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Carving an Existence
The air hung between us like a silvery film; I could have reached out and touched it with shivering fingers if I was brave enough. The morning sun caressed the side of my face that was turned away from her, and suddenly I felt that no amount of sunlight or air or wind or cloth could ever wipe away the staining tears that were streaking down my face. Suddenly, a chuckle disturbed the silence and I turned on her, vicious in my distaste.
“Why are you doing this?” I shrieked at her, and I was ashamed at how shrill my voice had turned.
Again, she laughed, “Tory, stop overreacting,” she said, her breezy voice carried over to me across the mossy ground and leaning tombstones. How appropriate, I thought grimly, that we should be bantering about life in the resting place of the dead.
“I don’t understand what you want from me,” I said, quite calmly, as I raked my jagged fingernails through my hair, feeling the tension in my knuckles. “All I do is try to please you, and you stand here patronizing me,” I quivered in my stoic expression.
“All I told you was that I don’t like your attitude lately,” she said lightly, while turning and continuing up the cemetery path.
I could feel the heat rising in me; it boiled in my toes, whooshed past my knees, and threatened to burst out of my chest. Finally, I could stand it no longer. I turned towards my mother and yelled, “I am the golden child, mom! I never do anything wrong,” I choked, trying to express everything that I had ever written in a journal, online, or in essays past. “We move, I don’t complain. I take care of Kyle and Alex, I do whatever you tell me to do.” I could see that she was trying to say something, but I cut her off. “I don’t go out partying with friends! I don’t drink, smoke, do drugs, or sneak off with boys at night!” I said, my voice unnaturally high. “Even though I could, if I wanted to. It would be so easy,” I finished, glaring at her, challenging her.
Instead of a response, she turned and picked up speed up the hill. I followed at a distance, wary of her silence. Abruptly, she turned and looked at me. “I get it, Tory, I really do,” she said, smug victory in her eyes. She thought I was a hormonal teenager, probably in a state of rebellion and trying to see what I could get away with. “I want you to go out with your friends, I want you to have a boyfriend and go to parties,” she said, silencing me with a raised hand. “Sometimes life doesn’t work out and things change, you have to accept that.”
Lying in bed that night, when my tears were impossibly cleared and the fight a distant memory, as they always were, I tried to make sense of our argument. We were clearly talking about different topics, even though we thought we were on the same page. She was talking about the stresses of being a teenager and how I had been acting lately. I was conveying my sense of frustration into what, who I was becoming.
Everyone knows the statistics and the stories. Teenagers die from alcohol poisoning, they commit suicide most often, they have the highest rate of eating disorders, and a notorious rebellious side. However; while teenagers are shaping their personalities into who they must be as adults, they are also expected to make decisions that will affect their entire lives. For instance, I will be taking the PSATs in the fall, and if my score qualifies me for a National Merit Scholarship, it will look great on my college application. But, the only way to get better is to study vocabulary words and strategies every day, something that tends to be the opposite of fun. My mother doesn’t understand why I am not ecstatic to be studying with her every day, and I have no explanation for her. To put it simply, I can see the shore of adulthood from my boat out in the sea, but laying back and watching the clouds is my reality right now. Every adult always gives the same response to a teenager’s problem, “I know, I was a teenager once too.” This answer shows to be true in most cases; however, just as no one is exactly alike, no teenager’s emotions are the same. When my mother pushes aside my worries of not having many friends or not having a boyfriend, it makes me feel as though I don’t need any of that, or worse, that I don’t deserve to have any of it. When my father makes a racist or homophobic joke, I wonder if I should be agreeing with him. There are so many subconscious actions that can influence a child’s thinking.
This summer we vacationed in Cape Cod for a few days. I had been going there since I was little, and I truly enjoyed every second of it. For an adventure, we traveled from our house in Chatham to Provincetown for the day. As we drove through the town to find a parking space, I cringed while my family counted the number of gay flags present. I knew that I was neither homophobic nor was I gay, but I worried about my younger siblings, who were still too young to realize the effect that our jeering had on them. We parked and found a restaurant to eat at, and I fumed as my mom and dad made jokes about our gay waiter. I wanted to yell, scream, storm out of the restaurant. Didn’t they see how they were influencing us?
When kids go off to college, they all swear up and down to “never turn into their parents”. However, most of these promises prove to be false. This is because every word that our parents have ever said to us has shaped the way we see things. A compliment can instill a passion in a child, whereas a chiding can convince them to abandon that interest. Experts sometimes refer to children’s brains as sponges, because they absorb everything and keep it. I can recall vividly the feeling in my chest when my parents used to fight, and the heat of shame on my face when my mom told me to lose weight. Sometimes the words are lost, but the feelings at the time never leave us.
My chest felt heavy as I thought about my perceptions of the world. I was wary of people, there was no doubt about this fact, and I wondered where that stemmed from. Could it be my father’s constant reminders to “never trust anyone”? Probably. The fact that I wanted to get a high ranking job and be at the top of the corporate ladder reflected on my family’s character. Any interest I had was a mirror of a value my family held. My love of Harry Potter most likely stemmed from the need to belong somewhere, even if it was an online fandom that thrived on outcasts and misfits. I liked volleyball because being part of a team made me feel safe and wanted. Transmitting the feeling of insecurity and invisibility to my parents was a challenge; they were superheroes! It felt all wrong, trying to explain how someone so solid could feel as though they were fading. I was just a smattering of pictures in a Photoshop collage, cutting and pasting bits and pieces from other people to form my paper fingers and cardboard heart. Nothing of my character was original, and how could it be? I was being pieced together from the day I was born.