“How did you live, Campbell Simmons?” She breaks the silence in a long time.
“You already know, don’t you?”
“I can guess, and it’d probably be correct too, but no, I’d rather hear it from you.”
“…Adopted at 5 months. Monica and Dave Simmons. Both doctors.” I pause, being careful where I step, just in case. I examine her face before saying, “we’re sort of on the well-to-do side.” Thankfully, she doesn’t seem to mind. “High expectations from when I was really young. Pressure. You can guess where all that’s landed me now. Head of student council, girl’s tennis champion, and probably valedictorian in two years.” I end. It’s the first time saying anything like this.
“My turn. Clover Hills Orphanage, Stayed there until 8 years old. Foster parents for 4 months, then they got their own baby, so I was moved to God’s Grace Orphanage. It’s a horrible Christian orphanage, we had to pray 4 times a day. A rich couple recently debated on adopting me. I was very nearly there, but one of them decided it was too much. I was half lucky- they ended up paying for my education instead. So that’s landed me here now.” She smiles.
We spend a few more minutes there, talking to each other, finding more about each other’s lives. As I talk about myself, I feel myself becoming more and more like the alpha-girl image I had created for myself. And Abigail? I’m still not getting anything. She talks, but in an unrevealing way. Her emotions are carefully hidden between layers of words. I’m not sure how she feels towards me. Does she love me like a twin sister? Is she indifferent? Does she hate me for some reason?
“Aren’t you tired?” Abigail asks me. I know what she means, but I ignore myself.
“Tired of what?” I reply, and she gets that curious look again, the one she uses when she’s figuring out people’s emotions.
“You’re stalling for time. Avoiding the question.” How, how is it that this girl could read minds?
“Every second of your life is spent in haste. Always needing to do everything, be everything, be everywhere, you’re just tired out of your mind and you know it.”
“You don’t understand.” She touched the sensitive subject. The conversation is full of land mines now, have to be careful where you step. My voice escalates, becoming sharper, louder, I’m desperate to protect myself.
“I don’t. I know. But I understand some things better than you do. You’re too clouded in your mind to feel your own emotions.”
“No, you don’t understand. I’ve been living this way ever since I could do anything. When I started to crawl, I had to be the fastest crawler. I had to be the first to say ‘ma-ma’. That innocent first word, for me, it wasn’t that innocent!” I’m gasping for breath between bursts of words. I’m shouting, my feelings never have been unleashed before until this moment. “You don’t understand how it feels, that you just can’t be normal. You can hang out with normal friends, but your standards are already so high that you can’t imagine being one of your normal friends. You have to be better, better, the best! You hit that point where you can’t stand your imperfect self!” I scream like a madwoman and start to cry.
I had carefully built a tower, of a perfect home, perfect school, and a perfect life. This tower was holding itself up only because my mental state was stable. I had devised my own rules and synched myself to those. I became the rules. I had contained my emotions and I steered clear of triggering any of it, because I knew myself that emotions would make the tower unstable. And the second one little brick of my tower- my world- became unstable, the tower would tumble down. That was how long I’d been locking myself in.
She made me realize this. Abigail toppled my tower. I sob myself insane.
“You can’t win in everything, you know,” Abigail says. For some reason, her tone is stiff. She’s not soft and nice anymore.
“Yes, yes I can and I will, I have to,” I answer childishly. It’s like a last desperate attempt of my tower to keep itself standing. I’m stubborn and violent. I want Abigail to say it’s okay, calm down, I’m your sister and I’m right next to you. Because the idea of Abigail isn’t all that bad anymore. Her reaction isn’t what I expect.
“You can’t! Why are you being so foolish? Snap out of it!” This is the first time Abigail is losing her calm. I stare at her with large eyes, my tears suddenly having stopped.
“You just don’t know how lucky you are, don’t you, Campbell Simmons? So you’re so sad because you have to be perfect. Always getting the best of supports, a lifetime of top-class, everything guaranteed and lain out in front of you! Don’t you realize that from the start, our lives were just the flip of a coin? When your parents adopted one of those two-month old babies, why do you think it was you? Was this baby prettier? Healthier? No! It’s just as likely that I went under your parents, got named Campbell, grew into who you are now, and am standing in front of Abigail right now! It was half chance that you haven’t had to be kicked around all your life, being lonely and always crying in the corner! It’s just a 50:50 luck that I’m not you right now, and you’re not me.” She’s gasping like I was. Struggling to breathe and on the verge of tears, we both sit in shock.
“Can’t you accept it now? You can’t win everything.” Abigail manages one more snap and looks at me, drained, wondering if she had succeeded in convincing me.
I already know that. I can’t win everything. But even now, some part of me is still clinging to the dream of the tower. The tiger. The tiger compels me to shake my head. Abigail stares at my reply like she can’t possibly believe me. Fortunately, she seems to have calmed down. She gets up to leave, but leaves a whisper.
“Girl’s tennis state champion Campbell Simmons, undefeated last tournament, you go play tennis against the gym wall. Then you’ll know what I’m talking about.” She leaves.
I’m in a state of a completely blank mind for a few seconds. Then, blindly, rashly, I get up and open the door. I don’t hear the nurse calling behind me. I don’t think about this going on my school records somehow. I just race towards my locker, take out my expensive racket, and run to the gym. I know what Abigail meant. But some stupid part of me can’t give up. This is how stupid you are, Campbell Simmons, I tell myself, but I don’t really care anymore.
The gym is empty. I drag out a basket of balls from the storage. Tears streak down my face as I just can’t stop myself from doing a serve. The wall hits it back. Forehand. The ball bounces back. Backhand. The ball bounces back. Volley. I’m crying so hard I can’t really see through the tears. But I keep playing. Because the ball keeps bouncing back. Topspin. The ball bounces back. Flat. The ball bounces back. My body is moving mechanically, the way it’s been trained to do after all those years of expensive personal coaching. Then, I hit a smash. When the ball ricochets back, I’m not fast enough to hit it. I lose. I lose. I lost. I can’t win in everything. My mind is completely and utterly shattered.
I’m crazy now. A freight train, I can’t be stopped. I scream and scream and scream. I take a ball in my hands, and belt it against the wall. It’s not a tennis shot anymore. It’s just me hitting the ball with a racket. I hear the faint noise of someone running towards me and screaming my name. Abigail? I think, I turn, but it’s too late. When the ball bounces back this time, it hits me in the head. I am knocked out. Two faints in two days, all because of Abigail.