Year 2011, 2 January, 7pm. Kenesiera was 21
“Are you deaf or is your whole life all about the computer games?!”
“You’ve been using it the whole day! Can’t you just get up to exercise?! You’re growing fatter and fatter! Why can’t you get your figure down to look good?!”
There she goes. It’s always about her not looking good, not scoring well… It’s always about her not being a perfect daughter to make her mother look good in front of relatives and friends.
Kenesiera slammed her laptop shut without closing the game, her day of sweeping and mopping the floor, spending hours fixing her dying computer and reading one of the new books got summarized into playing computer games the entire day, when she had barely started for 15 minutes.
That day, she woke up at 10.30am, having slept late savoring the sweetness and pleasure of her own success. After years and years of being compared to her sister, whose grades were consistently better than hers, she finally did well, in her parents’ eyes. No doubt, she had worked hard during the school term. She could work harder, of course, with less partying around and more studying. But she already thought she partied around little enough already. A little lesser and she would be branded with the term “nerd”. She should be glad she was no longer in secondary school, when teenagers usually fought with emotions while trying to search for their identity. She hadn’t found hers, but she knew she would not experience peer pressure like she had in the past. But… had peer pressure ever existed? Or merely parental pressure was enough to drive her over the edge?
Kenesiera usually spent her school term studying, blogging, writing and exercising. When she felt energetic enough, looking forward to a good school and mugging day, she would wake up early to jog. Sometimes for 20mins, sometimes up to 45mins. She would spend her weekends studying before meeting her boyfriend too. Jogging was her sanctuary. She would breathe in fresh air, smile at fellow joggers whom she knew, jogged for the same reasons too: because they were given the time and space to think what they want, experience the nature, feel the blood rushing in your veins, sweating out not just toxins in your body, but frustrations and unhappiness to indicate the start of a brand new day.
But these days, jogging no longer felt that way. It felt like a chore. A chore to make herself look better, not for herself, but in her mother’s words, her boyfriend. “He’s looking so fit. You’d be dumped if you don’t start slimming down.”
But she was sure her boyfriend wouldn’t do that.
It came down to another conclusion: because her mother don’t want to be seen or known to have a daughter that is fat and ugly, while the other was a pretty, young, smart lady, a fresh graduate from university. Hadn’t Kenesiera wished to have a great body like her sister’s too? And a dimple on her cheek when she smiled? Kenesiera had neither, but at least she was happy. Now jogging is coupled with another goal, a depressing and stressful goal: to look better than she had always been, just like how studying had been tainted. It was no longer for herself. It was to make someone else proud. And that, took the pleasure out of everything that made Kenesiera feel happy in her life.
“Can’t you stop gaming for a few minutes just to go jogging?” her dad asked.
Kenesiera glared. Her father, a heavy smoker who spent hours in front of his laptop playing Chinese Chess had not moved his butt round to the park to even take a stroll for years, was telling her that it’s unhealthy to sit in front of the computer to play games and not exercise.
“Look who’s talking,” she shot back.
“Ah. How can this be the same as me?”
Kenesiera looked back at her father incredulously. It’s always her. She was always in the wrong. Grudgingly, she changed into her jogging clothes. It seemed like a routine now: to be forced to go jogging. She no longer remembered when was the last time she jogged to feel the pleasure of it.
*** *** ***
Year 2002, Kenesiera was 12
“Why is your Math grade a B? Your sister got an A when she was in Primary 6.”
The two report cards were compared, placed side by side next to each other. Like twins, just one uglier, tainted, while the other shone brightly, the more beautiful one. It was just sad that it reflected their owners in real life.
“I… I couldn’t finish the paper in time.”
“Let’s forget about Math. Look at your Science! A C?! Where do I hide my face? Your sister NEVER got a C when she was your age!”
Kenesiera looked down at her feet, feeling the shame creep up her face, scalding it red.
“Stretch out your hand.”
Kenesiera stretched out her palm fearfully, closing her eyes and not daring to look as the cane rained streaks of pain across her tender flesh.
*** *** ***
Year 2002, Kenesiera was 12
“No stress, my dear,” her mother said. “As long as you did your best, I’m happy with it.”
It was the day of the release of the Primary 6 PSLE results. Kenesiera was fearful, tears almost welling up her eyes. She could not imagine what would happen at home when her mother finds out she had not done as well as her sister. Her mother said that to keep the stress out of her superficially, but years and years of comparison, she knew her mother did not mean what she said at all.
Everyone was seated in the classroom, the parents were asked to wait outside. But the windows that were open allowed the parents to see what was going on in the class.
“When I call out your name, it means that you have done well and made it into the Special stream,” the teacher declared.
One by one, her friends’ names were called. Her mother was still beaming when Kenesiera snuck a look at her. A gut feeling told her that she was not one of those people.
Kenesiera felt herself slide down her chair in shame as the name being called wasn’t hers. She had disgraced her mother, indirectly, in front of the whole class. She snuck another look at her mother, whose smile had slid off her face as fast as the cane strokes raining down on her palms.
No stress. Bullshit. Kenesiera thought.
She could not imagine how badly she did when her name was called to collect the result slip.
“You did well, Kene,” her teacher said kindly.
Her score was 243. Seven more marks and she would be in the Special stream. Would that comfort her mother? But Kenesiera knew deep down her mother never gave such chances.
“Not good enough,” Kenesiera replied, tears welling up in her eyes.
“Come on, Express stream isn’t that bad.”
She did not feel like going back to her mother. In fact, she felt like tearing up the result slip right there and then.
“What did you get?” her mother demanded at once.
“243?! Your sister had a 265! That’s more than 20 marks away!”
“I thought you said no stress, Mum?”
“I thought you’d at least snag a 250!”
Kenesiera shook her head. She had done her best. She did all her tuition homework, not even watched the only television program she watched (Pokemon, 10am to 1030am on Saturdays) for weeks. She worked doubly hard, finished her assessments, especially for Math, before she started reading her favorite storybooks. She looked down at the grades miserably. No matter how hard she worked, she still got a B for Math. But she got an A for Science, A* for Chinese and English and a distinction for Higher Chinese. She tried to comfort herself that it wasn’t so bad. But under her mother’s steaming glares, she had no choice but to tell herself that she still had not done her best. At least, her best was not enough.
*** *** ***
Year 2004, Kenesiera was 14
There! She had done it. A1 for Math. Her mother would be proud! After two years of hard work and perseverance, she finally managed to pull her lousy Math grade up to the best. She skipped home with the report card in her hands. 3A1s and 3A2s, with the exception of a… F9 for Literature. Her heart sank immediately. Her sister never failed to get an A for Literature. Come to think of it, when did her sister not get A in everything? And how could it be her fault when her teacher said her way of analysis is nothing wrong, just that it was not in the model answer? It was bullcrap. In the world of fiction and creative writing, there was no such thing as right or wrong. It was the feeling that one gets, it was the logic behind the feelings emanated from the styles of writing. How can there be a model answer?
“It just is,” her teacher explained.
Why must they make Literature so scientific? Much as she loved reading and writing, she thought this was the wrong way to approach the work of art, especially in literary. But then, who was she to set the limits? She would never let education taint her justifications for literary. There. She was old enough to take her own stand. At most, she would not choose to proceed with Literature the next year. Who would want to study art with such rigidity anyway? She did not get it. She would tell her mum. She was old enough. She would listen. She had to. She was no longer the 12-year-old who buried herself in the pillows after her mother had caned her.
“How did you do?” the sharp tone rang out the moment she entered the door.
“Not bad,” Kenesiera replied. She had not even had the time to put her shoes into the cabinet did her mother walk over, stretch out her arms for her report card. She gave it to her mother, holding her breath, wondering what she would say.
“An F9 for Literature?”
“Mum, you got to hear me say this…”
“Improve on it.”
“I will,” Kenesiera went on hurriedly as her mother put the report card aside.
“Mum? I…” Kenesiera hesitated. “Didn’t you see? I got an A1 for Math, just like Sis did when she was 14.” She got it out, and beamed at her mother.
“So what? Your sister’s school has a higher standard than yours. It’s not surprising. Maybe your A1 isn’t as good as hers.”
The smile faltered as Kenesiera reached out to take her report card. She knew right then, no matter how well she did, it was never enough.
*** *** ***
Year 2005, Kenesiera was 15
“Mum, Dad! Look what I got!”
Kenesiera entered the kitchen, still wearing a cap and her muddy competition jersey. It was such a great game she could not bear to change out of it. She could still feel the euphoria, the sweet scent of victory. In her hands held the game ball, signed by her team mates and coach who were so proud of her performance that day. It was a gift for her, for being the Most Valuable Player for the game.
“It’s for being the MVP!” she said, beaming up at her parents and sister, who were having dinner. A little disappointed that they had started dinner without her when she had good news to share, she forced her smile to stay on her face.
“That’s great!” her sister piped up. “You guys won, I suppose!”
“Yupp! The score was 43 to 13! We flattened them!” Kenesiera announced proudly. Her eyes shifted to her mother, who was reaching for the ladle as though she had not heard the news.
“Isn’t it great, Mum?” her sister prompted.
“What’s the use to do so well in sports? She’ll never make a future out of it. And look what it did to her. Still short and stout, she was supposed to look better than that.”
Kenesiera’s eyes flashed with momentary anger.
“What’s that supposed to mean, Mum?”
“That softball’s done more bad for you than good. It didn’t help you in your studies and never will. And not to mention how it landed you in hospital a few months ago.”
“Mum…” her sister began. But her mother had walked out of the kitchen.
“Take a bath and eat. You stink.”
Kenesiera looked at her father for more words of comfort, but he just shrugged.
“Your mother is right.”
*** *** ***
Year 2006, Kenesiera was 16
The O Level results would be released in just a few minutes, and Kenesiera could feel the stress sinking into her. Now would be the time to show her how well she did, after months of studying in the library with a bunch of smart friends who helped her along her weakest subjects. She would want to do them proud, not just her mother. When it came to her turn, her teacher smiled at her.
“Well, you underperformed for your expected grades from your PSLE result. But, but. It’s a great improvement.”
Kenesiera had gotten B4s and C5s during her prelims, not to mention a C6 for her Math and Chemistry. But as she looked down at her result slip, she beamed. She had 5 A2s, Math included and only 3 B3s, which was good enough for her. She bounded over to her friend who had helped her with Chemistry. “Hey! Remember my grade for Chem from prelims?”
“Yeah. You got a C6.”
“Yup.” Kenesiera still did not say her grade, looking at him mysteriously.
“Please don’t tell me you got the same grade…”
“Of course I didn’t! I got a B3!”
“Wow! That’s great! It’s better than what you expected!” he congratulated her sincerely, the grin wide on his face. “What’s your L1R5?”
“That’s a perfect score! Congrats!” Kenesiera felt happy for him. He was smart, but he worked really hard. It was no surprise he did so well. Deep down, she wished his result slip was hers. Her sister had gotten an 8 for her O Levels. She did not just underperform in school, but more so in her mother’s expectations. Her friend seemed to know what she was thinking.
“Look. You did well. You improved a lot from your prelims. You should be happy about that. Study for yourself, not for others. And not to mention, you’re quite talented in sports!”
“Sports is never considered a talent in my family,” Kenesiera replied. “Thanks.”
She slouched away after her friend gave her a comforting pat on her back. Maybe she was just born stupid. She wondered if wits gone into her muscles than her brains. She sighed as she whipped out her phone to call her mother.
“How did you do?” The tone never changes. Kenesiera told her.
“Oh. Ok. Not bad,” her mother said.
“Not bad? Really?” Kenesiera’s eyes brightened. She had expected another dressing down.
“Well. You know, Kene. After seeing your performance in academics for so many years, how can it be a surprise that I have given up expecting good results from you?”
*** *** ***
Year 2008, Kenesiera was 18
Kenesiera sat at the table during reunion dinner, dressed in her new shirt and jeans. Plain, but comfortable. Next to her, her sister donned a figure hugging bodycon dress, accentuating her good figure.
“Not a bad choice,” Kenesiera told her. “You look really good.”
No one had ever commented on her figure, only her mother. She had muscles bulging from her arms, thighs and calves. Muscles that her ex-team mates would stare with envy, but her mother would try her best not to look at them. In fact, she was told to get rid of them ever since she graduated from secondary school. To her dismay, Kenesiera joined the basketball team in junior college, making her muscles bulge even more. To make matters worse, Kenesiera did not grow taller AT ALL.
“When you slim down, you’ll look as good as she does when you wear the dress. Skip more, for god’s sake. And grow taller.” Kenesiera did not even acknowledge that her mother spoke.
After 18 years, she was accustomed to the fact that her mother had never been satisfied with her as a daughter, academics, or physical. She wondered what would her mother do if she found out she had been scratching herself on her thighs until she bled when she felt too stressed or when her mother had wrongfully blamed her for something (which happened frequently). She doubted that her mother could dealt the blow that her youngest daughter is tainted physically, academically and now even psychologically. It’s best not to tell anyone, which was why she had chosen to wear jeans for Chinese New Year that year. The latest wounds had not healed yet. But well, the latest wounds were not caused by her mother per se, but because of extreme neglect by her boyfriend who had chosen to share dinner with another girl, send another girl home after dinner and had not bothered to call her over the weekend at all. What was more, he thought it was perfectly normal. Yeah. Perfectly normal because Kenesiera was one who deserved no attention. How could she, since she was such a flawed person with no achievements to date?
Well, softball was one.
But that’s not counted. Your mum said so. You’re stupid with no achievements.
Kenesiera shook the voices out of her head. She had started hearing such voices about a year ago. Fearing that they were a sign of depression, she ignored these voices and started scratching herself till they went away. Tonight, she could not, since so many people were present. She made it a point to do so when she reached home, for if she did not do it, she would feel as though she had not gotten what she deserved: Pain.
*** *** ***
Year 2009, Kenesiera was 19
“You are waking up early to go jogging, right?” Her mother questioned.
It was not a question. It only sounded like one, but Kenesiera answered it anyway. “No.”
“Yes you are.”
“What’s with that attitude?”
“Nothing! I was just listening to you!”
“It’s all for your own good you know…”
“I know, I know…”
Sighing, Kenesiera put on her jogging shoes. That’s one method of destressing down. In fact, if it does anything at all, it’s to make her feel like she’s a flawed person all over again.
*** *** ***
Year 2011, 2 January, 8.50pm. Kenesiera was 21
It was already 8.50pm. She had jogged for more than an hour and she did not want to stop. Where did her sanctuary go? Jogging used to feel so peaceful, but now as she jogged, anger pulsed through her veins, adrenaline forced her on even as her knees hurt from an old injury. The more she jogged, the angrier she felt. The more she jogged, the lousier she felt. She usually felt safe in it. Why can’t she contain her anger? Had her anger management, which she had thought she was gifted with, given way too? Now there were absolutely no good points about her. She had become a short-tempered girl, with no achievements, only know how to play games and too weak to stand up for herself when she was being misunderstood. One like her doesn’t deserve to live on Earth. She wondered when the time for her to disappear would come.
Her phone rang. It was a father.
“Hello?” she panted, still running, refusing to stop. Took you so long, after you watched me being accused of something I did not do.
“Why aren’t you coming home yet?”
“I’m jogging, like you wanted me to.”
“It’s too much already. Come home. Don’t overexert yourself.”
She hung up. She did not feel like talking to anyone in her family.
She slowed to a stop, the pain in her knees intensifying. She forced herself to walk as normally as possible, but her muscles burned from overexertion.
You deserved it, she told herself. You deserved it for getting angry at your parents.
Suddenly, her knees buckled as she hit the ground, letting out a cry of pain. She was hungry. Her lunch was at 1pm and she had not had dinner yet.
“Hey. Do you need help?” Someone offered a hand.
“Thanks.” She took it gratefully as he helped her over to the nearest bench. “Overexertion,” she forced a smile. In front of her was the cutest guy she had ever seen. Maybe God had sent an angel to help her up.
“It looks bad. You should rest for a few days. I’ve seen you around. You jog well. Great stamina.”
“Take care.” He flashed a smile.
It suddenly hit her that no matter how hard she tried, no one in her family saw her success, not even encourage it. Her friends and teachers saw it, even a stranger could see it, praised her, encouraged her. But why couldn’t her family, those closest to her see it too? She checked her phone again. No reply. She had texted her boyfriend over an hour ago about what happened, what she was feeling now and wishing he would call, or at least reply with words to make her feel better. But nothing. She had the urge to hurl the phone into the nearby drain.
There you go. Anger management. She warned herself.
Suddenly, she was in tears. Uncontrollable tears. It was nothing about the pain in her thighs or legs. It was something in her heart. The heavy-heart. She had not cried over disputes with her mother for a year now and everything seemed to rush out through those tears. She had stopped scratching herself, because she was afraid she would scare her boyfriend away if he knew. She always thought he would always be there for her, but now, as she stared at the phone, he wasn’t. She walked home slowly, trying to ease the pain in her legs as much as possible. The moment she stepped into the bathroom for a shower, she looked at herself in the mirror. Then, she bent down and took off her jogging shorts, sat on the closed lid of the toilet, and started scratching herself again, as though she did this everyday.
Never Enough © 2011 by Auby. All rights reserved.