My first memory of muses dates back to seventh grade. I had to write a poem about Abraham Lincoln for class and I was tired. I was tired of being a fat Asian kid with glasses and, already, acne and I was tired of bullshit homework and I was tired of being alone. I remember sitting on my porch and watching evening break and out of the frustration of being a teenager and of being bad at it I called out into darkness and the muses responded.

I thought it’d be intimidating to befriend three beautiful, middle-aged appearanced, immortal women dressed in white robes but they weren’t seeking friendship. Their job was to inspire me, which from I understand didn’t pay well and had lousy perks. Of all the jobs in the immortal Apple Inc. they worked in, they did the equivalent of manning the Genius Bar. But being around since the first cave artist’s writer block—a primordial human who burnt out under the pressure of snobby cave critics and demanding cave fans—tended to impart a level of patience to a being of light.

The muses took me through my first hacky forays into short fiction, one brief journey into long fiction, four weblogs, one webcomic, one fake newspaper, and several attempts at live theater. I’m the engine, but they’re the sparks. I can make light as long as I can feed the fire; and if, when, I peter out I’ll call out to the darkness and they’ll be there just like they were there for the ode to our thirteenth president.

But these days I have to call out harder. Sometimes I have to scream or throw a hissy fit. I know it’s a signal. I know one day I’ll call out and they won’t be there. Recently I’ve found a tinderbox, a voice—my tinderbox, my voice?—and it’s time to rely on that. I can see it in their eyes. I can hear it in the way they harmonize their choruses. I can feel it when they kiss my cheeks goodbye. I can taste it in the air.

You’re not supposed to rely on muses forever. I know that. You’re not supposed to use three immortals as a crutch and then as an excuse for all your failed endeavors. I know that. And I know you’re also not supposed to miss the scent carried by the wind when they enter the room. And I know you’re not supposed to miss all the great conversations you guys had until 4 AM on a workday. And I know you’re not supposed to fall in love with your muses, even if it’s only a little bit, because what sort of love do mortals have to offer immortals.

But you do, all the same.

Now when I visit my parents and I go home and I sit in the same porch watching the sun drown, I look at the middle-aged man with silver hair and ankle tattoos walk his dog. I try and piece together the nightmare about past loves I had a week ago, mistakes and all. I let the darkness creep in. I shiver.

In the darkness are all the bullies I had as a little kid magnified by adulthood. The bully that votes I’ll never be great at anything in our high-school yearbook. The bully that sees ashes inside me instead of fire. The bully that whispers I’ll plateau.

Bullies stand outside the porch with tuxedos and easy choices. They stand watching me and feeling their teeth with long fingernails. They stand waiting for me to call out. They stand knowing I’ll call when I have the power to drive them away, alone, by myself, mortal. One day I’ll know it too.