Age: 16, Grade: 11
School Name: Horace Mann School, Bronx, NY
Educator: Rebecca Bahr
Category: Personal Essay & Memoir
You’re six and a half and there are fairies living in the sky, in a kingdom on that one big cloud that God would be sitting on if this were a cartoon. They’re very happy there, and you are happy, too. ___Creators should get to be in charge, right? You logic this out to yourself in bed one day, blanket tucked up to your chin. And since you created Unicornia, land of math problems, bubbles, and all things good, you decide that you get to be its princess. But you don’t think that you’re old enough to make an entire kingdom’s decisions by yourself, so you find yourself some help.
Enter stage right: A king, a queen, and another princess.
The king is told that there is unrest in the kingdom. The Stinksies, an evil race of monsters, are trying to attack Unicornia. When asked what he will do, the king says nothing. Neither does the queen or the other princess. The townspeople are dissatisfied and so are you.
Exit stage left: The king, the queen, and other princess.
They’re not going to show up again. This is, undoubtedly, your world, and you won’t let some nobody figment of your imagination destroy it right in front of you.
After telling everybody what will be done about the Stinksies, your first royal decree is this: your sister, the real life-one, has been banned from Unicornia’s royal ball for saying it sounds stupid. You write it on the inside of a manila folder, just to make sure that you have proof she can’t come in.
The second: you will take a royal census of all the fairies in the land. So you flip through a how-to-draw book that you bought on a trip to Michael’s, and decide that all the fairies in it are your loyal subjects. You divide them up by category, making slender, columned lists of water fairies and flower fairies and animal fairies, bringing paper with you on the bus and writing lists of candy fairies. Then you look beyond your borders: you write down all the Stinksies, too, just so that your soldiers know who they are when they have to fight the war.
The pages and pages of fairies are carefully stacked and placed inside the folder you had used to write about your sister’s betrayal, and the folder is placed in a white cabinet, carefully settled in on top of paper packages. You make sure that nothing goes next to it or on top of the folder. It has to be pristine.
You won’t carry that sort of order with you when you get older, although you will keep a strange affinity for neat little lists of facts. Freshman year of high school when your teacher tells you that she thinks you need to get somebody from Guidance and Counseling to help you organize your backpack, you’ll think back to your blocked-out pages tucked inside your folder. You’ll want to tell her that you’re perfectly capable of doing it yourself, but just don’t care enough to take the time.
You’ll refrain. But right now you’re still in lower school. You dream of war strategy and decide that yours will be to win no matter what, so the next time you think of Unicornia you skip over the battle until you reach the part where everything is happy-pink, because that way you can’t lose. The Stinksies have been defeated, at least for now. You’re still a princess, still have wings, still haven’t imagined yourself in the air, even though you pretend like you can fly.
And this carries on for years, yeah? You’re a princess, which means that somewhere in the world, you’re one of the most important people you can find. It’s your little secret. You’re royalty but your friends are not. You may be quiet in real life but there’s a place where you have so much power.
But then lower school is almost over and you’re on the bus and sitting next to your friend who always liked your sister more, and you know that nobody believes in fairies in middle school. So you turn to your friend and ask “Do you believe in magic?” because you hope that maybe everybody just pretends like they don’t in order to seem that much more grown-up.
“Like magicians?” she says.
“No,” you respond. “Like fairies.”
“Fairies aren’t real,” she says. “Why? Do you?”
You shift in your seat, stomach sinking, wishing you had never asked. You lie: “No. I was just wondering.” So: You’re ten and have a magic land somewhere in the clouds. You’re ten and think that you have to grow up, because you can’t be the only person in your grade who thinks magic is real.
So: You have to leave Unicornia.
So: If you have to go, so do your fairies, which that means nobody will be there to remind the Stinksies that they lost.
So: If nobody does that, then they won’t remember that you won.
So: You can’t do anything to change that.
You still haven’t flown, but there’s no more time to make it happen. You pack up all your things and send your subjects away. The Stinksies will come back eventually, dance through your kingdom, live inside your palace. They’ll win, even though you won the war.
You look back one more time, then leave. ___You’re ten years old, and you don’t believe in magic. Your fairies, if fairies were real, would not be happy. The Stinksies, if they were real, would just be finding out what happened. They would be ecstatic.