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by Coco
Rated: E · Non-fiction · Experience · #2296926
A personal memoir about failing
It’s game time.

I anxiously sat at my desk. “Take out the Student Answer Sheet Instructions booklet that I gave you. Follow along in this booklet as I read instructions to you.” Looking down at my answer sheet, the words glared back at me. College Board SAT. “You may not go back to a section once that section has ended,” the teacher scowled at each of us. “Doing so may result in score cancellation, delays, or both.”

In the locker room, I timidly awaited as the coach was explaining our game plan. “No matter what we do today, we need to protect the rebounds. Protect the rebounds. Whoever doesn’t do what I say will sit on the bench.” I looked around the room. Everyone seemed to be having a great time. Some were talking and laughing, while others were scrolling through their phones. “Come on guys!” the coach bellowed. “It's the first game of the season. Let's give the fans a good game!”

I took a deep breath and closed my eyes.

Half an hour later

“We’ll start testing with Section 1, the Reading Test. Once we begin, you’ll have 65 minutes to work on Section 1. We’ll have a short break after the section is over.” The sound of paper shuffling filled the room. Flipping to the first page, my mind was blank. I stared at the person next to me, who had already started underlining and circling parts of the text. Oh, is that what we’re supposed to do? I said to myself. With a clammy hand, I picked up my pencil.

With a blow of the whistle, the game started. Our big man tipped the ball, and it fell toward me. I dribbled up the court. The audience roared, and I was dumbstruck. I could faintly hear my teammates shouting, “Leo! Pass the ball!” but it was as if my fingers were glued together. The enormous defender closed in. The next thing I know, I was standing on the court, alone. The howling of the audience stopped.

Ten minutes later

I read a sentence over and over again, but the words just didn’t seem to click. There were long words I’d never seen in my life, and familiar words used in a way that just didn’t seem right. After going through the passage, I couldn’t recall a single event that happened in the text. I’m doomed, I whispered. Before the exam, I had boasted to my friends, “How hard can it be? With my English and Math grades, I should ace the SAT!” I should never have done this.

A hissing voice brought me back to reality. My teammates and I walked towards the bench, where the coach was furiously shouting. “Leo! You have to wake up and pass the ball!” I stared at the hardwood. “I know your skillset and what you can do. I’ve seen it at practice a million times! Just do what you do!” I nodded, and with another whistle, I walked back onto the court.

One hour later

I was on my third passage when the teacher screeched, “Stop working and put your pencils down. Place your answer sheet on the page in your test book where you stopped working. Close your test book and leave it on your desk. You have a 10-minute break.” I watched as people got up from their seats and walked outside the classroom. My ears were ringing and my head hurt. Maybe reading isn’t my thing. Maybe I’ll do better in the other sections, whatever they are, and I’ll still achieve a good score, I said to myself.

A loud DOOOO informed us that it was halftime. I looked up at the scoreboard: 8 to 45. Inside the locker room, our coach was furious. “Just run the plays! Somebody tell me why it’s so hard to run the plays!” I stared at my shoes. I wonder what my classmates, teachers, and friends would say after this game. “Do NOT give up! The game is not over until you give up! We still have a chance to go on a run and win the game!” Perhaps the coach was right. Maybe we did still have a chance.

Half an hour later

The writing section. Why is it called a writing section when there is, in fact, no writing? Growing up in Canada, my first language was English; writing and speaking it always came naturally to me. However, looking at my test booklet, every choice seemed like the correct one. I read the sentences in the narrative multiple times, each time from the perspective of a different answer selection. Ugh. Why do they have to do this to me? Flipping through the booklet, I wondered when I would be free of it.

I glanced courtside. There was my favorite teacher, Mr. Hickey; my friend Russell, and worse of all, my crush. As the opponent drained another three, I thought to myself, Why am I even here? Can’t I just run off the court and hide in the bathroom? It was as if I had lost all my talent and skill overnight. I couldn’t shoot, I couldn’t pass, I couldn’t dribble; I even had problems distinguishing my teammates from the opponents. My face was red hot, and I tried my best not to look toward the spectators. I imagined them laughing and pointing their fingers at me.

2 hours later

On the way home, my mother asked me about the test. I stared at the passing cars. How am I going to live? I asked myself. As an Asian kid, I have a mother who has always held really high expectations for me. I remember when I was in elementary school; if my friends got 70s or 80s on tests, they would be rewarded with ice cream, video games, or hugs and kisses from their mothers. One time I got a 90 on a math test, and I asked my mother if I could be rewarded with ice cream, just like my classmates. “Leo, success should be a habit. It shouldn’t be something that you need to be rewarded for to want to achieve,” my mother explained. When I complained, citing the examples of my classmates, my mother looked at me: “You don’t always have to be like other people. In fact, you need to be the opposite. You need to stand out from your peers and become better. More successful. That's how your father and I got this house.” But the only thing I understood was that my classmates got ice cream and I didn’t. Back in the car on the way home from the SAT, I didn’t know how to respond to my mother, so I just pretended to be asleep.

I was very quiet in the locker room after the game. While my teammates fooled around, I was devastated by the loss. Yesterday, I imagined myself breaking ankles and knocking down 3-pointers. But today, I disappeared on the court. I was afraid of the ball. In school, I was always known as the Asian kid who could really hoop, but today, in the first game of the season, I blew it. My reputation is destroyed. No one will like me. Everyone will think I’m a liar, I thought to myself. I don’t want to go to school anymore.

In my bed that night, I tossed and turned, and flashbacks of the day before kept haunting me. My world was falling apart. I secretly wished that tomorrow would never come, and that I wouldn’t have to face my failures.

Morning the next day

I was wide awake and waiting for my alarm to ring. I thought of all the ways I could avoid a conversation with my mother. Should I continue sleeping? Should I fake a cold? My thoughts were interrupted by footsteps coming upstairs. With a knock on the door, my mother came in, carrying a warm bowl of milk. “Leo, what's wrong? You’ve been avoiding me since yesterday.” I cradled the bowl and had one big sip. “Mom, Pleeaassse don’t get angry.” I took a deep breath. “I’m pretty sure I failed the SAT yesterday.” My mom smiled. “Is that all?” I turned away and buried my face in the pillow. My mother put the bowl of milk beside my bed and softly explained, “Leo, I know we’ve always been hard on you, but it's only because we want you to have a better life than we did when we were young.” “That's what you always say,” I muttered. “So you’re not mad at me?” My mother was quick to respond, “Why would I be? I understand sometimes it might seem that way, but your father and I just want to teach you to achieve greatness, to have ambition.” She looked at me. “Leo, I have always wanted what's best for you and for you to be happy, but because of this, I think I have achieved the opposite. It is OK to fail. Failing is normal. The important thing is to stand up and keep moving after you fail. You are still so, so young and have so much potential. Don’t let one little failure define you. We will love you no matter what.”

Walking in the hallways at school that day, I felt like a magnet, sucking the attention of everyone who walked by. Towards the end of the corridor two of my best friends, Russell and Michael, turned toward me. As they closed in, I made up a thousand excuses in my mind that would explain my performance at the game. “Hey Leo! Did you do the math homework?” I was stunned for a second, and answered, “Ummm yeah?” I walked with them to our first class. At the front of the room, I suddenly stopped. “Aren’t you going to ask about my game yesterday?” Although I thought it was really humiliating, there was a part of me that wondered why they didn’t ask me about such an important event. “Ohhhh right! Hahahaha you were pretty bad yesterday. It was like seeing a monkey playing basketball. Let's go to class.” I laughed, “You play like a monkey!” To my surprise, they didn’t seem to care too much about my game. Throughout the day, no one came up to make fun of me as I had imagined they would, and everything just seemed – normal. Nobody seemed to care. Most people just forgot about my embarrassing game. I was glad. While the loss was a very disappointing occurrence to me, no one else seemed to care about it that much. Perhaps I was overestimating my importance to others; in some respect, not caring is a good thing. I realized that I am free to try my best but also that I am free to fail. Mistakes don’t affect my relationships, and they don’t affect who I am. I smiled. “Our next game is tomorrow! Don’t forget to come!” I said as I slapped Russell’s shoulder.

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