I am in a runaway car hurtling down a road. The accelerator is stuck to the floor, and the brake is loose beneath my desperately pounding foot. My hands are tight around the steering wheel. It presses against my sweaty palms as I jerk it one way, then the other, praying my grip doesn’t slip and I careen into a pole, or a barrier, or heaven forbid, another car.
All I want to do is close my eyes and scream. I wish I could. But I have passengers in my car. They hold on tight, grit their teeth, and tell me what an amazing driver I am. They how glad they are that I’m behind the wheel. All I can think of is the impending crash, the high-pitched sound of tearing metal, the car and the passengers in a jumbled, screaming cacophony.
I only hope that the petrol will eventually run dry, that the car will come to a gentle stop. I only hope that I will be able to tenuously control the wheel until then.
I grit my teeth, I keep my terror and tears in my throat, and I keep driving.
This is what it’s like to be ‘doing an amazing job’.
I am hang gliding in high winds, caught in a location with nowhere to land. There is a touch of thrill and exhilaration of being aloft and harnessing this power, watching people below shielding themselves as their hair and clothing whips about them with capricious abandon.
But I’m tiring rapidly, and I’m losing concentration. It won’t be long before a little misread of the turbulence or an unexpected eddy will lead to one mistake, and the subsequent panic will lead to another, then another, until I’m losing altitude fast and about to hit the trees. There’s no escape, no magical eject button that will release me from the harness that holds me fast to the glider.
All I can do is hope for lift, that as I go down I’ll catch a favourable updraft which will save my sorry hide once more. But even as I reassure myself with that hope, I also wish for a quick nosedive that will end this fear and worry and stress and interminable tension as I circle, circle, circle, unable to land.
I wish, and yet I continue to do my utmost to stay aloft.
This is what it’s like to be a failure.
I am halfway through a marathon. The sun is setting, and the barriers along the street that once held back cheering spectators are already dismantled. All the other competitors have crossed the finish line I can’t even see, and returned to the comfort of their homes surrounded by admirers–whether they be family, friends or strangers. These roads are still closed off, eerily devoid of the background bustle of life. No one realises there is still a competitor that hasn’t reached the finish; may never reach it.
My breaths are reminiscent of a shallow, strained death rattle. My stomach is empty, though every few stumbled steps it insists it still has something to regurgitate. Even putting one foot in front of the other is a slow process that fires every neuron in the pain centres of my brain. My muscles tremble as though the ground beneath me is the skin of a beating drum.
All everyone saw was the first thrilling dash at the starting line. They never saw the frustration as everyone else pulled ahead, the desperation as they disappeared from sight, the frantic yet futile scramble to catch up to someone, anyone. They never saw the increasing effort expended kilometre after kilometre, all for naught.
Yet I still continue to claim each tiny metre of road beneath me. My legs give way, the flecks of gravel are bitter in my mouth, and the melancholy of night settles on me. But I crawl, I swallow the rough little fragments, I picture the finish line that is now no more than a grand construct in my head. Eventually, I push myself to my feet and lurch on.
It may be sheer stupidity. I may never even make it. But there is no one to watch, to make snide comments. There is no one to remind me of all that’s riding on my success, because all has already fallen. And that is where I find why I am hell-bent on this imaginary finish–not for accolades, for there are none left to receive, and not for pride, for there is none left to cling onto or hide behind.
I chase an ethereal dream only I can see. And I chase it for me alone.
Leanne Yong is an aspiring Aussie author who is working on her second young adult novel. Check out her blog at Clouded Memories for more information and a journal chronicling her latest foray into novel writing.