Episode 5: Sophia Page Mitchell
Sophia turned fifteen that year and to the surprise of many, she began to question everything around her. Pushing back became a regular happening. So were late nights out, testing the boundaries of teenage conformity, pointing out the irrational and hypocritical. She was coming into her own. At fifteen.
Up until then she was good at school, good at sports, good at following the rules. Sophia was the model of what parents and teachers desired teens to be, forgetting of course that all of those adults had an array of experiences that shaped what they became and whether or not any wanted to admit it, being regular and reliably good all the time wasn’t practical – or even possible.
Sophia’s academics remained impressive because it came easily to her, especially the mathematics and sciences. Numbers, logic, critical thinking, the scientific method – it all rang right and real like seeing God in the objective lenses of a microscope. Not faith in that omniscient fairytale, rather the purest of understanding in the smell and taste of water and dirt. Real.
She started to get in trouble at school. She quit the Lacrosse team. She quit all of the things that branded her with the flimsy shroud of high school superiority. Smart. Popular. Athletic. Driven. Going places.
Still, Sophia kept up the Lacrosse drills, every morning at five a.m., whether she had gotten to bed early or snuck in way beyond curfew, finding the solitary pursuit in an almost zen-like escape. Cleats in the dew-coated grass, the smell of the field, the feel of the stick slicing the air. Run, scoop, shoot.
She partied too, on occasion, and diversified the friend circles with the sort known to party. Nothing too extreme, just enough of an experience to know she was in an experience, a toe dipped in the water, leaning over the edge enough to feel her stomach flutter.
And briefly, she dated an older boy with a car. Asshole.
But without him, Sophia would have never experienced the lights. A singular moment in time that lasted maybe three seconds, and became the enabler that eventually changed her entire trajectory. Maybe she would have seen the lights like many others in town. Theirs was a look from afar. Hers was something altogether different.
On a cool summer night when the sky was as clear as could be, Sophia and the older boy parked at the overlook to the quarry in the boy’s brand new 1985 Mustang GT to look at the stars. His father was a podiatrist, the family lived in the oldest and biggest house in town, and the boy got pretty much anything he asked for.
Before that night, she had only gone to the overlook in friend packs, in groups stuffed into cars beyond the intended occupancy. Never there on a date. Never there in the quiet, when the noise of other partiers yards away seemed so far off into the distance, like not even a part of where she was, as if only background noise inside the speakers of the car stereo, fighting to be heard against the songs emanating from the Tears for Fears cassette tape.
It was Sophia’s absolute favorite thing to do. She loved looking at the stars and imagining the possibilities out there in the infinite dark. Back home, in her bedroom, Sophia had a shelf of books on astronomy. The idea of traveling to the unknown, any unknown, from the outer reaches of space to the deepest parts of the ocean, and even more complicated concepts she had just scratched the surface of like quantum physics, thrilled her with the possibility of endless discovery and the idea of stepping out of one’s own now.
The trip to the overlook was a bigger step then she had realized, still one foot in the naivete of adolescence, caught up in the possibilities of being older and all that came with it, and not ready for all of the decisions that were clouded with murky thoughts and unsure feelings. The romanticism was what her reality clung to, and there was nothing more romantic than to share a passion for the sky’s mysteries with someone, gazing into the beyond in silence and sharing a feeling of awe. The older boy didn’t get that. He just wanted, and he usually pretty much got everything he asked for.
The stars were magnificent. Sophia tried to get lost in their beauty. The lights that beckoned from light years away, and the others that were far too close to be imagined and hidden in the other shimmer. She squirmed and ignored the older boy’s advances. Her interest was on the stars and their possibilities, and the idea that another could have shared her passion for dreaming – like he said – lies.
She pushed off the groping and leaned into the windshield. She leaned into the dark and the shimmer. Hers was a different journey into the things that beckoned explorers. Columbus, Banneker, Armstrong.
Sophia wondered if anyone had ever said no to the boy. For a brief second, she smirked at the thought of his car, how clean and shiny it was, how many hours he must have taken washing and waxing it, how shallow his day was, as shallow as his shiny car.
The older boy with one purpose for being at the overlook reached between Sophia’s legs. The reaction was instant. The instinct kicked in with the brain’s urgent signal, not a thought, a primal alert without internal imagery or words, and the body responded. Like a machine with the power switched on, the older boy received a hard elbow to the nose. Flash quick. The crack of bone. The squish of blood and tissue. It was the stuff of legend that would be talked about in the high school for years to come.
As Sophia left the car, she saw the older boy with hands to his surprised face and blood trickling between his fingers. She left in a hurry and with deliberate direction, trekking down the steep path to the water, thirty feet below. Down the artificial cut in what made the quarry. Down to be eye level with the manmade lake. A place she had never been to before and a logical destination to get away from older boys and their cars.
At the edge of the water, the reflection of stars rippling with the summer breeze seemed like a dream. She was caught up in nature’s brilliant canvas like a painting that captured something meaningful, frozen, when a few of the brilliant light reflections began to move around the canvas. Sophia looked up to see the mysterious lights darting around.
There they were, the legend putting on the show that so many had witnessed throughout the town’s history, their movements perfectly choreographed.
The lights did their dance then hovered above, just out of reach, in a floating-like twinkling, and Sophia couldn’t help but imagine the similarities between the lights that floated and literary descriptions of the tiny friend that escorted young Pan. The stuff of fairies. They were adrift in the cool air for several seconds, seemingly bouncing about on an invisible current and yet maintaining a position as if fixed by an anchor.
Sophia reached for the lights, an impossible reach. She stretched her arms as far as they could go and stood on her toes. An irrational act, she knew it. A child’s gesture, the sort of thing she would do as a little kid when believing she could touch a star.
On the overlook, shouts of joy rained down as the lights performed for the row of parked teenagers. The elated sounds from above was enough of a distraction that Sophia’s fixed stretch to the sky was shaken. She slipped from her tip-toe balance, lost her footing on a rock and stumbled a few steps backwards, ankle deep into the manmade lake. As soon as her feet touched the water, one of the lights left the show and floated down. Sophia saw it coming and was amazed that the closer it got, the smaller it became until, just a few feet away, was the size of Pan’s guardian. The tiny light floated in place for several seconds, then all at once, as if the floating thing had summoned all of its energy into one powerful motion, it propelled forward into Sophia’s chest.
Sophia felt herself be thrusted from the edge of the lake at an impossible speed through a transparent tunnel that looked like a soap bubble stretched out for the entire distance, and she was dropped into deep water.
Unprepared for the impact, she felt herself breathe in water as soon as she was submerged and she flailed about and choked. For a second. Maybe two. Long enough to catch a glimpse of the surface, suddenly in bright daylight, with heavy machinery on the shore mining the quarry.
Then she was lunged in the opposite direction, boomeranged at the same impossible speed through the stretched-out soap bubble to land back at the edge of the lake, and as she gasped for air and realized the she was no longer drowning, Sophia realized she was completely dry from the ankles up.