There’s no sunshine
This impossible year
Only black days and sky grey
And clouds full of fear
And storms full of sorrow
That won’t disappear
Just typhoons and monsoons
This impossible year
-Impossible Year by Panic at the Disco
BEFORE THE STORM
The end of 2015 left me with my first experience of being a lead in the school play. A time that which I had spent the rest of December trying to forget about. It was a bittersweet experience. It gave me a taste of what I’ve always wanted but also threw me into this strange, cruel reality that wasn’t as exciting as I had anticipated. I wasn’t excited about having a monologue and more time on stage. I dreaded coming to practice. It’s one thing to act like your character on stage and another to act like a fictitious you in the wings. I wasn’t that happy. I often came home in tears because I felt incredibly isolated, antisocial, and artistically incompetent. You could feel it throughout the room if you paid enough attention. We seemed drained of passion. Anyway, being onstage was like smelling your grandmother’s cooking. You’ll always love the taste at least a little. Once the house lights dimmed and the spotlights were on, once you hopped off the makeup chair and changed into your costume, once the cast huddled up in a circle and said a quick prayer, and once the director was finally watching from the audience and far away from you.
Once it was over I didn’t even miss it.
I was in the middle of the socratic seminars on Les Mis for French class, pissing myself every. single. time. In terms of grades, they were climbing; I felt like a mf machine. It had me walking around like I WAS UNTOUCHABLE.
During break, Victoria and I filmed some sheepish YouTube videos. And yes, they are online if you want to see us making gingerbread houses and being really dumb. Christmas this year was great. Then we spent some time in Montreal. Then it was 2016, entering without any thought or warning.
Back at school, we did one or two more socratic seminars. Being straight out of the holidays made it sad although the thought of school never left me during the break. Speaking in the seminars became only slightly easier but it still made my stomach ache every time. What helped is that nothing leveled with the pressure of French class. Nothing, I suppose, put a worse feeling in my gut.
In math, I was cutting off limbs to float towards the top. I was never satisfied with my grades. Ehem, I wasn’t satisfied with my 94% before finals. Hell, I don’t even give a shit about math. I didn’t want to become an engineer or an accountant or whatever.
In civics class, we had to make some kind of advertisement for a Canadian organization that deals with an issue of civic importance. So on a Sunday afternoon, Victoria and I filmed a short PSA about mental illness for an assignment on the Canadian Mental Health Association. It was just one of those assignments you could pop in a couple statistics here and there, add some music, and have it seem profound. When we handed it in, we were praised for it. The teacher said it looked “so professional.”
On a very different note, French Culminating was such a bitch. Not to talk shit about my french teacher because it was a pretty effective way to study a novel. Everyone in class, being the high-level extended French thinkers that we were, had made pretty intelligent interpretations which really benefited us all when it came down to exam later on. But damn it was scary. So for a whopping 15% of our final grade, had to do debates on Les Misérables, the book we were studying. It’s worth mentioning that my relationship to this story is a pretty complicated one. I loved it. I knew it. Everyone knew that I knew it. That being said, I felt expected to succeed since I had characterized myself as a Les Mis know-it-all in the past.
In teams of two, we were assigned statements and whether or not we were to argue for it or against. This was a assignment as old as time; ever heard of the uniform debate? Easy peasy? Not this time. My partner and I were assigned to argue against the statement: “Fantine’s destruction is the fault of society.” My heart fell. I was betraying my GIRL, Fantine! Society turned her into a prostitute. She sold her body because society said it wasn’t okay to have a child out of wedlock. She was sent to jail while a cough away from her death. So yeah, of course society is at fault. And I was supposed to say it wasn’t?
What we read was a super condensed version, meaning it had none of the really beautiful, rich exposition in Hugo’s original novel. Having already read it (but in English) and having 1100 extra pages to work with in my personal copy, I knew so much more about her destruction than ever talked or read about in class. Turns out, it really wasn’t an advantage. I went home and pulled out my big Les Mis book and reread Fantine’s part. This is what I tabbed.
“What was the true story of Fantine? It is the story of society’s purchase of a slave. A slave purchased from poverty, hunger, cold, loneliness, defencelessness, destitution. A squalid bargain: a human soul for a hunk of bread. Poverty offers and society accepts.”
Not only did it not help my case but it haunted me in my sleep. The thought of Fantine being torn apart until she was just barely a corpse rotting under a sleazy sailor chilled me to my bones. I couldn’t shake it for a while. It felt as if I had the pain of this women between my shoulders.
By the way, none of this was at all necessary.
Every time I tried to think of an argument, I was back at square one. My thought process was a maze. Constant dead ends. It kept me awake at night. I couldn’t sleep. I would have nightmares. I was paranoid. I worried about it THAT much. I was Olivia Benson at home, searching through the records, then I was ADA Barba trying to fight for Fantine– actually no, I was Annalise Keating because I was trying to figure out how to get away with destruction.
Every morning in the car I would try to bite my ideas aloud to my mom, hoping she could help me piece together my thought process into an argument, then I would have a panic attack about it. I wasn’t a defense attorney with someone’s life in my hands, I was in a 10th grade extended French class with NO way of failing the course. It was a goddamn class. I didn’t know I had anxiety at the time. I just thought I cared too much and was given an impossible argument.
Vous ne pouvez pas blâmer la société pour vos choix. Tout le monde a le pouvoir dans leurs espoirs/coeurs pour faire ce qui est juste.
It came down to the day before the actual debate. My partner and I didn’t know what the fuck we were going to do, or what kind of magic tricks were could pull out of our butts at the last minute. The thing is, I had this. I knew the story backwards, I scratched these notes with my eyeballs, and my points for this argument were pretty solid. I rehearsed my whole speech to my mom on the car ride there, and yet I was still sweating profusely and purging to vomit.
I wanted a grade. I wanted to prove that I was smart. I wanted to be proud of myself.
And when it was over, it was over and I did it…really well. 93% well. After that I didn’t have to worry about it. I could just sit back, root for my friends who went next, and realize that it really was a cool thing we could do.
By the end of January were the start of exams and by this point I was thinking, screw it. I didn’t really study. I got out of my first exam a bit upset that I didn’t finish, but realizing I was completely done with the course anyway. I went to my singing lesson that night and my teacher asked if I was stressed about exams. I shrugged my shoulders and said “I just do it, like, whatever.”
And that was, in hindsight, the best decision I could have made.
In case you’re wondering, Impossible Year is a series of essays, reflections, stories and poems that reflect my most defining year yet.