One ordinary autumn day, when I was ten, I fell out of a tree. Not a particularly large tree. An oak, maybe. The kind with solid branches outstretched like arms, perfect for climbing. Playing with my friend, I lost my balance and forgot my grip. For a brief second, I was flying, flapping my wings like a fledgling. The next I was lying on the ground on a damp bed of glowing leaves, my arm twisted askew and looking up at cotton ball clouds across the expanding sky.

Jen Soong

July 9, 2021

Broken/Unbroken

i.

One ordinary autumn day, when I was ten, I fell out of a tree. Not a particularly large tree. An oak, maybe. The kind with solid branches outstretched like arms, perfect for climbing. Playing with my friend, I lost my balance and forgot my grip. For a brief second, I was flying, flapping my wings like a fledgling. The next I was lying on the ground on a damp bed of glowing leaves, my arm twisted askew and looking up at cotton ball clouds across the expanding sky.

 

Did I cry out? Probably.

 

My friend’s mom, her squirrely brown hair pulled back in a tight bun, came running outside like a personal EMS carrying a kit with rubbing alcohol and bandages. “You’ll be alright,” she said, with a nurse’s tone and dabbed at my arm. I winced.

 

Nothing was broken.

 

ii.

My dad, an engineer by training, likes to fix things. An immigrant from Taiwan, he came to America in the 50s on a freighter ship. For work, he wore neatly pressed dark suits and always carried a white linen handkerchief in his pocket, ready to wipe up any messes. His M.O. is to read manuals, research, examine, calculate and adjust. Always meticulous, never rushing. Don’t jump to the end of the story, he’d say. With stubbornness and patience, he solves every puzzle.

 

In this case, the puzzle was me, his only child. I was 20, but still a mystery to him. We were staying in a dim, dusty motel room on the outskirts of a college town. It was nearing dusk when he had just picked me up from the nearby hospital after I had overdosed on sleeping pills.

 

Why? he asked me. I didn’t answer him.

 

Darkness coursed through my veins. I couldn’t possibly explain why, even if I could find my voice. I am a formula you can’t solve, I thought. X is a mystery. X will remain a mystery.

Depression runs in my family. My grandmother, my dad’s mother, killed herself. My father suffers from depression. I remember when I was a child, the shame my mother felt when our suburban yard looked abandoned, grass growing past my waist dotted with dandelions. Lazy, she said. He had simply lost the will to mow.

We don’t talk about it, just like we don’t talk about anything that can’t be fixed or looked up in an encyclopedia. My father is a precise man – he likes things just so.

 

Emotions are the opposite – you can’t measure them, control them, fold them away in a binder. You can try, but the avalanche of sadness will eventually crush and bury you.

Everything was broken.

 

iii.

Nothing was broken.

Everything was broken.

Which was it, anyway? I’m trying to remember all of it as I write. Flying, then falling. The fog of depression. Falling into an abyss of darkness, then slowly awakening to life. The shadows and silences that have punctuated my life. The darkness I have tucked away in the hidden recesses of my brain, the bargains I’ve negotiated to keep the peace.

 

What I know now is a father’s love cannot be contained nor calculated. It is irrational and infinite. It is written in the light and can shine even in darkness.

 

Because we are all broken. It is in our beautiful shattered lives I finally begin to see glimmers of hope. Tomorrow I will climb the unseen mountain again.

 

I am unbroken.

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The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Jen Soong grew up in a small town in New Jersey and has been on the hunt for extraordinary stories for as long as she can remember. An alum of VONA/Voices, her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, GAY MAG, Manifest-Station, Entropy and Jellyfish Review. She is an MFA candidate at the University of California, Davis. Her memoir-in-progress is about family ties, depression and the silences we learn to break. www.jensoong.com

Jen Soong

Broken/Unbroken

i.

One ordinary autumn day, when I was ten, I fell out of a tree. Not a particularly large tree. An oak, maybe. The kind with solid branches outstretched like arms, perfect for climbing. Playing with my friend, I lost my balance and forgot my grip. For a brief second, I was flying, flapping my wings like a fledgling. The next I was lying on the ground on a damp bed of glowing leaves, my arm twisted askew and looking up at cotton ball clouds across the expanding sky.

 

Did I cry out? Probably.

 

My friend’s mom, her squirrely brown hair pulled back in a tight bun, came running outside like a personal EMS carrying a kit with rubbing alcohol and bandages. “You’ll be alright,” she said, with a nurse’s tone and dabbed at my arm. I winced.

 

Nothing was broken.

 

ii.

My dad, an engineer by training, likes to fix things. An immigrant from Taiwan, he came to America in the 50s on a freighter ship. For work, he wore neatly pressed dark suits and always carried a white linen handkerchief in his pocket, ready to wipe up any messes. His M.O. is to read manuals, research, examine, calculate and adjust. Always meticulous, never rushing. Don’t jump to the end of the story, he’d say. With stubbornness and patience, he solves every puzzle.

 

In this case, the puzzle was me, his only child. I was 20, but still a mystery to him. We were staying in a dim, dusty motel room on the outskirts of a college town. It was nearing dusk when he had just picked me up from the nearby hospital after I had overdosed on sleeping pills.

 

Why? he asked me. I didn’t answer him.

 

Darkness coursed through my veins. I couldn’t possibly explain why, even if I could find my voice. I am a formula you can’t solve, I thought. X is a mystery. X will remain a mystery.

Depression runs in my family. My grandmother, my dad’s mother, killed herself. My father suffers from depression. I remember when I was a child, the shame my mother felt when our suburban yard looked abandoned, grass growing past my waist dotted with dandelions. Lazy, she said. He had simply lost the will to mow.

We don’t talk about it, just like we don’t talk about anything that can’t be fixed or looked up in an encyclopedia. My father is a precise man – he likes things just so.

 

Emotions are the opposite – you can’t measure them, control them, fold them away in a binder. You can try, but the avalanche of sadness will eventually crush and bury you.

Everything was broken.

 

iii.

Nothing was broken.

Everything was broken.

Which was it, anyway? I’m trying to remember all of it as I write. Flying, then falling. The fog of depression. Falling into an abyss of darkness, then slowly awakening to life. The shadows and silences that have punctuated my life. The darkness I have tucked away in the hidden recesses of my brain, the bargains I’ve negotiated to keep the peace.

 

What I know now is a father’s love cannot be contained nor calculated. It is irrational and infinite. It is written in the light and can shine even in darkness.

 

Because we are all broken. It is in our beautiful shattered lives I finally begin to see glimmers of hope. Tomorrow I will climb the unseen mountain again.

 

I am unbroken.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email

The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Jen Soong grew up in a small town in New Jersey and has been on the hunt for extraordinary stories for as long as she can remember. An alum of VONA/Voices, her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, GAY MAG, Manifest-Station, Entropy and Jellyfish Review. She is an MFA candidate at the University of California, Davis. Her memoir-in-progress is about family ties, depression and the silences we learn to break. www.jensoong.com