I was five when I knew something was different about me.
My first memory.
I had no recollection of who my parents were or what they even looked like. All I knew was that I was alone at the orphanage, disconnected from the outside world. I picture it even now, almost like an oil painting: the thick bristles of the paintbrush created the bright blue sky as it connected to the shockingly white snow. The snow blanketed everything around me, as if protecting me, the green forest displayed at every angle.
The orphanage was out of place in such a nature-infused environment. A large, two-story building, its windows seemed to cover almost every surface. I remembered the brightness of the sun as it hit my sleepy face through one of those many windows. It would instantly warm my body, greeting me to yet another day.
Vines covered old gray bricks as they coursed over the external surface of the orphanage. I had nightmares about those same vines making their way into my room as I slept. They’d appear ominously as their shadows pounded against the walls, taunting me as a storm brewed on outside. Venturing toward my bed, the vines would slither across my body, trapping me in place. One would wrap around my neck, squeezing tightly, as I struggled for air. Rendered frozen, the feeling of fear would take hold, bubbling up deep inside my chest. And as I felt the burning pain in my throat, a thought would flash through my mind of thismoment being my last. It never was, though, as I would instantly wake up.
I always did have a wild imagination.
To chase away the terror, I would stand before my windowpane the morning after. Sighing in relief, my eyes would be drawn to the vast forest off in the distance. It surrounded the orphanage, like a gatekeeper, the leaves of the trees bristling in irritation. The wind blew right through those tall structures, whistling, as my ears picked up the all too familiar sound.
I somehow found myself standing directly in front of that very forest. My memory was hazy on exactly how I got there but I recalled waking up, after one of my many dreams, to the feeling of immense hunger as my body stirred in discomfort.
Then suddenly I was at the foot of the forest.
I would not describe the sensation as simple hunger. I would almost describe it as a feeling of starvation, like there was some essential component my body was missing. Whatever it was, this need was so powerful I was weak in the knees with the pain; my belly contracted and released, contracted and released, continually. Food provided temporary relief for me, but there was always this presence in the corner of my mind as my brain searched for the one thing my body craved.
I ignored that nagging voice in my head, the one whispering for the one thing I needed. It was something unfathomable yet inherent. I paid it no attention and just openly stared at the forest beckoning me. Taking shallow breaths, the cool air blew in and out between my cold, chapped lips.
It was at that exact moment I realized the forest isolated me from everything and everyone outside of its confines—almost like a hungry bird circling its prey. Even young, my instincts picked up on that, immediately telling me something.
Eyes were watching me.