grief

Firstborn Sophia Is Gone by Sophia Chang

Note: I write all my articles to angsty music. Gonna try soundtracking for y'all - this Soundcloud player is not an ad! It's for you to play your emo heart out:

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Firstborn Sophia is Gone

I'm playing frogger right now.

That's what my girl Deborah calls it. I'm in between housing, hopping from pad to pad, at the mercy of friends and church community, until I finally land on the other side.

With that one reframe, I was out of worry and back into adventure. "Just a change of underwear in my backpack. Let's go," I told her, and we belly laughed.

It's like #nomad2015, when I had my iconic mini-shark bag strapped to my 5'2" frame and a heart full of freedom that carried me around the world for 13 months.

This TBI has kept me bound in one place for longer than I would have ever chosen (or thought I could survive), and traveling is a far away dream, belonging to the old Sophia who I've finally realized is dead and gone.

Firstborn Sophia

My cranial-sacral therapist has been recommending Jill Bolte Taylor's Stroke of Insight since the day she laid her hands on my head. Last week Taylor was on Oprah's Super Soul Conversations. This is not a coincidence. Nothing to do with my healing, my journey, or my posttraumatic growth is. 

I took notes and tried not to cry too loudly on the plastic lawn chair on the cow country porch I frog leapt onto last week.

Taylor's stroke was in her left hemisphere, which erased much of her past, dropped her blessedly into her wise and subtle right brain, and pushed the reset button on her life.

What came was tremendous growth.

She mourned the Firstborn Jill - the Harvard neuroanatomist with annals of knowledge wiped in one morning. She didn't try to go back to her "old self" and, instead, set about developing a new one. This time, she had a keen awareness of how much choice she had in what kind of neuro-circuitry to run.

And at the end of the interview, she said if she could go back to that morning, she would choose to have the stroke all over again.

Whew.

Am I there yet? 

Would I choose to have a TBI, exactly the way it happened, all over again?

Morbidly, I'm envious that her brain trauma wiped the slate clean. I wish I could Eternal Sunshine my life away. But I remember.

RESET

I think about all the bad choices I spent my first three decades regretting

I think about the years spiraling down the drain wasted on men who didn't love me.

I think about how ugly I let people make me feel, when today I'm astonished at how stunning I was. 

I think about how effortlessly, insanely thin I was in Hollywood while I spent every day worrying about getting old and fat.

I think about the crushing hatred I had for myself. 

How I sought every one else's expertise first.

The hours I fretted about what people who couldn't care less thought of me.

If you feel disgusted reading this that's the right reaction. I feel ill to my stomach when I see in plain writing the sickness wrapping my life. The waste.

I'm glad that that Sophia is dead.

How to Mourn

I'm asking you to honor the passing of Firstborn Sophia by heeding her lessons.

Don't spend so much of your most precious resource looking outward. All the important things you need start inside.

You want freedom?

I do.

I want it so badly, I gave up paths that would have brought me wealth and fame. Twice I walked away from men who bought me cars and would have bought me houses. Had I stayed, I wouldn't be playing frogger right now, wondering where I'll lay my head every 4 days.

Was I an idiot? Oh definitely. 

I didn't set out to value freedom to this extent. But it's clear in the choices I made that led me farther and farther from the Harvard-InvestmentBanking-Private Jet life my father wanted so badly for me.

I made choices that never took me up any ladder to any penthouse, but they did take me to the royal gardens of Copenhagen, where a man from the Faroe Islands urged me in his silly accent to sneak over the fence in the witching hours of night. (He ended up getting me to climb every structure in Denmark we passed...good thing liberal countries could give a damn what you do with your body and their monuments.)

I took another path and it took me here. To sitting on a tractor tire outside a barn in Cataluña with kids from Barcelona who kissed my cheeks and told off-color jokes. To doing such extreme dancing that I have bone spurs in my spine and a traumatic brain injury that prevents me from getting on an airplane.

I see there were seeds of joy in Firstborn Sophia. I'll keep those circuitries. I'll let the pain and fear go.

Firstborn Sophia is dead. Thank you for everything. Thank you for setting me free.  

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I Watched 'Arrival' with the Former Love of My Life and Regretted Every Decision I Ever Made by Sophia Chang

The third in my Love series...

It's been 4 days since Arrival and I've hardly left the bed.

After crying hysterically for an hour in the theatre and the quiet victory of discovering a fellow yellow brother wrote the genius fueling this decade's alien movie, I've lapsed into a hermetic stupor.

Yes, this film spoke to my multilingual identity the way single-language plebes will never understand. But this film messed me up not due to its Sapir-Whorf crisis, or to the plight of growing up colored and code-switching in a country that everyone else just realized was racist last November (seriously, who was in denial that long?) 

No, this movie destroyed my mind on a much deeper level. 

I've only been asked twice in my life about the event in my life so severe that it marks the B.C. and A.D. of Sophia Chang. It doesn't come up often - you have to get me talking about the biggest regrets of my life before I'll tell you why I am the way I am now, why I had no choice but to change and be changed, irrevocably.

It is that I lost the love of my life and I am still recovering from it.

SPOILERS AHEAD - BUT THEY'RE WORTH IT

I'll be discussing the spoilers of my own love story more than the movie, but do watch the film because it will change you.

In the briefest way: in Arrival, Amy Adams plays a linguistics professor named Louise who learns from the aliens to view time non-linearly. Once you understand that twist, the inevitably of time clamps down on you and you are struck on all sides by the rage, the grief, and the peace of acceptance. 

I caught on to the reveal about thirty minutes before the rest of the audience, and I spent the end of the movie huddled in the corner of my seat, sobbing uncontrollably. All I could do was hold a futile hand to the screen, unable to watch, unable to stop time from unfolding, unable to stop what already has happened and is happening simultaneously and will always happen.

The realization is nearly too much for a human, particularly one who regrets nearly every moment of her life.

The question Louise faces upon the moment of realization is this: 

If you knew what your decisions would result in, would you still make them?

Click to TweetTweet: If you knew what your decisions would result in, would you still make them? Here's what I chose: http://ctt.ec/XadO0+

MAKING THAT CHOICE

The film prepares us to make this decision in the most stunning, visceral way. We watch Louise replay the moments that make a life what we sign up for: the birth of your child, the heartache of divorce, the smiles of the people you love the most in life, the acute coldness of lying alone in a bed (without the covers on, natch.) Even kissing your child goodbye at last to cancer, and then the inexorable days of surviving afterward on your own.

Director Denis Villeneuve walks us through this repeatedly, yet when our own moment comes at the end to make this same decision, it steals your breath as cold as a drowning river all the same.

The Things We Can't Change

For the last 4 days I've lived my version of the film. Every low and highlight of my last 8 years since I met that man played in sharp relief, simultaneously, as if I speak heptapod now too.

And I kept asking myself:

Would I make the same choice still?

If I had known the path it would take me down, would I make the same choice? 

Azrael

Azrael is not the first love of my life and, God willing, will not be the last. And I know he'll protest but secretly enjoy being called his gaming moniker: Azrael, angel of death, the harbinger of destruction, who bathes in the tears of Lord Vader and all sides dark.

People laugh when they hear about Azrael. He's short, heavyset, with a wicked temper and very distinct features. There was something about him - I left a boyfriend for him, and then dropped out of a fully funded grad program in my hometown of New York to go back to LA - a city I dislike - to be with him. I have met and been loved by truly wonderful men in my life, and Azrael is one of the best. If he called me up to bury a dead body with him in the middle of the night, I would already be shrugging my puffy jacket on.

But if you had told either of us what we would be asked to go through in order to be together, both of us might have run screaming in the opposite direction before our first DJ AM concert. Just today I cried remembering the worst things I've said to him and how I begged for his forgiveness years later. When I remember the ultimatum he gave me that I ultimately had to walk away from (one that he does not even remember, but will haunt me for the for the rest of my life), I know all too well the inevitably of time.

And how some things you cannot take back.

We have been apart now almost as long as we were together. I stayed many months with him as roommates during #nomad2015, which not everyone knows. He was at my birthday this year and both of our friends are familiar with each other. After living with each others' music for so many years, we still do concerts well together.

Where exes can be

On Halloween, we went to see Danny Elfman conduct the Nightmare Before Christmas at the Hollywood Bowl, one of his favorite movies. We laughed while waiting for sushi and I told him one of our former coworkers who had tried to steal me from him years ago (karma?) had actually asked me to the same concert tonight but I had declined. I didn't hesitate to say yes to Azrael.

"Hey, you're a free person," he said, "You can go down that hell if you want."

I shook my head at him. "He does have better seats than us."

We can laugh about this now.

Later we finally saw an Oogie Boogie cosplayer and chased her down so I could take a photo for them.

"That's my favorite," he said.

"I know," I told him. 'I handdrew and made you a card of Oogie Boogie our first Chirstmas because he's your favorite." Handmade paper is one of the things I do for people I love.

"You did?" Azrael looked sheepishly at me. His memory is terrible and he's not as sentimental as me to begin with. He'd always been the pragmatic one who kept the insurance paid and the Netflix subscribed. We love differently, but both very fiercely as only two fire signs can. My two favorite lessons from this love story is 1) learning how to love someone 2) learning to see how someone loves.

We nearly killed ourselves learning these lessons. And while I don't have the courage to go through it if you tell me in advance, now that I'm done, I hold on to these lessons like little purple hearts on my collar.

we dont have to make the decision

After a week of processing the movie's final question - would we really make the same choice all over again - I draw the same conclusion each time: you don't make this decision. You will never be able to say, "Yes, it's worth it' or "No, I can not, please don't make me".

You don't make the decision. You just gravely face it, inevitably, because that is what time does and in the end, it always wins. You are but a human constrained to live in a temporal way.

The best we have, without heptapod language, is hindsight. And with that you can choose to live in the regret. You can rehash it like I have for years. You can remember the pain. 

And you do.

You also remember each hard won moment. Each goodness. The pain and the tenderness of family, heartache, heartbreak, love, loss. The love of my life that I am not all the way done grieving, and may never be. Because I believe some things you don't get over - and love just may be one of them.

The movie didn't make me realize I would choose the same story again, but that I must. Simply because it is mine and it is the one I was meant to live.

Because it is not, in the end, for me to bat around the strings of fate like a bored cat. But for me to bravely face and presently live with everything I have been given, so in the end I can say I fought the good fight, I loved as best I could, and I truly lived.