“Did you have a good day at school?”

Shylah Dozeman

“Good morning honey,” my mom says as I run downstairs. “Have a good day at school!”

   “I’ll try,” I reply. I feel bad for being short, but I’m not a morning person, especially when I’m off schedule. I grab a banana and run out to my car, but get stopped by the barely defrosted windshield. Great, way behind schedule. 

   I rush into class, but still end up a minute late. A minute means nothing when it comes to high school, but a minute means everything to me. I can hear the beating in my chest get faster as I walk to my chair. As the teacher gets the presentation ready, I grab my AP Psychology notes from the night before, the notes I did when I was half asleep. 

   “Does anybody know what the Signal Detection Theory is?” Nobody answers, which is typical for a class that starts before the sun rises. “Shylah?”

   I freeze. I know the answer, I have to know the answer. Don’t be an embarrassment. “I think it’s when you detect something and your experience adds to it?” I’m such an idiot. 

   My friend raises his hand, “It’s when you perceive something differently based on your experiences.” 

   “Exactly what I was looking for, great job,” the teacher says. 

   I feel like a disgrace, even though nobody is going to remember. “Wow, I can’t believe I got that right and you didn’t,” my friend says. “I’m honestly kind of proud of myself.” 

   I know he’s not trying to be mean, so I laugh along with him, but this happens almost every day. Not necessarily in one class or with one person, but everybody is striving to be better than me, and they make it known when they are. But they’re proud of themselves for beating me, and what else can I do but be proud of them too. 

   An hour goes by and it’s finally time to go to the only class where I don’t get judged for being a “try-hard.” Weight-lifting with thirty boys and only two other girls seems dreadful, but it’s the highlight of my day. 

   The weight room is the one place where nobody knows what my GPA is or how many AP classes I’m taking. Although I’m obviously not the strongest person, I’m not the weakest either. In this class, I am merely average. But the otherwise heart-breaking reality that I’m not the best gives me a sense of relief because nobody knows who I am. 

   I quickly change out of my clothes drenched in sweat and rush to get ready for my next class. AP Government is one of the easiest parts of my day, unless I have a quiz like I did yesterday. I’m always too busy studying for my other classes, and government never seems to make it on the agenda. 

   “I’m screwed, I didn’t study at all and I feel like I failed that quiz,” I say to my desk partner. 

   “Oh shut up, your ‘fail’ is a 95, you’ll be completely fine, I’m the one who probably did poorly,” she snaps back. 

   We get our quizzes back and I’m stunned by the smiley-face sticker, which is only for people who get 100%. I’m thankful for the grade, but now part of me wishes I didn’t say anything to my desk partner because I know what happens next. 

   “Oh my gosh, of course you’d get 100% on a quiz you didn’t even study for. I literally stayed up all night and still got 70%,” she says. 

   I nod my head and just remind her that I’m good at guessing, but I can’t help but wonder if she’s actually mad at me. It’s not my fault that I do well on assessments that I don’t study for, right? 

   After I pack up my folder, where I bury my “perfect” test, I head to seminar to tutor students in math. Even though it’s been four years since I’ve taken Algebra 1, my memory is refreshed with ease. As I finish explaining how to find the slope from an equation in slope-intercept form, I ask her if she has any questions. She shakes her head no, but I can still see confusion in her eyes. 

   “Could you just repeat everything you said, but a little slower?” she asks. 

   My stomach drops as history repeats itself. When working with people, I’m asked to go slower. When taking a test, I’m asked to go slower. When explaining things to others, I’m always asked to please, go slower. 

   I’m not sure why I’m always in a rush. Maybe it’s because I don’t think I have time to get everything done, or I’m trying to find time to do more activities, or simply because I imagine life as a competition, and I strive to be first. 

   “Of course,” I reply. “That’s no problem at all.”

   When I arrive at my fourth hour, a weight is lifted off my shoulders because the day is halfway over. The last three hours always go by faster than the first, mostly because they’re classes I genuinely enjoy. 

   I get my Chromebook out to start working on my article for my journalism class, making plans for the lead and angle. I write and rewrite every sentence to make sure they’re perfect, but they never are. I’m always producing average articles, good enough to get an A, but not good enough to win awards. 

   I convince myself that I’ll never be as successful as my classmates, but I know that if I was, I would fear that others would believe I think I’m better than them. I have this internal debate for almost everything, wishing I’m the best, but hoping nobody knows. 

   In fifth hour I sit alone, empty desks on my left and right. Taking AP Biology a year later than people normally do means I’m surrounded by mostly sophomores, even though I’m a junior. However, this is ultimately a blessing because not very many people know who I am. 

   In this class, I can flip over my tests so nobody can see my nearly perfect scores and the teacher doesn’t ask me questions because he doesn’t know I can answer them. While in other classes I’m outspoken and friendly, I keep to myself and don’t say anything like people probably wish I would. Nobody asks me for answers or wants to look at my tests or cares that I’m even there. And honestly, I love it. 

   When class is over I make my way to AP Calculus, the subject that probably should be the hardest one of them all, but it’s the easiest one for me. Math has always been my favorite subject, mostly because I understand it. 

   When everybody complains about the class and cries over their tests, I’ve always wondered why it’s so difficult for them. I thought this trend would finally change while taking AP Calculus, but it remains the same as it’s always been. 

   “If you need any help with the questions, Shylah is done, and you can go to her!” my teacher exclaims. 

   This is a sentence that’s all too familiar to me, a sentence that I’ve heard since I was in elementary school, a sentence that makes people resent me. People question my abilities and ask me how I do what I do, but the truth is, I have no idea. 

   Once the bell rings I book it out the door like everyone else because nobody wants to stay at school for too long. I used to love going to school, when the subjects were just math and science instead of Algebra and Chemistry, when it was easy for me to get along with people and I felt like I was “winning” school, when I was proud of being the best. 

   Now, the classes keep getting more challenging, people have the same friends they’ve had since freshman year and they don’t want to let anyone else in, and all I feel is guilt. 

   Guilt because I’m the person everyone wants to beat. Guilt because I don’t have to study. Guilt because people tell me my work is amazing, but I always feel like I’m not good enough. Guilt because I do well on my tests. Guilt because I’m the one people can get help from and I’ve always been labeled the “teacher’s pet.” Guilt because there are people that are actually struggling with their school work and I truly should have nothing to complain about. 

   “Did you have a good day at school?” my mom asks. 

   “Yeah, I guess so,” I reply.