Never Good Enough
If you ever felt like Jhuliora did, just remember: if you're good enough for yourself, you're good enough for others...
Jhuliora just stared at the mirror, unable to fathom what she saw. She saw a Cybunny that had all a Cybunny needed to be happy. She saw a gorgeous dorm room, stacks of letters from her parents, and a diploma. If there was one thing that guaranteed that the rest of one’s Neo-life would be spent in utter happiness, it was a diploma. And though Jhuliora had worked so hard for it, and now could finally reap the rewards, all she saw in the mirror was unhappiness. Cold, hard unhappiness. It was in the way that the band of fire around her neck seemed to have darkened. It was in the way that her black fur seemed gray. It was in the little droop of her ears, the hunch of her shoulders, but mainly the sadness in her eyes. Not even the fake smile plastered onto her face could overcome that.
She threw herself onto her bed, willing herself to cry. It might have made her feel better, just a good long sob, but she couldn’t cry anymore. A long time ago, she had learned that crying meant weakness, and her brain couldn’t un-learn.
Jhuliora flaunted her new blue fur, adorned with yellow stars. She loved staring in the mirror, just watching her fur wave and ripple with the air that came in through her open window. The paintbrush had been a gift from her father for her first day of neoschool. After she had bathed in the gorgeous Rainbow Pool, her father had smiled at her and said,
“Now you show me if you can earn that paintbrush.”
“What do you mean?” she had asked, eyes widening.
“Oh, Liora!” He had laughed. “Just be smart, okay?”
Jhuliora wasn’t worried. She had always been the smartest in all of her preparation classes. She didn’t think neoschool would be any different.
Yet again, Jhuliora turned down a request to go to Neopia Central during their vacations. None of her friends were staying at the Faerieland Academy over the spring vacations. They were all going home to visit family and friends. Jhuliora politely declined every invitation.
Whenever I finish something, Father simply has to make me do something else “new and exciting!” When will he start listening to what I want to do? She immediately chided herself. Father wants what’s best for me. But even after years with him, she still wasn’t exactly sure what her father wanted.
I just have to pass this one class. I need to know smart shopping. And it isn’t even that long. It’s just this extra week of studying, and then my schedule’ll be back to normal! The cheery thought hardly made Jhuliora feel any better.
Jhuliora still pranced in front of the mirror every morning, but it was halfheartedly. The seventh year of neoschool was when most of her friends got new paintbrushes. The intense blue of her fur had faded since she had gotten the paintbrush, and the stars now seemed silly and childish to her. She couldn’t straighten her fur because then the stars would look weird, and she couldn’t curl her fur because then the stars wouldn’t even look like stars, just random yellow stripes.
She wanted to be painted speckled; it was just the cutest look on Cybunnies! But after her dad saw the B+ she was earning in her study of the native language of Shenkuu, he had told her that there was absolutely no way.
Months had passed, and Jhuliora had brought her B+ up to an A. She had worked really hard. She had studied every night for ten minutes weeks ahead of a test, and she had aced all of her tests. She had done every homework assignment twice to make sure that there were no mistakes. She had edited her papers two or three times instead of the usual single proofread. She had canceled plans with friends to stay after school and get extra help with the parts of the language that she found confusing. She had even begun to sing along to her favorite songs in Shenkuu’s native language by substituting in the words that she knew.
When report cards were handed out, the customary notice was given: let your parents be the first to see it. However, no one listened to the announcement. The sound of ripping envelopes filled the school, combined with exclamations and groans. Jhuliora looked at her report card and whooped: 7 A’s and 2 A-’s. She grinned. There was no way her father would be able to deny her that paintbrush now!
When she got home, her mother was the only one there to congratulate her, her father still being at work. When he did get home, she pushed the card into his hand, then left the room, trying not to let him see her smile.
A few minutes later, her father’s voice rang out through the hall.
She walked into his room, trying hard not to flounce.
“Why are there no A+’s on this report card?”
“What?” Jhuliora looked up at his face, searching for a smile, or something else to show that he was joking. She saw nothing; his face was set and serious.
Looking at her toes, she murmured, “I guess it’s 'cause I didn’t earn any.”
“And there are 2 A-’s on here!”
“You may leave now.”
She left the room but stayed outside the doorway, waiting for him to laugh and call her back in. He didn’t. Was he serious? Was that not a joke? She waited a few more minutes, then determined that it wasn’t.
She went to her room and buried her face in her pillow. Hard as she tried to keep them back, the tears leaked out anyway. I thought no one was perfect. Why does he expect me to be?
Another day, another class. Jhuliora had finally finished her smart shopping class. She had estimated that it would only take the spring break, but she was wrong. But the day after she had finished her class, she had received a letter from her father telling her to take the cooking class.
“It’ll do you no good to starve, nor to waste all that money that you’ll be saving on restaurants.” The letter had concluded like that. No love from dad, no signature, nothing.
No need to waste all that money on restaurants... that much was obvious. Growing up, her friends had had weekly restaurant visits, to which she was sometimes invited. Her family never went anywhere unless there was a reason to go. There hardly ever was, and on the rare occasion that they did go to a restaurant, there was a strict no friend’s policy. Her father always thought that studies should come first, and it seemed to her father that Jhuliora’s friends distracted her from school.
It was Jhuliora’s eighth year in neoschool, and she still wasn’t speckled. However, she was white. The paintbrush had come from weeks of saving up her allowance, and the permission had come from her mother. Her father didn’t know about his daughter’s change in color until after it happened, when it was too late for him to do anything about it.
Her history teacher had finally finished droning about the conquests of Meridell. She cleared her throat, and Jhuliora had come to realize that when her history teacher cleared her throat, it meant that she was about to say something interesting. Jhuliora’s ears perked up.
“Our exceptional students have been posted on a list that is on the door. I have highlighted people in this class that have made it onto the list. The students on this list all have a GPA of 3.0 or higher. The ones that have 3.5 or higher are on the list near the bottom, and will be given a special award. Also, the students that have a GPA of 4.0 have stars by their names.”
All became a rush of students as they formed a disorderly line to see the list. When it was finally her turn, Jhuliora saw that she had over a 3.5. She grinned and punched the air. There was no star by her name, but there were only stars by three people, so she didn’t feel too badly.
When she got home, she was bursting with pride. However, she resisted the urge to tell her parents right away.
Let the letter tell them! she thought smugly.
The letter took almost two weeks to be delivered. By then, Jhuliora had completely forgotten about the list, so she was relatively confused when her mother came up to her and started hugging and congratulating her. Jhuliora’s bubble of pride swelled again.
When her father came home, Jhuliora continued eating dinner as if nothing special had happened. Her mother came in with a big smile and gave her father the letter. He read through it.
When he finally looked up, Jhuliora looked down.
“There were three categories, eh?”
“Four, including the people not on the list.”
“Mm-hmm.” They ate in silence for a while. Her father was studying the letter, while her mother looked slightly confused.
“So, did they mess up?”
“You’re under 3.5, not 4.0.”
“No, I didn’t get a 4.0.”
Jhuliora looked her father straight in the eye.
“I am not a straight A+ student. Were you?”
“Well, I’m not.”
“But you should be.”
Jhuliora just stood up and walked away from the table in silence. She made sure to take her time, but inside she just wanted to sprint straight out of the kitchen.
In her room, the only thought that could echo through her head was, I’m not good enough. I’m never good enough. No matter how hard I try, I’m never good enough.
Back in her dorm room, Jhuliora thought back to that day. Then, slowly but deliberately, she picked up her pen and got out a sheet of paper. She placed the pen at the corner of the paper, and then slowly wrote out,
Father – I appreciate your concern about my future. However, I have decided not to study cooking, since I am not that interested in it. I will, however, study pencil art. I will file my application immediately, so nothing that you send by letter will be able to change my mind. I have also decided to stop taking some of my other courses that I do not really enjoy, such as chemistry, to give myself more free time. And you know what else? I’m going to be working on other things too. I have realized that while education is important, it is only important if you study what you want to study. So if I do get a B+, I know that at least one of us can handle it.
Jhuliora signed the paper, then stood up, breathing slowly. With every breath, she remembered a little less of the past, and anticipated the future a little more.