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Lampyridae, the lightning bug, is a beetle that dots the sky in the summer. Mom would watch us from the porch as we chased their light in the dusk. My brothers and I would clip each other as we hunted, our eyes squinted to the shrinking light, as we attempted to track their lithe selves before ultimately losing them above our heads.
Mom cackled as we hunted. She would cheer us on from the porch, waving a glass jar in the air, boosting our confidence at the idea of glory.
We would gnaw on orange cream-sicles as we watched our curated shows; beaming behind their glass stage, scurrying on the walls, or inspecting the indentions on the lid with their antennae.
Lightning bugs combine a chemical compound inside their abdomen, to conduct their magic on us humans. Fueled by oxygen, they flicker, little stars that drift in the August breeze. But, anything beautiful has an ugliness, and oxygen can’t be the only thing to feed the body.
Mom unscrewed the lids to the jars, ushering the players on their way home with a few encouraging shakes.
When she saw our fretted faces she told us, “Never leave them together for too long, they’ll eat each other.”
In the mirror, I see myself, a product of not scars, but the survival.
Mom warned me when I cut my hair short. But here it is, four on the side, scissors on top, blended together and quaffed a little to give my face some shape, and Mom is no longer talking to me.
Lightning bugs produce their light by combining a chemical in the abdomen to shed their light on the world. Red flushes my cheeks. Oxygen fuels the fire. It burns in my skin. My eyes shine back at me, washed with tears that bead my cheeks. I grip the edge of the sink. The tears wash each finger away as they come in mass, cooling my face. My warbled, warped voice echoes off of the walls, opening up the wounds accrued in the jar that I had called home;
My mom catching me wearing a boy’s button up shirt before I could change after school. The sheer hiss of her breaking apart the fabric cloying the air in between my crying.
My mom forcing me in a dress for prom, my date the son of one of her best friends. He kissed me on my neck, underneath my hair, and held me too close for me to even pretend.
My mom’s screaming raking through me when she saw my hair on the floor.
The girls shying away from me.
The rumors that spread, attached to a dying name.
My brothers not looking up at me when I entered the room.
The shirt my brother left on my bed when I was moving out, a favorite of his, patterned with different bugs. I think it was him watching me from my bedroom door. I never looked to see.
It made me think of the lightning bugs that didn’t fight against the glass jar or probe the lid for any weaknesses. But the one that just looked through the glass jar at the distortion of people who held onto their home. Antennae ticking this way and that, blinking thoughts in lemon lime brightness as it stared out at its cell.
My cries recede to a shallow pant. I see my fingers again. I let go of the rim of the sink. I look at my face, puffy, but in tact. I cleanse the tears from my face, dabbing it dry with a paper towel.
I look at myself in the mirror.
The burn rises in my cheeks. I breathe through my nose to dismiss any more tears. My hands cup my face. I focus on the heat of my skin. I tear up. I inhale, exhale, letting the happiness seep.
She kissed me, Andy, the girl from Medieval Lit.
When I asked her out she had agreed before I had finished the sentence. We talked all night, filling the silence of the quieting diner hour by hour.
She kissed me in our booth.
I had made a joke and she hadn’t laughed. She had given me a look, then in a swift movement, she had closed her eyes and laid her lips over mine.
Her lips melded us together. Her fingers intersected mine. We pulled close together. I breathed in her perfume; notes of smoke, and cotton filling my brain. Her fingers squeezed my hands. We were like two bugs enjoying their last bits of air in the glass jar.
Lightning bugs get their name because they give off the same vibrance as thunderstorms, conducted when there is enough heat, enough life, enough chemistry to catch.
I had looked down at her when we broke apart. Her eyes bright and big. We both blinked at each other breathless, still holding hands. I had kissed before. But I had long hair, we were in the shadows of a football game, and when we heard someone call for us, we wiped it away as if it had never happened. Andy’s eyebrows furrowed in the preparation of a question. Before she did, I squashed the thought between her eyes with a kiss and excused myself.
I smile at the mirror. I look at all of myself; the hair, my button up, my freckles, my bright eyes. I smile.
“This is what it feels like,” I whisper. Tears bead in the corners of my eye, as if in answer. I exhale, nod, and leave the bathroom for Andy.
I am a lightning bug. I am out of the Mason jar and I am weightless. I am free. No one is going to eat me. No one is going to take me away from this night. I am going to leave this restaurant and I am going to kiss her again. I will stay her name every morning. We will love each other. Never hurt. I will never wake up to something missing. I will only wake up whole. Lightning bugs were born with a chemical that casts light on the world, and so will I. I am going to live. I am going to burn on. I am. I will. I must.