The Ties That Bind
Triple DNA friendship bracelets by Macrani, Ebay
The Ties That Bind
ABSTRACT This project is a 10-page piece of fiction that personifies the nitrogenous bases through the properties that they have. The piece explores the relationships that four characters have with each other and show the importance of the nitrogenous bases in DNA.
In the beginning, there are three close friends–Teresa, Gia and Callie–who have a major responsibility. They are Keepers, tasked with keeping the structure of the DNA of the world intact through the use of their powers. However, they are missing a fourth friend because, just like the DNA helix needs two sets of bonded nucleotides, the Keepers need two sets of bonded friends. This fourth person, Ari, enrolls in the same high school, and they all become friends. However, the natural bond between Ari and Teresa takes time to stabilize, as Ari is dealing with a lot. She has been uprooted from her life, and her world is further turned upside down by her recent discovery of her status as a Keeper. As Ari begins to settle in with her friends, she feels dragged in two different directions. Despite her hesitation around the other Keepers, Ari also feels a connection with the three girls. She still longs for normality, though, and develops a friendship with Vanessa, one of the popular girls who seems to welcome her. And this is where our story begins: Ari, having an internal battle with what she really wants as the Keepers try to bring her into the fold.
It was a bright summer day when, for the third time in a year, Ari began to feel her world crumble around her. Her eyes welled up with tears, and she willed herself not to cry as she looked at a person she had considered her friend and felt the bitterness creep in.
“So, you’re just going to stop being my friend?” she asked Vanessa, her voice wavering.
Ari had never seen someone look so nonchalantly cruel.
“Look, Ari, you’re cool and everything, but you don’t fit our standards. Wearing white all of the time and hanging out with those other girls was all well and good…when you were new. But, now you should know better. So, I think it’s best if we aren’t friends.”
Ari felt her heart ache at the callousness. Yes, she knew they hadn’t been friends for long, but Vanessa and her friends had been so welcoming when Ari first came to their school. Why was Vanessa being like this? Ari could tell by the set of Vanessa’s jaw that her mind was made up and there was no way for Ari to change it. With nothing else to say, Ari stood and walked out of the café where Vanessa had wanted to meet.
As Ari began the trek home, her phone vibrated. Ari stopped to look at the messages in the group chat she shared with Teresa, Gia, and Callie.
Callie: Hey, do you guys want to meet to practice with our powers for the ritual this weekend?
Teresa: Sure, as long as its indoors.
Gia: I’m also in. What about you, Ari?
Seeing that she was addressed directly, Ari typed out a reply.
Ari: Sorry guys, I’m not really up for it today.
Immediately, the girls messaged questions about how she was doing.
Ari ignored them and continued on her walk home. She felt slightly bad about not hanging out with them and ignoring their messages, but she needed time to herself.
Ari felt a mixture of emotions that she was having trouble putting into words. Within a year, so much had changed for her, and she was feeling adrift. She had lived in one town all her life. Then, in the middle of her high school career, her parents wanted to move, meaning that she had to leave all of her friends and everything that was familiar to her. It’s true that Callie, Teresa, and Gia had all welcomed her into their group and that Ari was developing close bonds with them. At the same time, Vanessa and her friends had reached out to Ari, too. And, while she appreciated Callie’s, Teresa’s, and Gia’s friendship, it came with a greater set of expectations than simple friendship in return. They were Keepers, with responsibilities far beyond being normal teenagers. When Ari found out this information soon after joining them, her world was shaken for the second time. Vanessa and her friends, on the other hand, were like a respite for Ari. They didn’t expect anything extraordinary from her other than her being herself–or so she had thought. It turns out that they weren’t real friends. That hurt.
Ari: Sorry guys, I just need some time.
A few days later…
“So, did Ari tell you what’s wrong?” Callie asked Teresa.
Teresa nodded and recounted for Callie and Gia what Ari had eventually told her about that day with Vanessa at the café. Teresa could tell that Ari was broken up about Vanessa’s abandonment, but she wished that Ari would also acknowledge that she still had friends to support her. Teresa didn’t want to push her away by being too harsh.
Callie sucked her teeth. “So, because of someone else’s mistakes, she’s not talking to us?”
Teresa understood Callie’s anger to a degree. Along with Gia, Teresa gave Callie a look, trying to encourage her not to act out of anger.
Gia turned to Teresa. “Did you tell Ari about the consequences of not completing the bond or practicing our powers? And what about the ritual? Did you remind her that it’s this weekend and that we need her there?”
As Keepers, they all had a duty to make sure that their mutual bonds remained strong. Over the past couple of days of Ari not interacting with them, Teresa, Callie, and Gia had already begun to notice negative results. On a micro level, their cells were neither being created or destroyed, because the girls were not able to use their powers effectively. Before Ari, they had been managing. But with Ari being so close, but not bonded, problems were appearing among them at a faster rate. Despite being aware of this, Teresa explained that she hadn’t felt right about dropping such information on Ari’s lap while she was so upset.
“No,” Callie said, “we need to tell her what’s going on.”
“I’m just not sure if it’s a great idea,” was Teresa’s response.
Callie turned to Gia, hoping for an ally.
“I think we need to go see Shaman,” Gia said with a sigh.
Callie and Teresa nodded at the one thing they could agree on.
Shaman, Teresa’s grandmother and an inside joke among the Keepers. The girls had begun to call her “Shaman” after reading The Cosmic Serpent by Jeremy Narby for their biology class, a book in which the shamans had visions of DNA. Affectionately called Grandmother by everyone else, Shaman was the seer for the Keepers, the only one who could see the way the four girls were connected. She was who they went to when they had questions about their bonds.
With their minds made up about the next course of action, the girls drove out to Grandmother’s. When they reached her house, they found her cooking.
“Y’all want some sweet tea?” And she ushered them in with her strong Southern accent.
The girls nodded their heads eagerly. No way were they going to pass up on Grandmother’s famous sweet tea.
After they had each received a cup, Grandmother turned to them with a serious expression. “So, what y’all want?”
Teresa, used to her grandmother’s directness, smiled. “Grandmother, we just want a thick slice of your mind.”
After some laughter, Teresa filled her grandmother in on what was happening with Ari and their broken bond, Callie and Gia chiming in as needed.
Without a word, Grandmother stood up and went to the closet, where she kept the tools she used for her seer duties. She returned with a plastic item that resembled a miniature ladder whose “rungs” were made up of two different connected pieces. Grandmother sat down, closed her eyes, and began to twist the instrument between her hands.
Now speaking as Shaman, she said: “Adenine and thymine must bind with two hydrogen bonds or the structure could unravel.“
Immediately after the statement, Shaman’s eyes cleared and she was Grandmother once more. She leaned forward and set the instrument on the table.
Teresa sighed. She knew that adenine and thymine were the names given to Ari and herself, but the part about their need to “bind with two hydrogen bonds or the structure could unravel” was not helpful. Shaman always sounded like her ninth-grade biology class when all Teresa wanted was a straight answer. Apparently, that was too much to ask.
Pulling herself back from her thoughts, Teresa shot a look at Callie, who nodded in response. As their computer expert, Callie would hopefully be able to find more concrete information that would help them. Teresa turned her attention back to her grandmother.
“Um, thanks, Sham–Grandmother.”
Teresa was not altogether satisfied, Grandmother could tell. She shrugged. You can’t please everyone.
The girls spoke with Grandmother for a few more minutes before they gathered their stuff to go home, leaving with more questions than answers. That’s often how it was with Shaman.
Before Teresa could leave, Grandmother held on to her for a second longer.
“It will all work out,” she said.
Teresa nodded at her grandmother’s words and turned away. Had she turned back around, she would have seen the smirk that adorned Grandmother’s face. You can’t just give’em the answers without makin’em work for it. Her visions may have told her that things would work out, but the girls had to come to the answers on their own. Especially Ari.
Once back in the car, Gia turned to the others and said, “Does anyone else think that Shaman is so cryptically scientific on purpose?”
Callie rolled her eyes, and Teresa responded. “Even if she is, there’s nothing we can do about it.”
They would just have to make do with what little information Shaman gave them.
“Before we start research, I think we should go check in on Ari,” Callie said.
Teresa and Gia agreed and they headed over to Ari’s place.
When they arrived, they found Ari in her room, still moping.
“Okay, Ari, I’ve had enough of this,” Callie said. “I know the past year has been hard for you and this whole thing with Vanessa didn’t make it any better. But, here’s the thing: You still have us, and we care about you. More than that, the world needs you! And, like it or not, you have a responsibility to help them. It’s in you. The fact is that, without your bond to Teresa, the world is steadily imploding. We have a Keepers ritual coming up, and you need to be there. Frankly, that should be more important than what Vanessa did to you.”
With that, Callie stormed out of the room, leaving the other three in an uncomfortable silence.
“I think we should go,” Gia said, following Callie out the door. Teresa stayed put, looking back at Ari.
“Are you mad at me, too?” Ari asked.
Teresa was silent for a minute before answering. “I agree with a lot of what Callie said. I do think she could have said it in a nicer way. But what’s really important, aside from our Keeper responsibilities, is our friendship. We recognize that you’ve been struggling with all of the changes that have been happening, and I know we’re asking a lot of you. But we’re here for you, and I hope you’ll be here for us, too. If you are, then you know where we’ll be.”
With that, Teresa turned and left Ari with her thoughts.
Ari lay in her bed, upset with herself. She knew that she had been using her friendship with Vanessa as a way of avoiding her relationships with Gia, Callie, and Teresa. Because of some genetic predisposition, was she supposed to be friends with them and be responsible for the lives of all living creatures? She wanted to believe that she was her own person and that her status as a Keeper shouldn’t define her or her relationships. But over her last few days of moping, Ari had begun to realize something: Though her Keeper status means she needs to work with the other girls, they don’t necessarily need to become friends. Sure, Teresa, Callie, and Gia had welcomed Ari into the group because they genuinely liked and cared about her. Had they only wanted Ari for her abilities, the Keepers could have guilted her into friendship, playing on her altruism by detailing the ways in which Ari and Teresa’s broken bond was negatively impacting the world. But they hadn’t. Ari had researched these impacts on her own. Instead, the Keepers had wanted Ari to have a choice, to be their friend on her own free will.
The Keepers are keepers.
The answer hit Ari like a freight train. She knew where she needed to be and what she needed to do. She couldn’t let the abandonment of one supposed friend destroy a genuine relationship between herself and three others. Not only did they rely on Ari, but so did the rest of the world. Ari had a responsibility to everyone. Most of all, she owed it to herself to let go of the unhappiness she felt. Bitterness and anger was not what she wanted–and honestly, she missed her three friends. She knew where she needed to be. Jumping out of bed, Ari prepared to go mend her friendships and therefore save the world.
The Ritual Space
On the day of the Keepers ritual, Teresa, Callie, and Gia stood with the other members of their Helix. They were prepared for the ritual, but missing a member. The girls were anxious, wondering if Ari was going to come. As the time drew nearer to start, their hopes began to plummet. From Callie’s research, they knew that Ari had to form the bond with Teresa in order for the ritual to work.
The mood in the room was despondent as everyone began to fear that the ritual could not happen.
Then, they heard running feet, and Ari burst into the room.
“I’m not too late, am I?” she said, out of breath. As Ari approached her friends, the other Keepers of the Helix backed away to give them privacy.
“So, you finally remembered your true friends,” Callie said snidely.
Gia smacked Callie on the shoulder and muttered, “C, you’re not helping!”
“Look,” Ari began. “I deserved that. But, I came to a realization after you visited. We have a bond with one another, but our relationships aren’t fake. It’s kind of like that nature-vs.-nurture debate we learned about in psychology. We may have a natural bond with one another, but we also have to nurture those relationships with each other. That’s what you guys were doing with me, and I’m sorry for abandoning you over someone else’s mistakes. Can you forgive me?”
After Callie, Gia and Teresa exchanged looks, Teresa was the first one to reach out her hand, which Ari accepted. She felt the bond with her fellow Keeper fall into place. Teresa and Ari turned to watch Gia and Callie also take each other’s hands, ready to start the ritual. As the other Keepers approached, Ari and Teresa smiled at each other.
“Are you ready, A?” Teresa asked.
Ari grinned. “More than ready, T.”
And, so the world began to bond again.
NOTES ON CRAFT
“The Ties That Bind” is a short piece of fiction of about ten pages. I created the characters from the properties of the nucleotide bases that are found in DNA. Even though I started with creating character guides based on their properties, I extended their personalities, likes and dislikes, and wants and desires by expanding on what I know. The characters are four friends: Ari, Teresa, Gia and Callie who are personified from the bases adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine, respectively. The four friends are Keepers, meaning that they are responsible for making sure that the genetic code of the world does not begin to unravel. They keep the world stable through their bonds with each other. The plot will focus on the relationship that these four friends have with each other as they help one of their friends recover from a betrayal and strengthen their relationships with one another.
I came to this project because I am interested in writing a novel in the future, and this work gave me the push to begin to write. Most of my classes are not places where I can explore my fiction writing, and this project gave me the opportunity to start, helping me to develop characters and a plot. Further, I began thinking about how to construct a world around the characters, to develop my skills in writing dialogue, as well as showing the ties that people have to each other.
I’ve been inspired by the topics we’ve covered in class, but also by fantasy and romance novels featuring the bonds between people as the most important plot points. Often, these books focus on the importance of bonds formed between romantic pairs. I thought it would be cool to apply that same premise to a short story in which the most important bonds are the ones formed between best friends instead of romantic partners.
My interest in working with DNA bases came from my interest in character development. Using the bases, I didn’t have to create character traits entirely from scratch, but take what I know and build from there. Also, the bonds between the nucleotide bases are an important component of DNA and I wanted to explore that as well.
The biggest obstacle during this process was that I’d never really written fiction before. Therefore, I didn’t know what I was doing in terms of character development, plot-making, and world-building–and I’m worried that this comes through in my writing. Further, I had trouble keeping a balance between the characters’ inner monologues and the dialogues. How much is too much focus on the monologue? I also realized that ten pages is not a lot of space. So, I think there were some aspects that weren’t as well-developed as I would have liked. Another challenge was that I based my characterization off of the properties associated with each nucleotide. When starting this project, I thought that I would have a lot to work with. However, I found that there aren’t that many differences in the bases when they are attached to DNA. Their differences become more apparent when they are not part of DNA. However, many of the articles that try to explain the properties are too scientific for me to understand. So, I took what I understood and crafted characters from what I had available to me.
Through this project, I’ve learned a lot more about the nucleotides and their importance in DNA. I’ve also learned some interesting facts through my research and that I enjoy both the research process for the story, as well as its execution. By writing this story, I’ve begun to learn how to construct characters, work on dialogue, begin to develop plot lines and world-build. Most importantly, I started and finished a major part of a fictional piece, which is something I have never done before. That was my ultimate goal, and I accomplished that.
In terms of wider distribution and other possibilities, I thought Ari, Callie, Gia and Teresa’s story would end here. However, I still have so many questions and ideas crowded in my head. Also, there are aspects of this story that I’d like to flesh out more in a longer piece. So, maybe I can develop some sort of blog where I can post blurbs in the world.
This creative piece brought together my research of the properties of the bases in DNA along with fiction. This project shows the importance of the nitrogenous bases to the DNA structure and genes.
Problem & Procedures
What I tried to do in my story is to show the personification of the bases. The artistic form that inspired this project is fantasy/paranormal romance. Many of these books feature two characters that must bond romantically in order to save the world. I wanted to take this plot point and highlight the importance of the bonds between friends.
As for the story itself, the problem is that, Ari, a recently discovered Keeper, is struggling with her newfound powers and her relationships with her friends due to all of the recent upheaval. I researched as much as I could about the DNA bases, as that informed my characterization of the story’s characters. Much of this research originated online and comes from sites that teach about the bases.
I tried to develop a story in which a “problem” is solved. I hoped to illustrate the importance of friendship.
This project helped me develop my skills in fiction writing. Through this project, I was to practice character and plot development as well as writing dialogue.
“Adenine.” PubChem accessed April 18, 2019.
This web site discusses the properties of each nitrogenous base. Each has its own page, but I only put one of them, Adenine, here. These pages are useful, as they allowed me to gain knowledge about the properties, and I can take what I’ve learned from these pages and apply them to the characters that I’m developing.
Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition. London: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print.
In this book, Dawkins thinks about the impact that genes have on our lives. Dawkins’ discussion on the origin of life and of DNA made me think about the fact that I need to have an origin story for my characters. Further, Dawkins also personifies genes, and I personified the bases in my story. I also think it’s interesting to consider our genetic predispositions for things.
Narby, Jeremy. The Cosmic Serpent. New York: Putnam, 1998. Print.
This book focuses on Narby’s research on South American shamans who were able to see the structure of DNA before scientists “discovered” it. This book inspired my idea for the character of Grandmother/Shaman.
Watson, James D. The Double Helix. New York: Scribner Classics, 1998. Print.
This book focuses on Watson’s experience of “discovering” the structure of DNA. I want my characters to reference this structure and use it to think about their connections with one another, as well as their status as “keepers.” These four characters are in charge of keeping the structure of the world intact, and I want them to think about their connections through the image of the DNA structure.
Whelan, William J. “What’s in a Name: Vitamin B4.” IUBMB Life, Vol. 57, No. 2, 2005.
This article covers the fact that no one knows what Vitamin B4 is and how several people think it’s adenine and others disagree. The article helped me to think about the ways scientific articles can inform character plot lines. inspiring me to develop one in which Ari is abandoned by her friend Vanessa (a stand-in for Vitamin B).