You can be whatever you set your mind to, my teachers were fond of saying. Sit down, son. The counselor pointed to a chair, pulling out brochures like a travel agent. Where are you headed? As if no destination were outside the realm of possibility; we just had to plug it into the computer, check flights, book tickets far enough in advance. You can be whatever you wish, my father said — meaning, lawyer, teacher, engineer, MD, RN, CPA — speaking in that voice parents use, knowing they’re being more understanding than their parents were. Tell me, what do you really want to do? What could I say? I want to be a boy adopted by vultures. Or a blind girl who lives in a cave. Or a hermit who speaks to lizards. I wanted to be washed up, a castaway searching for the crew I’d been separated from, shipwrecked on this planet, marooned in a human body. Maybe that was why I touched myself so often — to see if I could feel a fragment of who I really was, a piece of light buried in me, broken off from the star I spent so much energy trying to get back to. Maybe that’s why I lit matches and pressed the flames into my palms, as if pain held the answer folded up in its petals. Maybe the only way back was to hurt, to rub against broken glass. What’s on your mind? asked the doctor. Don’t be afraid. You can tell me anything. I was thinking of what I’d have to give up, what every young man or woman serious about making a living has to give up: gazing at leaves, those elegant distractions, or the creek’s long, run-on sentences, its exclamations, its parentheses, its tireless questions. What if we made graduation a little more honest, held a ceremony where every eighteen-year-old dragged onto the field all he’d hidden in his closets, all that could prove embarrassing, all she loved but had no excuse to hold on to anymore? Final exams would require every student to write down the idle thoughts she’d promised never to think again, every word it excited a boy just to write: wastrel, changeling, maelstrom, cataclysm, galaxy, alien, naked, vampire, crucible, relic. Fire would grade the papers, and everybody would get the same mark, flames correcting the notebooks filled with spaceships or Greek gods or the names of sweethearts written over and over in different scripts or drawings of horses — all a girl had to do was look at them, then close her eyes, to feel the power ripping under her, carrying her into the sky — or pictures of dogs too important to die, of movie stars or rock bands into whose faces a young man or woman gazes till afternoons open like doors they’d thought shut tight. You can be whatever you set your mind to. But at what cost? Sit down, son. Tell me what you want to do with the rest of your life.