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I watch her put on a brave smile before stepping on stage, like she always does. I sometimes feel guilty for catching her without one, her only defence against the multitude of judging gazes. She would then notice me noticing her, drop her guard and be flustered for a half-second, before stretching her face in an impressive display of willpower. She puts so much effort into needlessly covering herself up for my sake, and it breaks my heart that I can’t tell her to stop; I really couldn’t care less how she looks. But if she were to tell me how she feels, she’d have my full attention because it’s an awful lot of trouble to try to interpret all of her actions. She sometimes has me staring into space, trying to fit what I know of her together and sighing in exasperation when I realize that my jigsaw puzzle is missing so many pieces.
Paradise. That’s where she said she wanted to live when she was little. I wonder if she knew what she was saying. While a utopia is idealism in a society, paradise is the work of a dreamer’s mind indulging in the comfort of fantasy. Paradise sounds nice, no matter who you are. Just goes to show how discontent with their lives most people are. But I think she deserves a bit of this paradise she longs for, though it’s so hard to try to give someone something when you’re not even sure what they want.
She hears them every day, with their shallow smiles like running water, hard to permanently capture, praising her for her abilities. What bothers me is when they tell her that she will surely grow up to be a respectable lady, maintain the social status that is her right by birth, and keep her family prosperous, because I can see her face fall. It’s infuriating how they never seem to notice her smile faltering and coming back even more forced, as if powered by a rechargeable battery. I’m scared for her battery life, and I sometimes wonder if they’re making it harder for her to seem happy on purpose.
It’s better when they stick to ego-maintaining compliments, as empty as they might sometimes be. There’s no denying she’s clever and a quick learner. She plays all the instruments her parents made her learn, but I know she favours the piano from the way she comes to life when she thinks she’s alone and her fingers dance over the keys, surrounding her with sound.
Everyone but me was surprised when she suddenly impressed them with a poetic comment at one of those high-class parties she attends out of a sense of responsibility. She hides well, and it was only by chance that I once stumbled upon her crouched at the foot of a staircase, scribbling away in her little red notebook. She was so absorbed in her work, the pen a natural extension of her hand, that she was completely oblivious to my presence, squeaking shoes and all. I think that’s the closest she’s ever gotten to her paradise: inside the world stored in that book. As clumsy as I am, it wasn’t hard for me to sneak away and leave her undisturbed.
I smiled then, invisible in the corner, while they acclaimed her for her many skills and talents, spewing verbal recognition. Their kind words warm her heart but occasionally, and although they often widen the smile on her face, they never reach her soul.
For you see, what she really wants to know is how she fares as a person. Not to brag about her honourable merits or to flash medals of achievement, but to know she really belongs in our world and was not simply born here by accident to endure decades of meaningless existence, desperately trying to cater to the needs of others. I stand unseen in the shadows she casts, and from here, it looks like she wants to be selfish, but doesn’t know how. The realization that I’m not so different makes me smirk. I daresay I understand the solemn darkness she leaves behind.
She is the lonely rose caught in her own thorns, a diamond yet unconvinced of her own value, dreaming of being excavated from the surrounding rock, shaped, polished, and set on someone’s hand to never ever be removed, even as she dazzles her owner, her caretaker’s, friends. But she doesn’t need all the love in the world, just a bit of it to help her get through the world.
If a single person were to pledge themselves to forever loving her, regardless of how pretty she looks, how strong she’s feeling, or how wealthy she is, she would be more than happy, no – exalted, fulfilled even. But no one steps up to the plate.
I know she’s wondering why. Every note she plays is an inquisition to her own mind from her body, trying to rationally uncover her faults and discover what’s wrong with her, where the leak in her apparently otherwise solid system might be.
As I watch her performance of intense introspection, unable to fill anything more than one of countless seats in her many audiences, I feel the tears she would never openly shed come to my eyes, and I let them drop without restraint. While my concern for her cascades down my cheeks, travelling down the skin of my face, I also ask myself questions of the personal sort, namely why I’m not approaching her either. But the beauty of her music has caught my heart in its tracks, and I can only be silent and watch.
She is showered with much thundering applause coming from every direction. I’m too intimidated by the resonating noise to even bother clapping.