Facultative Mutualism

October 16, 2011
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All around me casual conversation abounds, but I am too distracted to take part in it. Instead my eyes are trained on the white sheet of paper in front of me. I glance up for a moment to see a sea of desks topped with papers identical to my own. The teacher circles back to the front of the room, having finished her task, immediately commanding my attention. “Take the rest of class to discuss your answers with your neighbor,” she says to the class before returning to her desk. I continue to silently stare at the face-down paper in front of me until someone nudges me.

I look over to see a face similar to my own staring back at me, that of my twin sister Raven. “Are you going to look at what you got any time soon?” she inquires, flashing her characteristic smirk. “I will as soon as you do,” I simply reply. “On three then,” she counters. We count together, “one….two….three!” I suck in a deep breath, as if I am about to plunge into the deepest ocean, and flip the paper over. 97. Victory seems within reach.; “How did you do?” I innocently inquire. She checks my grade first before replying “Well, I got two more points than you did so if the math isn’t too complicated for you it comes out to 99.” I shrug off her insult by responding, “Yeah well I beat you by three points last week.” The bell cuts our quarrel short as we exit Mrs. Cocchi’s Pre-Calculus classroom.

For as long as I can remember, Raven and I have been in constant competition. When she received the Spanish Subject Mastery award I worked to earn the French Subject Mastery award and when I obtained the Wellesley Book Award she countered with the honorable Harvard Book Award. My competition with her is a major factor in my academic success, and I often wonder if I depend too much on her. Without her, would I have spent that extra hour studying or revising my papers? I ultimately decided that our relationship is best described as facultative mutualism – a symbiotic relationship in which two organisms benefit from their interaction with one other, but neither requires it to survive. I now believe that both of us can easily excel in our classes without the other. However, our competition has encouraged us to push our limits and better ourselves in ways that we could not have accomplished alone.

As we get ready to depart for college and set off on separate paths, old insecurities wash away with the tide. I know that I can thrive in the college atmosphere without being in the same classes as Raven. All I need to do is remember our relationship: facultative mutualism. We both know the other will never settle for second best, and will be putting in the same effort to ensure the fruition of our goals. One thing is for sure, the first thing I will do after every exam is call Raven up and, on the count of three, we will compare scores. When that time comes, I count on being the one with the smirk on my face.

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