lying around me like skeletons of past lives. I sit next to those tiny, translucent bodies, and wonder: When will it stop?
There is this piercing hunger in my stomach, this urge to eat and devour. I am ravenous, unstoppable. My body demands fuel so that it can create new cells, stacked neatly on top of each other until they break through the wall of skin that is guarding me from the outside, lowering my defence, making me feel so vulnerable, so weak and strong at the same time. I seem to be a passive element in this spectacle, following the commands that my body is giving me every second. I eat and eat and eat, I consume the entire world. There is no time to watch the shadows of leaves dancing around me, to listen to the buzzing and rustling and growling of my home. Instead, I am in pain.
My life has purpose. I am finally calm, my insatiable body is satisfied. I stay still, hanging from a branch of the plant I call home. From upside down, my world is exciting, the shadows are dancing even wilder around me. I breathe without my skin splitting open, I eat without the insatiable force in me. The pain is gone.
But still I cannot rest. I have a mission now, a purpose that extends beyond extending myself. Spinning around myself, I am making something, building something. My instincts tell me that this is important, this is a masterpiece of work. I work hard and rest little, spinning around myself in a never-ending spiral. There is no plan or certainty that it will end sometime, but I am at peace.
My life is dark. The light has disappeared. There are no shadows, no sounds. Where has my home gone? I know that the world is still there because the wind rocks me to sleep sometimes. It’s just outside this wall I built between us without realising that I was exiling myself. Is this my end? The darkness is already around me, in this tight space. It feels alright. I feel safe. In the old world, I was small, tiny even. Now I am my own world, my own planet. I am big, massive, maybe even dominating in my new home. Still alone, but no space to fill next to me.
My life is strange. I am upside down and twisting and turning and spinning at the same time. I am changing. It is different from last time, I am not growing or eating, I don’t feel pain. I am simply transforming in this room I built for myself, in my tiny world that is somewhere in the big universe that I knew before. I don’t know if I am dead or alive or dying or barely living. The only thing I know is that my world is making me transform, taking me apart and restacking me as it pleases, and I let it be. I am a strange being. I am not the same, not different, simply other.
My world is falling apart. There are cracks. There is light. I am not sure if I am ready for this. Will I fall? Will the plant that is my home still be there? Panic is bubbling up inside me. Who will I when I come back into the world I knew before, and will this world still be there at all? The cracks get bigger, my tiny room that I built disintegrates. Maybe instead of exiling me, it was protecting me from dangers I never knew. Should I stay? I could still hide beneath a leaf on the plant that I call home or built another room. This is not right! I can’t do this. I am not ready.
I unfold. And then, I float.
I leave the plant I called home, and circle higher and higher. New muscles in this new body move on their own, the wings that have grown on my back flattering up and down and forward and backwards. The light is back in my life, and I am going higher and higher, inching closer to it. The plant that was my home is tiny beneath me, and the birds I used to admire from afar fly alongside me and we are powerful together.
My life is beautiful.