School, fear, things and just getting over’em

When I was a kid, I remember being deathly afraid of being called on by the teacher for I knew it meant getting scolded if I didn’t get the answer right, which I rarely ever did. The only reason why I did my homework was because I was afraid to be punished in class. The will to do well in tests and exams was just to make sure my parents were not disappointed in me.

The fear was real. A teacher once made me and a couple of other students stay back during recess. He made us sit in an old storage room. We were not allowed to each lunch. Another teacher punched me in the back once because I didn’t give up my seat in the bus for a female classmate. The girl was extremely slow and no one was the wiser as it was hectic and packed.

At the tender age of twelve, I did badly for a major exam, the final one all students had to take before leaving the school. The look of disappointment in my late dad’s eyes are still firmly etched in my mind. My mom however, while disappointed as well, proceed to award me with fifty dollars for scoring a single ‘A’ grade, which was English. That was the deal, but I refused it because overall, I still emerged as a poor student. That night, I cried in my room because the irony of being rewarded for laziness was extremely strong, one which actually presented itself as love.

In high school, I was the best student. I was valedictorian for the final exam to graduate.

It was a major turnaround as I pushed myself to study hard so as to never disappoint my parents again. As such, my social life took a major toll. I was pretty much the nerd, geek, loner, awkward kid with zero social skills. I was scrawny. I wore thick glasses. My hair was unkempt. I never went out on weekends and I only played video games on my Playstation. Even my dad got upset with me once for always wanting to stay home and not want to join family outings. In retrospect, my introverted side was already laying quietly dormant, but I didn’t know it of course.

I did however, proceeded to make a change when I was turning fifteen. Puberty had its full effect on me. My body was changing. I started paying attention to girls more. I felt lonely at home. I wanted friends. I changed all of it slowly. I talked to more people. I went out with friends. I tried to talk to girls. I bought new clothes. I wore contact lenses. I went to get my hair trimmed consistently and properly. I was really vain as a result. It was tough though. I remember getting lost on my way to town to meet my friends. I actually felt that nostalgic fear of losing your parents at the mall as a kid again.

Fast forward half a decade later, I was bound to enter university. I had a lot of grand plans for it. I thought I would stay in the dorms. I thought I would take up a bunch of co-curricular activities. I thought I would make lots of friends. I thought would study really hard.

But then my dad died literally a couple of months before that, so I didn’t want to care anymore.

When death happens so close to you, a lot of things around you suddenly becomes so minor and silly. I’d attend lectures and wonder with annoyance, “How does this even matter?” I proceed to flunk my entire first semester, scoring several ‘D’ grades across the board. Technically, I wasn’t qualified to be a student anymore. I was summoned to the dean’s office the following semester and put on study probation. If I didn’t buck up, I’d get kicked out effectively. And so, without thinking at all, I just studied again. I studied not because I cared about what I was reading, but because I mindlessly thought it was the right thing to do. It was paradoxical somewhat, but I guess sometimes we simply can’t explain how and why we do things. By comparison, I did extremely well in the second semester, so much so the dean gave me a letter of commendation for such good grades. It was ironic and funny, how our caliber is measured.

Time in university simply breezed by. There wasn’t much to do. My dad’s death caused me to manifest all my anger and insecurities in the world as conflict, confusion and a sense of loss all festered in me deeply, not that I could understand any of it then. I was honestly miserable most of the time although I couldn’t admit it or explain why. If I was a detective then, I’d have been an angry one who lost faith in humanity, never moving forward.

Today, I wouldn’t say I am happy.

But I am in the clear.

I am over some things. I’ve moved on from a lot of elements of the past. I have a sense of better understanding of who I am and what disturbs me. I have clear goals.

School has and always shall be, in my opinion nothing more than a privileged phase in life. That’s what I like to call it.

Things happened, for a reason perhaps. I wouldn’t know, but they happened anyway. Things could have been worse, a lot worse. Things were put in front of me, some I took, some I ignored. Things died all the way. Things lived and still remained. Things got lost forever. Things sucked sometimes. Things were so good that I felt guilty sometimes.

Things got better, and things will be better.

Things always happen to make you who you’re supposed to be anyway. The things are there for you to explore, nothing, nothing less. Some things hurt. Some things hurt more. Some things are fun and filled with joy.

And there will always be things.

If you feel like you’re having a tough time in school, be it due to social pressure, feeling lost in class or dealing with bullies, don’t worry. In the words of Dan Savage, it gets better, a lot better.

Simply reach out and ask for help. People do want to help.




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Alden Tan

Alden Tan

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