At the age of 14 my sister Katrina bought two plane tickets to Thailand. She found those headless Buddhist sculptures she’d seen online to be meditative and armed with my mother’s credit card, intended on seeing them in person. She went to the airport with Wart John, a four-inch figurine she kept in her pocket. In her other pocket was a tiny notebook.
It had been one year since she’d stopped talking but by scribbling messages out in her notebook and using sign language, she managed to communicate, mostly. At 13 Katrina scrawled out “I am the silent monk,” I think, inspired by all the documentaries on hermetic monks my mom liked to watch. Katrina was drawn to the silence of their world compared to the overstimulation of ours, a society built on prayer and listening to oneself rather than one intent on drowning out God with noise. Her vow of silence, though not religious, allowed her to opt out of the demands of meaningless speech, the platitudes we found ourselves repeating unconsciously. Everything written, even fragmented or bad, was intentional in some way.
My mom would sometimes explain Katrina’s muteness to strangers by telling them she actually was training to be a monk, gesturing to her short hair. This angered Katrina, who frustrated from repressing her speech, did not like to be mocked for her mysterious but brave social experiment. Though we never completely learned the reasons for why she ceased verbal communication, for years she remained staunchly mute, telling us things she never could in words. I listened to her more carefully in that time than I had when she had talked.
It was overcast the Sunday she left for Thailand. Katrina woke up at six in the morning, emptied the cash from mom’s wallet, and briskly crossed our front lawn as we slept in, oblivious to her plans. She walked half a mile to the nearest bus stop, which took her to the local mall. These excursions were common for her, as she often went to a discount store there to buy greeting cards for family, friends, acquaintances, imaginary lovers, and her family of inanimate toys. Somehow, her refusal to speak never prevented her from buying anything.
She waited until Target opened and once inside, purchased a giant pink bouncy ball that rose up to her hip. She took the ball on two buses to LAX. It was at her side as she checked in to her flight to Bangkok, and it floated inside plastic bins as she made her way through airport security.
An airline attendant later told us she noticed Katrina waiting alone at the gate, perched atop her bouncy ball, and asked, “Where are your parents?”
Katrina smiled, took out her notebook and wrote, “eating pancakes” with a red marker.
Concerned, she asked if she were travelling alone.
Katrina laughed and took Wart John out of her pocket.
“What’s that?” the airline attendant asked.
“My boyfriend,” Katrina told her.
Around twelve-thirty my mother received a call from the police.
When we got to the airport, Katrina was sitting atop her giant bouncy ball in the baggage claim office, calmly staring at a blank wall, sublimely indifferent to the panic she’d caused.
Sola Saar is a writer based in Los Angeles. She has an MFA in Fiction from Columbia University and a BA from UC Berkeley. Her writing has appeared in Ishmael Reed’s Konch magazine, Flapperhouse, and The Writing Disorder. She has contributed art essays to Hyperallergic, The Huffington Post, Art Slant, Bullett, and Flaunt.