She was born. There was some fanfare about it, but not much. Some blog posts, some magazine articles. No cover stories, no media saturation. No photographers risking their lives to capture her image. It was more attention than most babies received, yet not as much as many deserve. People were kind of celebrity-babied out.
Her parents didn’t mind. They were happy to keep the world way from her for as long as possible. They hadn’t even settled on a name for her yet, but they loved and adored her instantly. They held her close in the hospital room, where the machines hummed around them and they blinked back tears, delirious from lack of sleep. They promised to look out for her. They promised to keep her safe. They promised to be a family. These were common lies for parents to tell their children.
It turned out to be a terrible time to be a baby. It was a terrible time to be a child, and a terrible time to be a person of color in the country where she was born, and also a terrible time just in general to be a girl. The world was out to get her.
A few days after she was born, there was a trial in Florida for a man who had killed a boy. The man had shot and killed the teenage boy, but according to the law he had not committed any crimes. A boy was dead, but the murderer was free to go out and kill other children. This set a bad precedent.
The parents looked at the news and wondered: What exactly have we done, here? They held their infant daughter in their arms and watched the news. In those early days, worry and love were the only two emotions they knew. They blanketed the infant in them.
A child’s name, on some level, reflects the parents’ hopes and dreams for the child. It is a kind of stamp on the thin envelope of their journey through life. They named their daughter North. They gave their daughter the language of direction, of adventure into the unknown, the hope of something better, something far away and potentially magical and interesting and better. They gave her elsewhere.
Meanwhile, more children were being killed. They were dying every day. Lots of people were killing them.
People were advised to shoot any kid who had a gun, or any kid who looked or dressed like they might have a gun.
If the kids tried to arm or protect themselves or gather themselves in groups for safety, they were locked up in prisons. “Not cool for kids to have guns,” people said. “Yikes!” People were advised to shoot any kid who had a gun, or any kid who looked or dressed like they might have a gun. For safety reasons.
Other bad things happened to kids, too. There were kids starving to death. Their schools didn’t have the resources that would help them learn. Kids were living on the streets or in shelters because their parents had nowhere to go. It was like people weren’t killing them fast enough.
There was no particular moment when an understanding of the idea of “celebrity” dawned on North. Her status on the planet, as a child born to famous people, was just a thing that was always there. The people waiting outside the restaurant to take her picture. The pictures of her parents on the magazine covers. The things people at school whispered about them. People on the internet having very strong and negative opinions about their value as human beings.
Once, as a teenager, she snuck out of her father’s house and went to a party. She didn’t do anything terrible, but someone’s pictures ended up on a blog and it was a big deal. There were posts about her being a troublemaker, a disappointment to her parents, but no surprise, really. She didn’t stop hearing about it for weeks. But the media didn’t talk about the other kids there, only her. Why was it worse for her?
A friend of hers was killed in a drunk driving accident. A few of her friends were shot and killed by random people. They were her friends and now they were gone, but where was the outrage? Where was the media coverage? The magazine covers and the blogs were still talking about how she went to a party or was out late dancing. It was true, but still.
Both things were true, so why didn’t they carry their expected weight? Was it because the other kids didn’t have famous parents? Or maybe kids dying wasn’t really news anymore. It was just a thing, like having weather.
Meanwhile, they changed the laws so that women couldn’t control their bodies anymore. This meant that even more babies had to be born. “Not cool to try and kill babies before they’re born,” people said. “We need to kill them later.” This did not make a lot of sense to North, but if she tried to explain this to anyone closely involved with the patriarchy, government, or media, they just looked at her like she was crazy.
They explained that it was a supply and demand thing. One of the things that makes America great.
The more babies were born, the more guns were sold.
Sometimes North read articles about her parents. Her father is violent and aggressive and dangerous and insane. Her mother is totally weird and crazy! Also what is going on with her physical appearance! North would see these articles, read these blog posts, scroll in disbelief past the hundreds and hundreds of comments and think: This doesn’t sound like my parents at all. But there was so much evidence to the contrary.
It was as though the entire world was waiting for her to reveal her true self and prove their theories right. It was like she was in a race to stay alive.
There were also articles about her. She’s trouble. She’s drinking. She has a drug problem. She takes too many selfies. She is crazy like her father. She is as untalented as her mother. Like most child celebrities, her life will undoubtedly be disappointing and brief.
Sometimes she couldn’t believe how wrong they were, but sometimes she felt like they were correct. It was as though the entire world was waiting for her to reveal her true self and prove their theories right. It was like she was in a race to stay alive.
She asked her father: Do I win if I prove them right? Or if I prove them wrong?
He pulled her closed and hugged her tight. He apologized to her on behalf of the entire world.
North moved out on her own when she was 18. She went to a college in a big city and for a while it was nice. A few of the other kids who had managed to stay alive long enough to attend college acted weird around her, because they thought they knew certain things about her, having read about her on the internet their entire lives, but there were some kids who weren’t like that. A few seemed to want to hang out with her for who she was, not who they thought she might be, what they thought she could do for them. Which, what could she even do? What did she have to offer anyone?
Twice she almost died (hit by bike in crosswalk; attacked while walking home one night). This was in addition to the hundreds of times per day when she could almost have died, say if the right person thought she might be dangerous, or might have a gun, or might be thinking about not giving birth.
There were more tiny almost-deaths like that than anyone could keep track of. Each day was a gift, but it never felt like it. It only felt exhausting.
Plus, what did she even want to do with her life. Why was she even here? Her parents had done things. No matter what she did she would be compared to them, so why even bother? There were expectations for her that she knew, deep in her heart, she would never be able to meet.
She graduated and got a job working for a media company. She liked writing. She liked her coworkers. The media company had made a lot of money by publishing lies about other celebrities, but she tried not to think about that. She tried to just be her best self and do her best work. She liked it but she wasn’t sure she loved it. Is this what my life is going to be? she wondered. She hoped there would be a sign, a way of knowing she was on the right path. There wasn’t.
She was no longer a child, and the chances that she would get killed went down slightly. But some people were saying it might be OK to kill women soon—not just socially acceptable but actually morally appropriate—so she had her eye on that.
As she grew older she continued to wonder what the point of everything was. Why was she even here? What was she supposed to be doing? Should she be doing something more, or was it wrong, a presumptive symptom of her privilege, to wonder if there was something more?
Would she ever feel like she was on the right path, or was the path just a thing that you glimpsed occasionally? Maybe life was not a thing you arrived at. Maybe it was a thing you continually doubted and reevaluated. Maybe the point was to become comfortable in the doubt, in the not knowing. She decided to try to appreciate the things in her life that needing appreciating. She tried to bear witness to pain and be of use where she could, and be emotionally present in the lives of the people who were important to her.
Sometimes she would forget this and have to relearn it all over again.
She tried to take in the small moments of beauty and love and magic where she found them, and hold on to them during the more difficult times. Because it was mostly difficult times. Beyond the everyday natural horror and the bigger existential life stuff there were the daily, hourly, tiny little knives. Articles about her terrible fashion sense and inability to be charming on camera. Where Are They Now articles with bullet points proving she had done absolutely nothing of value since being born. People saying awful things to her on the street every time she left her apartment. Men admonishing her for not smiling. Fierce and horrifying threats-as-compliments about her clothes and body.
She felt herself becoming the angry and troubled person people had always assumed she was.
Some days she thought: I am so angry that my bones are going to vibrate right out of my skin.
Some days she thought: These hands that write and create could just as easily twist a skull right off its spine, and I hope someone will test me on this.
Some days she thought: Maybe I am going to be OK.
She tried to stay alive as long as possible.