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Contest Winner: Persimmon Kind of Love | Audrey Wu

This is the winning selection from the Sad Girl Diaries Winter 2024 Fiction & Nonfiction Contest.


trigger warning: self-harm, disordered eating


I’ve never understood love until I studied a fruit bowl. We roll the garishly red grocery carts down the aisles of Ranch 99 and inspect each piece carefully - Puo Puo thumbs a pomelo examining it for bruises and settles on a green-tinged one. The grocery store is where I go to find solace. Everything I love is wrapped in styrofoam fishnets, tacked with a sale sticker, and cradled in their plastic crates. I watch as Puo Puo rinses the fruit, the water slipping through the cracks in her soft hands. She holds them the way she held me when she first visited me at the hospital, her hands more wrinkled now than they were then. Growing up, I learned love in untraditional ways. I knew I was loved when I woke up to the smell of marinated beef on the stove, soaked in rich tomato broth, later spooned into happy bellies. I knew it with each dash of oyster sauce sprawled like blankets across bok choy as Puo Puo hums along to Teresa Teng. I didn’t need conventional love languages that many of my white peers required.

 

My name in Mandarin means “proud little clementine.” My parents say it’s because my cheeks resembled little clementines, round and flushed, like those that symbolized luck and flooded the markets around Lunar New Year’s. As I grew older, I never lost that feature: the little cheeks like full moons that dimple when I laugh. That laugh came more and more hesitantly as I worried that my smile was too wide, my happiness too loud, my body too rounded, my hair too dark. Nothing about it was right, not the way I looked in store reflections, was looked at by strangers, or felt in a tight dress. I covered my bathroom mirror and became friends with the dark. I hid my face in photographs, ashamed of how I looked. I took smaller portions and picked at my plate on holidays. I grew to enjoy drinking water on an empty stomach, letting it slosh back and forth, hollow and weightless. I counted the amount of time I chewed my food, methodically grinding it into little shreds. I spent too much time staring at the bottoms of toilet basins, kneeling as if they were a temple my body could learn to worship. I loved the amount of control I had. I hated the taste of bile that stung the back of my throat. Yet, sometimes I caved and indulged in late night snacks or cravings, feeling guilty as I relished the savory msg and spices that made my eyes water. It was a distraction, a coping mechanism to keep myself from deteriorating.

 

And still, it wasn’t enough. I looked for ways to punish myself for things happening around me. My mother leaving when I was thirteen. My grandfather’s sudden death. My best friend telling me she no longer wanted to live. I needed a way to feel anything other than what I was feeling. And when the eating wasn’t enough, I turned to razor blades and glass shards: anything that would leave a mark. I savored the sharp tinge in my wrist as the glass dug layers under skin, skin that was too tight, skin that wasn’t mine, skin that had betrayed me. I watched as red pooled the surface, found satisfaction in how my body scabbed itself over within a week, a wound I would pick over and over again and again until I was left with tally marks up and down my body. Marking the amount of times I’d have to feel before I’d become numb to it all.

 

It wasn’t until a summer I spent staying with Puo Puo, that I understood what it meant to love and be loved. She made me homecooked meals steeped in her care. Duō chī yīdiǎn, Puo Puo nudged my plate closer. Eat a little more. I smiled as she spooned me another bowl of soup and placed a generous serving on my plate. After we’d cleared the dishes, and I’d wiped off the table, Puo Puo beckoned me over. I sat next to her while she held out her hand to me and stroked my palm. She began to peel a persimmon as she talked to me, gently shedding the skin from the core of the odd looking fruit. What’s the matter? Puo Puo spoke softly to me in Mandarin, glancing up at me as my nose wrinkled out of habit. I’ve always thought they were gross. You know. Unconventional. She laughed and shook her head. Come, look. She placed my palm against the fruit, traced my index finger along each smooth divot and dip. Each persimmon is different, you see? Each one may look the same in its carton, but when you look closely, it’s different. Beautiful. Like you, my jiu jiu.

 

When I find myself surrounded by those familiar aisles that once held me in my suffering, I see myself in every bruised plum or dimpled orange, and find beauty in the freckles on an apricot and uncut belly of a pear. When I pick out fruit, I choose the lumpy rambutan, scaly durian. I love the overripe mango, dressed in its dark cloak, concealing its softness. All it really wants is to be taken home and whispered sweet nothings. Is it too much to want to be loved? When I peel an orange, I no longer feel the urge to dig my fingernails into my palm, watch the pith of my flesh flush shades of crimson and maroon. I admire the halves that make me up, the pulpy miracle that I am who I’ve become. When I eat persimmons, I think of my Puo Puo, soft hands against mine. I think of how this is what it feels like to belong to yourself, to find beauty in each flaw and trait you were made fun of, each part you wanted to hide. You deserve food. You deserve care. You deserve the kind of love that makes you feel alive, whole, beautiful. A persimmon kind of love. 


 

Audrey Wu is a high school student from Cambridge, Massachusetts. For Audrey, writing serves as a coping mechanism and she focuses on writing poetry to heal. In addition to editing for a variety of literary magazines, she has attended the Kenyon Review Young Writers workshop, Iowa Young Writers studio, Grubstreet’s Young Adult Writer’s program, and Northwestern Creative Writing for Talent Development among others. Outside of writing, Audrey enjoys good music, comfort food and looking for the silver linings in life.


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