It was a perfectly regular Tuesday morning when Daisy Walker withdrew all of her funds from her bank account.
The amount was not high; but it was enough to purchase a dress that had lain in the window of Pierre Sundry for the last six months, a block from Daisy’s work. The dress was light blue, crystals falling down the silk like a frozen waterfall, delicate tulle reaching up the collarbone of the mannequin.
Daisy faced the mirror, her body feeling incredibly out of place in the dress. Perhaps it was her dull hair and pale, nondescript face. So she made an appointment with the most expensive hair salon in the city, offering to pay double for a same-day appointment.
“You look stellar,” the overly smiley, garishly dressed stylist said as she fluffed up Daisy’s newly blonde, hollywood waved hair. Stellar was a nice word; Daisy liked it. Too many people said beautiful or pretty. But no, she looked stellar.
Of course, it didn’t really matter what this stranger thought. Or what anyone else thought, as a matter of fact.
After running a couple more important errands, Daisy took herself to dinner at the most expensive restaurant in town. She ate some form of macaroni that cost $100 by herself, ignoring the stares of the waiters and other customers.
Being rich seemed to be the same as being poor, just with more people staring. She did not feel any different after all of this. She had not expected to. That was not, after all, the point.
The moon shone bright that night. It must’ve been nights away from full, because there was a tiny sliver of blackness on the side, like someone had colored it in too hastily. For some reason this bothered her.
Daisy tucked a stray piece of hair behind her ear, turning her back on the moon and the rest of life’s disappointment. There was a small alleyway to her right, and she made her way all the way down it. Facing the wall gave her an illusion of privacy. Like a child who blocked their eyes from the world and assumed no one could see them.
She reached into her purse and pulled out her earlier purchase, feeling its weight in her hand. It was smaller than she’d imagined.
The sky watched her as she wished she could just flip a switch and fall to the ground, like a discarded doll lost behind a couch, or in a strange alley in the city.
But as invisible as she already felt, she could not simply disappear with the snap of her fingers.
And so she raised the gun to her head.
“Don’t,” came a soft voice.
Daisy did not want to turn. But she also did not want anyone to grab her from behind and take away her autonomy in a world where this was the only thing left she could do.
“Don’t do it,” the voice said again, and Daisy was forced to turn.
But he was right – she did not want him to witness the inevitable spray of blood onto the brick wall. It would be very gross for him. And Daisy was nothing if not polite.
All in all, the situation was very awkward.
“You look very pretty.” He said it strangely, more reasonably than complementary. “You won’t if you do that.”
Daisy smiled. She did not care how she looked afterwards, when she was no longer anyone at all. But she did not say so. She did not say anything at all. She had long ago learned that nobody could hear her.
“Why don’t you come with me?” he said, his voice measured and slow. Daisy wondered if he saw her because of her dress and hair; people usually did not see her. Especially well-groomed men in suits.
Suddenly it occurred to Daisy that this man must be rich, and thought she was as well. What a funny predicament she had found herself in. Perhaps the dress had been a bad choice after all.
Please was an odd word. She had said it herself to the waiter precisely nine times that night. She had said it twice at the bank account, and once to the badly dressed hairdresser, too.
None of those times had it carried any weight. It was, after all, just a word, and words had so much less effect than people thought. At least in Daisy’s experience.
But this strange man in the suit, shadows obscuring the lines of his face, seemed to inject some meaning into his voice. Some drive.
What a nice man, Daisy thought. He really is trying to help.
It was a nice gesture – he couldn’t possibly know that she was beyond saving.
“Please give me the gun.”
Daisy frowned. Whatever would he do with a gun? “No, thank you.”
He put his hand out, and Daisy took a step back, hitting the wall. Rather embarassingly, her hand began to shake, and he put his hands up to show he did not mean to come closer, treating her like a wild animal in the woods even though she surely looked like a damsel from a vintage film.
But it was all wrong now. Not measured, and planned, and peaceful. No, he had turned it violent. The very wall had turned it violent. Her disobedience to his desperate request had made it violent.
“Please leave.” This time she meant her “please”, too.
“I can’t do that,” he said tensely. “Whatever you’re going through….this is not the answer.”
It was as sure an answer as 2+2=4, but he didn’t know that, and it was no use explaining.
“Think of your family, your friends…”
“I haven’t any.”
“I don’t believe that for a second.”
Daisy did not consider herself to be any master illusionist, but if he thought her capable of that, she might as well lie: “I’m not going to do it. You can leave now.” She even dropped the gun to her side.
“Give me the gun.”
“No.” Daisy put it back in her purse.
“I can’t just leave you.” With a sinking feeling like an anchor in her stomach, Daisy realized he was right. He could not – not with that pesky thing called a moral code.
“A roommate,” Daisy said finally. “I’ve got a roommate. You can walk me home. This has happened before; she’ll know what to do.”
The man considered, then reached out his hand again. Daisy took it, finding it much colder than she’d expected. She imagined for a moment it was the cold hand of death come to carry her into the great beyond.
But there was thankfully no such thing, and so she followed the man out of the alleyway she never thought she’d exit and back onto a street she never thought she’d again walk. As the walked along in the lights on the streets, Daisy focused on his face. He was much younger than she’d imagined back in the alleyway.
The man made a quick call and a black car rolled up. He opened the door for Daisy as she slipped inside.
“What’s your name?” Daisy asked as he entered the other side, his polite gesture reminding her of her own manners.
“You can call me Andrew,” the man said with a slight smile.
You can call me? Was that not his real name?
“It’s nice to meet you, Andrew.”
“It’s nice to meet you too, Daisy.”
It did not occur to Daisy until much later that she did not tell him her name. Or that she had not given him her address.
“I meant what I said. It’s a pretty dress,” he said, nodding to it.
“It’s my favorite.” It was her only.
“Can I ask you a question?”
Daisy glanced up at the driver, but he seemed not to want to acknowledge them.
He did not wait for permission, which Daisy felt was very out of character for him, though they had just met.
“Why were you in that alley?”
“I thought we’d been over that.”
“I don’t mean what were you doing. I mean why were you doing it?”
Daisy bit her lip, a nasty old habit, and stared ahead. “It’s quite a long story.”
“We have time.”
Daisy suddenly realized she had not given him her address, or any directions at all. She looked out the window – they were exiting the city now, on streets almost as dark as the alley in which they had met.
“Where are we going?” Daisy asked slowly. The locks clicked down and Daisy began to feel goosebumps on her neck, though maybe it was her new hair fluttering against her skin.
Daisy could not see any real point in speaking if she was being kidnapped, so she stared out the window, trying to remember each and every turn and flip it around in her head in order to get back to the city. Until she remembered – she still had the gun in the purse.
And it would only take two bullets to take the both of them out for good.
One, if she got the driver.
But even though Daisy had come to terms with a murder of sort (it really was very clinical, though – like she was simple a verternarian putting a pet donw) she did not quite think she was capable of real murder. Not even in self defense. And he wasn’t exactly coming at her, either.
They turned onto a strange side road that was almost entirely black. Daisy’s head whipped back and forth, trying to make out some kind of landmark, but all she saw were trees. They drove on a winding dirt road – or perhaps it was not a road at all – as Daisy counted the seconds.
We are probably going about 10mph, she thought. And I have counted five minutes. Five minutes is 1/20 of an hour. 1/20 of 10 miles is half a mile….
But it was too hard to do math and count at the same time, so Daisy gave up, estimating in minutes rather than counting in seconds. She was so nervous her count was bound to be off, anyways.
It took until Daisy’s ears popped to realize that they were climbing. She had rarely ventured out of the city, and not at all in this direction. She had absolutely no idea where they could be going. Was there a mountain, or a hill in the vicinity of the city? How long had they been driving?
They turned a corner and came upon an old, ornate gate, rusted from years of rain.
Huh. It did not regularly rain there.
But Daisy was soon distracted by such musings as she realized the structure in front of her was not another grove of twisted trees, branches like gnarled hands and stretching fingers to strange the life out of each other, but a house.
Well, house was not quite the right word.
“My god,” Daisy said.
The gates opened with a loud creak, and the car drove to the front of the estate, coming slowly to a stop. Andrew stepped out, and Daisy quickly reached her hand inside her purse. Did she dare?
But then Andrew opened the door with a smile, extending his hand. Daisy took it, letting the purse fall to her side as she looked up in awe at the veritable castle in front of her.
“You live here?” she breathed.
“We all do,” he said, a slight pull on her hands indicating that he was to bring her inside. Daisy had no idea what to expect – the outside was like something out of another century, and looked as if it had not been tended to for about that long.
When she entered, everything was pitch black. She squinted, trying to make out something, wondering for a moment whether Andrew was crazy and taking up residence in an old abandoned building. But then his hand left hers, and a few seconds later a fire was lit, seeming to float in the air. It was a tiny sun for only a small fraction of a second before dancing and racing across the room, like a pattern of dominoes suspended in the air. Fire splashed light all over the walls, reaching into every dark corner and turning it light. Daisy gasped, taking a step back and coming against the heavy door, which had closed unnoticed behind her. The driver had not accompanied them.
“Do you like it?” he asked.
Daisy did not have to lie when she nodded. For once, she did not feel out of place with her dress like falling snow and hair like fields of gold. She felt as if she was in a dream. Perhaps she really was already dead, after all.
“You’re safe here,” he said, turning to her and taking her hand again. His eyes were an intense dark golden color, flickering the fire back at her. “You can stay until you feel better. There are plenty of rooms.”
He smiled slightly. “You don’t have a roommate.”
She did not have anyone who knew where she was. Who would know to look for her at all. She had burned every bridge, and was utterly alone.
Even if the police got involved – they would find the simple note left on top of the fireplace and think she was dead.
She had unwittingly made herself the perfect target.
“Welcome home, Daisy Sanderson,” Andrew said.
And Daisy, feeling as wavering and unstable as the flames dancing around her, felt her purse slip from her grip and her body fall to the ground like a discarded doll, but not at all like a dead body in an alleyway.
Because she was still alive.
I’ve been saying this since middle school, when I wrote an essay about dress code being sexist. This was almost ten years ago. But just to reiterate my own experience now that people are receptive, I’d like to talk about it again.
When I was in high school, we had a dress code that was basically no midriff, no cleavage, no tank tops, no bras showing, and shorts that had to hit 2 inches above the knee.
I only got in trouble for breaking it once, when my bra was showing during gym because of my racerback tank top in my gym clothes. I was asked to put on a sweatshirt outside when it was still summer.
My best friend got in trouble countless times, once being paraded around the cafeteria crying by the vice principal (a truly horrible woman who came from teaching at a catholic school) who shamed her and basically insinuated she was a slut.
But here’s the funny thing (okay, it’s not funny at all): I broke dress code constantly, and besides that one time in gym, I never got in trouble.
I was careful. I didn’t stand up in the cafeteria if one of the vice principals was nearby. I never wore shorts, always skirts – shorts (that were not bermuda shorts) always broke dress code, while skirts didn’t always, so it didn’t attract an immediate warning. But the biggest reason why I didn’t get in trouble was because I was a “good girl”. I got good grades. I was quiet. I was unpopular and shy. I was scared to talk to boys. I was well-behaved and polite.
My best friend struggled in school. She had a reputation and was popular among boys. She went to parties. She was still, to me, a “good girl” in a lot of ways. She was certainly a good person. But she was targeted any time she even came close to breaking dress code because of the way the vice principal saw her.
We broke the same rule – me much more so than her – and she was the one who got in trouble.
This was just further proof to me that dress code was bullshit. It was about targeting and shaming female students for their reputations and looking “slutty” more than it was about actually maintaining a professional atmosphere. My outfits were certainly not “professional”, and honestly had a blatant disregard for dress code. Rules that target certain students – not even just girls, which is bad enough, but girls the administration sees in a certain way – are completely discriminative and unfair.
And the administration doing so makes it so much easier for boys and other girls to do so. High school is basically like a tidal pool of hormones, a training ground where kids pretend they know who they are, where they’re supposed to be taught how to be functioning humans. And the culture of high school teaches sexism, discrimination, slut-shaming, and the idea that its girls’ fault if men are distracted by their attraction to them. It completely supports victim-shaming – these are the same men that will go to college, where there is no dress code, and see women dress provocatively and find this an invitation. It honestly makes me sick to think of.
Look, an 18 year old in college can wear whatever she wants and the world doesn’t fall apart. Why can’t an 18 year old in high school do the same?
I ran into the room, my eyes alight in a sea of darkness. On the bed, my parents rose blearily. “The power’s out,” I said.
I felt light in my chest, like my heart was leaping. Joy rose in me like a hot air balloon. Everything felt magical in the candlelight, even normal things. In the light, you could see everything that was old in broken. Some people were afraid of the dark, but not me. Everyone was so worried about what sinister things lurked in the darkness that they never thought there could be good things hiding there too.
In the candlelight, everything glowed. My brother’s grin was like a Jack-O-Lantern, but it didn’t scare me at all. Spooky was not the same thing as scary. Spooky arrived to tickle you and then left you alone. I would later come to know real darkness, that was deep and dark and endless, like space deep within my soul. But this was not darkness – this was mischief.
My mother floated around the rooms; I could not see her at first, but I could hear her, and that was just as comforting. There were nights I fell asleep to the muffled voices of my parents in the room over, like a lullaby. Always there. As she lit more and more candles, I began to make her out and tried to follow her, her silky nightgown creating an outline of white lit by the flames.
My parents turned on the gas burners as I watched in wonder- the stove still worked! My mother patiently explained to me that gas and power were separate as my father took marshmallows and metal sticks down from the cabinet. My sister and brother and I gathered around the stove, each waiting our turn to roast our marshmallows in the blue and orange flames.
With our smores made, we settled in on the living room floor. I don’t know what it was about sitting on the floor: it felt freeing. My brother rose and started spewing out nonsense, creating his own cartoons and commercials. My sister jumped up, stretching her hand high in the air – she wanted to be next. My mother, with a smile in her voice, reminded my brother to let us have a turn – he groaned and sat, but with a silly grin on his face and not an ounce of resentment in his heart. My sister grabbed my hand, her own hand warm and comforting, her hold firm, and pulled me up with her. I watched in wonder at the girl who would always be better than me, the the girl with clear bright eyes not clouded by fantasy like mine, but still filled with endless curiosity and wonder. I tried to copy her movements, to contribute to her show, but did little more than grin and shout words, jumping up and down. My parents laughed like we were a well executed comedy show, and I grinned ear to ear. We all sat down and played a board game in the candlelight. I settled into my mother’s lap, staring into the tiny flame on the wick. It was mesmerizing, fire. So wild, yet so often used, everyone trying to contain it lest it wreak destruction on the world. I wondered if I would be like that one day. I wondered if I would be at all like my sister, like my mother.
When the lights came back on, everyone cheered, but my smile was lukewarm. Everything seemed dull again in the artificial light washing over it all. All the flaws were exposed. The flames seemed much dimmer now, and obsolete – my brother impressed us all by closing each between his fingers to put them out. I couldn’t imagine trying such a thing. What if I got burned? But he did it with confidence. It was not the last time he would do something I did not understand, even as similar as we were in our not yet developed neuroticism. I asked him how, and he began to show me, turning gentler than the boisterous ten year old boy I had come to know. I looked to my parents, who did not stop him – clearly it was allowed. But I could not bring myself to touch the flame. I preferred to watch it from afar.
I could watch them no longer once my brother extinguished the last one. My parents shooed us to the bath, our room, our beds. We had stayed up too late, without a clock to stop our fun. I was tucked into bed and finally it was dark again, my night light acting as a candle.
I was not afraid of the dark – but I always needed a light. Just one thing to stretch out into the corners, to lend shape to my imagination of what might be hiding. I closed my eyes as my mother sang to me, her voice as smooth as the edge of flame.
And then she left. And it was quiet. And dark. And calm.
Each year, I would wait for the power to go out again. I would secretly cheer when I would hear of a storm. But the magic began to fade each time. The power was out too long. The house grew too cold. My computer ran out of battery; I grew annoyed. Adolescence chased all the magic away until I dreaded the yearly power outages, piling on sweaters and worrying over how I would work out and do my hair with no power, in the dark.
I moved to California, where it was always sunny and bright. I graduated college and lived with strangers. And one summer, hot and stifling, the power went out again. Everyone used their phone’s flashlights, sitting together and gossiping. But I remained mostly silent. The house was big, and open, and full of people I did not know. Someone noticed a cockroach on the floor, and the group started to scream, jumping up onto tables and couches. Even though people were everywhere, I felt alone in the dark. There was not a single flame. Even the light from the phones glowed cool and harsh: not like the warm, soft glow from a candle or my night light. My eyes began to hurt and I wished upon any remaining unseen magic in the darkness to bring the lights back, so I could tuck myself into bed, and at the very least forget I was alone – for this was an impossible feat among strangers.
And they did.
One rocky year later, I sat again in artificial light, reading a book my grandmother had given me before her death. A book that had lain discarded until then, unaware that it may have been my last chance to connect with her. I had missed out on a lot of chances. I had missed a lot of people. A lot of things had become confused, all muddled together, my many ideas of what my life would be intersecting and contradicting each other in a non-linear path of pure pain mixed with pure happiness. My eyes had become clouded and clear again, many times, and likely would many more. I was far away from the family and home I had once known; far away from childhood, from magic, from myself. No one tucked me into bed at night.
But then the power went out. Without even thinking, I abandoned my book; abandoned my guilt over not reading it sooner; abandoned my anxiety over having chosen to read rather than work. That very same air balloon from my youth, old and tattered from disuse, suddenly filled me again and I jumped up.
“The fuse box,” My roommate said.
Ah. Yes. For in adulthood, one did not think of smores. They thought of fuse boxes.
But resetting the fuse box did not work. My other roommate ran to the window – “they’re not out across the street.” She ran to our front door and looked out, coming back in with a spooked look in her eyes. “But all the lights in this building are out.”
I clapped my hands in glee together like a child. “The power’s out!” I exclaimed, and launched into the long forgotten stories of my youth. My roommate griped about the darkness, thrown off by my excitement. I simply ignored her as I pulled out candles, requesting that she turn her phone flashlight off.
The power was out for over an hour. We played board games and ate ice cream before it melted.
It was not the same as it had been when I was younger. But I felt it again – that magic hiding in the corners. It was less, or perhaps it was just different, but it was still there. In my cat’s white fur, which seemed to glow in the darkness. In the candlelight dancing over the white tiles of our game. In the way we ripped the fridge door open and closed as fast as we could to grab snacks, like it was a race. In twinkling eyes and glowing flames.
I hadn’t known, when I was little, that I would lose that magic.
But for much longer, I hadn’t known if I would find it again.
I worried about a lot of things. I worried if I would ever find success. I worried if I would ever find love. I worried if I would ever find belonging, or comfort, or peace. But the magic I needn’t have worried about: it was always right there, hidden in the dark corners, waiting for me to find it again.
Finally, finally, without even realizing it, I had.
And perhaps, perhaps, there was even more to be found.
All my life I wanted to be in love.
It started when I was little: a dream, perhaps reinforced by Princess stories or novels about secret gardens. But I thought deep in my heart that one day someone would come to love me so deeply that I would remember to love myself.
That day never came.
I wondered; did love not exist? Were men conditioned not to believe in it, and women were? Was it simply a fairytale, a myth to get little girls to find men to procreate with, to marry? Was it all biology, was there nothing more to life than reproducing and dying, like any other species?
I refused to believe it. For so long. But I watched as distracted and uncaring eyes passed by me, by everyone. If love was ever alive, societally constructed or not, it was dead now. Or I was immune to the virus they called love, a sickness I longed to have, incapable of loving or being loved. I was a shadow, barely noticed: a fleeting image, too fast to process in anyone’s mind. Perhaps I was just ordinary. Maybe only extraordinary people were capable of love.
There is something wrong with me, I thought. I must be dead, I thought. My heart must be withered away and dark, for no one to love me.
But love was all around me. Love was in the way my best friend never gave up on me, not when I ruined the broken piece that connected us, not when I did the worst thing of all – an elaborate form of self harm for which I could use as an excuse to hate the whole world. In the words of my childhood companion, who told me that I was, and always had been, worthy of the world, that she had seen it from the start. In the unyielding view of those who were dead and gone, whose hopes and dreams lived in me, urging me on to complete what they could not. In my mother’s crinkled eyes and my father’s rare smile – I was so loved.
Was there something wrong with me, that I could not feel it? That their love filled a cup with holes, that could never reach the top? Was I meant for only that kind of love, not romantic?
Did it mean more?
I used to worry that if I were to die young, no one would come to my funeral. That my mother would cry at the small crowd.
I know now that I was right, in some ways. There would not be many. But I think the people who came would say good things about me. Would say that I had loved to the best of my ability, that all I had wanted in life was meaning, truth, love, and saviors. I made a million mistakes, as we l do. But my intentions were pure, and I did love, or I tried to.
I think my mother would be proud of that.
I think maybe I should start being proud of that.
The heartbeat machine beeped, over and over again. It was somehow soothing; peaceful, almost. But it was eerie, too. Foreboding. I didn’t know when or if it would stop. I didn’t know if my heart would stop if
it stopped. I depended on the steady “beep, beep” of the machine.
I put my head in my hands and rubbed them until I could see little spots of color. I wished I would fall asleep. Maybe if I could sleep, I could forget for a little bit. Maybe it wouldn’t be so painful, during those few hours of sleep. But I couldn’t. I knew I wouldn’t be able to. I didn’t know if I’d ever sleep again. Since the accident, I had changed. Things weren’t normal anymore, so sleeping was out of the question. I didn’t care that Andrew was asleep, resting his head in my lap. I didn’t care that dad had gone home an hour ago, to catch some rest and take care of his wife. Let them sleep. That didn’t mean I had to.
“Ashley,” the nurse came in, looking worried. “Have you got any sleep?”
I stifled a yawn. “Sure,” I lie. “A few hours. I just woke up.”
The nurse looked doubtful but didn’t comment.
“Is she any better?” I asked after a few moments.
I said it in barely a whisper. I didn’t want to think about Kat, I didn’t want to think about her deathly pale face, her still body. I still couldn’t look at it. “Her condition hasn’t changed,” the nurse said slowly, tentatively, as if being careful what she said. She didn’t need to. I wanted the truth. I blinked away the sudden tears that had sprung up. Kat wouldn’t want me to be crying. Kat. If she had been awake, she would have taken me in her arms, wiping away my tears, and told me that everything would be okay.
And I would have believed her. I believed everything my big sister said. Why shouldn’t I? When I was little, I used to believe she was always right. Most of the time, I still did.
I looked away from the nurse, at the clock, so she couldn’t see how upset I was. 9:27pm. I couldn’t believe it had been only 12 hours since the accident. It seemed like lifetimes ago. I wondered vaguely about missing school. But it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered anymore. The nurse could see I wanted to
be left alone and quietly exited, closing the door softly behind her. I looked down at Andrew. He was so strong. After we lost mom, we had become closer than ever. He was the youngest in the family. The baby. But I think he’s stronger than me. He was so young. He shouldn’t have to deal with losing his mother so young, and maybe his sister now too…I could barely think the dreaded, looming possibility of Kat’s death. I knew how likely it was. The nurses didn’t say it. But they whispered together, and I knew
what they were talking about. They talked in hushed voices around me, like they thought I was fragile and would break if they talked too loud. If they told me the truth. But I saw it in their faces. It was in their eyes. They felt sorry for me, and it was because Kat was dying. I stole a glance over at Kat. Her face was blank, expressionless. It wasn’t normal. Her face was always happy, full of delight. She was always laughing at something. Mostly she laughed at herself. I always admired her for that, for being so shameless that she could laugh at her mistakes. I could never do that. Even if she wasn’t smiling, there should have been laughter in her eyes, kindness in her face. But there was nothing. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair, I thought angrily. Why should someone so young, someone so good, have something like
this happen to them? It wasn’t like it was Kat’s fault. The stupid, reckless underage drunk driver had veered off course. Kat had been walking a little ahead of me. She had run ahead because she had seen some flowers.
“Ashley,” she had said excitedly, cooing me over. “Come see!”
I squeezed my eyes shut. Maybe if I didn’t remember it, it would be like it had never happened.
But it had happened. The driver had crashed into her seconds later, before I could get to her. As much as I wanted it to have not happened, it had. I hadn’t wanted my mom to die, either. But she had.
No, I thought firmly. Kat’s not going to die. But I couldn’t deny it. Then it would be harder when it happened. No, if it happened. I was so afraid of her dying. Ever since my mom had died, I had been so afraid I was going to lose someone else, too. It was my greatest fear. I’d wince every time Kat said she was going out. What if she never came home? What if Andrew died, too? I would have never let them leave the house, but they’re both such free spirits. She could never stay in one place that long. So I let her go. But I spent my whole life worrying about her. Eat sleep, and worry about Kat. That was my life. I just couldn’t lose her too. It was just the way I was. Maybe seeing your mother’s blank unseeing eyes did it. I just wasn’t the same after that. Who would be? My family wasn’t, but the rest of my family chose to live on anyway. I chose to waste time with worry. Worrying about my dad. Worrying about Andrew. But most of all, worrying about Kat. But it turns out it didn’t matter. Even when I was with her, protecting her, she had been hurt.
It’s too hard to think about Kat as she is now at the moment, so I think of the past. Before mom died. Before my parents were divorced. I remember white Christmases, filled with wrapping paper and new puppies. But mostly I remember one Christmas in particular. There was a huge blizzard that night. The wind blew the snow every which way so that there was no chance of seeing 2 feet in front of you. That night as I watched the snow whirl around, I almost wished I could be out there to. To be free and moving around. But I was much too scared. I was so small, what if I feel into the snow and couldn’t get back up.
“Let’s go outside,” she suggested. Only my dad was still up with us, and we were all bored.
“Alright,” he agreed.
I was afraid, but I didn’t want to seem like I was, so I went. Kat held my hand the whole way out. I was whimpering when we got outside, but she knelt down beside me. She looked at me and through her eyes gave me strength. I closed my eyes and hunched over against the strong wind. I couldn’t face this monster, this blizzard. I opened my eyes, and although they watered I forced them not to close. I straightened up.
“You can do it,” Kat encouraged. Suddenly I could tell why Kat liked blizzards. It felt wonderful to be up against the wind. Kat whispered in my ear, and I put my arms out, spread wide, and embraced it. I could feel the wind on my hair, the cold air splashing against my face, the snowflakes
caught in my hair. I giggled in delight, then when I could stay up no longer, fell into the safety of Kat’s arms.
“See, that wasn’t so hard,” she grinned. But in a moment she was serious. “It’s no good to live in fear. You can’t hide from it, you have to embrace it. Embrace the wind. Turn it into something good, something fun. Don’t worry so much.”
Back then, I thought she was talking about the blizzard. But now, looking back, I realized what she had meant ran much deeper than just snowstorms. She was right.
There was nothing good or fun about being in the hospital next to my comatose sister. But being afraid for Kat wasn’t going to make her safe; it hadn’t saved her from this. It was no good to live in worry for her. To live in worry of everything; to hide in the snow instead of facing the wind. To stay freezing and scared would not benefit anyone; least of all me.
Suddenly I realized how tired I was. I nestled my head against the back of the chair, taking Kat’s hand and finally closing my eyes.
And just as I was falling asleep, I felt the smallest movement in her fingers.
When we were kids, we were told that America was the land of opportunity, and that you could be successful in anything as long as you worked hard enough. For the middle class, this was said to be especially true. We had money, we had some connections, and above all we had access to a good education. And it is true that we attended school diligently for 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 18 years, and we spent it being taught different subjects well. Now we owe our ability to articulate ourselves and thus earn respect from our elders and employers to this very education. It is because of our education that we can go out into the world, get a decent office job, and hopefully move up in our company or establishment.
Which means, actually, that the promise we received is inherently flawed: we cannot succeed in “anything”. We can succeed in one specific thing that is chosen for us.
We simple don’t have the opportunity to try lots of different things, and so do not have the chance to succeed in them. We cannot do more than just follow the simple path that we are expected to follow that was previously mentioned. If we do try to stray from the path, we are seen as not working hard or as being foolish, so we are automatically exempt from the “as long as you work hard you can be successful” theory. Working hard here means following the path and going through the motions of the quintessential American life.
We are fortunate to be able to be successful as long as we do what we’re told. We are fortunate that we have a path to follow that will guarantee living in relative comfort, in a suburban home with our family, watching football games and eating apple pie. This is the American dream, after all. We all want to be comfortable.
But along the way, in search of that goal, we must give up anything that would gamble our future, and anything that scares or excites us. In short, we must give up our dreams and our best possible future. We do not even have the chance to take a few steps down any sort of alternate path because, to do so, we must step off of the path we are on and risk our entire birthright to a comfortable future. And if we have never seriously tried something, how do we know if it is worth sacrificing a safe future for?
At the root of this problem lies the current American education system, that leaves no room to venture off of the path and teaches us instead to cling to it. Reinforcing and perpetuating this problem are the administrators and government that have kept the same ineffective education system for many years, and continue to standardize education more and more. Our parents are even somewhat to blame, as they don’t call for change and they reinforce the message that school (as it is now) is valuable and the most important thing to focus on.
The aforementioned assembly line is what schools have become. America houses millions of people, all with different interests and abilities and backgrounds, and then puts them through one standardized assembly line to create clones. It is inefficient, to say the least. Somewhere, sometime, someone decided that the most valuable things to know are mathematics, science, history, and english language arts. These were decided to be more important than anything else in the world, and so it was decided that for the roughly 12 years of the educational system (not counting preschool or kindergarten), exclusively these subjects would be taught. Some would argue that in some way or another, all topics of life fit into these 4 categories, but they are wrong. Even those these subjects may be the most widely used, they do not encompass all that can be known on this earth. We spend the first 5 years of our education learning the basics to get us through life: how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide; how to read and write; the basic history of our world; and the basic laws of the universe. Then comes middle school. Yet instead of moving to mastering other basic skills, for a more well-rounded education, the previous skills start to be developed further, moving into the specifics. We start to learn algebra, and biology, and study literature, and learn the exact dates and people that went into the American revolution, for example. What is being taught is getting more and more useless, but there are still some useful things being taught, so not all is lost.
Then we get into high school, where we divide up these subjects into sub-subjects and spend a year on each. For math, we get into geometry, then algebra II, then precalculus and trigonometry, and then calculus. For science, we learn physics, then chemistry, then biology, and then an AP class on one of those three where we get even more in depth. For history, we learn world history, world history II, american history, then a social studies course. For english, it is a little less segmented. We go through famous novels from around the world and write essays on each one.
In other words, we are going extremely in depth into these subjects. We are learning a lot of small facts at once in vastly different subjects. This is no longer a foundation of different things you need to succeed in the world; it is a very specific knowledge of smaller subjects that will only be useful if you go into one of those specific fields, and in fact is done in place of a foundation of other things that could allow you to succeed in the world. Except for some school that offer psychology, and aside from preschool and kindergarten which could be considered a breeding ground for social skills, we never learn why people are the way they are and how to communicate and represent ourselves well (which is a skill not only essential to every single job but also to your personal life). These skills could be integral at a time when we are figuring ourselves out and attempting our first relationships, but instead we are left to the wolves while we learn specific skills that we will either not use or will only use far in the future. At key stages in social development, we are given no help at all. Put conflicting personalities of kids who are trying to figure out themselves and the world all in 1 small place, and of course there will be conflict and rebellion, yet nothing is done to educate kids and in fact all that is done is punish them when they do something that is socially or morally wrong, when they never taught them what is socially or morally wrong in the first place. Few high schools have classes on philosophy, or ethics, or social interaction/communications, or marketing yourself well. Administrators and school in general also make all decisions for the student, by taking up all of their time and by choosing their classes. Students do not learn how to make their own decisions, or to make good decisions. They also do not learn how to be happy or take care of themselves. Health and gym classes are offered, but barely focus on mental health or resilience. These skills are necessary for life, but they are never taught.
So, it has been proven that high school does not assist at all with the most basic of life skills that are needed at that time, which is bad enough. However, it also does not fulfill its claims of preparing students for their future and the outside world, and not only because it does not teach students how to understand themselves and others and make decisions (which is a problem when they are thrust out into the world and immediately have to make decisions alone, something they never learned to do). It also does not teach any sort of “how to be an adult” classes or skills. Students never learn to balance a checkbook, or to cook, clean, or fix appliances (home ec, woodshop, and auto shop classes are the first to lose funding and are no longer commonplace). Students are not taught hands on or building skills. Public speaking classes, if offered, are optional.
Meanwhile, kids are struggling in class. Most people will tell you about at least one subject in which they really struggled with in high school. They hate the subject and obviously will never go into that field. Even for kids who did not hate a subject, there is no job that uses in depth of math, english, science, and history. There are some jobs that focus on 1. There are many jobs that focus on none. While many students do not know what they want to do with their lives at 15 or 16, or even 17 or 18, many know whether they want to further study and maybe go into 1 of the 4 fields, or at least if there are 1 or 2 or more that they definitely don’t want to go into. So why not allow students to drop these subjects? By high school, or even middle school, they have learned more than enough in each of the four subject to get through life as long as they don’t go into the subject. High school has become about getting a grade, not learning something, because what students are learning is not useful. After graduation, students will forget what they spent years learning, and be left with a general knowledge of the subjects, most of which they learned in elementary and middle school.
So, let’s not pretend that schools teach general skills that will benefit everyone in life. Why don’t we discuss how these will benefit students in a job? It has already been discussed that this only helps if you show an aptitude for and enjoy one subject, and will go into that field. Then it helps, only because that is specifically what this person wants to do. Considering how many different jobs there are that a person could do, this is often not the case, or the student only thinks they want to do this because they’re mildly good at it and have not had the chance to explore anything else. If high school was really about helping students explore different subjects so they can see what they are good at and enjoy, there would have to be a vast array of subjects, which there is not. Many students excel in theatre, or journalism, or painting. While there are often clubs or electives that teach these skills, there is not enough time to explore them all as students are too busy learning subjects they’ve been learning for 12 years and have already decided they will never use. So as these other subjects are not required, students don’t have the opportunity to explore many of them because they’re so busy learning how to differentiate equations. Students who do participate in these alternate subjects and know they are going to go into one of those fields feel incredibly frustrated with the small amount of time they can spend on these things while they spend the majority of their time on things they struggle in and will not use in their life, and wonder why these subjects are required while the ones they excel in are not. Even if they are smart, they may struggle in the four main classes and receive dismal grades. Bad grades can make students feel worthless and severely hurt confidence and chances at getting into a good college. Grades are not a good judge of intelligence. They mostly judge memorization instead or aptitude in 4 subjects out of thousands. Some intelligent people are unlucky enough not to excel in those subjects even though they excel in others, and these people will spend their lives feeling inadequate and being told they are dumb until they start to believe it.
Then there are the thousands of subjects not even offered or taught in high school. There is not even a club for them. Have you ever thought of all the different jobs out there? There are stylists, there are the people who choose songs to play during certain parts of movies and television shows, there are cooks, there are garbagemen, there are those who work at sexual assault or suicide prevention hotlines, there are firefighters and police officers, there are janitors and maids, there are day care workers, there are people who paint house. There are advertisers, retail workers, stay at home mothers, social workers, and so many more. Beyond basic skills, what classes in high school help these people in their jobs? So the theory that high school prepares you for your future job is just false. Even if you are lucky enough to love a subject in high school, you might never get the chance to explore something you might love more, or you will still be forced to learn other subjects in addition to it that you’ve hated or known you wouldn’t go into for years.
Then there is the argument that what high school really does is teach us how to learn. Maybe a lawyer doesn’t learn law in high school, but they learn how to reason and argue in the few argumentative essays that they write. But if they’re going into law, why not have a class on reasoning and arguing instead of gradually learning it as they’re learning the in-depth info of another subject that they will not use? Why not learn how to learn while learning about something useful? If high school is just about learning how to learn, then clearly changing the material will do no harm.
All students learn differently and excel in different things. Why teach them all the same way and the same things?
By the time students get to college, many are expected to already know what they want to do. If you do not, you have a short amount of time to explore that before choosing a major. However, many of the classes are still academic. It’s also hard to even know where to start, because students had no chance to explore what they liked in high school. Also, if you want to try a new subject, you’re starting from the basics. Once you’ve had enough time to figure out if you like it and are good at it, it’s time to declare a major-but what if you don’t like it? What if you like it but want to try some other things too? You’ve already run out of time to do so. Plus, it becomes harder and harder to start learning a new subject that you may want to get a job in as you get older, and others your age have been studying what they will get a job in since elementary school and will have an easier time in school since they are just continuing the subject, and can get a job easier than you will with more knowledge in their field. That path starts to seem a lost easier, and starting from scratch with something new seems more and more intimidating. And then there’s the whole matter of having general education requirements to fulfill and needing to graduate on time, and still being extremely focused on grades because of the way the primary education system teaches you to be.
I don’t mean to denounce college in this statement. It has its problems, but that will be saved for another statement. What I mean to say is that high school should be vastly different than it is now for college to be useful.
It is easy to choose a path that will lead to comfort and prosperity. We willingly join the mass of zombies walking to a job they don’t really enjoy early every morning, with dead eyes and coffee in hand, because it means we can go back to our nice house afterwards and relax for a little. We have been doing this since high school, except we were going to school instead of work. It is what we are used to, and what we think is normal.
Of course, there are worse things that a life of comfort and having to deal with a mindless job. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fix this.
To fix it, we have to unstandardize education. We need to put less stress on math, science, history, and english, and focus more on a well-rounded education. All high schools and middle schools would have to do would be to offer a much higher multitude of different classes. Students would be required to learn the basics of many different subjects, and then they could choose to go into the specifics of the subjects they are interested in and are good at. Students should be able to choose their classes before college, after learning all of the basics. Students also would be required to try internships, and be allowed and encouraged to take time off from school to do so. High schools could couple with companies or an organization that helps students find internships. School would be shorter and involve less homework, and more clubs and extracurriculars would be offered or it could even be required to participate in a few. There could be a class or workshop on all the different jobs and options for life instead of convincing students that the only path is to get good grades in high school, go to a good college, get an internship, then get a job that pays well regardless of whether you like it or not. More practical skills could be taught. Home ec would be reintroduced, but better and larger-scale. It would be a more democratic system, where teachers don’t have all the authority, to help students learn how to make their own decisions and not feel powerless. The regular 4 classes would still be offered, but not required in high school or going into as many specifics. Or they would be more based on open discussion and questioning and testing things. Instead of grades being so important, recommendation letters and personal essays would be much more important for college applications. Grades would be participation based.
This sort of utopian high school may seem foolish or unrealistic. I’m sure there are those that would poke holes in it, but it couldn’t possibly be more immensely flawed than the current system. It should be making people angry how many hours are wasted on things that will be forgotten and never used after high school. High school might as well be memorizing a string of random numbers and words and forgetting then after a few months of leaving, that is how much of a waste of time it currently is. Not only does it waste time, but also money, and perfectly good potential of students and teachers who are willing to learn and teach. Kids and teenagers are so impressionable, and we should be much more careful what kinds of lessons we’re teaching: not the ones they memorize but the ones they’ll remember. Right now we are sending them the message that any skill not in math, science, history, or english is not useful or worthwhile. We teach them that if they can’t excel at these things, they are worthless. We teach them to be grateful for what they have and not to question what they could have. We teach them to conform. And these, not the parts of the cell or who was the 14th American president, are the lessons that they’re going to remember. Are these lessons really what we want to teach the future decision makers that will control the future of our world?
If we continue the education system the way it is, it will continue to yield the same results. It is said that the young of our country are apathetic and escapist. The same things have been said about the young for decades. Perhaps we are this way because we are taught that we have no say in our lives and cannot change things, so we apathetically follow the status quo and then in our free time indulge in thing like partying and drugs. Changing the education system could be changing the root of our country’s problems. Or maybe not, but why not try to change it and see? Perhaps that is too idealist, but this country could use a little idealism after the cynicism and apathy that pervades our culture and our youth today.
No one gives a shit.
That’s right. You heard me. You’re in the big wide world now, and no one cares what you were in high school. No one cares if you went to college, or where you went. No one cares if you were popular, or if you were in greek life, or even if your parents are rich. (Well, some people do, but those people are idiots).
No one cares if you’re a total weirdo, either. Because most everyone is. And the world is so big that I absolutely guarantee you can find other weirdos.
In high school, my friends and family mocked me for being an angsty, brooding, vampire. Now, this was in part because I was secretly clinically depressed and was actually often brooding.
But part of it was simply my taste in music, the fact that I remained quiet on long car rides, that I wanted alone time, that I wrote and drew constantly, and the fact that I didn’t much enjoy the beach or large crowds. All of which are perfectly normal attributes.
There were other parts of me that were mocked, parts that didn’t fit in with my vampire persona but were put in some other category: my love of musical theater and Disney, my obsession with romantic couples from my TV shows and youtube videos of their most dramatic scenes, my passion for identifying clothes from Teen Wolf and then buying the exact same thing.
You probably have other weird passions. Maybe you were Justin Bieber’s biggest fan way too late. Maybe you really liked action figures or Harry Potter. I don’t know, and I don’t care. Nobody really does. Nobody is going to point at you and call you names. Because we all have different interests. And you’ll probably find others with your interests. Even if you don’t, you can keep up with them. If your new friends ask what you’re doing, you can totally say that you’re attending Comic-Con in a giant Groot costume. Maybe you’ll find out that they’re also attending with their dog dressed as Rocket. Or maybe they’ll just say “cool” and you’ll move on.
What I’m saying is it’s no use being anyone but yourself. It’s no use abandoning interests just because once someone mocked you for them. You’re going to miss out on friends that actually share your interests.
A story: I was a friendless college freshman desperate to make friends. I had a whole new California wardrobe and blonde hair, hoping that it would make me fit in. When two pretty girls from my sorority invited me to go out with them, I couldn’t believe my luck. They talked like valley girls and wore cute crop tops, so I dutifully curled my hair in beachy waves and put on a lace bralette and tight skirt, and raised my voice a few octaves. I showed up at their dorm room and used the word “like” a lot, all while silently begging “please like me”.
Turns out one of the girls had left Harvard to come to UCLA, and the two of them spent most of the pregame talking about modern psychology.
I loved psychology. I took AP psychology in high school. I had a number of experiences and thoughts to share.
But instead, I kept acting like a Valley Girl, and when I realized how wrong it was, worried I would seem fake by being myself.
They never invited me out again. I had come across as an idiot.
My point is that you have no idea who you’re talking to, no matter what they look or sound like. I thought my best friend was an innocent Nice Girl for an entire YEAR before I realized she had a similarly dirty sense of humor, an almost identical taste in music, and disliked the EXACT same girls in our sorority as I did.
Be yourself. Blabber on about Doctor Who if that’s your thing. If they judge you, why would you want them as a friend anyways? Plus, if you can’t find any common ground with them – any shared interests – it’s going to be a boring friendship.
Just be yourself. Even if no one likes it, at least you’ll keep the things you’re passionate about in your life.
And you NEED to have things you’re passionate about. Even if that thing is Puzzles or I Love Lucy reruns. Because you’re going to be broke, and you’re probably not going to love your job, so you’ll need something. And you’re also going to want to be uniquely yourself. It’ll carry you through adulthood, if you know who you are and are unashamed about what you think and what you like, it’ll give you confidence no guide book ever could.
That is where I start my advice.