my great-aunt owned horses and a beautiful cabin in the salt plains of a flat north state. one summer we visited and drove long dusty miles into the basin of nowhere and the seam where the sky pressed tenderly to land was visible in every direction. i made pretend i was an explorer and that—at ten—i was escaping the world to live in solitude after city pressures had driven me to the brink. at ten. there no one knew my name and no one knew i was scared and shrunken and still trying to love the picture others had painted of me and later shown me like a mirror. i liked to do right by others even at the expense of my unformed self so i hacked off pieces in some places and grew new ones in others until i matched almost almost the image they loved of me. it got so i believed the painting was a self-portrait, done faithfully in shades of blue. the dreams i had outside the painting matched my great-aunt’s land, so wide as to make me feel a well-placed wind would unmoor me from the earth entirely and send me streaming over gilded acres, like a leaf meant to wither in a collection finding its way into the Mississippi instead. that girl in the painting, i hated her. she was beautiful and i was a fraud. she would live in a cold city until she died while i rode horses in the wind, and learned, like the sky, to be mad and wild.
Emily Gustafson is a graduate of Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and has a dual degree in English and Media & Cultural Studies with a minor in Hispanic Studies. She is also an actor, playwright, and nonprofit arts professional living and working in Minneapolis, Minnesota.