I began folding cranes and frogs when I was nine. My best friend taught me how and we spent an entire summer filling our rooms with paper animals.
Origami replaced a fascination with melting army men and throwing them off the garage roof, an activity of which I thought I could never tire.
But then I read the book Sadako and the Thousand Cranes, a novel about a little girl exposed to radiation during Hiroshima. Sadako believed in a legend that said if you folded one thousand paper cranes you would get your heart’s desire, and her heart’s desire was peace. She died after folding six hundred cranes and I took it upon myself to fold the rest. But I couldn’t stop after four hundred.
My new skill also coincided with the theater release of the movie Blade Runner, in which one of the bounty hunters folds origami and speaks very little. In my mind at nine, leaving a folded fish somewhere could be an warning to someone, an unspoken threat or a clue.
Origami might have seemed like a more feminine hobby than burning army men and flinging them out into a field, but to me the two acts were essentially the same, were born from the same anxieties and desires, the same nascent sense of my place in the world as someone who would likely grow up to be a woman.
I might have had to live in an era where a former B movie star with a nuclear death wish was president, but I could silently affirm to myself, with a square of paper, that a better day was coming. I could straighten the beak and pull out the wings to ready a paper bird for flight, and no one would know that I was seeing helicopter gunships being blown out of the sky by little girls standing on the ground.