My mother always told me the same thing before she kissed me goodnight. Before the smell of her distinctive unmasked citrus perfume could engulf my nose and linger for what seemed like hours after she left, before the furtive, knowing smile gently touched her lips, and before her hand swept the same blonde lock of hair away from my eyes and over my ears like her hand was made of silk.
“Be great Aryll,” she would whisper to me, like it was an ancient secret passed down from the generations. She never really explained what that was supposed to mean to a child, from a kid’s perspective it sounded like she wanted me to win a spelling bee, or to be the captain of the hockey team. I never understood that one day I would find out it would mean much more than that.
I spent my entire life being aware of this mantra; the expectation my mother put onto me. My grades were always subpar, not bad but not amazing. I was never an A student although my teachers always wrote the same thing on my report card every year, that “Aryll is exceedingly bright, but her lack of focus hinders growth in class.” My lack of focus stems from as early as kindergarten where every day I would sit at my desk, in my cute pink and yellow sundresses and stare out the window and babble out loud, and every day my teacher Mrs. Haven would call out to me to “focus” or to “pay attention”. At the end of every semester when a report card was given out, there would be a parent teacher conference, where the teacher would fill the parents in on the inside scoop the kids would conveniently forget to tell them throughout the term. Such as, the episode in art class where Billy Mayer ate the purple sparkle glue and then threw up beside the coat rack covering it with Lisa Martin’s coat, or when Roger Yeltin forgot to hand in his “Types of Apples” assignment and told the teacher his parents lived in China so she wouldn’t call them, or even when Ashley Greece grabbed Eric Stall by his hair at recess by the horse fence and kissed him against his will. All these things seem so trivial in comparison with real life; all these parents “tsking” in their heads at the silly things their children were doing, secretly laughing to themselves because the problems seemed so minute.
I would see parents walk in and out of Mrs. Haven’s classroom smiling or laughing, the odd time looking semi-worried with their kid in tow. Every year I heard the same thing said to my parents through the crack of the oak door neatly decorated in construction paper butterflies, “Aryll seems so distracted,” and “her grades aren’t a representation of her intelligence, but we just don’t know how to get her to focus.”
By grade 5 I was sitting at the front of the room in every class, because the teachers thought my lack of concentration was due to other kids distracting me. When that still didn’t work, I was forced into staying after school for a one on one session with the principal in which I claimed to have invisible friends. In grade 7 I was tested for ADD which resulted in me being in a special class, as well as multiple trips to a psychotherapist for my wild and outlandish stories.
Let’s just say by the time I actually got to high school I was somewhat of a pariah, but my focus seemed to return and I started to do alright in school. My mother never missed a night where she would tell me those words that echoed in my head about being great, and although my academics were never great, I decided to pursue other things to find something I was good at. I started to actively participate in all things track and field; relay, cross country, mostly running events. The truth is I am fast. I was the fasted runner at my high school; I used to run the 100m in 10.90 seconds which is a hair away from Olympic records. I was put on a full scholarship to a prestigious school in California for my running, and I was doing well for once. My parents supported me and encouraged me, and as an only child with very few friends, and little extended family, I leaned on them for everything, they were my rock and I could always go to them for advice.
I started my university life like every other hormone driven young adult; hoped up on energy drinks and little sleep as I battled the class schedule, taking everything from medieval history to chemistry. I was spread thin with all my track commitments and training, let alone having time to do school work, always coming home every chance I could to be with my parents. Two and a half years ago I was a senior, preparing for my last set of university exams when I got a phone call at the kitchen table informing me that my parents’ Volkswagen had veered off the road trying to avoid an animal and wrapped their car around a light post, killing them both instantly. I don’t really remember what happened after that, I do remember I went through a spiral of depression and rage and what my roommates called “certified crazy.” I locked myself in my room and cried for weeks, I hardly ate, I never slept and if I did I would be awoken violently, slick with my own sweat and screaming. I was served with a court order from my landlord to move out of my university house due to my “inability to adhere to an academic and civilly sociable standard” AKA my roommates threw me under the bus, although I don’t blame them now.
I picked up and left California, school, and any friends I may have made and came back to Ontario to deal with my parent’s affairs. I sold their house and eventually got an apartment in the city, and was seeing a shrink again twice a week to help me deal with my scars. I know I sound really messed up and broken inside, and maybe I am, but I’m really not that kind of person. I had a ton of shit to deal with at such a young age, and throughout my life I never had anyone I could count on aside from my parents, and it was such a huge transition learning to live without them. No one can ever prepare you for such a horrific loss, it was like I was floating along in my life for such a long time, and I didn’t know what was real and what was imaginary. Sometimes I swore I heard noises in my apartment and I awoke to find the windows and cupboards open when I could have sworn I closed them.
All that happened a long time ago, and for the most part I have dealt with the demons and put the ugliness behind me; I really am a stronger person for it. After I stopped seeing my therapist I decided to find a job since working full time at Starbucks wasn’t exactly stimulating my career path.
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