When I Grow Up by Maya Maysen

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Adults often ask children what they aspire to be when they’re older.

I remember when I was in Kindergarten (and this day is the only thing I can remember from days when I was that young) my teacher sat us all down in a chair. One by one, we would tell her what we wanted to be when we were older. She would then have our parents take a picture of us and paste it on paper. The side would say what we wanted to be. We also got to colour it.

“A football player!”

“A ballerina!”

“An astronaut!”

I never thought of it back then, but now I wonder.

Why would anyone want to be a football player? Nothing but Tackle and Run (a game back in elementary) across fake grass nearly 160 feet.

And why would anyone want to be a ballerina? Performing in front of complete strangers. What if you were to fall? What if you got stage fright?

But. An astronaut? Now that I understood.

Now that I think of it, maybe it wouldn’t be too bad. After all, it’s complete isolation. Not even an atmosphere exists.

To be standing on the Moon alone with the Sun as your only light and stars as your only company. And they don’t even talk.

Plus- it’s potential death.

That’s the best part.

When it got to be my turn, I told my teacher: “Happy.”

I remember vividly of how she reacted. First, she paused. Her mouth was slightly open and her glasses fell down just a bit. But then, the once frightening expression stretched into a smile of pearly whites.

Back then, I thought maybe she believed I was cute. I was satisfied with this little “accomplishment” until I walked through the threshold of my house.

The only reason I said happy was because I didn’t want to end up like my parents. I regret saying “happy.” I wish I would’ve said something like the other kids.

“MAYSEN REN CULLEN.”

Now usually when I would enter the house, I’d remain silent, walk upstairs, and close the door to my room. I’m sure this is why space sounded too appetizing to me. Even though I had my own room, no siblings, and was constantly left alone, I felt so crowded by everything around me.

When my full name was called, I was left in a state of shock. “What could I have done? Oh, they hate me! They know something!”

My mind went in a state of panic. I couldn’t think of a single thing I could’ve done wrong.

“IF I HAVE TO CALL YOUR NAME ONE MORE TIME!”

I hurried. I didn’t run, but man did I hurry. I walked as fast as my little feet could carry me into the living room. I stood back straight, hands folded over my body. Dad stood with a beer bottle (I didn’t know what this beverage was at the time) in his hand and Mom was sitting on the couch, quiet.

“Why am I getting calls from your teacher, huh?”

I said nothing.

“ANSWER ME!”

He was quite fond of yelling. It’s probably why I’m always saying “huh?” and “what?’ after anyone says something to me.

“I don’t know,” I spoke quietly, hoping to have him do the same.

“Mrs. Red told me you said you wanted to be happy when you’re older. Is that what you said?”

The yelling stopped, but he was quite articulate. He spoke through gritted teeth, saliva in his beard from him yelling.

“Yes. That’s what I said.”

You might think of me as a very polite young lady. I was. It’s only because I knew if I were to speak with the wrong tone or attitude, I’d get hit. Which wasn’t rare.

“Why, huh? You ain’t happy? Think you got it rough? YOU AIN’T EVEN KNOW ROUGH!”

He slammed the beer bottle against the wall in which paint was chipping. It smashed into thousands of pieces. Mom screamed and that’s when she started crying silently.

I only jumped at the impact and closed my eyes, accepting the punishment of whatever it was I did wrong. I still had no idea.

“I’m sorry,” I repeated that sentence over and over again. The tears took over how sorry I was without my mouth having to move.

The collar of my shirt was gripped and I was thrown to the staircase.

I was grateful.

I scrambled up the stairs, falling on some. I ran into my room which was a huge risk. I was glad he wasn’t watching.

The rest of the night was spent leaning against my bed in tears.

Now that I’m older, I know why he was so angry. Only half of it was because he was intoxicated. The other half was because I said “happy.” I’m sure he thought I was an abused child. Well, I was. But he didn’t think so. He was just acting how his father used to act.

You can suspect I never saw my grandpa.

I have some sympathy for my Dad. I was his only daughter. He only knew me and Mom. He acted like he thought a good Dad should’ve. He died 10 years ago when I was 13. I didn’t cry at his funeral.

I’m in college. I don’t have friends. I’m not engaged. I don’t do anything. I’m not a musician. I’m not an athlete. I’m not an artist. I’m not a writer.

Under my bed, in the house that is still contently occupied by my mother, I still have the sheet of “WHAT I WANT TO BE WHEN I’M OLDER.”

The square that is supposed to be my face is empty. It reads: “PASTE HERE.”

There is no colour. It’s only white. The top reads, “WHEN I GROW UP, I WANT TO BE” and the center on the right side says, “Happy.”

But now, I am grown up.

I’ve been content with how I’ve been living for the past forever.

But sometimes.

Content does not mean happy.

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