I was sitting in Anatomy and Physiology lab doing some last minute studying for a quiz. Predictably, I was stressing, a little. Feeling inadequate. I had studied hard, but still
Next to me at the table, Eleesia said, "Well, this will be the test I ditch, I guess." I looked over. "Gees," I said. "I forgot about that." Our teacher, Ellen, throws out our lowest quiz grade.
Eleesia said, "Only bad thing is that last week, I said the same thing about that quiz." She laughed.
I rested my chin in my hand and studied her. She really is a beautiful girl, and a very confident girl. "How do you DO that?" I asked. "I'm not a confident student, and I walk along feeling like I'm on the verge of catastrophic failure at any given moment. In the OT classes. In this class. But every time I look at you, you're just as calm as you can be. I admire that about you."
And she smiled. "Well, I guess that the way I see it is that I've never failed at anything in my life, and I'm not going to fail at this either. I don't care about being the best. I'll get through it." She shrugged her shoulders.
Now this flummoxed me. Here was a whole new way of looking at the situation. I know that I'm a bit of a weirdo about school. I'd gotten brave enough to start speaking up to other students. In the library, I once said to Jonnie, "Gees, I feel like I never understand what's going on," and she answered, "Join the crowd. I walk out of the classroom sometimes, and stand in the hall thinking, 'So what the heck just happened in there?!!!'" Relieved, I told her, "You've no idea how much better that makes me feel!" I've got a project going with another classmate. I'd missed a day of classes, and felt as if I was way behind, but Sutter calmly said, "I don't know what's going on either," and he gave me a good natured grin. Emboldened by these revelations, I began to admit that I was overwhelmed and unsure. Turns out most everyone is. The difference between them and me is simple. I walk around with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. They do not.
I continued to study Eleesia in a thoughtful way, mulling over what she had said. She had said that she'd never failed at anything in her life. I guessed that was the difference between her and I. I had. But then I began to think about that.
Just this past week, I had a strange experience. My ex-husband had come into town. Brianna has baby William due any minute. Cara's getting ready to head overseas, to teach English through Daegu University in Korea, and so he wanted to spend time with the girls. Tim and I gave him the keys to stay in one of our empty apartments, and he stopped into the store to return the keys. Ours was a terrible marriage. He was an educated man, and I did not meet his standards. That marriage left me feeling terrible about myself, like a failure. All these years later, he handed back the keys to the apartment and commented on what a nice job we'd done on it. "That was Tim," I said. "He did do a beautiful job on it. That man really can do just about anything." We stood there looking at each other across the years. "We have wonderful children, don't we?" he said, and I agreed that we did. I realized something. I spent years feeling that I was not good enough, but that snowy Sunday, standing in the middle of Tractor Supply, talking about our children, I felt a strange feeling. It was success. I felt as if I had done something right. I said something to that effect. In the silence he said, "You have always measured up. I'm deeply sorry for the hurt I've put you through. The bare truth is I am the one who did not measure up." And like that, the burden of that failure slipped from my shoulders.
A week later, I reflected on that. I thought about other thingsabout how every 12 months, I get this niggling feeling that this will be the year that the editor will finally decide I can't write after all, and replace me. But he doesn't. (At least he hasn't) I worry about my self-perceived failures as a wife, but I've been happily married to Tim for almost 13 years now. He considers our marriage a success as well. I fret about my short-comings as a parent, but my kids don't see them. We're close. I sit in the classroom afraid that someone will notice that I'm really not a bright woman, but yet I'm the 'go-to' person for a lot of students with questions. The evidence began to pile up before me. How I see myself is not necessarily how the world views me
Sitting next to Eleesia in the A and P lab that day, I thought, "Can you simply choose to stop worrying? Can you simply decide to have faith in yourself? Could it really be that easy?"
You know that quiz in A and P? I turned it confidently. I think I got an A. When I went to my last class, a student looked across the row of tables and said, "You know, when you ask a question, I get so much out of it. Your questions really clarify things for me." I drove home that night and sang along with Fleetwood Mac on the radio, and my heart felt light. Light. Not like the heart of a failure.
That Eleesia, she not only beautiful and confident. She's smart, too. She won't fail at this, because she's never failed before. Know what? I won't fail either.
Debby Hornburg lives in Scandia and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org