Bad Survivalist: Lucy Zhang
It happened slowly at first. Slits tracing shoulder blades down a pale canvas back, blood trickling like paint from an over-saturated watercolor brush. Feathers and bone and cartilage poking their way through the epidermis. At some point, my over-sized green eagle sweater could no longer hide the protrusions. I said my stomach hurt, I had a fever, I was fatigued—all to stay in my room, lie on my back, hoping my weight would flatten the wings, maybe even push them back in through those cuts, welcomed back into my body as compatible, reusable tissue. But a week passed, and the wings were still there, and dad was getting worried and wanted to take me to the doctor. I said I was fine, and I’d be back to school on Monday.
I woke up at five a.m. that Monday and stole the scissors from the kitchen—the ones used to cut wings and drumsticks off full roast chickens, to split lobster shells in half, to slice through yellow croaker meat and its thin, sharp bones. I stood in front of the bathroom mirror and held my breath as I snipped. To my surprise, it didn’t hurt. I did this once a month: cut as close to my skin as possible, swept the fallen feathers and limbs into an old plastic grocery bag, hid it in my closet until the dumpster truck’s Wednesday visit when I tossed the bag into a neighbor’s trash can dutifully waiting outside by the curb.
I noticed my wings shrink. Every month, there was less to sever, less to clean. Around sixteen months later, only two linear cuts remained. I could disguise them easily: wear a camisole whenever I needed to change my shirt in the locker rooms, skip the strapless and backless dresses, definitely no bikinis. I avoided parties, claimed to hate the beach, slept with my bedroom door locked in the summer when I only wore a bra to sleep. I put myself on an apple and oatmeal diet, fearful that additional nutrients might resurrect my wings’ growth.
Halfway through college, my wings stopped growing—really quite a good thing considering I used a communal bathroom, a three minute walk from my dorm room. I began to date the guy whom I saw all the time in lectures but never spoke to until right before graduation. Even though he wore headphones while walking around on campus, I was the one who needed to be tapped on the shoulder to realize he had waved at me when we crossed paths. He had to do that a lot: reel me in like I was a kite infatuated with the wind.
I plucked off all the remaining feathers stuck to my wool sweaters, wondering where my lint roller went, before packing my belongings into a suitcase and a duffel bag. I lathered my scars with silicone gel three times a day for several weeks before moving into his apartment.
The first night we made love, I insisted on turning off the lights. We compromised by setting his Phillips Hue bulbs to twenty-percent dimness. When we finished, I marveled at how technical and painful navigating physical logistics could be—almost enough to make me forget about my own body, astral projected into the stratosphere.
“What are these?” he asked, lying by my side, tracing the thin white lines on my back.
“I once had wings,” I told him, reaching a hand back, touching the sliver of skin covering my spinous process at the junction between my neck and shoulders. My hand shielded my neck as I counted the vertebra and his hand glided over my spine to the other scar line.
“They must have been beautiful,” he said.
Lucy Zhang is a writer masquerading around as a software engineer. She watches anime and sleeps in on weekends like a normal human being. Her work appears in Ghost Parachute, MoonPark Review, Bending Genres, and elsewhere. She can be found here or on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.