Farewell, Neverland

October 26, 2023

Graphic by Amani Ahmad

“Neverland my love, now it’s goodbye, and I’m free-falling.”
— “Farewell, Neverland” by TOMORROW X TOGETHER

I heard a knock on the window the other night.

The first sound was muffled, timid, nearly afraid. It could’ve been an impatient gust of wind, an adventurous tree branch, perhaps even a pellet of chilled rain, but I ignored it in favor of solving another organic chemistry problem. The second was a pronounced yet polite rapping of knuckles, almost like a bird’s beak tapping against the glass. I drowned it out with impending doom, each pencil scratch on paper louder than that hesitant knocking. The third sound was an insistent banging, like a childhood friend visiting in the summer, begging for a sip of cool water, a splash in your swimming pool, or just five more bounces on your new backyard trampoline. A rhythm which is confident because it knows its pleas and pronunciations will be met with the opening of the door. At that sound I finally dragged myself out of my cramped corner desk. As much as I’d like to say I threw open the windows with a dramatic gust of wind, the safety latches in their miserably aged and flaking white-painted glory prevented me from doing more than opening my blinds a bit and squinting into the night. 

It was Peter Pan.

But my Peter Pan wasn’t a red-haired boy dressed in green, floating with the aid of glittering fairy dust, nor were they a Grimm fairy tale-esque villain kidnapping children in the dead of night. My Peter Pan had sad excuses for pigtails messily combed at the top of her head (she barely had much hair to begin with), tiny fingers with bitten nails, and a uniform of hot pink corduroy pants, the loudest and ugliest fashion statement known to elementary school playgrounds. She stared curiously at my face through the window, as if confused at the bruises under my eyes, the rat’s nest of my hair, the utter clutter that was my room. She gave me a tentative wave, as if I was a strange creature floating in cerulean water at an aquarium, illuminating her wandering eyes with barnacle-studded fins and delicate periwinkle tentacles. She reached for the glass suddenly, and I felt a chill down my spine as our fingertips met for just a moment, just a millisecond, and everything around me dropped away, as if I was instead peering at a rolling film from the inside-out.

I saw my Peter Pan.

She ran with limitless energy like a supersonic being, legs flurrying over playground gravel like she was dancing on water. Noises of sheer joy tumbled from her lips as she visited first the bullied, creaking swing set and then the scalding, skin-gripping slides, all with the heated pink of exertion on her face and scrapes on her knees (but she never fell over, not once). She never tired, her shrieks growing only louder into whines of protest at the setting sun. She was dressed from head to toe in neon blue, then green flowers, then yellow ribbons, as if screaming her existence out to the world, as if color was her only way of proving the point of her purpose: that she, Peter Pan, was special. She produced everything from poetry, to animal-themed choreography, to imaginary characters. She was perfect.

Graphic by Amani Ahmad

I saw my Tinker Bell.

She had toddling, straying feet and constantly flailing fingers, and was reaching, always reaching, to tug at Peter Pan: the hem of her shirt, her gangly legs at their rare moments of stillness, the strap of her ugly polka-dotted backpack. My Tinker Bell was almost dramatically shy, but I saw her glow quietly in the havens of her bedroom. She sparkled with a pencil in her hand and a sketchbook in her lap, capturing with graphite the world around her and preserving it, just for her, on a smooth paper canvas in quietly confident strokes. She shone most when she was alongside Peter Pan, clumsy legs struggling to catch up with nimble ones. Her mouth was open in a suspended giggle at simply being in Peter’s presence, at seeing her eyes crinkle in response to a joke or the calling of her name, just her name.

I saw my Captain Hook.

She was unassuming in stature, yet draped herself in brilliance, a fashionista in the grocery store aisles shopping for organic whole wheat bread. She was an extended blade and a sharp retort; her fighter’s stance against Peter Pan was a façade of battle against the world. My Captain Hook protected Peter from the darkness, the dullness of the world with the red of her coat, the sparkling of her sword (a kitchen spatula), and the cutting edge of her voice. With every clash of dagger on sword, every clever-worded argument and lecture, every back-and-forth guerrilla war of insults masking inside jokes, she strengthened Peter, sharpened her softened judgment against the critics of her brilliant colors. She shone in her craftsmanship of words, although she extended a blade with the mind of an artist and a heart which worked itself tirelessly.

I saw my Lost Boy.

He was forgetful and sleepy-eyed, sometimes a child with a rambunctious laugh trapped inside of a larger body with a presence big enough to ricochet off crumbling apartment plaster and claustrophobic restaurant walls — a presence that always demanded the turning of heads and darting of eyes. He was late-night cut fruit, tediously organized financial records written in sprawling cursive chicken scratch, and the weight of thick-rimmed glasses sliding down a tanned nose. He smiled easily, never, ever cried, and wore patience rather than his heart on his sleeve. He was always the dish-washer, the pool-cleaner, and the porch-sweeper. And yet, he never wavered in his childlike wonder and adoration for Peter Pan, following him to the ends of the world if he asked. But Peter Pan never asked.

Graphic by Amani Ahmad

But then I saw them disappear.

Tinker Bell’s hands would clutch less often at Peter’s shirt and more at her crumpled sketchbook pages, what was once a glow like the sun now a flickering neon sign. Captain Hook’s words became muffled, as if swimming through a current of white noise and drowning into a forgetful chatter. The Lost Boy’s laugh became less frequent and his glasses perched ever lower on his face, accompanied by permanently imprinted lines of weariness — his lopsided smile a sad substitute for an inner child gone to sleep.

And I watched as Peter finally, finally tired.

Flying feet became a back aching from hard plastic chairs in the stagnant, unforgiving embrace of burning midnight oil. Noises of joy were reduced to minute mumbles of complaint. Playground sets shriveled into rickety wooden desks, and the bright colors of her identity into formless fabrics of neutral hues. She tired, she burned, and she collapsed, with exertion-heated pink sinking into dark purple crescents of sheer exhaustion. The red of a scraped knee reflected in the slashing turmoil that was her mind.

I watched as my Peter walked instead of flew, cried instead of laughed, and wondered where it went wrong. When her friendship with Tinker Bell ended, her exchanges with Captain Hook stopped bringing her excitement and her Lost Boy failed to make her laugh. I watched as rather than pounding insistently, excitedly at the window, she settled to lower the blinds, refusing to spare a glance, a minute, at her own reflection against the dark of the night. I watched as pencil in hand, she sat, her spine wilting under the pressure of countless calculations. She spouted formulas and equations from her imprisoned mind, pencil lines always a dull gray.

She hears a knock at the window and doesn’t get up. Each pencil scratch on paper strikes louder than this desperate, pleading knocking. It’s begging for her to wake up, to return to her Tinker Bell, her Captain Hook, her Lost Boy, her Neverland.

And yet, here she stays. I watch as she stays. I watch as she says farewell. ■

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