She planted her legs firmly on the floor in front of her tall, golden framed bedroom mirror with a smile she could not recognize. She could not hold on to the smile because it was not fitting for her. So, she attempted to not focus on the smile but the scribbled words on the piece of paper she held in her hands. She spent four years preparing for this day, yet it felt just as long to write her speech. She wanted it more than anything, but did she deserve it? Is it truly everything she ever wanted? If it was, she most certainly should not be feeling this way.
Her eyelids fell closed, and her chest expanded to make space for all the air she could bring into her body to calm every cell and every nerve that was moving around in a haywire motion. Although she had no audience, and this was just a practice, she still hoped to open her eyes to find herself anywhere but where she was and feeling anything else than what she was. She uttered the first line from memory, but her mind raced back to the first day she sat staring blankly at the blank piece of paper before being able to bring out that one sentence. She heard the pleasant voice of her teacher, “What have you learned during your years of high school?”
“What have I learned?”
She reminisced repeating that question to herself a billion times before she was able to write something suitable enough to say in front of a crowd of strangers. What she wanted to write was how she had come to realize that this world was just a big show, and its people were one heck of characters. Where was the truth behind who they were?
“Put a little humor in it?” Her teacher added.
Humor? What was so funny about my dad picking up and moving ten thousand miles away on my first day of high school, leaving me when I needed him the most? What was so funny about not having a dime to take to school, or to be able to buy lunch when everyone else sat around in the cafeteria eating their fill, laughing and enjoying each other’s company, while I tucked away in my classroom, counting the hours to pass so I can go home and find something to relieve my stomach from grumbling?
“How can your speech inspire your fellow students?”
These kids did not need inspiration, especially from me. I have been invisible to most over the years. They pass me in the hallway like I wasn’t even there, so I would continue to make my way to my classes with my head hung down or in a book. I am not the one to tell these alienated individuals how to live their lives. We are worlds apart. Or maybe I am the alien living on their planet. I don’t even speak their language. How can I share my world with them when I want to escape it? My world does not offer the fun and enjoyment that most young people find entertaining. It only offers hurt and pain that could not be hidden forever.
“Keep it short and sweet, you don’t want to bore everyone with too much information.”
I can do short, she thought, but sweet? I know nothing of it. It wasn’t sweet when I was sent home a month before final exams because we were unable to make payments for my final semester of high school. It was not sweet when my teacher had lost my chemistry lab book, not once but twice, and I had to spend my winter and spring break writing them over so that I would get the grade I had worked so hard for. It was not sweet when I walked around feeling empty, never being able to fit in with my peers, and carrying an unidentifiable weight on my shoulders.
She opened her eyes to find them filled with tears and stared back at herself through the mirror to reveal the sadness that made her home. She could not even see who she was anymore. She plummeted to the floor, setting down the paper she held in her hands, now with spots of tears, beside her. She placed both hands over her eyes as the tears flowed from where they had been stored away for so long.
Her last task, she remembered, to complete her speech was to thank the people who had helped to contribute to her success. Was there anyone? It felt like a quest she had carried out all on her own. She had gathered all the tools she had needed for this quest, on her own, and each time she navigated herself to the path she needed to take. Many times, she fell off course and encountered the dangers that would swallow her whole and prevent her from completing the quest of finding her treasure. But she found the treasure. She did not allow anything or anyone to cause her from losing focus on what she wanted. SHE DID IT.
Those three words shot a bolt through her body causing her to jump to her feet and seal the pipe that had burst behind her eyes.
I did it” She thought initially.
“I did it,” she heard herself saying in a low tone.
“I did it, I did it, I did it!” Each time she uttered those words, she spoke them louder and louder and louder. Each time she felt something completely new making its way through her body, evicting the sadness that had lingered there all this time. What was this feeling? It is the kind that is felt when a child’s birthday comes around and the kind anyone feels when they win a competition, although she was not the competitive type, yet she had felt this feeling before. It was the feeling of excitement, knowing she had completed her quest and was now being rewarded with the treasure.
She allowed herself to have gotten so caught up with the path she took along this quest that she became so blinded by the fact that the treasure was hers. Would the quest have been worth taking if there were not any hurdles along its path? Then anyone could have taken treasure for themselves, and no one would be recognized as the true champion. But she was.
She wiped away the tears with the back of her hands but could not wipe away the smile that had formed on her face. Yet she loved the look of it and how real it appeared, although her eyes were still red and smeared from her tears. She bent over to fetch the paper from the floor and stared into the mirror. This time there was no one staring back at her on the other side of the mirror. She read through the entire speech, then changed a few words that did not truly reflect how she was feeling at that very moment.
In reality, everyone has their quest. Some focus on the path, rather than on the treasure like she did. Some stay in the same place, taking a much longer time to even reach close to the treasure. Yet, it was not until she stared deep into her soul, seeing her life for what it was rather than what she thought it was that she could feel accomplished and deserving of her reward as others do too. She thought this was who she wanted to be.
Before she stepped through the door the following morning, she took a final look at herself in front of her mirror. She stood tall and refined with her blue gown, blue hat, and her golden sash hanging from her neck that contained the title no one else would have today.
“Valedictorian.” Even though she uttered that word just above a whisper. It rang through her lavender-painted bedroom walls. She had never spoken with such confidence, and she never saw this much of it on her face until she accepted who she was in reality.