Inadequate

By: Stella Agatha Widjaja

As you grow up, you may face a lot of questions. When you’re meeting someone, they would ask you “How have you been?”. When you’re at school, you may face a lot of hard questions, like “What is the enzyme that our kidneys produce?” or “What is two to the power of five?”. But has a question ever been as abstract and confusing as “What do you want to be when you grow up?” When you ask me such a question, I would lay in my bed at night, thinking of the countless possibilities I could grow into in the far-off future.

Yes, as a kid, perhaps it was easy for us to answer that question. Because the mind of a child had not been bothered to think about how much the education for that job would cost, or how much that job actually pays, or anything. Our minds were set to accomplishing that one, always-changing goal. Dreams have never been consistent, have they?

As a six-year old, I would easily say “I want to become a doctor when I grow up!” At seven, a lawyer. At eight, a psychologist. At nine, a witch, because I’d been exposed to Harry Potter back then. But I kid you not, the current sixteen-year old me would shrug it off, give you an evasive reply, and run away from you if you were to ask me that question.

A sharp, loud noise woke me up from my nap. It sounded as though a nail had come in contact with a chalkboard, a sound that could make at least half the world population get goosebumps. My least favorite teacher appeared in front of me, with a frown on her face. It was Mrs. Saputra, who was so fierce that even a lion would cower in fear in front of her. “Dear me, you are absolutely hopeless, miss…” She trailed off, and fixed her glasses. “I’m sorry. Who were you, again?” I clicked my tongue—a sign of disrespect, this seemed to anger her a bit.

‘Of course,’ I thought. ‘Of course she wouldn’t remember you, just an average mary who’s not particularly good at anything.’ I sighed, “Veronica Asher Gunawan, ma’am.” I said. She cleared her throat and gave me a look of contempt. “Well, miss Veronica. The school is not a place for you to sleep.” She then walked to the whiteboard and began writing something.

I looked at my opened notebook, blank but for the messy handwriting on the top left corner of the paper. ‘What do you want to be’? I had written. I decided it would be a better way of spending time to ponder about this again, rather than hearing my physics teacher going on and on about something I did not care about.

To be completely honest, yes, I do have a dream. Correction, I did. But reality is harsh, and by the age of twelve, I knew it was impossible for me to accomplish such a feat. “I want to be a renowned writer.” I subconsciously said out loud. The whole class looked at me. My eyes widened on its own accord and my cheeks reddened. I cleared my throat and tried to ignore the pairs of eyes who had set their gazes on me, much like a predator watching a prey.

Thankfully enough, only a third of the class had heard my sudden announcement, and that Mrs. Saputra didn’t quite catch what I’d said, so I tried to play it off cool. But of the 10 people who’d heard me, one of them kept his eyes locked on to my face. If it weren’t for the chemistry project we’d worked for together, I wouldn’t have even known that he existed.

Now, if I were to describe him, I would say that he is… quite attractive. No comments beyond that or people would think I’m a loser who beautifies their crush. And no, I do not have a crush on him, mind you. He kept staring at me until Mrs. Saputra called his name. “Mister Ethan Frowne Wijaya? The whiteboard is here, not at the back of the class.” She said, dropping a hint of sarcasm. “Now, we know you are very smart and you do not need me explaining these formulas but I do respect someone who could be humble.” He looked at her apologetically. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I was… distracted by something.”

Lunch break arrived after 2 hours of pure torture, and I threw my book into my bag. I saw my best friend approaching me from a distance, but was too tired to greet her in a cheerful manner, thus I sat back and waited for her to reach my seat. “So what’s this I’ve heard about someone making a sudden announcement during class?” She teased me. “Oh, stop it Sophia! Gosh, I regret it so much. That was so embarrassing, I can’t. Who told you about that anyway?” “Oh, a little bird told me.” She said, and imitated a bird flapping its wings.

I sighed for the nth time that day, it had not been a very great day, I’d thought. A short jingle rang across the room to notify the students that an announcement is about to be made. “Miss Veronica Asher Gunawan, please briefly go to the vice principal’s office this instant, once again I repeat, Miss Veronica Asher Gunawan, please go to the vice principal’s office. Thank you.”

I ran my finger through my hair in frustration. “Be right back,” I said to Sophia, who looked at me with knitted eyebrows and a worried smile. “Good luck.” She said, and I went out of my classroom.

A trip to any kinds of office was hardly any kind of pleasure. I kept biting my lip, and my legs were weirdly jelly-like. I was shaking the whole time, afraid for what was about to come. In 3 out of 10, visits to the vice principal’s office would be for something good, and I doubt that was the case for me. ‘Did my mom forget to pay for the monthly pay again?’ , or ‘Were my scores so bad that they had to downgrade me into the social class?’ or even things like ‘Have they found a Hogwarts letter addressed to me?’ but of course, the last thought was a joke to cheer me up, because the first two thoughts were more likely to happen.

I drew in a heavy breath, and let it all out before knocking on the wooden door in front of me. “Excuse me,” I said as I opened the door. The vice principal was sitting on a comfortable-looking chair, doing his work. Next to him, stood Ethan, who smiled as soon as he saw me. Not a big smile, just a small courteous smile that could hardly be considered a flirty one. “H-Have you called for me, sir?” I asked.

He stopped his work and looked at me from head-to-toe. “So,” He said, before taking off his glasses. Perhaps it was meant to make him look cool and professional and so. “I heard from Ethan here that you like writing.” He said. I gave a brief glared at Ethan, who I felt had betrayed me, even if it were not the case. “Yes, sir, you are right about that.”

He stood up and gave me a piece of paper, brightly colored. “There is a short story writing contest just around the corner. I thought you might be interested in joining it.” I looked at the flyer, reading each and ever words carefully. Everything seemed to be drowned out by then. The vice principal was saying something along the lines of ‘…we would like to encourage students…’ and ‘… thus we thought it would be…’

I finally snapped back to consciousness when I finished reading the flyer. “So, what do you think, Veronica? You wanna join the contest, or…?” Ethan asked me. “Absolutely!” I said, and I would have hugged him right there and right then if it weren’t for the fact that we were at school, we were barely acquaintances, and that the vice principal was watching us.

I began typing the story as soon as I got home, it had only been 15 minutes and I’d typed about 200 words, my fingers clicking the keyboard on a quick pace. I would sometimes stop to think about what I should write next, but that fun activity had to stop for a short while, because of a knock on my door. I heard my mom calling my name. I knew what she was going to say, but that still did not stop me from saying “What?”

I closed Microsoft Word and switched the tab to a pdf of a biology e-text book. I opened the door. “Are you studying?” was what she said. Every single day she would always ask me that. “Yes, I was reading about plants.” I lied. “Good,” she sighed. “I wish you weren’t so slow at memorizing things, then this all would’ve been a cinch. Why aren’t you like me?” She said. My mom was smart. But she was not nice. She never bothered to be nice. Ever since I was a kid, she’d always wanted me to become a doctor. That’s why it would be impossible for me to be a writer, let alone a renowned writer.

“Alright then, go back to your study. If you want dinner, it’s on the table. Just microwave it for 5 minutes and it should be edible. I’m busy, see you tonight.” She said, and with not a second look, she walked away from me. “Don’t forget to eat the vitamins.”

I closed my bedroom door and locked it. I stretched my fingers and got back to working on my story, trying to be as sesquipedalian as I could.

“The two met again on this night, one with a big smile and one with an anxious frown. The boy asked her—“ Mrs. Saputra stopped talking and laughed. “What a child. Do you really think such a mediocre and insipid story would even have a chance at making it through the preliminary round?” The devil criticized.

I gritted my teeth. As much as I’d hate to admit, she was right. I was far from being good enough to write an award-winning short story, but a teacher shouldn’t be discouraging their student that way. “Thank you for the criticism, Mrs. Saputra. I will take that in mind.” I said in a bitter tone. She gave me a look, and laughed. “You’re very welcome. I’m surprised they didn’t ask Nana to participate in this competition instead. She would’ve been a better fit.” Nana, who sat a few seats in front of me, gulped. “Well actually, Nana is also participating in this competition, but of course, anyone who doesn’t actually care about that wouldn’t know…” Mrs. Saputra flinched at my remark, but didn’t say anything back afterwards.

I may have put up a front, but I was actually very embarrassed. It was a mistake to write my ideas down on my book. I really wished I had the power to become invisible, or be forgotten or something. Mrs. Saputra was right, it really was a boring and monochromatic story, something that anyone could come up with. It really hit me hard. Then again, I never really did become serious at writing, because I knew it wouldn’t help me in the future. Maybe it was only obvious that I wouldn’t suddenly become extremely skilled at this little hobby of mine. I looked at my book and buried myself in it, thinking up of scenarios in my head for the story I would type later on.

Class finally ended on a high note, Mrs. Saputra announced the date of her next test, and slammed the door shut as she exited. “Wow, she must be on her period.” Ethan said, looking at her until her figure was only a dot. “Huh, and from her wrinkles I would have thought she had gone through menopause already.” I remarked, still salty about her. Nana, Ethan and I were sitting around a table in an uncomfortable manner.

I cleared my throat. “So, Nana, how’s your story going?” I asked, sure that I was going to devastate myself more after hearing about her current progress. But, boy, was I wrong. She gave me a shake of her head. “I haven’t even started yet… I’m on an author’s block.” I frowned. “Oh, shame, I was really looking forward to reading yours.” I said, though I was a little bit relieved to hear that she was not doing as well as I’d expected. I felt guilty about it though. I patted her shoulder, “It’s alright. The deadline’s still a week away anyway. You can do it.” She smiled sheepishly.

“What about you, Ethan?” I asked. “Oh, no, I’m not participating in the story writing competition, I’m joining the speech contest.” He explained. “Oh, well good luck on that. Have you prepared your speech yet?” I asked, though I was not even remotely interested about it. His voice was just reassuring and I liked listening to him speaking. “Oh well, pretty good so far, I guess. But enough about me,” He said, even though we’ve only been talking about him for 30 seconds, “how are you feeling, Veronica?” he continued.

I parted my mouth, about to say something, but choked up on my tears instead. I wiped my tears off. “It’s alright. It could’ve been worse. I mean, at least the whole class’s not making fun of it, or anything.” Nana gave me a sheet of tissue. “Thanks.”

“Can I see your work? Like, in full and not just snippets.” Ethan asked. “No, I’m going to delete everything and start over.” I said, and I blew my nose onto the tissue. Nana gave me another sheet of tissue for me to wipe my tears away. “I-I would like to read it as well. I think it is only fair that you give it a try.” Nana said. I finally nodded. “I’ll email it to you guys later.” I gave a tired sigh, and put my head on the table, hoping that it would make me feel a bit better.

“I’m home.” I said, and I closed the door. I locked it, and waited for a reply. No one replied, so I assumed nobody was home. I took my shoes off, and realized that mom’s shoes were there too. “Maybe she’s in the toilet.” I thought, and shrugged it off.

After an exhausting day at school, all I wanted to was to barge into my bedroom and throw myself down onto my bed. However, that activity had to be delayed, as instead of the usual empty bed I met everyday, there was something different about it. My mom was sitting on my bed, my laptop perched on her lap. She gave me a look as soon as I entered my room.

Usually, your parents would be proud of whatever you’d created, even if it was bad. But my mom frowned at me. She looked at me in dismay, looking at from head to toe, as if asking herself “Is this horrendous creature really my daughter?”. She sighed, “Did you write this?” She asked as she turned the laptop so that it was facing my direction. It was the half-finished story I’d been working on.

I gulped nervously. I’d never seen my mom look so furious. From my observations, there are three kinds of people in this world. People who cry when they’re angry, people who blow up and shout when they’re angry, and people who stay silent when they’re angry. You could probably guess which one my mom was.

I nodded, a silent, and small nod. She put my laptop down, “Veronica Asher Gunawan. Why, why, oh, just why won’t you ever listen to me?” She said, and she looked at me with terrible disappointment in her eyes. “I absolutely despise people who don’t listen to me, even if it were my own daughter.” I looked at the floor, too ashamed to look at her in the face. “Stop wasting your time on unimportant business. I’ve downloaded PDFs of the best biology textbooks I could find, and some of the references that I’ve used during my college years. Perhaps you could try to read it when you get over your silly phase.” She said in a sharp tone, not allowing me to interrupt her in-between.

She stood up, and I, too, finally stood up. I gathered up enough courage to say something back to her. “Mom, I don’t want to be a doctor.” I said, though I was too nervous, and it probably became incomprehensible to her. Then again, my protest was probably only a string of words that came in through her left ear and left her brain without ever touching it.

“I never asked you what you wanted to be, did I? If you think everyone can achieve their dream, you are wrong. There are people who are talented at something, and people who are not. You, Veronica, are my daughter, and it is only apparent that you would be as smart as me. As long as you study enough, your grades will rise up and you will be able to enter the medics major. You’ll never be a good author, you’re just not cut out for it.” It was amazing how throughout her speech, she was completely calm, yet intimidating.

“Well, mom, maybe I’m not cut out for being a doctor either. Maybe your genes didn’t pass down to me or something. I am different than you, mom. I’m not you. However hard you may try, I will never be you.” I said. “…And, what if I won the story writing competition? Would you consider a change in plans?” I asked, and I gulped down nervously right after.

She stayed completely silent and walked away. “Show me you really are cut out for it, then maybe I would consider it. Just don’t come crying to me when you realize what a terrible decision you’ve made, Veronica.” She shut the door closed.

I finally threw myself down onto the bed, and held back my tears. Enough tears for today, it was time to get back to work. My fingers rapidly tapped on the twenty-six letters of the keyboard. Writing down each and every thought in a delicate manner, pressing the backspace button constantly.

It had been hours since I started, until I could finally see myself typing two words; two word which had more meaning than the entire story combined: “The end.”

I laid myself on the bed, tired after hours of being in the same sitting position. I sent my work as attachments to Ethan and Nana, along the file was a message: “Tell me what you think about it.”

15 minutes later, an email came from Ethan. “I’m not an avid reader, but I thought that was well done?? I know, I know, I’m not good at reviewing a story. I thought it was interesting, I guess. Don’t feel offended, I’m just lacking in the sweet-talk department.” I smiled, “Thanks.” I typed back, though it didn’t feel genuine.

The deadline finally came. It was the final day to submit your entries. My fingers shook nervously as I clicked on the send button. I was too lazy to change anything ever since that day I’d finished it. Not just too lazy, I did not want to do anything to it. I knew that it would be useless to do anything about it anyway.

The announcement would be made in a few days, and I was not excited for it. This could go so wrong, but this could also go right. Perhaps, just perhaps, my story would be accepted. Perhaps then, I could change my mom’s point of view. This was my chance.

Nana was right next to me, and she seemed pale. Perhaps because she was as nervous as I’d been. “Hey, it’s going to be fine. I mean, I haven’t seen your work but I’m sure you did well.” I said, in order to comfort her. “Oh, um, thanks…” She said, then she stood up. “I just remembered that I need to go somewhere. Bye.” Her behavior made me wonder if she didn’t like me, but that was fine by me. It’s not like we would magically be friends after going through the same hardship or anything.

I stood up, and immediately jumped as I heard Ethan’s voice. “Have you submitted it yet?” He asked, “You surprised me.” I hit his hand. “What? How was that my fault?” He pouted. I shook my head, “I’ve submitted my entry, and I’m honestly regretting it right now.”

“Why?” he asked me, and his eyes were so focused on me, that I swear, if looks could kill, I’d be dead. “No. I’m just afraid they won’t like it, the readers, I mean.”

He gave me a smile. “Why would you be worried about that? Hey, I’m a reader, and I thought you made a nice story, considering that it was your first time. So, don’t worry,” He said, “Everything will be fine.”

Everything was the opposite of fine. “Alright, I understand. Thank you.” I said into the phone. My heart shattered. Why? Because I had been disqualified. Disqualified, not eliminated. The man in the phone had just said so. Someone under the name of Christina Tjandra, otherwise known as Nana, had submitted an entry that was very similar to mine.

“I can’t believe this.” I whispered to myself. Nana had copied my work. Nana did. I knew she was not my friend, but I didn’t know she could be this cruel. I just couldn’t believe in anything anymore. I felt like the world was falling apart, like I was not even mad. I felt numb. I didn’t know how to feel, about losing my chance at actually pursuing my passion.

“I can’t believe that cheater got in instead of me. She was the one who copied me, yet she got into the competition? Just because she submitted her entry faster? This has got to be some kind of joke.” I gritted my teeth in frustration.

I wanted to shout. I wanted to throw my things at the floor. I wanted to trash my room. But I didn’t. Instead I lied down, and cried into the pillow. I didn’t like how weak and powerless I felt. I didn’t like the fact that I was not mad, I was just tired of everything.

I heard the door opening. My mom had come home. So I picked up my biology book, and started to read it.

She knocked on the door and came inside, her face not showing any signs of bemusement about the fact that I was actually studying. “I see you’ve finally come to your senses.” She said. “That’s great. Don’t do something that stupid again, understand?”

I nodded, not daring to look at her, because I was too afraid of her seeing my tears. “Yes.”

My phone rang, a call from an unknown caller. My mom walked away. “Hello,” I said. “Who is this?” The caller remained silent. “I’m sorry. I copied your work, I was desperate—“ I ended the call before she could say more. Nana called again, but I rejected it. I didn’t want to hear her sob story, all I knew was that she robbed my little budding hope away, and I didn’t need to know more.

30 years from then, I’d turned 46. My sixteen-year old daughter asked me; ”Mom, what made you start writing?”

I said; “Because that is what I like,”

She just looked at me like I was insane; “But being an author is risky, if you don’t make enough sales, you won’t get any money. You had successfully become a doctor, so why didn’t you stay a doctor? They make a lot,”

“Unfortunately enough, I care more about being happy, then I care about how I could get food on my plate later. I chose to abandon the career path my mom had planned for me, because it wasn’t what I wanted. It was what my mom wanted.” I said, as I reminisced about my journey to get to this point.

“5 years after I started working as a doctor, I went through a slump. I was unhappy. So I started posting stories on my blog, it was my sanctuary. It was the only thing that could cheer me up. People liked it, so I thought, maybe this could work out after all.” I told her.

My daughter looked at me, still unsatisfied. “Alright, whatever you say. But if you had stayed being a doctor, we would be super rich right now.” She said, and pouted as she scrolled through her Instagram feed.

I laughed. “Do you hate me for that?”

“What? Of course not, I love you, mom. Oh, and Ashley, my friend, told me that she was a big fan of your books.”

“Really? Well, tell her I’m honored.” I giggled.

In the end, what really matters the most about careers is whether or not it really fits you. Like how you would choose your clothes, if you like it, then wear it. Just because it doesn’t look pretty to someone else, it doesn’t change the fact that you think it looks pretty. When you like something, but you are aware that you are not exceptionally talented in that department, do something to change it. Practice a lot, listen to criticisms, and never let anything stop you from doing what you want. Listen to people, but also listen to yourself. Your brain isn’t the only one making decisions, your heart could too.