The year was 2003. It was the spring semester of my freshman year of high school, a practically stressful time for many students. While I endured the same struggles as everyone else–mountainous piles of homework, driving practice, surging hormones–the one thing I never got to experience was lifelong friendships with people my age.
My father was an army man, so every three years when his base of operations relocates, so do we. Since I was 7, I’ve been forced to move from my birth state of snowy Colorado to windy Illinois, scorching hot Texas, and finally sunny South Florida. I would try to make friends after settling in my new homes, but no one ever seemed to care about hanging out with a nice girl like me.
I was an outcast both in school and at home. My parents would belittle me for not being very social, while my classmates would sneer at me for reading books and playing video games that featured characters who I believe would want to befriend me and help me through all of life’s obstacles had they existed in the real world.
One day in March, I would come across such a character in the girls’ bathroom at Molina High School. After four grueling hours of standardized testing, I came in to the lipstick graffiti-ridden restroom to wash my hands of the coal-laden graphite I received from bubbling in answers to the meaningless and mundane questions that were completely unrelated to the curricula my teachers had written.
As I watched the silver dirt flush down the drain, I heard someone cry like a little girl whose lollipop was siphoned by a mean, fat boy on the playground. I dried my hands on my faded, knee-torn light blue jeans and tiptoed silently to the handicapped stall door.
I lightly tapped the vomit green door thrice out of respect for the poor girl’s privacy.
“Who’s there?” the girl whimpers.
“Just someone who’s waiting to use the handicapped toilet,” I lied reluctantly.
Her shoes click-clacked as loud as fingernails tapping on a wooden desk as she walked over to the door. The second she opened the stall door to reveal herself, my jaw dropped at the sight of her outlandish appearance–she had the face of Charlize Theron, except her eyes were the lightest shade of blue, her hairline was shaped into a heart as her orange straight hair was slicked back from root to tip then draped ten inches past her shoulders; she was as skinny as an Abercrombie & Fitch model but not anorexic, and she wore a glistening lime-green halter top, white cordouroy pants, and shiny silver high-heel shoes each adorned with a purple cat’s eye amulet in front.
I stumbled back, but regained my footing close to the sink.
“On second thought, I don’t feel the need to use the bathroom anymore,” I chuckled.
“Why, what a rude thing to say,” said Outlander Girl, folding her arms in sheer disappointment.
“I’m really sorry if I offended you in any way. It’s just that I’ve never seen girls in this school who are as pretty as you are. You’re, like, more beautiful than them by ten to the sixth power!”
I really meant to say that. No matter how hard the girls at Molina High tried to look as thin as their favorite actresses–forging bulimia pacts, gorging on as much fruits and vegetables as possible as part of some foreign fad diet, hitting the gym seven whole days a week–they fail miserably.
Outlander Girl wiped her tears with her iridescent nail polished finger. “Thank you kindly, for I am brand new to this planet’s educational establishment,” she said.
“I’m sorry?” I asked, puzzled by Outlander Girl’s wording.
“Oh, where are my bearings? My name is Mabyn, and my family and I migrated to your planet from Nikatsnia of the Andromeda galaxy just yesterday.”
“I- I’m Dina Anderson, and I’m from Colorado,” I said, hesitant to tell her about my tumultuous life story as an army brat. What the hell was Mabyn talking about, migrating from a planet 57 million light-years away from Earth?
“Um, wanna ditch this place?” I inquired Mabyn. “I don’t have to go to any more of my classes because of all the testing that’s going on, and I’m pretty sure you don’t wanna be stuck here doing nothing, either.”
Mabyn nodded gleefully. Then she dragged me to the handicapped stall, closed the door behind us, held my hand, and recited this unintelligible chant like a wizard: Mot Rojam ot Lortnoc Dnuorg, NOITINGI!
A flash of white enveloped us, nearly blinding me. Then we were spiraling in a vortex of pink, yellow and violet. Twenty seconds later, we appeared in what looked like her backyard–fenced out of the neighbors’ view with a steel barrier all around. Mabyn’s house was a sight straight out of a sci-fi movie–a towering cylindrical pod two stories high, with three circular windows measuring the same circumference as a regular spaceship spiraling from the top down right. Two emotions dominated my mind the moment I showed up at Mabyn’s place: elation at the sight of science fiction becoming reality right before my eyes, and confusion over how Mabyn came to Earth faster than astronomists suggest.
“Alright, let me get this straight,” I started after recomposing myself. “Teleportation powers, a spaceship house, an outlandish figure that is the envy of every high school girl on Earth (or at least the United States due to rising rates of obesity), and cosmic origins–you’re an alien?”
“Yes,” Mabyn said as she wound her long orange hair in a bun.
“But you look so human!”
Like a chameleon, Mabyn’s skin changed from fair white to aqua green. She now bore a striking resemblance to the Martian Manhunter from Justice League. “I’m a changeling, although at the moment I can only change skin colors. I won’t be able to change shape completely until my 21st birthday.”
Mabyn knocked on the wall of her house. Out of that section of the wall that transformed into an upward sliding door came her father, whose muscles were highly toned to reveal his thick veins. His hair was white as snow, every single strand touching his bulging shoulders. “My sweet little Mabyn, welcome home,” chimed Mabyn’s father with the deep voice of a Victorian king as he embraced his daughter. His eyes motioned to me. “I see you’ve made a new friend already. Who is this?”
“Dina,” Mabyn said.
Her father strolled toward me to shake right hand with two arms as fast as a vibrating chair. “I’m Strykll, Mabyn’s father. A pleasure to meet you,” he said with gusto.
“L-l- likewise,” I stuttered.
Maybyn and Strykll invited me into their cosmopolitan abode.
Their kitchen was exactly like a 21st century kitchen should be–a circular metallic table for four or more people, rotating chairs, black dishware cabinet doors, and a sink spouting clean, filtered water. Strykll served me and Mabyn a plate of pasta with mussel and shriveled octopus tentacles. Not a bad lunch entrée on a boring school day like this. I popped one whole tentacle into my mouth, and it tasted tangy. Maybe a little salty, but the orange sauce made my taste buds jump for joy.
“I’m still curious, Mabyn” I began as I sucked in a spoonful of pasta like a vacuum, “how did your family get to Earth so quickly, and why?”
Mabyn sulked her head down to her plate.
“Oh, my God, I’m so sorry for being ru–”
“It’s fine, Dina,” Strykll interrupted as he spun his chair to sit down. “The story of our exodus from our home planet, Nikatsnia, is a tad difficult for Mabyn to talk about, so I’ll say it on her behalf. You don’t mind that at all, do you, sweetheart?”
Mabyn shook her head, her bun wagging along.
Strykll confessed that the MAIN reason they left Nikatsnia is because of Mabyn’s artistic talents. On their planet, aside from architecture to build homes and businesses, art of any kind was forbidden–painting, drawing, music, theatre, and even dance.
My jaw dropped.
Mabyn was born with the purpose to reintroduce all those art forms to the close-minded inhabitants of Nikatsnia under the dictatorship of King Locklau so that they can overthrow him with their newfound creativity. One day, Mabyn was out near a mountain lake teaching a group of little kids how to draw and paint portraits of themselves using their own art styles–realism, expressionism, pointillism, or any other style in the book. Locklau saw the class during his afternoon walk and charged at Mabyn and the kids with the fury of a lion (or whatever four-legged animals walked on their planet). King Locklau wanted to arrest and execute Mabyn for corrupting the minds of Nikatsnia’s youth by placing paintbrushes she made herself–horse hair for the brush and tree bark for the handle–into their hands and allowing them to express their feelings about their home planet and Locklau’s tyranny against the arts. Mabyn ran away from Locklau’s wrath all the way home in tears. Strykll and his wife, Lazla, heard Mabyn’s cries as soon as she rushed inside their house, and they came down to listen to all the punishments the king had threatened to carry out. Dismayed by how extremely thick-headed the king is to go as far as giving Mabyn the death sentence, Strykll installed rocket boosters to the base of the house and blasted his entire family out of Nikatsnia to help his creative daughter escape persecution. Strangely enough, Strykll also installed the hyper-jump function to his mother computer to reduce the 57 million light-year journey to Earth to at least seven days.
No wonder Mabyn was having a hard time in the girls’ bathroom. Still…
“A planet that forbids art? I wouldn’t last a year there,” I said, my jaw still hanging from the mere thought of me not being able to draw/paint a tree, perform a sonnet from Romeo and Juliet, play one of Mozart’s symphonies, or dance to the hottest R&B songs in accordance with such an unjust law. It’s Footloose taken to the extreme.
Mabyn perked up and took me upstairs to her room. Her fuchsia pink wallpaper was decorated with her own version of The Starry Night: lavender orbs swirling around dashes of orange and gold over a Nikatsnian town. Her dresser was cluttered with multicolored beaded bracelets adorned with all types of stones–diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and cat’s eye, my new favorite. In the corner near the foot of her bed laid a sitar made out of a hollow coconut shell for the body, a metal coil for the neck, and purple sewing threads for strings. Talk about prolific.
“Can I have this bracelet? Cat’s eye is all the rage this year, and I want to follow the trend,” I asked Mabyn. She said yes.
For the next three years, Mabyn showed me everything that she created–psychedelic paintings of people and places on both her planet and mine; musical scores written specifically for her sitar; stage plays featuring subjects the people of Nikatsnia face on a daily basis; and she even conjured up dance styles that aliens on any other planet would dance in. She became the most popular girl in school, as she exhibited her artwork at art galleries, played cosmic songs on her sitar at talent shows, directed her stage plays with the permission of the drama teacher, and showed off her intergalactic dance moves at house parties. I watched and participated in all Mabyn’s creative ventures, and my parents were proud to see that I have enriched my life as a result of her presence.
Everything was perfect…until senior year.
Molina High was facing serious budget cuts, and the administration was forced to drop every single class in the Arts Department, which, as you could well imagine, incensed the entire student body, who believed that music, art and theatre were the heart and soul of the school, and that removing all those classes from the curriculum would kill their passion for education.
Meanwhile, Mabyn’s family was planning to move back to Nikatsnia. It turned out, the kids Mabyn taught the day she left rebelled against King Locklau by sharing all the artistic skills they learned with everyone on the planet, who agreed that life without the arts was too banal. Strykll received a message from one of the kids named Olkle, who said that in order for the arts to remain a part of Nikatsnian society, Mabyn would have to be crowned queen since she started the arts movement.
Mabyn was ecstatic to hear that Nikatsnia has finally welcomed the arts with open arms, and shocked by her nomination as queen. She said that she’ll return to Nikatsnia to tend to her royal duties as soon as she’s done with helping the Molina High Arts Department get back on its feet financially.
Luckily, we learned that the upcoming county fair was holding an art contest for every high school in the district. The theme was “No Place Like Home”, and the grand prize was a $500,000 grant, which was enough for Molina High to get the arts program back.
“What’re you gonna paint for the art contest?” I asked Mabyn as we sat in her living room one rainy Saturday.
Mabyn repeatedly twirled her orange hair into a long rope. “I don’t know. When I discovered the name of the contest’s theme, I couldn’t stop pondering about Nikatsnia. Although it’s wonderful that everyone has integrated the arts into their lives, I’m worried about the responsibilities I will be given as queen when I return home.”
I rush to hug Mabyn. It pained me to see her so damn anxious about the inevitability of her being upgraded from rebellious commoner to fair queen. “Mabyn, you’ll be a great ruler,” I told her. “If everyone loved you on Earth, you’ll be loved just the same on Nikatsnia. Just show your subjects what you learned during your time here, and your reign will be just fine.”
“Okay, I’ll see what I can do,” Mabyn said.
Spring came, and so did the art contest at the Miami-Dade County Fair. While everyone else was screaming their asses off on swinging roller coasters and gorging themselves on corn on the cob and cotton candy, my classmates and I were anxiously waiting inside the expo center to see what masterpiece Mabyn will unveil to the entire city. The drawings and paintings from the students of other schools in the district evoked emotions ranging from sheer amazement to critical disappointment. One drawing that I liked was a manga piece of a blonde girl surrounded by the embrace of her swimsuit-clad friends and family in front of a summer beach house in the Keys. Popping, and it’s proof that home doesn’t always have to be a regular, ordinary house in the suburbs. Another work was an oil on canvas painting featuring a blocky red-haired guy playing Hackey Sack with his friends outside an apartment complex. Whoever did that piece showed a great concept of having fun while living in a low-income situation, but should’ve stuck with drawing.
I turned away from that painting and saw Mabyn walking down the crowded hall with Strykll and Lazla in tow, carrying her tarp-covered canvas with a triumphant smile on her face like she had just come out of the delivery room with a newborn baby. Her eyes were a little puffy, and her hands were cramped with carpal tunnel syndrome–signs that she had a long night of artistic labor. My classmates quickly surrounded Mabyn, starving for whatever painting or drawing she created to revive Molina High’s arts program from its testing-induced death. I dragged the startled Mabyn out of the crowd, and motioned them to follow us to the exhibition room.
Mabyn set her canvas, still covered from view, down onto the canvas stand.
“Are you ready?” she asked the class, their eyes glimmering with excitement.
Mabyn lifted the tarp to reveal an expressionist painting that blew everyone away. She painted a full-length view of herself standing on one foot in the middle of a day-and-night scenic background. On the left side of the canvas was me and all of our friends standing under the clear blue sky of Earth, and on the right was the aqua-green inhabitants (her future subjects) underneath the purple skies and on the amber soils of Nikatsnia.
Teary-eyed, Mabyn revealed to the entire class that she was really an alien from outer space, and volunteered to change her skin color to aqua-green as she told the whole story about her persecution by the Nikatsnian king for doing art and her family’s escape to Earth. No one was shocked about the fact that Mabyn came from an intergalactic species–it didn’t matter. Mabyn’s courage to share her artistic abilities actually made their lives a lot more fun. They all shouted with glee, hoisted Mabyn up into the air and chanted her name for about five minutes.
At nightfall, the judges announced that the first winner of the art contest and recipient of the $500,000 grant was Molina High School for Mabyn’s work, which she titled Girl of Two Worlds. An appropriate title–although Nikatsnia will always be her home, Earth will be her home in her heart.
The crowd burst with a raucous applause. Molina High School just got their arts program back, and it will stay for years to come. I ran up the stage in tears to hug Mabyn as tight as I could.
“Thank you, Mabyn,” I whispered in her ear through stifled sobs. “You’ve changed my life for the better.”
“And thank you, Dina, for accepting me as I am and giving me the courage to share my work with this world,” Mabyn said. “It’s time for me to go home.”
She handed me the $500,000 check and walked away, turning her head to me with a courageous smile and a glistening tear.
In memory of David Bowie, the original artsy alien.