Erin’s mom woke up early to make her and her brother, Bobby, pancakes before school. It was a big day. Erin and Bobby were taking their SATs today— well re-taking, Erin was retaking her SATs and Bobby was taking them for the first time. She’d already taken them junior year but wasn’t satisfied with her score. She’d actually scored pretty well, but that score wasn’t getting her into an Ivy league. Erin’s mom knew how much it meant to her so she made sure they were up and ready well before they had to be and made them pancakes as an extra special treat.
The night before Erin couldn’t sleep. She kept having nightmares about missing the test, she’d wake up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat and panting, frantically looking towards the digital clock on her desk. “Omg,” she’d breathe out, “It’s only 3:25 a.m.” Around 4 she woke up again in the same panic. This time she didn’t go back to sleep, she thought to herself, I’ll just wait it out. But around 4:30 she fell asleep again while reading. At 6 a.m, her mom came in to wake her, she awoke startled and looked around for the clock. “Relax hunny,” said her mom, “You have plenty of time.” Erin looked at her with tense eyes. In resignation she let herself fall back onto her bed and took a deep breathe, “Thanks mom.”
Bobby wasn’t nearly as anxious as Erin, he was naturally smart and found school relatively easy. While Erin studied for months, Bobby picked up the study guides once or twice before the test. Not only was he not worried but he really didn’t care. With his grades and his sports history, he was a shoe in for Ohio State, and it all worked out because he always wanted to stay close to home. He’d maybe apply to a few other schools in the area, but that was just for fun, he was definitely going to Ohio State, no questions.
Erin really didn’t have time to care about Bobby’s master plan, she was too busy worrying about her know problems. Her mind was racing, Ok Erin, pull herself together, you can do this, you have to do this, this is the last thing you have. If this doesn’t work out, that’s it, just take your life girl, this is it. Nothing else to lose. I don’t think I can do this. Ugh snap out of it, you can do it, you have to do it. This is it…
Erin’s mom watched her from the archway between the kitchen and the living room with furrowed brows. She had a sense that something was not right with that girl—she worried too much about her grades, despite being at the top of her class, she obsessed over controlling every aspect of her life, she didn’t have friends, her boyfriend dumped her—she was going through a teenage breakdown for sure.
At the kitchen table, Erin cut her pancakes into neat little squares and began eating them one at a time, always adding one drop of syrup before popping it into her mouth. Every so often she’s check her wrist watch only to see not a minute had passed.
“RELAX Erin, it’s just a test, it’s not life or death,” retorted Bobby as he rolled his eyes at her.
“Shut UP! Yes it is! Ugh, you don’t know anything, you stupid child.,” she snapped back as she adjusted her position on the chair.
Bobby looks at her like she’s lost it, “Oh please, what’s the worse that could happen? I don’t even know why you’re taking this dumb test again, your score was nearly perfect.”
Erin takes a deep breathe in and out, “That is the point, it wasn’t perfect.”
“Yeah genius, it doesn’t matter, that score will get you into anywhere, what’s wrong with you?”
“Okay, okay, enough you two,” interjects their mom, “Bobby, leave your sister alone, we all handle stress differently.”
Bobby shakes his head as he gets up to take his plate to the sink. Erin stares at her watch again and quickly finishes the rest of her squares before getting up too. They grab their things and head for the car. Their mom gets into the drivers seat and drives out of the driveway towards school.
As Erin’s mom pulls up to school, Bobby and Erin start to collect their things. She stops in front of the main entrance, “Thanks mom!” They both say in unison as they jump out of the car. Bobby, who’s taller, walks away much faster than Erin.
“Hey Erin!” She looks back at her mom and sees her waving, signaling to come back. Erin is confused but heads back towards the car. “Get in Erin,” says her mom.
“Wait, what? Mom, come on, I’m going to be late!”
“No you aren’t, get in the car, now!”
Erin is frustrated but she knows better than to disobey her mom. She reluctantly gets back into the car, only to watch her mom drive off as soon as she closes the door.
“MOM! MOM! What are you doing? What’s going on?!” Erin is on the verge of a pain attack, the test starts in 20 minutes and she needs to be there 15 mins before. Her hands start to sweat, her head starts spinning, she’s not sure if she can feel her lips anymore.
“ERIN. Erin. Erin. Calm down Erin. Stop breathing so fast, take deep breathes. DEEP BREATHES Erin.” Her mom slows down and pulls over. Erin finally manages to get her breathe back to normal before she starts crying, “Mom, why are you doing this to me! You’ve ruined everything!”
Her mom grabs her hands and looks at her, “Erin, Erin, listen to me. You are not well. What were you seeking to accomplish in there, huh? I talked to your college counselor, he said your scores were outstanding, he said you had a very high chance of getting into any school you wanted. So why go to the trouble of taking the test again, hunny?”
Erin looked at her mom through hazing eyes, “It wasn’t perfect, mom, I need it to be perfect, don’t you understand?”
Her mom looked at her with sorrow, “Is this about Teddy? You know, I called his mom, she said he was very sad about your breakup. He said to her that he thought he wasn’t good enough for you and you expected too much from him. Hunny, I think you’ve become obsessed with perfection. You know, no one is perfect and that’s okay.” Erin was sobbing in her hands at this point. “Hunny,” began her mom, “I’m taking you to see Dr. Simone. I think you could use some help. I know you want to be perfect and I know you want to go to the best school and I know life’s been kicking your butt lately, but that’s what I’m here for hunny. It’s my job to pay attention, it’s my job to help you or find someone to help you. You are not alone Erin, you are loved and you appreciated.”
Erin looked up at her mom for a second. She saw her looking back at her with love and kindness in her eyes. She’d forgot that look. She’d forgotten people cared about her. Erin was so wrapped up in her own head, trying to prove to herself that she was worthy, trying to hold on to the rope so she didn’t fall off the ledge, that everyday she felt more and more alone. She thought if she could get a perfect score on this test, she could prove to that she was good enough. But what she really needed all along was for someone to pay attention, someone to realize she was struggling and closing control. It’s not a feeling she could easily explain, it was as if the world was slipping out of her hands and she had no control over it. She felt along, useless, worthless. She was lucky someone was listening, watching, paying attention. She needed Dr. Simone, she needed her mom, she didn’t need to retake that stupid test.