Chapter One: Human

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I sighed. My car sped angrily across the smoldering Mississippi pavement as I watched the temperature display on the dashboard click over from 98º to 99º. It was unseasonably warm, even for June. The road in front of me disappeared quickly under my tires. I was charging toward the hazy lines that sizzled off the pavement, making it look like there was a reflective pool off in the distance that I could never catch, like I was chasing a mirage.

That felt right, of course. Most of my life felt like chasing a mirage. I was always sure I was near to catching something, something I needed desperately—an answer, a person, a break—but I always ended up scrambling toward a deceptive vision with all my energy, only to be met with more disappointment, more isolation, or more rejection. More of the same.

As I crossed the city limits of Tupelo, the thermometer clicked to 100º and I could barely breathe. The heat radiated through the windows in my car; even the blasting air-conditioning no match for the sun’s penetrating rays. What was I doing here? On this road, in this car, on this journey? I was going to Corrina’s wedding, of that much I was sure. But as I drove farther and farther, I’d catch myself reaching my hand across the center console into the passenger seat as if I expected it to land on someone’s leg. Of course, some stupid part of my mind thought he was still sitting there next to me. He wasn’t. Invariably, my hand dropped onto the smooth, hot leather of the empty seat, and I’d be startled yet again. I recoiled my hand every time this happened, angry that I had again let myself forget that I was going it alone.

That’s when I’d wonder what I was doing going to Mississippi to be a bridesmaid. This event was only going to remind me of what I would never have. It was so stupid of me, trying to have a life like this, trying to be so human.

He had left me, of course. It had been an unseasonably hot day then, too, and I wore shorts and flip-flops as we walked into a pizza joint in downtown Nashville. I hadn’t seen it coming. I was embarrassed; I would have dressed better had I known. If I were going to go down, I would have liked to go down in style. But I was not perceptive enough to sense such things in advance. The trouble was, I had spent the first 141 years of my existence living in ridiculous isolation, in a culture that did its best to keep the intricacies of relationships between mortals outside our protected walls. As the youth, we were not to be distracted from our work, our life, our dedication to God and family. This really meant, of course, that they didn’t want us to know what was out there, what life could be like. They preferred us only to know what it was like for us. If we learned what went with humanity—the passion and the torment, the freedom and the oppression—then at least some of us might be lured away from the family and our carefully crafted world. Conversely, it might scare some of the lesser ones into staying there forever, paralyzed in fear by the uncertainties that lay outside our walls. Most of us, though—those like me—were intrigued every time we had even half a glimpse into some bit of human life. The elders saw that, too, so they did their best to isolate us. This was effective for the most part. I was, after all, the only one who had ever left.

It made the adjustment to human life difficult for me when the time came, having experienced so little of it (if even I had read much about it) before I left. I had stopped visibly aging sometime between my nineteenth and twenty-first birthdays, so when I obtained an identity in the human world—birth certificate, driver’s license, passport, Social Security number—I had said I was born in 1990. So now, I was more or less twenty-one years old by mortal standards. The problem was that people expected twenty-one-year-olds to know things about themselves and about the world that I could not possibly have known, despite my best efforts to prepare. It had been a rough transition.

Even so, I didn’t want to go back. I was tired of being repressed. I had lived for nearly two lifetimes before I walked away from the city walls nearly empty-handed. I never looked back. I had decided that I would take no more direction from them, that I would no longer relinquish my control of my life to anyone. So far, I hadn’t.

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