Yesterday, my #NaNoWriMo project took a surprising turn: although I had originally focused the novel around three adult characters named Derek, Emma and Sarah, last night I ended up writing from the perspective of Derek’s eleven-year-old daughter Sophie. That twist almost didn’t happen: I arrived home soaked to the skin and feeling ridiculously, deliriously tired after spending the day at Kildare Animal Foundation (I’ve been volunteering there for a few months now, and I’m planning a blog post all about that wonderful experience soon ❤️). After eating my dinner, having a shower, getting into my pyjamas and making a nice hot water bottle for myself, all I really wanted to do was sleep.
Firing up my laptop and doing some more #NaNoWriMo writing was not high on my list of desired activities … but I did it anyway, knowing that I have made a commitment to myself to try and write something every day this November, even if it’s not much. I’m so glad I did, and I’m very grateful that the idea to start writing from Sophie’s perspective came to me. Her raw, painful voice has seared itself into my imagination and reinvigorated my desire to write, just after I had spent a couple of days feeling a bit flat and uninspired.
The Struggles of Being Sophie
I’m lying in bed and I can’t get to sleep – too busy thinking of that stupid phone call from Mammy earlier. Also, my blanket is making me too hot. It’s a totally weird blanket: Auntie Moira gave it to me and it’s all, like, fleecy or something. I don’t know – I thought I would try it out tonight, but I think I prefer my other blanket. It’s all the way at the other side of the room, though, and I don’t want to get up.
I hate it when Mammy calls me looking for gossip about Dad. Why doesn’t she talk to him herself? I know he isn’t ‘dating’ anybody, or whatever! Eeew. Gross.
He would tell me if he was dating someone, anyway. I know he would.
I can’t get comfortable. Tossing and turning … my blanket is weird. When I put it over me, I feel too hot, and when I kick it off, I get too cold. I guess I’ll have to go and get my old blanket eventually…
I just … I wish she’d said goodbye to me properly. Mammy, I mean. That day – the day she left – it was all about her and Dad. The two of them shouting and screaming at each other, about this Ernesto…
Mammy always goes on about Ernesto on the phone. About how great he is, and how she’s going to invite me and Luke over to Sicily really soon and we’re going to have the best time in the world, because he has this huge vineyard and loads of ponies, and I like ponies, don’t I, sweetheart?
I haven’t even met Ernesto yet.
I told Louise the other day that I hate the way Mammy and Dad are getting divorced, and she told me that she thinks it must be great, and she’s jealous because someone in her class has parents who are getting divorced, and they’re so guilty about it that they buy her whatever she wants. All she has to do is ask! Louise said this like it was the best thing in the world, and then she didn’t get it when I got all mad at her. She apologised eventually, but I’m still mad. Mammy used to tell me it was bad to hang onto grudges, but she’s hanging onto the biggest grudge ever over Dad, so she can’t tell me what to do. Whatever. I’m not ready to talk to her again. Louise, that is. Not Mammy. But kind of Mammy too.
I know Louise is my cousin and all, but she is so annoying sometimes.
I miss her though.
I know she didn’t mean it.
She can just be stupid sometimes.
So can Mammy.
You know who else is annoying? Luke.
I do love him really, though … he’s such a big baby, still, and I’m so mature. He doesn’t get that. And I’m worried. He’s always biting his nails and putting his fingers in his mouth, and the kids in his class are always making fun of him. He’s started wetting the bed again too, and he hasn’t done that in years. I haven’t told Dad about that yet: Luke always comes in to me when it happens, crying, because he doesn’t want to tell Dad what he did. And guess who has to clean it all up? Me.
Luke’s like a toddler again, and I feel like I’m the only one who notices.
I know Dad is busy with his training and all, so I’m not, like, trying to say he doesn’t care. He does. He’s always doing stuff for us, but … he’s so angry a lot of the time, and that’s why Luke doesn’t want to tell him about the bed-wetting.
If she doesn’t want to stay married to Dad, fine, but why doesn’t she want to stay in the same country as me? Why does she only call me once a week? Will she ever come back?
Oh great … I’m crying again. It always happens. Fourth time this week. It wouldn’t be so bad if I could, like, properly let myself cry, but I can’t make any noise, because Dad would hear and then he’d get all upset, and he’d call Mammy and tell her about how she’s upsetting me and this is all her fault, and then Mammy will ring me and get all upset because I’m upset, and she’ll act like really, it’s all Dad’s fault.
I know she would.
✮ ✮ ✮
We’re sitting out in the yard: me, Jessie and some of the Sixth Class girls. Me and Jessie are only in Fifth Class, and normally the Sixth Class girls don’t want anything to do with us, but Jessie helped one of them with her homework the other day – Jessie is really good at Maths, but she doesn’t talk about that, because it isn’t cool – so they’re letting us sit with them today.
Rob Farrell passes by close to us: he and his friends are running around, trying to beat each other up, or whatever it is boys do at lunch time: I always see them running around, laughing, trying to kick and punch each other like it’s some big joke.
I have to try my best not to look at him.
I miss him.
When we were working on that science project together, he was easy to talk to, and I liked that.
He seemed more mature than most of the boys in the class, who always fart and burp and make shitty jokes that are totally not funny. I think Rob is cool. Well, I thought he was cool, until Jessie told him that I liked him and he told his all friends and they all made fun of me. Now I think he’s shit, just like all the rest of them.
Jessie came up to me in the yard the next day – I was eating lunch on my own because I didn’t want to talk to her – and said she was sorry about telling Rob I liked him. ‘I wanted to help. I thought maybe he would say he liked you and you two would get together and it’d be romantic. Anyway, girls have to stick together. Boys are crap!’
I don’t think she was actually trying to help me. Well, I’m not sure. Maybe she was? Anyway, I don’t want to be a loner in school. I felt so uncool eating lunch on my own. Everyone must have been laughing at me. There’s nothing worse than being a loner, so I’d rather sit here with Jessie and the Sixth Class girls, even though I don’t like what we’re talking about. It’s so stupid.
‘So I think Oisín likes me,’ says Cara, one of the Sixth Class girls. She giggles. ‘He was Snapping with me until, like, eleven o’clock last night. And we’re both going to the disco next week, so….’
‘Oh my God,’ Jessie screeches, then bursts out laughing, ‘are you going to meet* him?’
* [Side Note: to “meet” someone, in Irish teen vernacular, is to kiss them]
**[Extra side note: on second thoughts, I need to check whether the kids still use that term nowadays, or whether the word has changed since my time 🙃]
Everyone collapses in laughter: teasing Cara, encouraging her, agreeing that Oisín totally likes her and they should go for it…
‘How many boys have you met now, Cara?’ Jessie asks eagerly. I don’t know when she began to care so much about this crap. It’s totally boring – that’s how I feel, deep down inside – but I have to try and pretend I’m interested, because that’s just what you’re meant to do.
‘Um … once I’ve met Oisín, it’ll be three. How about you?’
‘Only one?’ Yvonne Hartigan says, her mouth turning up at the corners. Jessie looks nervous – Yvonne is the coolest of the girls, and everyone in Sixth Class – everyone in the whole school– looks up to her. If Yvonne thinks she’s uncool, it won’t be long before everyone else in school thinks that too.
‘Well, really it’s two,’ she adds hurriedly. ‘I actually forgot about one boy … when me and my family were on holiday in France over the summer, I met this boy from England, called Johnny, and he sent me a load of love letters when I got home – like, actual letters, in the post – and he’s, like … so amazing. But we eventually decided we wouldn’t be able to make it work, because of the distance,’ she concludes loftily.
The others all seem really impressed by this: they sigh and look amazed, and one of them yells out, ‘oh my God, that sounds so romantic, Jess!’ Yvonne narrows her eyes – she seems a little unsure about this – but she eventually joins in the praise. I know that Jessie is lying her ass off, but I’m not going to say anything in front of the Sixth Class girls. She never met any boy in France.
‘What about you, Sophie?’ one of the girls asks.
‘She likes Rob Farrell,’ Jessie says, answering for me. I feel like I haven’t said anything yet, and we’ve been sitting here for twenty minutes.
‘Oh my God, Jessie,’ I hiss, ‘I already told you I don’t.’
‘You totally like him, don’t you?’ she persists. I know what she’s doing: trying to get Yvonne to stop being suspicious of her, by putting the attention on me instead.
‘Ew, no. I don’t like him,’ I insist.
‘You should meet him! You’ve never met anyone, have you?’
‘I have,’ I lie immediately. Okay, so now I’m the one lying, but I can’t, like, just admit I’ve never met someone, in front of all these cool girls.
‘Oh, really?’ Jessie asks, her eyes all narrow. Trying to act exactly like Yvonne. She smirks and glances at the others. ‘Who is he?’
Why is she being so mean to me? Of course, I know she’ll probably come up to me tomorrow and be all like, ‘oh, I’m so sorry, I just wanted to impress Yvonne, because her liking me is the most important thing in the world, blah blah blah’…
‘He goes to a different school,’ I say quickly. ‘You wouldn’t know him.’
‘St. Michael’s.’ The local boys-only school. It’s the first one that pops into my head.
‘Oh my God, my brother Drew is in Fifth Class at St. Michael’s!’ one of the Sixth Class girls shouts. ‘What’s the boy’s name? I can ask Drew if he knows him.’
‘Well … look, he wants me to keep it private, okay?’ Oh my God, I’m blushing so hard right now, I want to die…
‘Do you have his number?’ Jessie asks – she’s smirking at me as she takes out her phone. ‘Is he on Insta? Snapchat? I want to see what he looks like.’
‘Oh my God, Jessie, I told you, he wants to be private!’
She laughs as she puts her phone back into her pocket. Now she’s looking around at the others and they’re all smirking – one of the Sixth Class girls whispers something to Yvonne, and they both crack up. ‘Whatever,’ Jessie says, looking back at me. ‘You haven’t met anybody.’
‘Have too. He just goes to a different school, like I said.’ I want to cry now, but I’m not going to, of course. I stare out at the yard, trying to act calm, like I don’t care about this subject anymore. I want everybody to just stop talking about this.
‘I can get someone to meet you, if you like,’ Yvonne drawls. Jessie’s jaw drops open on hearing this offer: she looks almost jealous.
I just stare at her. What is she talking about? ‘Um … what?’
‘Sure,’ she says calmly, looking down at her nails now, like it’s no big deal. ‘All the boys like me, so I can get one of them to meet you, if I say I’ll meet them afterwards.’
‘Oh … I don’t know, that seems kind of weird.’
Yvonne looks up at this – glaring at me, like she’s all offended – and Jessie digs me in the ribs.
‘Come on, Soph,’ she whispers pointedly. ‘Yvonne just wants to help you.’
‘Yeah,’ Yvonne spits out, ‘I want to help you. Do you think I say this to just about everybody? I only help my friends. Don’t you want to be my friend?’
‘I … um, of course. Yvonne. It’s just, I’ve met somebody already, so I don’t need –’
‘You haven’t,’ Yvonne says flatly.
‘Are you coming to the disco next week?’ one of the other Sixth Class girls chips in. ‘Maybe you can meet someone there!’
‘Oh … I don’t know if my dad would let me. He says I should wait until I’m in secondary school before I start going to anything like that.’
‘Why?’ Yvonne snaps. ‘It’s not like we’ll be, you know, drinking alcohol, or anything like that. It’s an under-fourteen disco so alcohol isn’t even allowed. They won’t be selling it, and they search everyone’s bags, and there’s totally no way of sneaking it in. My sister tried it, when she was my age…’
‘It’s not about alcohol,’ I say. I’m so uncomfortable. ‘He knows that people at this disco often meet each other – and there was, like, that whole rumour about some kids having sex at the last one, so my dad doesn’t like the idea of me being around all that.’
‘Oh, but he’s okay with your imaginary boyfriend in St. Michael’s?’ Yvonne laughs.
‘He’s not imaginary, and my dad just doesn’t know about him.’ I want to cry yet again but I can’t give in now – I can’t admit that it was a lie – because that would make me look even worse. I have to keep up this story, even though I wish now that I’d never said anything, because the alternative is to admit to everyone that I’m a loser and a liar who’s never kissed anyone in her life.
‘Look, I’m not saying you have to have sex with anybody,’ Yvonne explains, all exasperated now, like I’m the stupidest person she’s ever had to deal with. ‘I’ve decided I’m going to wait until I’m fifteen before I do that. But meeting somebody is no big deal. What’s the problem?’
‘I…’ I can’t think of anything to say.
‘Look,’ Jessie says, ‘instead of telling your dad you’ll be going to the disco, just say you’re coming to mine for a sleepover. You can stay over at mine, but bring your disco stuff as well! Just sneak it into your bag, come over to mine, and we’ll get ready together. Then you can go home the next morning, and he’ll never know.’
‘Sounds good!’ Yvonne declares. ‘See, Sophie? Just do that, and there’ll be no problem whatsoever.’
I just sit there for a second – feeling so anxious I can’t speak – then I nod. The other girls cheer. They tell me that when I finally meet someone, it’ll be fantastic. They start going on about what they’re all going to wear – what I should wear – and whether I need help with makeup. They’re acting, for just a second, as if I’m one of them. A cool girl. A popular girl. A member of Yvonne Hartigan’s gang.
I can’t think of any way to get out of this now. I can’t think of any reason to say no. Not without looking like the biggest loser in the whole entire planet.