I SAT there anxiously, awaiting the experience that is the big fat staple of every Asian boy’s life, the long-discussed, much-anticipated, highly-prepared for rite of passage. My arms were locked, left hand on one shoulder, right hand on the other, head tucked into the solitary huddle. I dipped my chin and began the most passionate, uplifting, and heartfelt pep talk I could muster: “This is what we’ve worked for our entire lives. The dedication, the perseverance, the self-control, the psychological torture, all of this in service of the divine 2400, the divine 1600.”
Of course, this pep talk was only for myself; my reasons for addressing a larger audience were purely for effect, doing so felt right, and also, I was kind of lonely. But I’m a master of the one-man huddle—left arm around right shoulder, right arm around left shoulder, head stuffed into the pocket formed by the two arms. I definitely look special with my arms intensely clasping my skull. If that wasn’t enough, the heartening Herculean speech was too potent to be mentally contained in the meagre capacity of the one-man huddle, and the energy escaped in the form of quiet sporadic moans to myself. Luckily for me, I was too engaged in my inner-monologue to recongise the worried, and even scared, looks people were giving me.
I locked my eyes on my score in awe. My was score was… okay. I was mediocre. But what I felt was pure ecstasy! This feat was merely adequate—if I had scored anything lower, I would have been deemed a failure, and if I had scored higher… well, if I couldn’t do it, no one could. Though it was only considered a tolerable score, to me, it was evidence of divinity. That’s right, I got a 2400. I got a 1600. I felt indestructible. No one in this world had done better than I. I could be in a room with the greatest minds in history, could look around at Stephen, Albert, Nikola, and Bill, and know that none of them could score any higher than I did. Yes, I was as smart or smarter than not only the most eminent intellects—Stephen (Hawking), Albert (Einstein), and Nikola (Tesla)—but also possibly that most prominent and distinguished scholar, the hallowed Billy Nye the Science Guy. This means a great deal, as the SAT is clearly a perfect measurement of intelligence. Wherever I went from this point forward, I could look around and know for a fact that I was smarter than anyone else, and that it would be impossible to argue otherwise because I got 1600, the highest possible score. The best part was that I would never have to deal with guilt or shame, because I did the best anyone possible could, because I got 1600, the highest possible score. You frequently hear, “You can always do better, there are always ways to improve.” But, no. False. Trust me, this just doesn’t apply to me. Because I got 1600, the highest possible score.
What followed might be the most crippling and cruel turn of events that could befall an Asian boy. My ephemeral reign was over, and I was no longer the divine being who would patronise anyone around him. It took all the strength I had not to fall apart, kept trying hard to mend the pieces of my broken heart. It was the most humbling experience of my life, for what I had mistaken for my own score was actually the highest possible score. My actual score was of Voldemort Status: too atrocious to be muttered.
When will I eat next? Which park bench should I sleep on? Which school will I work for when I’m a janitor? What will my cardboard sign say? I had to reevaluate my entire life. What I was going through was every Asian kid’s greatest nightmare and I did not take it well. I started to brainstorm possible answers to the questions looping through my mind.
It was dramatic, to say the least.
Thankfully, I realised this before I packed my bag and left for the orphanage. It was foolish and misguided to limit myself to a single potential occupation. The truth was that I had so many opportunities in life. This one test score did not determine that I would become either a hobo or a janitor. I could get a different job, I could pay my rent, I could HAVE MY OWN CAR. This idea caused an acute change in my attitude, and I became fixed on the thought of owning a car, of imagining what it would be: A GMC? A MAC? A Ford? An Isuzu? A front, side, or rear loader? Twenty or twenty-five yards? These may seem like a strange range of car brands and specifications, but believe me, these are the best garbage trucks out there.
Five minutes had now passed since I first saw my score, and the world was beginning to come back into focus around me. The time had come to review the reading section of the test I’d just taken. You see, it was a mock test. This was SAT Bootcamp.
After going through one or two questions, I was already trying to rip out my hair and mustering all my strength to prevent the tears from leaking out my eyes. The teacher would ramble on about how easy or simple it was, in hopes of encouraging us. But knowing that I could not even do easy and simple problems only made me feel more worthless. As we proceeded from one question the next, the room would simultaneously call out one letter while I, alone, called out another. To us Asians, the SAT could be seen as an art form, such as singing. While everyone in the chorus matches their pitch harmoniously and sings an euphonious e, I was the lone singer who belted out a hair-raising a.
Five hours seemed to pass, but the clock showed only a few minutes. This was the point when I came to the conclusion that I was not cut out for this, and I had to accept the fact that the beautiful 1600 would never adorn my college applications. It was devastating. All my life I had imagined myself proudly displaying that lovely, mesmerising, seductive 1600. She was all I had longed for, but she had slipped through my fingers, and to be honest, At first I was afraid, I was petrified, kept thinking I could never live without you by my side. But I spent so many nights thinking how you did me wrong, and I grew strong, and I learned how to get along.
I sang my new anthem through the last seven hours of class (which was weird because the class was only two hours long). It was finally over, though. After all the suffering I had been through, I was finally done, and so I limped off the battlefield, wincing in pain. I was ready to wallow, and no longer be that chained up little person in the prison cell of a classroom. But as soon as I completed the brisk act of urination, the class had started again. This was when I completely gave up.
I was not nearly done with the day, but trying to write a humorous account of the rest of it would be impossible, simply because it was so depressing. There isn’t anything funny about losing the will to live, or the number of tears that rained out of my eyes, or simply the destructive feeling of falling into a dark, desolate hole and not knowing whether you will ever make it out and the proverbial light was a tiny, distant star and trying to reach it was as futile as jumping into the air to touch the moon and you know what drives you down is pain and sadness and you realise you are only falling faster and you keep falling and falling and falling and the darkness is all around you until you realise there is no more color and that the darkness isn’t just around you but in you as well and there is so much darkness and pain that you lose yourself and wonder if you are even still alive.
Instead of scavenging for moments of comic relief in my spiral of depression, maybe it would be easier to make light out of joy: the joy of the stone-cold, scathing sadist who scourged us. To be fair, he had something of a sense of humor. He must have, because the schedule was a joke:
8:00-12:00 SAT Mock Test
14:30-18:30 Reading/Writing Class
22:00-1:00 100 Word Vocabulary Quiz (100% to pass, if you fail you take it again in
I knew I would barely get out of this alive, let alone improve my SAT score, but ultimately, I [would] survive. The number I would receive on the screen of my laptop no longer seemed too important to me, not when I was struggling to breathe, drowning in my sadness. I had accepted my fate and I was okay with it. The real struggle was not falling for the tantalising 1600. Despite her splendor, she had jeopardised my well-being. She did me wrong by playing so hard to get that I had to sacrifice my mental peace in order to have her. The time had come to break off our relationship, to end my fanatic obsession with her.
In the end, I got something out of the camp of infinitely more value than a few extra points on the SAT: I learned to be self-aware. I learned how to take care of myself be alert to my well-being. In such a materialistic society, within a world full of distractions, it’s not hard to lose track of one’s own well-being. From a young age, children are burdened with expectations, and they believe their purpose in life is to fulfill them. In the midst of the pressure to achieve, people grow up forgetting about themselves and instead focus on an achievement-based lifestyle. As a society, we falsely believe that what matters in life is superficial accomplishment, and we neglect our own feelings in order to reach these goals. As for me, I was chasing after 1600. Regardless of her irresistible and enchanting charm, she was mistreating me. I fervently struggled as I did everything I could to have her, but she did not care. Instead she gave me a big slap on the face over and over. I still chased after her. She wanted to see me suffer, and see me desperately beg her to be with me, to stay with me, to belong to me. But, for me, I had to let her go. In the immortal words of that great philosopher, Gloria Gaynor:
Do you think I’d crumble, did you think I’d lay down and die? Oh no, not I, I will survive. Oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I’ll stay alive. I’ve got all my life to live. And I’ve got all my love to give and I’ll survive. I will survive, hey, hey. It took all the strength I had not to fall apart. Kept drying hard to mend the pieces of my broken heart. And I spent oh-so-many nights just feeling sorry for myself. I used to cry. But now I hold my head up high and you see me, somebody new. I’m not that chained-up little person still in love with you. And so you felt like dropping in and just expect me to be free. Well, now I’m saving all my lovin’ for someone who’s loving me. Go on now go, walk out the door. Just turn around now, ‘cause you’re not welcome anymore. Weren’t you the one who tried to break me with goodbye. Do you think I’d crumble. Did you think I’d lay down and die? Oh no, not I. I will survive. Oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I’ll stay alive. I’ve got all my life to live. And I’ve got all my love to give and I’ll survive.
I [did] survive.