This picture is the last one of have of my oldest daughter (far right) before she was hospital-bound. She looks sweet, right? Well she is, most of the time. When I visited her tonight she chatted happily about her math tutor, her roommate, and her dear friend Ekatrina [not her real name] who has seizures so unexpectedly she recently tumbled down a full flight of stairs. She pulled back what remains of her hair to display the bald patches she’s picked clean. She complained about her psychiatrist, and the social worker who spills his own problems to her. The party atmosphere of the adolescent ward persists, one of the aides strumming guitar while staring at his iphone, the other kids huddled around computers, video games, the constant stream of pirated music.
Left of that daughter is my incredible overachiever, and oh did she overachieve. Despite having a clear victory over her main competition, she brutalized herself final quarter to pull off a phenomenally perfect report card: and her teachers are tough. She started drinking coffee, stayed awake 24 hours at a stretch, studied 6 hour sessions for measly quizzes, composed-then-memorized essays for tests, all the while with me telling her to cut it out, relax, stop worrying about her grades and TAKE IT EASY PLEASE (imagine me saying this to her, bleary eyed, at 3AM, night after night, while she stares at me incredulous, telling me You don’t understand how the world works (which is what her father says to me all the time)). Here she is with her math teacher who is a ball breaker, if I may speak colloquially.
Her graduation day was surreal. Since kindergarten she has explained to me she’ll be valedictorian, and here she was, valedictorian. An entire row was reserved for us, her family, at the front of the church. All thirteen of us were there (8 kids, me, my husband, my parents, my aunt). The service was long and meandering; there were long speeches, awards handed out (my daughter received more than I could count), and finally she stood for her valedictorian address.
At first the crowd was fidgety as this pipsqueak of a girl (I am 5’9 but none of my girls have broken 5’3″… how?) soliloquized in a quiet, halting voice. Yet when she reached this passage of her speech, a hush fell over the church, and even the priest leaned forward and stared at her in seeming amazement:
A timeless moral Law of nature has been written upon our hearts, and it has followed humanity’s duration. It is emphasized every time we attend Mass, offer the blessing of peace, and when we share in Christ’s blood. It is depreciated when we allow our own laws and labels to pressure us into ignoring our faith. We must make it our mission not to be the men and women who undo God’s Word in a world already teeming with corruption. An obsession with becoming branded has uprooted God’s call to reconcile our common humanity. We must, instead, recognize the harmonies we share in God’s image and dignity.
You could have heard a pin drop! In fact, the only sound in the church beyond her voice was my baby, who was tumbling around the back pews and babbling despite my best mother-silencing efforts.
And then it was over. They marched out. They threw their hats in the air. I dragged the baby and the younger kids home, and later my parents took my oldest five to dinner, which is the image you see above.
The overachiever has since informed me she’s no longer interested in being a valedictorian, and instead intends to become a trauma surgeon– the more brutal the path, the better. It’s nice to think she may one day save lives, and knowing her, it will come to fruition posthaste.