“Maybe, I should just run away” Neha thought for the tenth time in the day, as she sat in her sickeningly perfect room, on the bed, working on her Math homework. She put her books aside and lay down with her face buried in the pillow. Her head hurt, like someone was pounding away with a hammer in there, trying to make space to fit in more information. She could still see the formulae swimming around in front of her, even with her eyes closed, teasing her, daring her to memorize them, swirling, till they slowly turned to gibberish.
She felt it again, the anger and the frustration, threatening to burst out through her tears. “NO, I must not cry.” She told herself. But she couldn’t stop thinking about it. She didn’t like it, what she had become. WHO she had become. Bitter, frustrated, snappy, tired. Always on the edge of a breakdown. Always that feeling of being sick to her stomach, constant headaches. That constant feeling of anxiety. She felt like she was drowning, being just under the water but no strength to swim out. She had changed. Constant fights with her parents, friends, being kicked out of class. A girl who used to get straight ‘A’s, now drowning in ‘C’s, ‘D’s even a few ‘F’s.
The alarm shrieked, it was 6p.m, already, and she wasn’t done with any homework, again. Damn it. “I’ll just have to do it in the car” Neha thought. But she couldn’t she didn’t have the strength to get up. Those sleepless nights were getting to her now. “I need a break” she thought, but somehow no matter how hard she worked, she was always drowning in work, always out of time. “Time”, she thought, “time is what I need.” Or is it? “I am better than this”, she thought. Or am I?
“Ughh!” all this thinking was making her head pound again. “What I need is help”, but from whom? Her parents were always busy. Away for meetings, conferences or locked in their study. “They have too much on their plate to worry about me” she sighed.
“Beeeeeep! Beeeeeep! Beeeeeep! Beeeeeep!” the alarm shrieked again. 6:30p.m she was late. She got up, grabbed her bag and walked to the bedroom door. Glancing in the mirror she noticed for the hundredth time how different she looked. Gone was the pretty girl, with a twinkle in her eye, a jump in her step, colorful, like her room. Now, all she could think of when she saw herself was, “Tired, that’s what I am” she thought.
She walked down the stairs and heard her mom calling. “Now what?!” she thought making her way to the living room. Was she in trouble again? What was it this time? Grades? Attitude? “Doesn’t matter” she thought. She’d just shut it all out like she always did now a days. Ignore.
She walked into the room and noticed her parents weren’t alone. Mr. B was there, her art teacher. “You aren’t going for Math class today” said Mom. Now, she was confused. She’d never been in trouble with Mr. B. Had she done something wrong? She felt her chest tighten, making it hard to breathe. She felt dizzy. “Hi Neha, why don’t you sit down and we’ll all have a talk.” Mr. B said. She half sat half fell into the single sofa. Glancing around the semicircle of people sitting. “Am I in trouble?” she asked, “Did I do something wrong?” “No, my dear” said Dad “I think we did.”
Confused, she looked back and forth between her parents. But then Mr. B started to talk and the more he talked and explained why he was there, she felt the weight lift off of her shoulders and she saw her parents’ shoulders start to droop, their faces turned guilty, sorry, and sad.
Mr. B said he knew how the world outside is unforgiving and competitive. And everyone wants to grow toppers and rankers at their homes. Doctors, engineers, managers anything less than this is not acceptable. But has anyone ever asked their child what he/ she wants? Has anyone ever thought that every child is unique and born with lot of potential? He showed them some of the work she had done in class, and spoke to them about how she was diligent, hardworking and could have a real future in arts. He told them how he had seen her grow through the years and how he could see now the stress of pursuing subjects she did not like and understand was affecting her.
He told Neha that as long as she was clear about what she wanted to do and if she was honest about it and sincere about it and the reasons why she was doing were clear to her then she must follow her instinct. He told her that she must believe in following her dream and pursue it. She shouldn’t compromise with what she wants to do, with her dream. It’s okay to compromise to achieve the dream, but she shouldn’t compromise on the dream itself. He told her that he knew her potential and he knew that if she tried, she could reach as high as she wanted and really be happy and successful. “You are a star”, he told her “shine as bright and as strong as you want.” And though she’d heard him say this a billion times before only now did she believe it.
By the time Mr. B left, the atmosphere in the room was a little choked up. Mr. B had talked about things she thought no one had noticed. Things she thought she had suffered alone. Things even her own parents hadn’t noticed. He had talked and explained to her parents things her heart had been screaming for weeks, but she never had the guts to say out loud. But that evening her thoughts and feelings had found a voice through Mr. B. Finally someone knew how she felt.
The rest of the evening after that was the first evening in months that Neha remembered. There was a lot of crying, explaining and apologizing and finally understanding. And that night when her parents tucked her in, the first time in a long time, they made a promise that for once felt true. “Sleep, everything will be better in the morning.” And it was. In the next few weeks a lot of changes were made. Her parents made decisions including her and understanding her situation and slowly she felt all her stress melt away and all her worries disappear.
Neha is pretty much back to her old self now and quite happy. She didn’t score that well last year, but she is already on her way to rebuilding her reputation as a straight ‘A’s student in her new college. A college for arts and literature. She still works very hard and has quite a few sleepless nights and there is still stress. But she can handle it because she likes and understands her work. Plus whenever she needs she always has her parents to talk to and for support and let’s not forget Mr. B.