This is a short story / memoir I wrote as part of my application to the Bard College at Simon's Rock Young Writer's Workshop. The guidelines were to write about a particular time words impacted you. This is actually my second attempt at following the prompt as the first ended up more of an essay versus a prose piece. It is non-fiction and 100% true. If you were one of the lucky people to read the actual draft I sent in, you may notice there are a few names changed for privacy reasons but that is the only aspect that has been changed.
This is the kind of story that spans an afternoon. It is told in first person, omniscient, where hindsight is twenty / twenty. If I do my job correctly, you will have no choice but to carry on with its weight and resonance emblazoned in the dark matter between cornea and eyelid.
Nothing is as simple as it seems. The world is not black and white but an innumerable amount of greys in between (not fifty, mind you), an infinite spectrum of individual experience and circumstance that makes us flawed and human. A book is not simply a few hundred pages bound between two pieces of cardboard, but a relationship trapped between realities until it is read.
Sofia Li’s life had always been just that, hers, apostrophe ‘s,’ possessive noun. Until the summer of 2014, when it wasn’t. Her mother, Sabrina had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer in September of 2012. However, it isn’t until where our story begins that Sofia actually comprehends that the woman who adopted her from Shanghai, China when she was thirteen months old, can no longer take care of her. At this point, everything in Sofia’s life had changed.
“Well, time is up for the day. You don’t have to talk to me, but you need to express what you’re feeling to somebody. I’m going to speak with your mother before I leave. Do I have permission to tell her about what you’ve said today?” Bianca says, caps her pen, and slides it into its appointed place on her clipboard. Sofia wonders if the clipboard is devoid of words because Bianca’s reluctant patient refused to say anything of importance. The other, more likely outcome being that every line was scribbled in wannabe therapist shorthand as she meticulously recorded every time Sofia took a sip of water only to set the glass down and recross her arms. Bianca isn’t even a licensed psychologist, because those are the kind you go out of your house to see. Yet it seems the reluctant focus of this story can’t leave the house without making it a must-attend event, inclusive of mother, daughter, sister, life support machines, and everyone’s stares accompanying them.
“Fine,” Sofia replies, staring down into her lap. Bianca nods to acknowledge her response, remembering that indifference is even worse than sarcasm or petulance from adolescent guinea pigs.
Sofia listens for the wood to cease creaking under the chunky, uneven blue carpet that envelopes the staircase. When she knows Bianca is on her way to the other end of the house, she untangles her arms and legs from their crossed positions to creep downstairs. Once there, she listens to the absurd analysis of her mental state Bianca tells her mother and aunt. As if they had conspired to do so, the door was left open just enough for Sofia to watch them converse in the Sunflower slash Mac & Cheese Room, the name dependent on who was referring to it.
Siri’s voice is speaking to them, reading aloud the carefully composed paragraph Sabrina had typed in preparation for this discussion. Sofia bristles against the monotonous recitation, so unlike how her mother would have expressed her concerns had she been able to speak. The cancer had compelled the doctors to perform a tracheotomy which in non-medical terms is an incision in the windpipe to help a person breathe. Be that as it may, freedom for the windpipe comes at expense to the vocal chords. The twenty-ninth of May was the last time Sabrina Li spoke to her little girl turned isolated teenager who now refused to communicate voluntarily. In addition, that was the last day our main character truly considered her mother alive.
Sofia slunk away from their conversation, her mother’s concern conveyed in Siri’s bone-chilling voice still reverberating through her thoughts. Upstairs is safe. Upstairs is where Sofia has the slightest bit of control over the Pandora’s box her entire life had been carelessly chucked into. This was where she could wrangle in the forced interactions between the ‘pro’ and ‘an’tagonist.
She exhales freely, selecting a book from the stack of ten that teetered precariously on the slab of wood deigning to call itself a nightstand. The particular title, raised to what would either be the chopping block or the podium of Sofia’s critical opinion was Audacious, a novel written in verse by Gabrielle Prendergast.
Sofia dons her earbuds, now a necessary part of the armor, carefully worn so as to prevent any casualties between her family and her feelings. The soundtrack is a perfect match with the scene we are confronted with. The jungle of thorns erected in defense looms over experience as we have no choice but to delve into the horrors the antagonist has prepared.
Quite simply, no more panem et circenses than required, Sofia begins to read. She reads and reads and reads, only pausing to free a post it from its adhesive brethren and lay it on a page she has deemed worthy of remembrance.
Audacious follows sixteen year old Raphaelle, who, when confronted with the hierarchy known as high school, merely laughs in its face. She considers herself having broken free from the rose colored glass it seems that everybody else in her small midwestern town remains encased in. As an intentional act of self expression against the transient, flippant attitudes of those living in her community, Raphaelle takes a sexually explicit photo of herself, and that is the unquestionable point at which Sofia knows this is no ordinary book.
Sofia soaks in each page, absorbing the antidote of action and disregard to consequences each word of Audacious provides. The story is the first sound she has heard in weeks, the solution of gorgeously gritty writing and relatable Raphaelle disbanding the heavily guarded wall of emotions felt towards her mother’s illness. Sofia’s identity had been a fast flowing river beneath a frozen lake, but the ice had finally cracked.
Sofia’s disposition towards her present state wasn’t going to one-eighty into the empathetic kumbaya singing daughter people wanted her to be, but she was no longer the shell. Maybe she was exhausted, or maybe she didn’t want to resist rescue any longer. From Audacious leapt the spark, one of righteousness and awareness and get-off-your-ass-to-confront-the-world-ness that had been missing. Its fuse went straight for the jugular, which converted the angry, resentful skeleton of a girl into flesh, a circulatory system now running on the oxygenated passion it had missed for so long.
Sofia wouldn’t respond to the situation at the extreme degree Raphaelle had, but she was finally respondent. At last, she felt she could curse whatever faith she had in humanity, in God, in whatever the hell had placed her in this position. Her summer days were spent playing bed nurse for her sick mother. Her nights endured as she awaited the banging of a gong to alert her to attention so she could resume the position kept during the day.
Reading Audacious unlocked every ounce of selfishness, passion, remorse, and sympathy that had been out of her reach. When Sofia closed the book, she was no longer content with the way she had been carrying on life since her mother’s prognosis worsened. Instead, the productive, motivated book blogger, and future Great American Author had returned.
However, it was too late for her to slip back into the skin she had been separated from, and she would be forced to use every ounce of gained energy to continue living, for more than herself.
The twenty - seventh of July 2014 was the last day Sabrina would reside in the home she had spent half of her sixty years in. That very night, her sister Jennifer decided she and Sofia weren’t adequate enough to take care of their stage four sister and mother. The two of them watched the ambulance take her away, and by noon on the twenty - ninth, she was dead.
While Sofia Sage Li was the unwilling main character of this story, you as the reader deserve to know, I too am Sofia Sage Li. This is my story, scripted, directed, edited, and presented by yours truly. The narrative style maintained for two reasons. One of which being the predicted difficulty of writing from a first person account of how the events played out. The subsequent reason being, I don’t believe I am the same person the events of this story followed. Don’t worry, I promise there aren’t any dissociative personality disorders at play, but simple recognition of the evolution my identity underwent. The state of mind I kept up from the twenty - ninth of May to the twenty - ninth of July is what I hope to never return to seeing as it was the most negative, toxic, unhealthy one I have contained myself in.
I write this now with the knowledge that whatever you're struggling with, no matter how unhappy you are, it will pass. You have been shattered, may think of yourself as dirty or damaged, but the feeling can only last for so long. The pieces that are no longer relevant have been discarded. What remains is rearranged and plastered onto the mosaic of who you have become. The 25,815 words in Audacious arrived on the doorstep of my life exactly when they were most needed and I firmly believe the journey to recovery wouldn’t have begun as swiftly without everything this novel compelled me to feel when I didn’t want to feel anything at all.
I hope you enjoyed this and my goal is to share a lot more of my writing in 2016. I would love to hear anything you have to say about the style, characters, events, etc. Special thanks to the author herself Gabrielle Pendergast for telling me the exact word count as well as reading the piece.
Thank you so much for visiting, keep calm, and read on!