During the fall of ninth grade, my mother signed me up for a local soccer league. I wasn’t too happy about it as I had planned to attend a prestigious art workshop. It didn’t help that I was not a natural at sports. I was an artist and nothing came to me quite like art did.
But I respected my parents, so I pulled on my shin guards and went to soccer practice.
The conditioning was horrible and I found myself taking longer breaks than anyone else. I was desperately slurping water from the fountain when a girl appeared next to me.
“Hey.” I wiped my mouth on my sleeve and looked up at the girl. She was tall and pretty, and her hair was a deep shade of blue.
“I like your blue hair.”
The girl’s mouth hardened. “It’s not blue. It’s indigo.”
“Indigo?” I had never seen anyone with indigo hair.
The girl’s eyes lit up. “Yeah. You see, every color in the rainbow gets acknowledged. Except for indigo.”
The girl sat down. “Did you know that there’s controversy over whether indigo is a color? Like how can indigo not be a color?”
I stared at her curiously. As an artist, my whole world was color, and I felt a tiny bit ashamed for not having ever given indigo this much thought.
The girl smiled as if she could read my thoughts. “I’m Jodie by the way.”
“I’m Serena.” I stared at her cleats. “Are you on the soccer team? I haven’t seen you around.”
Jodie shrugged. “I’m supposed to be. But then again, I’m supposed to be a lot of things.”
“Serena!” The coach’s raucous voice interrupted us. “You’ve been drinking water for ten minutes!”
I stood up. “I have to go.”
Jodie waggled her fingers at me, an amused smile on her face. As I went back to the soccer drills, I remember thinking that maybe, just maybe, this soccer season wouldn’t be so bad.
I didn’t see Jodie for a few weeks after that. I soon realized she didn’t like commitment. On the off chance that she actually showed up, I abandoned soccer practice to sit with her.
“But, what do you really wanna do?” Jodie was lying on her back, staring at the clouds. She twirled a strand of indigo hair around her finger.
“What do you mean?”
“I know you hate soccer.” Jodie retorted.
I shrugged, thinking about what my parents would say if they knew I was ditching soccer practice. “You wouldn’t understand.”
A defiant look flashed in Jodie’s eyes. “Try me.”
So I told her. I told her about my strict Indian parents and how they wanted me to pursue a career that would “make the family proud”. How I was expected to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer. How my parents wouldn’t fund my education if I pursued the liberal arts.
Jodie listened. Then she told me her story.
Jodie was a rebel. She fought against everybody and everything. She had straight D’s and smoked cigarettes. I knew my parents would kill me if they knew I was hanging out with someone like her.
In a strange way I admired her. I never told her, but she knew. She was a sophomore, and it felt good to talk to a cool, older girl. She told me about her deranged mom and her deadbeat dad. Jodie was the one taking care of her younger brother.
Soccer practice became our hangout. It was odd how we bonded over something that we both despised. We were so different-- yet we both saw indigo in the world and that meant something.
At school we didn’t talk. Jodie hung out with the rough crowd and I knew it would hurt both our reputations if we were seen together.
“Serena!” My friend Elise Cho caught up with me outside geometry class. “Where have you been?”
I shrugged. Ever since I’d met Jodie, I hadn’t really given my other friends much thought.
Elise narrowed her eyes at me. “I heard you’ve been hanging out with that girl.” She pointed to Jodie and her friends in line at the snack shack. “She’s not exactly good company, if you know what I mean.” Elise wrinkled her nose in distaste, as if Jodie was a piece of gum stuck to the bottom of her shoe.
“She’s a good friend. And I don’t think you should judge people so quickly.”
Elise looked embarrassed. “Oh okay. Hey, what did you get on that math quiz?”
That weekend, I was calmly working on a piece in the garage. I was engrossed in painting an aquatic scene, trying to make the water shimmer by adding a white undertone. I was relaxed; the tick of the clock was the only other sound in the room.
Humming along, I squeezed the acrylic tube, but nothing came out. I realized that I was out of the pearl color I was so fond of. I combed through my pile of paints, looking for any other white color, like ivory or cream. There was nothing. My wooden paint box remained a rainbow of crimson, coral, amber, turquoise and lavender.
I spied my old art box sitting on a dusty shelf. Wiping my hands clean on a cloth, I rummaged through the box looking for any white paints, but I couldn’t find any. There was one more box on the next shelf that I could try. As a last thought, I lifted the lid. I flipped through folders and binders.
One of the folders had my dad’s name printed on it. Curious, I opened the folder. Inside were pages after pages of poems. One poem was printed on glossy, expensive paper. It was stapled to an old-fashioned certificate that read “Congratulations on winning first place in the 10th annual Greenville County Poetry Contest.”
I scanned a few lines of the poem. It was something about a snowman melting in the sun. The poems were obviously written on a typewriter, and my dad’s signature was printed at the bottom. I was startled. I couldn’t picture a practical Silicon Valley engineer like my dad writing poetry.
Somewhat curious, I climbed the steps looking for him. My dad was in his office, typing on his computer. I cleared my throat.
“Oh, Serena.” My dad looked tired. Wasting no time, I held up the folder.
“I found this.” My dad’s eyes widened in surprise. He took the folder.
“Wow, I haven’t seen this folder in years. Where did you find these?”
I shrugged. “In the garage.”
My dad looked happy.
His eyes lit up, as he came across the snowman poem. “I remember this. When I was in college, I entered this local contest. I never thought I would win.”
“You wrote poems. A lot of them.” I stated pointedly.
My dad looked at me but didn’t say anything.
“Why don’t you support my art?” I uttered softly.
My dad stood up.
“Serena, it’s not that I don’t support your art. I just want you to be practical. I loved writing poetry, but I was an immigrant in a new country. I couldn’t make a living off it. The liberal arts are a risk. You don’t want to be a starving, homeless artist.” My dad spoke gently. “It isn’t realistic for a career.”
My dad pulled me into a hug. “I do support you, Serena. I just want you to be pragmatic.”
I smiled happily. “Thanks Dad.”
My dad and I continued to talk. He agreed that it was okay to sign up for a painting class at school for next year. I felt better after talking to my dad. Maybe he did understand me.
Sometime in early October, Jodie came over to my house. I made sure my parents weren’t home because I didn’t know how they would react towards her.
“Nice place.” Jodie waltzed through the door. The strong scent of chicken curry and masala wafted through the house. I cringed.
“So, where’s your paintings?” Jodie asked.
I led her down the steps into the garage. I nervously watched her eyes scan over the dozens of canvases occupying the room. Jodie roamed around, cautiously touching my work. Then, she took out a cigarette.
“Jodie! You can’t smoke in here! My parents will kill me!” I squealed anxiously. She waved me off.
“Jodie!” That’s when I saw her expression. Her eyes widened in shock. Her unlit cigarette dropped to the ground.
She gaped at a painting I had drawn of her. I cringed, embarrassed. I’d completely forgotten it was in the garage.
“Oh my god. Is that me?” Jodie turned to me incredulously, tears in her eyes. “Nobody has ever considered me worthy enough.”
I shrugged, flustered.
“Serena, you can’t ever stop painting. You are really good at this.” Jodie’s eyes were blurred with tears. “Serena, you have to promise me.”
I was shocked. Jodie didn’t usually cry. I had never seen her get emotional over anything.
“Okay.” I whispered.
Jodie picked up her cigarette. “Come on, let’s get some frozen yogurt.” She was still mesmerized as we left the house.
A few days later, my friend Elise Cho came over to my house to work on a project for biology. We sat on my bed, typing away on our laptops.
“Have you thought about what classes you want to take next year?” Elise asked.
I shrugged. “I was thinking about taking a painting class.”
“What about college?” Elise looked up at me in shock.
“You have to take academic classes like computer science or AP English.”
“I don’t think you should base everything on college. We’re only freshmen,” I responded.
Elise looked sad. “There’s so much pressure though, especially from my parents. Surely you must be feeling it too?” She asked me.
I turned the volume down on my headphones. “But, you have to do what you want, Elise.” I replied gently.
She nodded wistfully. “I guess. It’s just so hard sometimes, you know?”
Two days later, Jodie’s mom was placed in a mental hospital. I tried to get Jodie to talk about it, but she refused. I didn’t know what to do except be there for her.
A couple of my friends on the soccer team judged me for hanging out with Jodie, but I didn’t care. Jodie spent the tips she earned from her waitress job to take us to the local Guild Theater. We watched old art movies.
Hanging out with Jodie made me happy. She never pressured me to smoke or made fun of how much I cared about my grades. With her, I could be myself. I didn’t have to compete for higher grades, like I did with my friends. I didn’t have to feel bad about being mediocre at soccer, like I did with the soccer team. I didn’t have to feel like I had to live up to someone’s high expectations, like I did with my parents. When it was just the two of us, sitting in the park, I felt like myself.
One Monday, I was called into the counselor’s offices to select classes for sophomore year.
“So what classes are you considering?” Ms. Jenkins leaned back in her chair.
This was it. I took a deep breath. “I want to take the painting class.”
Ms. Jenkins was aghast. “Painting? Are your parents okay with that?” The way she said it made me sound like a teenage rebel.
“Yes.” I tried to stay calm.
“I really think you should do the AP computer science course. It will look really good on a college application.” Ms. Jenkins turned towards her computer and started selecting the course.
“Mmm hmm?” She was about to click the submit button.
“I’m taking the painting class.”
Ms. Jenkins turned around with an exasperated look on her face. “Serena, I think you should go home and have a conversation with your parents about this. You don’t want to do something you’ll regret.”
I stood up and left the classroom, leaving Ms. Jenkins in shock. I smiled, knowing that Jodie would be proud.
A couple of weeks later, there was an accident.
The coroner said she had drowned in a swimming pool. She’d been drinking.
I remember crying. I remember endlessly sobbing. I remember screaming. For seven days, I didn’t leave the house. I locked myself in the garage and painted. I hurled tubes of paint at the canvas. I slashed line after line like my paintbrush was a knife. I threw away all my paints except for indigo.
My parents didn’t understand. My friends didn’t understand. Nobody knew Jodie.
They didn’t even have a funeral. She was quietly buried in a local cemetery. I found out from the newspaper.
I was Jodie’s only friend.
I felt completely alone. I hated Jodie for leaving me, and I hated myself for hating her.
My parents worried about me. January led to February, and February led to May.
It took me a long time to understand that Jodie wasn’t coming back. She was my guardian angel, and I never got to thank her.
I passed my days in the art room at school. I befriended the teacher, and she let me paint there every day at lunch. I stopped being the perfect daughter. I still got A’s, but I was no longer quiet and shy. If I didn’t agree with something, I spoke out. If somebody said something rude about my clothes, I didn’t cower away. I lost most of my friends after I quit the debate team and signed up for art classes. But, I quickly made new friends, many who were more inclined to the arts, like me. Painting in the art room, I felt like I truly belonged.
It’s been four years since Jodie died.
I took her advice and applied to The Rhode Island School of Design. My parents weren’t too happy about it, but even they couldn’t resist the full-blown scholarship I was awarded. In a few weeks, one of my paintings will be displayed at a prestigious art gallery in Providence. It’s titled “Indigo Sisters.”
Every year, I visit Jodie’s grave. I always lay flowers; they’re never blue and always indigo.
I like to believe that Jodie wasn’t a bad person. She was just too lost to ultimately find her way back. I will always regret the fact that she helped me find my way, while I could not save her.
Without Jodie, I doubt I ever would have learned to value what I want from life.
I smile, remembering the time I stood up to Ms. Jenkins. That one day now seems so far away.
I doubt I’ll ever meet anybody as spontaneous and rebellious as Jodie. She taught me to see the world not as blue, but as indigo. Jodie and I, we’ll always be the Indigo Sisters.