I was old enough to understand that neon did not naturally grow inside me.
To find it firmly glowing inside something else, something real and buzzing, made me believe just a bit more in magic. Look up toward the lampyridae, or winged beetles, burning up the sky. I attract mates through poetry; they utilize their power of bioluminescence to search out their prey.
I might have been eleven or six. In a culdesac in central New Jersey, I squeezed my tiny fingers together between bits of air that glimmered. The fireflies flapped their wings, teasing me. Flirting? I wanted to know what it could be like to glow in the dark. I needed to know what it could be like to have a body that resembled a light bulb.
So I thought about swallowing. And I thought about asking it to lead me toward its village of gleamers. And I thought about creating graffiti on sidewalks with their oven-like glow.
When I caught one, I felt like everything inside me grew cleaner. It’s light could heal like bandages radiating light. My blood grew into newer cells. The future ghosts of my scars became permanently lost.
I should not have held on so long. They need to fly. They need to parade their inner moonlight. They need to remain alive.
But I was eleven or six and I didn’t quite understand death yet. Or I did but I was just so desperate to experience that glow as though it were my own.
Between my fingers, I squeezed it’s bottom half, as though it were a pen, and began to smear it against the sidewalk between my house and another’s. I felt no guilt—at that time—because I thought I was creating something beautiful. I needed something beautiful. I was turning the world outside my home into neon smudges. An SOS. A distraction. A well-lit reminder of what one can do with light.
Now I am thirty-seven or forty-nine or twenty-two. I use ink now. The only neon I squeeze from bodies is from my own. And it is red like old bricks, rather than green or yellow.