Dear Public Education System,
I appreciate the esteemed honor and opportunity of being voted “Most Likely to Succeed” by my classmates during my senior year of high school. Your attempt at sprucing up the status quo while absentmindedly dismissing the efforts of many other senior high school students, including those that may not sit in favor with influencers within the school, is outstanding. Regretfully, I am unable to accept at this time. Due to circumstances in and outside of my control, life plans will be rerouted indefinitely, leading to obstacles that must be overcome within my mental health, growth opportunities revealed within a failed marriage, and acceptance within the University of Parenting, requiring the utmost of grit and determination.
Dissecting the pig in A.P. Biology prepared me for locating just the right spots on my body for excavation. Scars on my wrist match what I imagine the scars on the pig’s belly would look like, had we sewn him back up for a proper burial. What it did not prepare me for, surprisingly, was the stench of the air in the mental health facility where I held two stints, as well as the harsh fluorescents forcing to penetrate the eyelids I so fiercely scrunched in an attempted pursuit of dismissing reality.
The unavoidable mean girls in the lunchroom and hallways ridiculing me for my weight not only encouraged me to drop pounds quickly, without regard to my health, but also prepared me for the future by supplying dialogue to play on repeat within my own mind, as the use of psychiatric medications combined with emotional eating caused my weight to skyrocket and my confidence to plummet.
The use of yes ma’am, no ma’am, yes sir, no sir, please, and thank you taught me that, above all else, to be agreeable is to be liked. Complacence is to Accepted as Individuality is to Incongruent.
The constant stress of attempting to understand the foreign language of A.P. Calculus, as well as religiously measuring my worth on a scale weighed down by my first C-letter grade, prepared me for the fight or flight response that fluttered in my chest when I tip-toed upon eggshells in my incorrigible marriage. It did not prepare me for the strong hands gripped upon my shoulders, disallowing my premature departure from an unsafe prison I called home, nor did it prepare me for the long nights filled with unrelenting tears, strangely enough – math always brought me to tears.
Working on Arthur Miller’s, The Crucible, in drama class for three years of my high school career – three years of practicing during class and after school and to never once perform as a finished production – prepared me for the ache of eight years in a loveless marriage, devoid of any and all light, practicing how to mask my hopelessness upon the stage displayed for onlookers and passersby. Eight years of lighting my own ass on fire, offering my diminishing bits of hope as collateral, were spent in trusting that his gaslighting would backfire and ignite his final attempt at control into an explosive aftermath of indifference.
I would suggest you initiate a class on preparing income taxes, however, even if you had, it would not have prepared me for the thousands in back taxes I paid after being assured, every year by my husband, that all of our taxes were completed and paid for. I never questioned the man because you taught me not to question The Man.
Your honors societies prepared me for hiding every single shameful, difficult, human thing in my life. They taught me that what is honored is not always what is authentic, and that what is praised is not worth the bullshit on my nose after following so blindly. They taught me to be selective over which things to pass on as important to my daughter, as well as how to undo the over-the-top marketing speeches given by young kids, prepped for use as infiltrators used to sway human creativity and individuality long before their own brains are developed enough to make sound decisions on their own.
Astronomically high GPA requirements leading to all-nighters, in hopes of cramming every bit of information, that took decades of research to compile, into my brain in just a few nights, prepared me for the all-nighters I would pull with my daughter as a newborn, as well as with every season change when her asthma exacerbates, and I count her breaths as her chest rises and falls in sync with the sporadic thoughts shooting through my skull.
I memorized the Pythagorean Theorem. Some Old Hippy Caught A High Tripping On Acid: Sine, Cosine, and Tangent. “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day,” Macbeth. Mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. “I’m just a bill, yes I’m only a bill…how I hope and pray that he will, but today I am still just a bill.” Out of all the things I’ve memorized, nothing is tattooed within my brain so permanently as the look of desperation and relief within my daughter’s wet, swollen eyes when we were reunited after three weeks apart – the longest, most agonizing three weeks of our lives.
Although your measures for success are highly revered — with unparalleled academia, exemplary grade point averages, multiple extracurricular activities, as well as personal and financial long-term investments — they do not fit within the themes of my life journey in this moment.
I am grateful for your input in preparation for my adulthood, for it has given me a baseline to compare how far I’ve come on my own, with regards to human resilience when faced with adversity. The way you cram youth through the system, like pushing meat through a sausage grinder, molding them into the shape you wish them to be, is a surefire way to push an entire generation of children, who were raised with the mentality that they could do anything if their minds were set, towards a steady-state of unassured self-confidence issues, with a side of overwhelming anxiety and constant regret for choices made during the first chapter of their lives – a chapter that will forever sculpt the main plot of their life story.
This system you’ve designed works perfectly for you – exactly as planned – yet it does not benefit the average youth of America. I will be guiding my daughter through your singular plan for success, being sure to reveal the details you sweep under the rug, in that I may better prepare her for the revolution to come. I can assure you – she will not feel as compelled to keep silent as I did. In the meantime, I urge you to check out Greatness Forthcoming, an anthology comprised of alternate, yet, fulfilling detours to success with an Epilogue titled, When Plans Fail and Adversity Hits. I wish you the best of luck on your journey.
Myself in Hindsight
P.S. It would do you well to consider raising your hired educators’ wages. They carry you on their backs while filling in the gaps, making sure students are fed and clothed, taught, and given every opportunity in preparation for the years ahead. It might be best to make preparations now – youth should not be underestimated. Children are strong, but their strength is tenfold when accompanied by adults who’ve had enough. I can hear the distant drums warning of the revolution to come. Can you?
Lindsey Heatherly is an emerging writer, born and raised in Upstate South Carolina. Her first publication is forthcoming in “The Scriblerus.” She works as a pharmacy technician in an inpatient psychiatric hospital and spends her time at home raising a strong, confident daughter.