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I Myself Am Me
I take a step inside the great space before me, my shoe rubbing off dust from the wooden floor. Tranquility surrounds me; it prevails. The only sound that I can hear is the pounding of my heart and the symphony of whispering voices in my mind. I take another step, aligning my other foot with the one in front of me. This time the heel of my shoe collides with the wooden floor making a soft clacking sound. I slowly lift my head to look about. The pink wallpaper implies only one thing: feminism. I personally have had a deep-seated aversion for the feministic color; I have always thought that the lighter, softer its shade, the duller it is than black itself. And the walls are not the only ones in this horrifying color. The pillows and sheets are pink as well. Temporarily reducing the disappointment, the furniture and the rest are plain white: the desk and the chair, the window pane, the curtains, the bed. I do not know how I enjoyed living here for twenty years — seven thousand, three hundred and five days to be precise; but I am positive that the greatest moments in my life have been in this particular room.
A frameless mirror hangs on the wall beside me. I face it just to observe a lady I have never been certain I comprehensively knew. I stare at her from head to toe. Her black, wavy hair is neatly tied up in a bundle, like it has always been; she is wearing a simple, scarlet dress given to her by her parents, which reminds her of female vampires and princesses; and those benevolent, black shoes — those shiny flats that she could not stand wearing for too long for her ankles have been squeezed to fit in — cover her feet. She most definitely looks like a woman, always has acted like one since she could properly say “please” and “thank you”. Though still, she herself is not entirely convinced she had been one.
I walk away from the mirror, pull the chair from the desk, and sit on it, gracefully executing my perfect poise and everything I have been obligated to live upon. The silver-edged envelope laid on the table catches my eyes, so I take and open it. I sigh, and then smile. It used to mean everything to me. Well not really to me but to my parents, and I thought that nothing could make me more contented than seeing my parents pleased. But now that I have it, I do not know exactly why I am not that satisfied with what I have achieved.
It is my birthday today. My parents, relatives, and friends never fail to remember. But just awhile ago, everyone I saw today in the party came to greet me in my seemingly utmost accomplishment. It was as if the gathering was for this particular trivial matter and not because I have turned twenty-one today. Honestly, I was a bit exasperated in the unanticipated occasion. It seemed as if they were rubbing it in my face. It made me want to step back. No one just understands. No one will ever understand. I do not know if I am too immature, or simply different.
I lay back the envelope and remember a story — a story I can never forget. Maybe if everyone hears it, they will think there is nothing significant about it. But frankly to me, there is something about it that makes it so memorable. As deniable as I sometimes can be, I would not remember who told me this story, or when I have heard it. Let us just say that there was a source — maybe I had been eavesdropping, or gossiping — and all I will remember is that it is real. To me, at least.
The story begins on one fine morning, when a little girl had already been gone to school, sitting in Math class, all dainty in her red and green checkered skirt school uniform, which had always seemed to her like a cheap table cloth. Before the class started, her teacher asked a question about the class’ previous studies on division. She raised her palm in the air at once, faster than anyone else in the solemn room. Discipline hovered over those speedy, little hands that failed to be quicker than hers.
“Maria?” Mrs. Solen called her name in that raising tone of terror. All eyes shifted from the teacher to the girl at the last row — some gave a stare of awe, many a look of disgust. Everyone anticipated for an accurate answer.
The lass finally put down her palm and folded it with her other hand on her lap. She looked straight at the woman waiting before her. Her ebony eyes struggled for contact through the variety of countenances that surrounded her; but as they rolled a bit to the left, the shadowed face of a boy staring at her with deep admiration troubled her greatly. After a swift moment, Maria’s focus blurred back through the crowd. “One hundred and seventy-six?” Maria answered, throwing an impassive gaze at her tutor.
“One hundred and seventy-five, Maria,” the educator corrected. “How can you possibly miss that one?” she added, no hint of surprise in her voice. “Now, class, let us start…”
Maria gazed at Mrs. Solen, biting her tongue, feeling a pang of guilt but at the same time a tinge of satisfaction; and as she listened to the words her teacher monotonously spoke (“I’m going to give out a test,” were the exact words) the contentment grew and overcame her guiltiness. A faint smile crept on her lips as the test was being handed out. Maria bowed her head and silently finished her examination.
The bell rang. Not a word, not a look around, Maria took her paper, stood up, and passed her test. Just as the others, she went out of the room for lunch. When it was time for science class, she did not show up. Neither did she appear in any of the remaining classes. Maria had seemingly vanished for the rest of the day.
After school Maria, waiting for her father to arrive, was in the principal’s office, sitting on one of the red, velvet chairs which guarded her back like a sentinel. The principal’s desk was slanted beside her chair. In front of her a boy sat apprehensively, fidgeting with his thumbs, his head bowed down as low as his shoulders were drooped. The boy was much tense that it contrasted greatly with Maria’s calm behavior.
The principal cleared her throat and uttered steadily to the woman standing beside her, “What seems to be the problem with these two, Mrs. Solen?” Her eyes roamed above her spectacles and glanced at the children.
“These two fourth-graders have cut classes. They were caught in the playground folding papers.” Mrs. Solen handed to the principal colourful, small paper figures: one seemingly amateur, the other beautifully folded.
The principal looked at the anxious young man. “You have caused another trouble, Mr. Bobia. Do you not see that you do not belong to a rich family?" She sneered. "Still, your father does everything he could so that you do not have to suffer being in a public school. Do you not know this school provides one of the best tutoring in the country? Nothing seems to get into your head, foolish kid.” She looked fiercely at Maria. “Miss Marina is it true? You have cut classes?”
Maria blankly stared at her, while the boy just bowed his head in disgrace. “Well?” said Mrs. Solen impatiently.
“Yes, Principal Salazar,” Maria answered. Her voice was clear and strong, devoid of anxiety.
“Then I am very disappointed with you, Miss Marina.” Principal Salazar sighed. “You have never been absent from any class since you started studying here six years ago, and you have wasted your perfect attendance for some foolish skill? — if it can be called a skill at all.” Principal Salazar looked repugnantly at the piece of paper that Maria’s hands have struggled to perfectly fold.
“It’s art and it’s a talent. It’s called origami, Principal Salazar,” Maria said clenching her fists against her lap.
“I do not care what it is called. It is gibberish. Now, remember, to stay away from school means staying away from an auspicious future. If you skip classes, especially science class, then you will not learn anything. Tell me, Miss Marina, did you learn anything while you lingered with paper?”
“I am glad that you asked, Madam. Why, yes, I was learning something,” Maria said in a wittily incisive manner. “I learned so much from Ambo. He told me about this Japanese art, its history, why he loves it so much. He told me Abe no Seimei’s story, which he has read from a book…”
Principal Salazar's and Mrs. Solen's simultaneously mouths simultaneously dropped, their brows raising.
“Nonsense!” Principal Salazar interrupted. “All I know is that you learned how to retort against your authority! What will your mother say about this?”
Maria bit her tongue to calm herself down. Then she tried to speak again, as steadily as she could. “Oh, no, Principal Salazar. I have no intention to make it seem as if I were speaking against you. I was merely answering your question. And you have nothing to worry about, Madam. My mother will have nothing against origami. She loves art herself.”
“Enough, Miss Marina!” Mrs. Solen butted in. “You come here every day for a proper education, do you understand?”
“What is proper education, Mrs. Solen?” Maria asked her outraged tutor. “If education is simply learning—” Maria shifted her animated eyes from Mrs. Solen to Principal Salazar. “—then I do not believe that it is locked down within the walls of a classroom. There is much to learn from outside these walls. After all, what do teachers claim to teach in classes? from the structures of an atom to the vastness of the universe? We students must have the opportunity to observe on our own. Ah, observation, a skill that most people neglect. If it were not for Galileo, learners would still accept the hilarious theory of Ptolemy. But still, how sure are we that Galileo has struck the truth?”
“Well, go fly yourself in space and do your observation!” Principal Salazar snapped, and then she cleared her throat. “Maria—” Her voice calmed down. “—you don’t understand what you’re saying. Teachers are only teaching what have been already proved by scientists. As for scientists, they know what they are doing. Yes, still they were vulnerable to make mistakes.” She paused. “It seems so . . . But in fact, those mistakes were just . . . 'steps' to obtain the truth; and eventually, when nothing can be refuted, a matter is finally confirmed — just like it was verified that the planets do revolve around the sun — and something is added to the knowledge in this world. Maybe you now see why we are giving significance to science and mathematics.”
“But, Principal Salazar, doesn’t this school encourage arts, too? If not, then why do we have art class?”
The principal paused. “Haven’t you noticed that art classes are only held on Fridays? We teach it only once a week so we can also give out . . . some ‘modernity’. And if you think about why it is so, it is because . . . unlike arts, science is something that really . . . has worth. Give science more of your attention, Miss Marina, if you clearly cannot give it all. And strive to understand . . . that science and arts are two incongruous things. They just can never be put together: intellectuality and insanity.”
“I am afraid that I will have to disagree with you, Principal Salazar. The two are more like a paradox.” Maria could hear her heart pound in her chest. She spoke more zealously. “Origami is an art that represents an object using geometric folds and crease patterns. It is undeniably arithmetical because only one piece of paper is used to form a variety of shapes without gluing or cutting the paper. And then there are the people of numbers,” Maria continued. “Scientists are indeed the most imaginative people I have ever read about. For example, geometricians have created and believed in such formations as points and lines and planes. If you contemplate about it, they are artist themselves.”
There was a pause for awhile. Principal Salazar and Mrs. Solen glared at the child. Maria sighed and began to speak again in a clearer, softer voice:
“I am not trying to degrade the school. Oh no, Principal Salazar, Mrs. Solen. The school is important for the whole social life of individuals, so I will never try to mortify the school.”
The principal sighed intolerantly. “I do not understand you, Maria. What are you trying to tell us? That this school is a joke? That what we’re doing for you is a joke?”
Maria shook her head. “No, Principal Salazar. Of course not! I was simply telling you that Ambo and I were doing exactly what we were ought to do: learn,” she said.
Principal Salazar sternly stood up, threw Maria one last glare and walked out of the room. Mrs. Solen sighed and without saying anything excused the children.
The next day arrived, and because Maria and Ambo were not called for another reprimand, everything was back to normal: the same old routine of a presumably firm education. Those who have heard the discussion passed the story around — it became a sensation among the students (even to the high school students) at the school for a month — and, because as the story was passed rumors were born, such a retort was never again heard from Maria until she finally graduated from the building. And this is where our story ends.
Yes, I truly believe that the tale is real: Maria was a frank and brave girl who had only a tad of sensitivity. But something had greatly troubled her in the following years after she had finished her primary and secondary education. Like Ambo, she also had a secret passion, and she did not disclose this to her family: writing. She wrote fiction, stories that had seemed real to her. But before she entered college, her parents found out and they greatly disapproved it. She had tried to take a stand. She had thought that her parents would understand, but they had only urged Maria to study hard for a medical degree. Maria succeeded in pleasing her parents. Maybe it was against her will. I told you, I remember her. I remember her as if she was my closest friend, as if she was me or I was her. I remember every little thing that she was made of — mostly courage and honesty. And I probably will keep on wondering into eternity where she had been all of those years.
I look again at the envelope enclosed in my hands. Shifting away from the horrible memory, I turn my head and my eyes land on something worse. The mirror that has been watching me is waiting for my glance. It is standing in front of me, threatening me to look deeper into the reflection of the glass, and to try to search for the girl I’ve been looking for. If I do find her, maybe I can squeeze her hand and ask her, “Why? Oh little girl, why did you have to give up what you wanted when you already had taken a stand once?” Maybe I would hug her to comfort her, and maybe she could do the same for me. But I will never know because I cannot find her. I guess she was left afraid. I guess she ran away from everything she used to be, from everything she used to believe. I guess she was confused, just like me and you. I guess she was forced to do the things she never wanted to do. Or could other people really have pushed her away from everything she had wanted to do? Could she really have lost the accountability of everything that she had done — and does? If she chooses to fight again, will it not be too late? I always hope that it’s never too late. When I woke up this morning, I knew I would see this silver-edged envelope on my desk. I would remember who she had been, and who she was; but now, I will try to find out who she is. And when I do, I will remind and tell myself this: She herself was her, but I myself am me . . .