The girl’s room was a mess. Half a dozen half-empty coffee mugs were scattered across the table, and loose leaf was crumpled into paper balls, littering the floor after she missed the garbage can. Candle wax dripped onto her bedside table, and her elusive glasses hid underneath a pile of clean laundry - or maybe it was dirty? Who knows? She was passed out cold on the floor with her head in between the pages of her AP Calculus textbook.
Every morning, she rolled out of bed at 6:00 am, and caught the bus to school. She had no study hall, no off hour, and no easy courses. “What kind of a university will you get into if you take all the regular classes?” her father admonished her as they picked out her freshman year schedule. She took it to heart, and refuses to take even one class that doesn’t start with “Honors” or “AP”. After school, she worked an eight-hour shift, bussing tables and cleaning the restaurant’s grimy bathroom from 3:00 to 11:00 pm. “What kind of a university can you go to if you have to take out thousands of dollars in loans?” her mother, an overly pecuniary individual, once asked her. She took it to heart, and refuses to take a day off.
Whenever thoughts of dropping a class or working less hours intruded, she immediately shut them down. After all, feckless and unintelligent kids were never accepted into Ivy League universities.
Instead, she analyzed the remaining time in the day. Seven hours of school and eight hours of work left nine hours left for everything else. Due to seven advanced classes, she averaged five hours of homework a night. After doing the math, she wondered “Four hours left for what? Oh yeah! Sleep. Four hours of sleep a night, that’s not too bad. Fifty percent of what I should be getting, so if my sleep was graded, I’d fail. That’s a bummer.”
She made it through every day by surfeiting on cheap black coffee and caffeine pills. This escalated to a night without sleep every once in a while, to once a week, to every other day. She didn’t brush her hair - why waste time brushing your hair if you could just throw it in a bun for the fifth day in a row? The physiognomy of her face deteriorated rapidly, the bags under her eyes growing more and more prominent until her face was nothing less than gray kettles and moraines. She was a zombie, but she did her homework, and she got straight A’s. She was the walking dead, but the bathrooms and table tops were impeccable as ever, so after her boss asked, “Hey? Are you okay?” to fulfill the moral responsibility he set for himself, he left her to sweeping due to her convincing dissemblance.
For Christmas, her father bought her a 700-page book titled How to Crack the SAT - 2016 Edition. “That’s not too thick,” she thought, “It’s half the size of War and Peace. I could probably get through it in a week.” But she got other things for Christmas too. For example, her mother bought the newest Keurig. “Since you’ve been taking such a liking to coffee,” she explained, “and now you can brew a whole pot at once instead of just a cup!”
After musing on why her parents thought these would be lovely gifts, she dissimulated her disappointment with a smile and said, “Thank you so much! How did you know I wanted these?”
Her mother’s version of her was much different than her father’s, and both were much different than the truth. While they both knew she was studious, the disparity that otherwise overwhelmed their thoughts was ludicrous. They saw her as sleepy, not sad. In truth, she was not sleepy, but tired. Exhausted. Completely overcome with lassitude. And she was sad, chiefly because her mother said, “Cherish your high school years. They could be the best years of your life.”
“In other words, my life is only downhill from here?” she thought.
But her mother thought she was helping, and her father thought she was happy, and that is how they learned to lie. They lied to themselves. They lied to each other, and they lied to her.
“Staying up another hour later isn’t a big deal … I’m glad she enjoys school so much! … Aw, what a sleepyhead … All kids these days are addicted to caffeine … No worries … Just make it to the weekend, and you’ll be okay, love … You’re fine.”
On the last day of senior year, the girl had taken all her exams, quit her job, and cleaned her room. However, the only thing she could think of as she was handed the diploma was “Four years of college to go …”