The Painting on the Wall

Sunday, May 28

10:00 A.M.

Staring at the screen, I groaned and tossed my phone onto the kitchen counter. “What’s the problem now, Emelyne?” asked Mom from the dinner table, flipping through today’s mail. 

Glancing at her, I replied, “Once again, my science teacher gave me a 91% on my test! How am I going to get into my dream university with grades like this?” 

Stomping to my room and wanting to cry, I slammed the door and fell back onto the bed.

8:30 A.M.

Bleep. Bleep. Bleep.

image of clock

With the sun streaming into my eyes, I rolled over to fling the curtains closed. Throwing my legs over the bunk bed, I leaped down, landing with a thump. “Emelyne! What did I say about jumping off your bed?” my mother shouted from downstairs.

Ignoring my mother’s shout, I slid on my slippers and walked to the bathroom. I combed my hair, washed my face and brushed my teeth. It’s the last week of May, and I’m dreading the mundanity of school. Same classes, same people. The same tedious cycle of study, test, homework. I wondered if university would be better. At least I don’t have class until tomorrow.

9:00 A.M.

I slumped into my chair and logged into the school portal from my phone. I thought of Casey’s message from earlier, screaming at me to check my test scores. I studied hard for that test. Between the practice questions, asking Ms. Meyer for help, and staying up late watching videos reiterate what I already knew, I was sure I would pass that test with flying colours.

image of studying at a table

But on the day of the test, I didn’t read the questions well enough. I didn’t remember to check my work, I didn’t have time to finish the last question properly, and I didn’t even answer what Question #7 asked for. I had been careless yet nervous and overwhelmed by the ticking time limit at the top of the screen, daring me to mess up.

I didn’t realize the mistakes I had made. Proud of my test, I pressed “submit” with 4 minutes to spare. If only I had managed my time well. If only the teacher hadn’t set up a testing system that didn’t allow us to see all the questions at once.

10:05 A.M.

“Emelyne, it’s not the teacher’s fault that you made these careless errors,” Mom glanced back at my phone, her thumb sliding across the screen. “You were ready for this test. What happened when you were taking it?”

“I didn’t realize I was making mistakes!” I whined. “And with so many assignments and meetings I have to attend, I’m so stressed out it feels like I’m being buried in sand.”

Mom stepped towards the door and said, “Oh, Emelyne, you and your exaggerations. Everyone is stressed these days. You just need to focus and get your head in the game.”

I fell back into my blankets, covering my face with a pillow. It’s not like she would understand the stress high schoolers are going through.

10:30 A.M.

The park is a vast green field, with children on the playground, swinging like monkeys, their parents chatting along the side like a flock of birds on a wire. Birds singing in the distance and the sun warming my face, I plopped down on the damp, park grass and closed my eyes. The sweet aroma of cherry blossoms always manages to calm me down.

image of the park, playground, and cherry blossom trees


I raised my head, my hand blocking the sun’s attempt at blinding me.

“How’d you do on the science test?” yelled Casey, my best friend since middle school, as he jogged towards me through the wet grass.

“Hey Casey,” I replied, “how’d you do on the science test?”

“Definitely better than you did”, he smirked.

“Oh, shut up. I got a 91. Hardly high enough to boost my mark to a 95”, I ranted. “I was so confident going into that test too! I bet if school wasn’t virtual, I would have aced it. Like seriously, Casey, what kind of teacher sets up such a short time limit and doesn’t even warn us about the long answer questions?” My arms flew in frantic gestures as my voice got louder and louder throughout my rant. A middle-aged woman strolling by glared at me, and I glared right back at her.

Casey ran his hand through his hair. “Just be more careful next time. It’s not like you can do anything about the test now. I guess there’s always more assignments to do?” he said, tugging on his hoodie string. He continued, “We’ve been in almost the same class for everything, and I know you work hard and care about grades, but maybe you should take a break?” I shrug, and he adds, “It’s too bad you can’t come to my house during the pandemic, though.”

We continued talking: Casey talked about the latest sports news, and I updated him on summer programs he should sign up for.

“So, Emelyne, any news from your guidance counsellor about the scholarships you applied for?” he asked.

“Well, I was thinking last night, and I feel like I don’t even want to go to university anymore…” I trailed off.

“What?” asked Casey in surprise. “But all you ever talk about is going to that dream university of yours. You’re like, the most motivated person I know when it comes to grades and school.” He looked confused. “Did you tell your mom yet?”

I looked down and picked at my cuticles. “Nope, but maybe I will today. I just know she won’t react well, though,” I said.

“What made you change your mind?” asked Casey, resting his elbow on my shoulder.

I rolled my eyes, and explained, “I feel like school is this pointless cycle of studying, memorizing, and trying to please the teacher. What’s the point of doing this for another four years?” Closing my eyes, I added, “Maybe even eight years if I want to become a doctor.”

Casey moved in front of me, and I recognized the look on his face that he’s about to go on one of his speeches. “Hey, it’s not actually that bad. My brother said there are great extracurricular opportunities at his university, which I know you’d enjoy, and besides, you’ll get to meet some really cool people from other places. Also, why are you stressed about one or two test marks?”

“One or two test marks?” I repeated. “I’m talking about my whole grade for the science course! Not all of us have a sports scholarship like you, okay?” Annoyed, I stepped back and continued. “Anyways, I thought you would get me, but apparently you don’t. I’ll see you later, Casey.”

11:00 A.M.

I reflected on my thoughts from the park as I continued to hike up the steep hill towards home, my feet slipping against the gravel.

This tedious cycle of studying, test, studying, test was undoing me. How much longer could I handle this? Despite what Casey’s brother told him, I heard that university would be just like high school–but worse.

I crushed the rough gravel against my boots with each thought.

Arriving through the door, I tossed my boots to the side, headed to the kitchen and grabbed my favourite snacks: a peanut butter sandwich, frozen mango, and some iced coffee.

image of peanut butter sandwich

I headed up to my room, running a hand through my tangle of brown hair and feeling tired from all the decisions I had yet to make about post-secondary.

The sun bounced off the copper-red bricks across my window, and I snapped the blinds shut.  Did I even want to go to school tomorrow? Setting my plate and coffee aside, I sighed. I took out my notebook and laptop, dreading another monotonous study session for tomorrow’s test.

image of table and workspace

11:30 A.M.

Mom entered my room with a bang. The door swung back from the wall as she stepped in my room.

“What is this about you not wanting to go to university anymore? I just got off the phone with Ms. Marilyn, and she told me that you told Casey this?” said Mom in disbelief. 

In my head. I cursed Casey and his big mouth. Turning around in my swivel chair, I told Mom, “Well, maybe I just don’t want to anymore! Don’t you want to see me happy and let me make my own choices?”

Mom walked closer. “Of course I do, Emelyne, but you’ll realize when it’s too late that giving up is a bad choice. What else do you want to do for the rest of your life?”

Moving my school supplies aside, she sat on my desk and continued, “I know my aunt chose to drop out of school early, and she’s unhappy with the low-paying job she has now. However, many people have happy careers and perfectly fine jobs even without going to college, but which path are you going to pursue? Do you think you’ll be able to find the job you want without a degree?”

I considered telling her about how I felt about the stress of school lately, but I worried that she would belittle my feelings. I left the room and replied, “It’s not like you would get it anyways. I’m gonna get another snack.”

11:45 A.M.

Sitting in my closet, I stare at the scenery I painted four summers ago. The summer after Grade 8, happy with my grades and looking forward to starting high school in the fall. Despite only being in middle school, I had been eagerly browsing university websites that summer.

image of paint palette

Four Summers Ago

“Emelyne!” screamed Mother. “Do the dishes already, will you?”

I bounced down the stairs into the kitchen.

Mom glared at me and said, “What were you doing up there? You’ve been in your room all day, Go out and have some fun outside, will you?”

“Mom,” I replied, rolling my eyes. ”I was doing my painting. Like how this morning, you asked me to do something productive or get some creativity going?” I said in reply, shaking my head.

Taking a pizza out of the oven, Mom said, “Oh right. You told me you were going to do a landscape of the campus of…of that university you were thinking about?”

Upstairs, I had been scrolling through the school’s website, brainstorming for my painting. I gazed at its campus and dorm photos and could imagine myself as a student there. I could go out whenever I wanted, make new friends, eat lunch on the grass outside of the school’s impressive library…

image of university building

May 28, 11:45 A.M.

I picked up my painting from all those years ago, which felt way longer than four years should. Had it really only been before high school when I was this excited for something?

Stepping back into the world, I closed the door of my closet and took a breath.I told myself I could do this. One or two grades can’t be that bad, and at university, who knows what I’ll get to do outside of studying? Clubs, sports, new friends, trips around the city on my own…

Passing the cold tiles of the kitchen, I stepped into the garage and sorted through various tools, looking for what I needed

Hammer and nails. Perfect.

Bang. Bang. Bang. Puncturing a hole into the wall, I took care to avoid hitting my thumb with the hammer.

Mom shouted from the kitchen, “Emelyne, what are you doing up there?”

Hearing her footsteps from behind me, I turned around to see Mom looking confused. Hand on her hips and standing at the foot of my door, she tilted her head to the side and stared at the painting on my wall.

“Huh. I forgot about your painting phase. Feels like forever since I’ve seen you hold a paintbrush and mix your paints. What made you put up your old painting?” she questioned.

I took a deep breath and let it out before replying, “I’m not sure, but I think I recall why I was so motivated to go to university in the first place. Do you remember when we went camping one summer? We passed that school on the road there, and I could not stop thinking about how pretty their campus was?”

“Oh, yes! And the week after coming home, you were telling me about all the programs you wanted to apply for after high school. I’m so proud of how hard you’ve worked for your goals, Emelyne… So have you changed your mind about university?” Mom looked hopeful as she waited for my reply.

“Yeah…” I hesitated. “I think a big reason why I’m so tired of school lately is that I miss my in-person extracurriculars and seeing my friends. With classes being virtual, it’s been feeling like all there is to school is studying, assignments and tests. I think…” I trailed off. “You know what? I think I’m gonna go take a walk outside and think about it. I’ll be back before dinner.”

May 30

Sitting on my porch, I sorted my thoughts and recorded my goals in my bullet journal. I felt renewed after having spoken to my friends already in university and my guidance counsellor. I knew what I’d have to do to accomplish my goals.

Graduation Day

image of a girl in a graduation gown

Holding my graduation diploma, I felt good about the choices I made. Despite the hard times, I like to remind myself that one or two mistakes don’t define who I am. I bounce back, use my regrets to improve, and I become better. What’s important is that I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished and who I’ve become. Standing on the stage, I wave at my mom, smile for the click of her camera, and toss my graduation cap into the air.

image of a graduation cap toss

Why I Wrote This Piece

I was inspired to write this story to illustrate the stresses youth face daily, especially the uncertainty around deciding which path to take for the future. This story also incorporates the message of keeping ourselves motivated by reminding ourselves why we are working hard and forgiving ourselves for mistakes along the way to our goals.


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