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“One Step at a Time” (Complementary Prize - 13-15 years)

March, 2013
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“One Step at a Time”

"Honey, I thought your resolution was to have a neater room. I don’t see that happening in any way," my mom said as she swept her eyes around my room. I could see a brief look of disgust flash over her face. Once again, it was obvious she was disappointed.

"It was. I’ll clean it later," I replied.

"Later? You’ll forget and put it off. Are you not able to keep your room tidy for a month?" She stepped into my room and folded my sweater hanging on the back of my chair as though it was her tick to clean.

"Fine, mom. I’ll do it now." Satisfied, she left.

A couple months into 2012, and she was already getting on my case.

My mother and I used to be close. I used to be able to tell her anything. I was her daughter, the daughter that she could hold under her wing and shelter from the outside world. In 2012 especially, I had become more independent and felt that I could not constantly be protected by my mother. I could tell she was hurt by the drastic change in our relationship. She coped by directing that hurt into thinking that she could mold our relationship into some semblance of it’s old self. She tried paving each step of my path, which I should be mapping myself. As stubborn as I was, I knew I hurt her each time I objected to her constant attempts to help me. The hurt she felt from the distance I had placed between us displayed itself as discontent in the things I did wrong. She felt that I would not have had to go over rocky bumps in the road if I just had let her in more. I knew that I was being selfish but I needed to discover myself and find my way by myself.

I had realized I knew very little about both myself, and what would lie ahead of me. My mother was responsible for the steps behind me. Those choices were not mine. They were hers. I argued with her every time she asked me to do something thinking her intentions were to control all possibilities of me being my own individual. Rage and the feeling of being worthless blurred my judgment. The fights escalated and the distance between us grew.

There were times when I had wanted to patch up some of the lost time but I knew I had pushed us too far apart. She seemed to have given up as well, or maybe she was too scared to push me farther away by doing something wrong. I constantly regretted the decisions I had made previously. They were out of selfishness, out of the hunger for understanding, out of the desire to fill in the gaps that ached of emptiness. I stopped my subtle attempts to repair our relationship after the first try. Maybe I was too scared to face the possibility that the distance might never be replaceable.

"We’re leaving for lunch. Put your coat on," my mom urged.

"Where are we going?" I asked.

"That new Chinese restaurant we went to last time."

While we ate, my family talked and conversed normally of work and current events. Typical meal conversation. I was asked a few simple questions, mostly about school. I answered in little detail and my parents moved on.

We received orange slices and fortune cookies with the check. My mother distributed them. The crunch of the cookies opening circled the table. We all read ours aloud, a tradition for us whenever we ate fortune cookies. When it was my turn, I read mine loud enough for everyone to hear. "Immerse yourself in company, discover yourself in solitude, expect less, enjoy more. Take forward steps, don’t look back."

"That’s a nice one," my mom said. She smiled and patted my back.

I was surprised from the rare show of affection. I smiled back and pocketed my fortune.

When we arrived home, I took out my fortune and read it over and over again, trying to make sense of it. "Immerse yourself in company," I said, uncertain. I finally decided to go ask my mom what it meant.

"Mom?" Her back was turned to me.

"Uh-huh," she said.

"Can you tell me what my fortune means?" She didn’t reply or turn around so I repeated my question louder. She whirled around quickly, the phone between her ear and her shoulder with both hands trying to open an envelope. She gave me a warning glance and turned back to the counter. I waited for her to finish her conversation so I could apologize.

She clicked the phone down, "Couldn’t you see I was on the phone? That was an important phone call. It’s like I never taught you to be courteous."

One step forward, two steps back.

"How was I supposed to know? God. And what does ‘I never taught you’ even mean? Do you think you’re responsible for everything right I have ever done? Am I not my own person? Can’t I do things for myself? Be able to make my own decisions? It’s like you don’t trust me."

"You are always putting me in these situations, you are always putting words in my mouth, and you are always making these assumptions. You wonder why I don’t trust you. Trust is earned. You have given me no reason to trust you. And the right things you have done? Thanks to me, your mother, you have made a few good choices. Don’t let those get you carried away!"

Another step back.

"Its like you do everything you possibly can to hurt me."

"I do not understand why you would suddenly accuse me of purposefully trying to hurting you. That’s completely and utterly selfish. No. It is plain stu-"

"You do try to hurt me!" I interrupted. "It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that you don’t even care about me. Not since last year. You’ve completely given up on me. Since last year, you have never seen the good in me. You only point out the bad and the ugly."

"Since last year it has been impossible to ‘care’ about you. I can only care about you if you actually let me into your life for once! You do not have children. You don’t know how hard it is. I have never stopped caring about you or anyone in this family. You have been extremely difficult, God knows why. You do not give yourself enough credit as to how hard you make my life," she said harshly.

A tear streamed down my face as I watched her sit down and close her eyes, sighing. Softly I said, "Mom, you never gave me a chance to make my own decisions. At this point I still have no idea who I am and what I want. You never gave me a chance to find myself. You never gave me the chance to find meaning. You decided everything for me. I want freedom, opportunities, I want to discover myself."

"What do you mean ‘find yourself’? No one your age is this demanding. No one my age even asks that much from their lives. You need to be appreciative of everything you were given. And what have you discovered so far?" she sneered. "Here, let me help. You are you. That’s as far as it goes.”

Two steps back.

I sighed and walked away. I made my way out of the kitchen and up to my room. Was I that misunderstood? Was I as selfish as she made me out to be? Was I the only person who wanted something more than to walk around in an empty shell carrying a soul that was constantly hungry for more?

I wiped my tears and tried to remember the longest conversation we shared or the deepest moment but I could hardly recall anything longer than a few sentences. And those were mostly forced small talk. I was disappointed that she didn’t understand me but I was also disappointed in myself for not trying harder to heal past wounds, but instead reinforcing them and sprinkling salt in them, causing them to sting.

I sat facing my window as I watched a bird flutter to the sky, free, without a care in the world. I envied it. More than anything I wanted to understand and trust myself enough to float in the air, going against laws of gravity, lightweight and free.
    My mother walked in without me noticing. She placed her hand on my shoulder. I flinched. She quickly placed her hand back at her side. I hated myself for my reacting. I looked at her trying to read her emotions. I realized it was much harder now than before and saw creases in her forehead that I had never noticed before. I hated myself for being so oblivious. For not even noticing the stress I had placed upon my mother. I felt so much guilt that I was weighed down by it. Sensing my diverted focus, she slowly turned and made her way out of my room. She turned around to close the door. She looked hesitant as though she wanted to say something but never did.

"Mom?" She quickly glanced at me in anticipation through the portion of the door still ajar. “I love you." Her face relaxed as she smiled. Then she continued to close the door.

Some of the guilt had been lifted. One step forward.

At night, my mom came in my room as I lie on my bed trying to sleep. She stood there for a while, thinking I was asleep. She took a few steps. She kissed my forehead and softly spoke. "Let’s make the rest of 2012 different. I’m sorry." A smile formed on my face as she quietly walked out of the room and shut the door.

Two steps forward.

It felt good. Taking steps forward. It felt good making a difference one step at a time. It felt good mending past wounds. It felt good knowing my mother would feel better and less worrisome about me and who I would eventually turn out to be. It felt good knowing that little actions could string us back together, restoring the bond of two once bonded individuals back together one stitch at a time.

We each took a step, although small, and found ourselves further down the path than ever before. We still had to continue down the same road until we could find a balance and finally understand each other. In order to find ourselves we would have to find each other first.

 

 By Grace Zhang,

The British School of Beijing

 

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