World on Fire

May 1, 2022 / Kyra Burke

Beneath the satiny skies of my youth, I fall asleep to the lullaby of an empty Earth.

The end of the world is now.

I’m stumbling through the rubble of a crumbling city, dying flames licking at my heels like creatures hungry for a last chance at life. Before me lies a planet swallowed by great infernos, clawed apart by storm and havoc and mayhem. There’s a sickening air of decay all around me, as if the very fabric of the universe is rotting. As I trudge through veils of smog and ash, the clouds above me gather to quell the last gasps of the modern world. This Earth, my Earth, is dying, and alongside its grave lies everything I’ve ever known in this life.

And yet, when I close my eyes, I feel at peace.

In the midst of disorder and destruction, I realize nothing matters anymore. Freed from the vitriol of humankind, what remains after the storm feels pure by nature, resurrected. Something about the clarity following the chaos feels right to me, and it’s as if I’ve been chasing after this moment my entire life, manifesting its arrival. Through oblivion, I’ve found my answer to everlasting sanctuary. I feel safe on this broken Earth without judgment, chores, or expectations. I feel reborn.

Then I wake up.

I’m 15, and my mom is driving me home from school. My head rattles against the carseat. My eyes adjust to sharp ruby headlights. The sounds return, gradually, and I hear the radio first, followed by the hum of my mother’s voice on the phone, then the industrial drone of Houston streets. There’s a familiar bitter taste in my mouth.

I suddenly remember the exam I have tomorrow, and my mind stings. Everything comes back too bitter, too knife-like. My obligations cut like a cool blade — the deadlines are daggers, the social commitments are spears — and they anchor themselves in the bed of my skin. Instinctively, I scratch at my arms, and I am reminded of this feeling throughout my childhood: an overwhelming numbness merged with the desire to bury myself into the closet corner and cup my hands over my ears to block out the noise.

I lean my head against the car window, quietly imagining the moon growing big enough to swallow the Earth and myself along with it.

These dreams of doomsday are rooted in childlike fantasy. But as macabre as it sounds, even as an adult, I still long for the clarity that follows a disaster. I long for renewal, for rebirth, for recklessness to give way to eventual peace. As someone who feels tormented by this life, I ache for a chance at restoration, even if it treads hot on the heels of tragedy. My worries have always felt permanent like tattoos on my skin; the thoughts are sewn into the fabric of my persona, melting and distorting with age.

No one truly prepares you for the fact that your fears only compound as you get older. And ruefully, my fears consume me more than most.

In every cornerstone of my existence, I’ve feared being worthy of this life. I’ve second-guessed my way through every step, donning myriad personas in order to fit my own definition of self-worth. My purpose staggered between manufactured performances of daughter, student, and companion, and with every commitment, I only dove deeper into the abyss of my baneful expectations. I became poisoned by my own thoughts, agonizing over strained conversations, broken routines, and rotten friendships.

I often feel predated by my loose strings, relapsed habits, and impulsive choices. At 20 years old, they’re vicious. They hunt me down in the silence of my walks to class and the vacant hallways of my apartment. They find opportunity in the slivers of my evening hours, waging self-criticisms like wars.

Intoxicated by my pursuit of excellence, I could never fully slaughter my social missteps, academic burnout, and a persistent eating disorder. In return, they thrive on my bleeding conscience. My regrets have teeth, and they bite back in the interlude of the night. I am a feeding ground for the cannibal of my thoughts, picking and chewing away at the porcelain girl suffering from her own actions. They’ve come for blood. They always do.

As I look towards the end of the world, I catch myself living life like I’m following the dial of a time bomb. I’ve been crawling through each day as if I’m waiting for just one second, any singular second of erasure, to kill my fears and birth me whole again. I’ve become passive, vulnerable, grasping onto the belief that this will all be over soon.

But now, as I approach the end of my college years, I’m finally at a place where I can reflect with a clear conscience. I’ve come to realize the truth: This world doesn’t stop spinning when I close my eyes. This world never cared about how badly I desired liberation from my thoughts or how much I dreamt of escape; that’s a notion light years beyond my reach. My life-shattering anxieties are merely dust in the sprawling expanse of planet Earth. I’ve spent so much of my life sacrificing tears to a selfish planet made of paper-mache, dreaming of the reset that would never come. And now, it’s finally time for me to uncup my hands from my ears and open my eyes.

This is my reality: I am alone with my stress. We all suffer from this curse of humanity: the fatal flaw of being mere puppets to our emotions. We are human; we are soft and breakable in sleeves of skin and bone. We share tears in the sanctuary of our beds, collectively nursing our open wounds before the daybreak. We are painfully, audaciously human in the rawest, most biological sense of the word.

There is something unspeakably beautiful about our mortal ability to worry, about the solidarity of the mind, how thoughts are uniquely poignant in every individual, how something so intangible as an idea can manifest itself into creation. My fears are proof of being alive and dealing with all the chaos and instability that comes with it. How I deal with the chaos, however, is something I must choose for myself. My worthiness is not embedded in my pitfalls; it’s anchored in how I decide to define my life.

Now that I’m older, I find solace in the blur of the night, the fogginess of the atmosphere cradling my thoughts amidst the chaos. My head feels leaden, but the moonlight offers me a celestial comfort found nowhere else. I am so infinitely small in this universe.

My frenzied thoughts drone on inside my mind, and I listen, and I listen, until they soften into song, like a lullaby, and I drift away into dreamless slumber. ■

By: Kyra Burke

Layout: Derrick Lam

Photographer: Rachel Karls

Stylist: Angel Quinn

Hmua: Amber Bray

Models: Laurence Nguyen-Thai & Rachel Aquino

View the full spread as it appeared in Issue No. 18 here.
ABOUT                  CONTACT                 STAFF                FAQ                 ISSUU