16 years a student

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Words || Ashley Regan Schieff

In the room under the stairs, Mrs Something sat across the desk from me. Through the glasses perched on the edge of her nose, she stared at me as if I were a pile of bricks. “Let’s try again sweetie, WED – NES – DAY”. Each syllable was met with a palm on the desk. “One more time, WED” *thump* “NES” *thump* “DAY” *thump*. “Now, give it a go. How would you spell that word?” I stared back at her. Now she was a pile of bricks, “I don’t know”. Today I still write Wednesday as a combination of these three syllables.

In my bedroom, Nan sat beside me whilst I mumbled the sentences sprawled across the laminated pages. “No, that’s not right. F-E-N-C-E is fence.” We would stop at every word I stumbled over, reading cover to cover, over and over again. Until I could repeat the entire book without looking, just from memory.

A poster hung on the wall in front of me, the letters trailed up the suspended piece of paper to form a neat triangle. An orderly geometric arrangement of nonsensical words. The man in the white coat reached over to my face. He placed pieces of glass with silver edges over my eyes, and fixed the rounded metal ends behind my ears. “Ah yes, these will do,” he said, exchanging a smug nod with my Mother. “You’ll be able to do much better now!.” Why do adults always lie? I thought for sure my Mum wouldn’t make me wear thin framed circle glasses for nothing. I carried the nickname of Harry Potter without once receiving the magic of brilliance in return. I thought I would magically levitate to the top of the class. I didn’t.

When primary school melted into highschool, the only difference were the exams. I didn’t know what an exam actually meant until the mid-yearly’s in year seven. I didn’t think there was a need to study, so I didn’t. I got 35 out of 120 in maths. I hid these and my other failed results from my Mum as long as possible. “Miss said she needed more time,” I’d mumble as I darted into my room each afternoon. When I eventually told her, I was forced into tutoring lessons. From year seven till I graduated, once a week I visited a twenty-something year old getting their Bachelor in Education, to help me with the topics I “didn’t quite understand.”

I realised I had to work a lot harder to get the grades that other kids took for granted. I had to practice twice as hard to just pass an exam. “Oh God, this is due tomorrow!” was my catchphrase. “Well let’s get started”, was always Mum’s response. Despite the frequency in which this happened, Mum would stay up with me all night so I had something to hand in the next day. We turned the dining table into a woodwork shop, the living room floor into a filming studio, her bed into a library. I carried this determination throughout all of highschool and never missed a due date. All the late nights paid off when I got that text from BOSTES; revealing I hadn’t just passed, but placed within the top twenty percent in the state. I got into the university I wanted. Something I am still proud of today.

My childhood was entangled with problems, which lead to an adolescence crippled with forceful solutions. Then, BAM. I was eighteen and no longer a ventriloquist doll. I was given complete independence. But no one tells you independence is plagued with decisions.

Repeatedly at Christmas dinner I was asked “So, what are you studying at Uni?”, this time by my third cousin Joanne who lives in Brunei. “I don’t know,” I replied with an awkward smile. Like I was a pile of bricks again, wide eyed and with scrunched up foreheads they stared back at me. The cogs didn’t turn. How could I be at university and not know what I’m doing?

I hadn’t made the decision to go to uni, but society had. Like all the other bricks in the wall I accepted the status quo. With a gap year off the table I hesitantly enrolled. My Mum even picked my major. My first year was a zoo, a subject from each department; accounting to philosophy to environmental science to linguistics. I tried them all, hoping to find one that would lead me to the rest of my life.

Like in year seven, when it came to writing my first university essay, I balked. My body hunched over on the staircase. My kneecaps strained to support my body. On the step above, my elbows supported hands that were cradling my head. Streams of water leaked out of the corners of my eyes, while I gasped for air. My oesophagus closed as my muscles tightened. I was having a panic attack. “I CAN’T DO IT!” I yelled towards the screen of my phone. Mum’s voice leaked out of the screen, “You just have to figure it out Ash.” Through the cascade of tears and what felt like a decaying brain, I somehow managed to produces my first academic essay and even submitted it before the deadline.

In second year I enrolled in MECO210: Narrative Journalism’. This subject quite literally led me to the rest of my life. For the first time ever, I was excited about the future. I didn’t have to pull all-nighters to finish assignments because I genuinely enjoyed the writing. I found myself doing assignments for fun. I realised I was in fact talented at writing, just in a different form. NOT academic, but narrative. I could combine all my interests of environmentalism to business to social sciences into one form.

It’s clear I have always struggled with language. But on the other hand, I am talented at communication. A skill is separate from a talent. My talent for storytelling would be nothing without the hard work I put into developing my skills for writing. I would not be able to flourish as a creator without the pushes I’ve received in my life to build my knowledge. Without the influence of education I would never been given the chance to use my talent to impact the world. You should have intentions for your own talents and manifest motivation to excel at the skills needed to achieve those intentions. I am a self-diagnosed dyslexic who’s never learnt my times-tables, but I’ve transgressed above this to forge a career in journalism because I am passionate in sharing human experiences. I’m grateful for these sixteen years, the highs and lows have made me who I am.

A writer.

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