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Child No More
I woke up panting and covered in sweat. Every shadow in my pitch black room wanted to wrap itself around me. There was a monster under my bed. With huge claws, and ugly scales and sharp yellow fangs glinting in the faint moonlight. I didn’t even remember what I dreamt. All I knew was that it was something terrible. Something that not even my thick sheets and blankets would protect me from.
So carefully, I tiptoed out of my room and down the hall, heart beating in my chest. I shivered, feeling bare and exposed without my blankets. The house was eerily quiet. Everything was dark. The windows, the rooms-black. It was way past my bedtime, and it felt almost dangerous to be up.
I pushed the door to my parents room. It opened with tiny creek and I tiptoed inside. Looming before me was a tall wide bed with two lumps covered in wooly green blanket. The lumps, like rolling hills, rose and fell. Rose and fell. I gulped and approached the Mamas side of the bed. Her eyes were closed and her face was relaxed and peaceful. I wondered what she was dreaming.
As soon as my shadow loomed over her, Mamas eyes fluttered open. She stared at me groggily, Bad dream? She croaked and I nodded. How did mothers always know? She scooted over so I could crawl under the blankets.
We snuggled up together and I buried my nose into Mama's hair. It was curly, and bouncy like a spring. It was beautiful, the reason why people confused her for being 30 years old instead of what she actually was, almost fifty. Mama’s hair meant cozy, safe evenings of cuddling on the couch.
It smelled like she just took a shower, except better. Mama always smelled like lotions and perfumes- but not like in department stores, where the smells were so pungent they overflowed your nostrils and made your head swim. I cuddled up closer to her, feeling the warmth of her body as Daddy snored softly.
Mama stroked my matted hair and I closed my eyes. The nightmares- forgotten about. The looming responsibilities and adolescence seemed as far away as pluto. It was just Mama, Daddy and me. Me, Mama and Daddy.
Seven Years Later….
Come on, I whine, We’re gonna be late!
Don’t rush me, Mom snapps, You should be grateful I’m wasting hours every day dragging you places. You don’t spend that long, I mutter under my breath, and Mom whips around to give me her signature, watch-yourself-young-lady stare. Sighing, I drag my equipment into the car, and slam the door behind me to wait.
Rhythmic gymnastics. It’s why I’m doing this- lugging myself to practice I still have a mountain of homework to tackle. But I’ll deal with that later tonight. Right now, I have to concentrate on my training. The competition is fast approaching and my routines are still complete messes. I keep dropping those tosses, falling out of my turns, and I don’t hit the right shape in my leaps. I can’t mess up at the meet, not in front of all those people who’ll be watching. Not in front of the judges. I can’t let my teammates down. Or even worse, let down the coaches who work so hard to build me up. So I have to keep working. What will everyone think of me if I fail?
After I return from practice, I limp over to the dining room table. My thighs are aching like they’d been repeatedly punched and knives are jammed in my back. My eyes flutter weakly. I’m tired. Exhausted. I want nothing more but to sink into my sweet, cotton candy bed and roll into arms of sleep. But homework won’t let me.
School, practice, homework- repeat. School, practice, homework- repeat. Too much to do. Too many responsibilities. Not enough time.
But I’m the one who gets the A’s and always turns in homework on time . I’m the one who’s always on top everything, the confident one. The kids at school call me the perfect student, the “good noodle.” So I have to get it all done. I must keep going, keep chugging ahead. Assignment after assignment. Project after project. Training session after training session.
Occasionally I still wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, clutching the sheets to my chests. Hiding from the dark shadows in my closet, and the monster under my bed.
But I don’t dare tiptoe down the hall. I’m old enough to suck it up and shake it off. I brave my nightmares alone now.