I never liked math
Yes I’m still in high school. It’s a tragedy.
I’m so mad at my parents. So incredibly mad. This is the kind of rage I usually only feel during water polo games, the kind of rage that starts at my chest, clears my head and makes my eyes narrow into a piercing glare. I walk briskly down the hallway into my room and slam the door.
I grab one of my daisy pillows and slam it against the wall repeatedly. I have had this pillow forever, and the yellow center has almost faded to white.
I didn’t know why I procrastinated, why I felt so lazy and didn’t want to do anything ever, or why, why the hell I couldn’t keep my room clean. I was searching for the answers to the questions my parents continued to ask me; why didn’t you finish your homework? Don’t you want to go hang out with friends? Why isn’t your room clean right now?
It was another high school identity crisis. In these moments, I despised myself. It was The Times in Life When You Want to Move Across the Country Already Because This Can’t Be What Life Is Supposed to Be Like. That night, I lay in bed trying to solve myself like an equation: x + y = sad, x + y = anxious, x + y = I have to draw, what is the x and what is the y?
Math always makes me cry, but these are different tears than the ones I shed laying down next to the whiteboard with my mom. Lately, I had been shedding some very, very lonely tears.
The Zucker Girls
No, we aren’t twins.
My parents met when they were living in LA. They fell in love at some magical 90’s bar called the Coconut Teaser, and now they have four kids. First two boys and then two girls, and I’m the youngest. My mother always hoped to be at least half as good as her mother, who had eight kids. I hope I can be at least 1/16th as good as my mother.
I have always watched how she talks with the grocery store clerks, who know her by name and perk up when they see she is at the register checking out. I remind myself of her when I eat yogurt with trail mix for breakfast and cry laughing.
Because we are my mother’s daughters, my sister and I will always greet you with a smile even when we are having a bad day. Not only do we look very similar, but my sister and I react the exact same way in most situations. For example, if you came up to one of us and told us you like Tom Misch, we would freak out. Sometimes when I talk to her friends they tell me I sound exactly like her.
But a lot of things that come naturally to my mom and sister do not come naturally to me. I never balance my checkbook. My room is always messy. I hate, hate, hate routine. They like their lives to be folded neatly into organized piles, and I like to make messes. I only fold when absolutely necessary.
Growing up, I always had to build a two-story home for my Playmobil, even though I knew it would probably fail and fall down. I wouldn’t have any time to play with my sister since I was so absorbed in the creation of my house. She would get so mad at me.
My mom came to every high school swim meet my sister and I had to do the scoring. She watched my sister, usually in one of the slower heats, glide her way through the water, not caring about what her time was, just happy to be there. My mother also scored at my water polo games, a sport my sister did not play, and watched me cry out of frustration almost every game at my team, the refs, or because I got a bloody nose that took me out of the most important two minutes of play.
When we go on car rides, I always sit in the back and annoy my sister to put on music. I can’t be in a car and not be listening to music. My mom tells me to enjoy the silence, but music is always better than silence. If life is music, I sing to a different song than them.
Alone, yes. Self-destructive? Most likely.
My sister left for college when I was a sophomore in high school. During those three years alone, there was often a little too much tension between my parents and me, but I probably got more frustrated with myself more than they did.
There is one point in high school where I feel like I am losing control. I go to my parent’s room one sweaty, sobby night and I tell them I need help through the tears. I convince myself that my issues require professional help.
“I have an anxiety disorder, I think.”
My parents ask me what I worry about and I tell them that it’s pretty much everything. Friends, school, confidence, like I said, everything. I can’t help myself from worrying, I just do. I am learning about the chemicals in my brain at school and I think my chemicals are really, really off. I’m tired of feeling this way and just want to be cured of whatever is wrong with me. They respond with kindness and concern, and we go see my doctor. We go see a heart specialist to double-check that the fast heartbeats I feel are just a figment of the stresses of my brain and not a legitimate threat. The specialist reassures me that “we all worry. I worry all the time.”
My mom calls the doctor’s office one more time to schedule an appointment with a therapist, only there are no therapists available.
“See? So many people are struggling with this. You’re not the only person that feels this way,” she reassures me.
I can’t help but think of my sister, who did not have these issues. I knew she wasn’t hiding them from me since we talk about everything. I tell myself I just need to grow up. One day, I will wake up every day at the same time like her. I will have my checkbook balanced like her. These emotional, chaotic phases will end. I won’t get nervous, stutter when I talk, or get these stomachaches.
My mother still has to drive me everywhere. Now, when she picks me up from school, she asks me to tell her all the things I worried about during the day. It’s never a long list, but I am still sweaty, out of breath, and have stomachaches.
“You know these things aren’t worth worrying about,” she tells me. Easier said than done. I want to not worry for her sake as well as mine.
Today, five years later, I wonder if she really did make that phone to get me a therapist. Did she know that I could help myself better than anyone else? Did she somehow foresee that she, my dad, and my family would support me better than anyone else could? Did she know that as the years went on, I would learn to live with the chaos in my brain, and no one in the world could have taught me how to do that? Did she know that eventually, I would become more interested with the other, less anxious parts of myself?
My Starry Nights
Should I still be afraid of the dark?
In elementary school, we had a guest speaker who came in every once in a while to teach us about art. We always enjoyed the fascinating break from our usual curriculum. One day, in third grade, he showed us Starry Night. He propped his copy of it onto the whiteboard and turned around.
“Now,” he said, “what does this painting make you feel?”
There was a long moment of silence as we absorbed what was in front of us: the blues, the yellows, the purples.
I am the first to raise my hand. “It’s peaceful. It makes me feel calm.”
My cheeks begin to flush during the long silence that follows as everyone processes what just came out of my mouth. Three or four hands shoot up in the air. Everybody disagrees.
To them, it was completely deranged. Why would Van Gogh even want to paint the stars in such a horrifying way? Was there a storm going on that night? Did Van Gogh literally live on a different planet?
I guess this painting seemed like something not too far off from the worlds that existed in my third-grade imagination. Every single day there was a storm going on in my mind of a Starry Night intensity; it was calming to see that Van Gogh felt the same way.
Lately, I have started staying up later and later. I used to be so afraid of the dark, convinced that tonight would be the night aliens were going to land in my backyard and kidnap me. The mysterious sounds of the washing machine that was just one wall away from my room at home did not help my fears.
But now, I find myself staying awake longer to just think. I reflect, imagine, ponder, contemplate, speculate, appreciate, examine, reason, and infer. I’m sad, happy, angry, and at peace with existence.
What keeps me awake most at night, though, is my pen on paper. Not every night, but often, I write, draw, do literally whatever in my journals. I put my thoughts down on paper in whatever form they need to exist in. It’s not just a cathartic experience for me – it is completely necessary.
I find myself drawing with a red marker on a page with some ink splatters that bled over from the previous page. First, two dots and a line that make up a face. I add two eyebrows: angry face. No, that’s not right. I try two dots and a curved line: sad face. No, that’s not right either. Finally, two dots and a line: my facade. Yep. Scribble, scribble, scribble. I scribble with my red marker in a big red box. I feel better and go to sleep.
In a week or so, I open my journal again and find the drawing. This time, it makes me laugh. What the hell would my sister think if she saw this? What the hell would my mother think if she saw this? I know they would be confused. To them, it would just be some faces on paper. But to me, it was so much more. I laugh again. I knew it was representative of an inner realm of my psyche or something deep and meaningful like that – and it looked like a four-year-old drew it. Emotions are immature. I take a picture of the drawing.
How could my mom and sister go through life not needing to draw something like this?
Sophomore year of high school, my mom also takes me to get my aptitude tested. I get to play games for two days and at the end of it, someone explains what my God-given talents are. I record the conversation on my iPhone 4.
The psychologist asks me if I ever write poetry.
Poetry? What counts as poetry? Does crying, scribbling down some angry words in my journal count as poetry?
My mom and sister, back home for winter break, are in the room with me. I look at them for guidance. You know when I get angry or upset, and go to my room and write some words? Does that count as poetry?
But I know they wouldn’t be able to answer that question for me since I have never ever shown them what is inside my journals. My mom knows I write and draw all the time, but she never gets to see what I do. The only reason she knows is that every month or so I ask her to help me find an empty notebook we have laying around the house. I have kept writing ever since my sister and I got fuzzy, glittery, diaries with keys and locks for Christmas one year, but I don’t think she has.
“Poetry? I guess I write poetry,” I finally answer. Apparently, I have a creative aptitude.
One day my mom tells me, “you know, a lot of creative people are messy.” I know what messes she is referring to; they are different from the messes that accumulate on the floor of my bedroom because I do not have the energy to clean them up. These are the messes that just sort of appear in my peripheral – the pens scattered across my desk with no caps on and the mauled scraps of paper littering the floor.
I wonder if she ever googled “why does my daughter always doodle on every single scrap of paper in the office,” or something like “seriously, does my daughter have to run down the hallway with her heavy feet to grab the mod podge from her room?”
She reads a book called Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative. To her, it reads Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Your Daughter.
We talk about what she reads, and together, we learn how my brain operates.
It’s the Different
Is different always good?
My mom and sister helped me do research about college. According to their standards, I was procrastinating on the whole thing, and they wanted to help. It turns out, they are good at what they do. They pick the exact college and the exact major I end up with. Nothing I do now isn’t creative. I don’t ever study; I draw, I write, and I make things.
As time goes on, I have realized I exist in a completely different world than my mom and sister. I always explain so many of the artists, books, and paintings I love to my mom and sister. When I explain, they understand. They feel the same sense of joy I feel. But why do they not get it right away as I do?
I have often tried to distinguish what it is exactly that differentiates me from them. Is it just loads of creativity, plain and simple? Is it a profound connection between myself and the world around me? Or am I too consumed with the fear of not being different? Is that what drives me away from their life of practicality, and towards art?
Sometimes the different in me is really good; I make them laugh a lot. They also call me up when they need to decorate their room or find a new work of art for the kitchen. I bought my sister a journal before she moved out and although she writes in bullet points, she journals now. When we watch movies or TV shows together, I point out the rain or the color of the curtains that are a symbol of something more meaningful.
But never once in their lives has my mom or sister felt the urge to open up a notebook and draw faces in red marker. I don’t think they have ever written down in the same notebook what is wrong with me. These are the times I think the different is not so good.
My sister’s brain is full of order and organization while mine is full of Starry Night skies. She is the yin, and I am the yang, and my mom is the circle that holds us both together.