by Kendall Stearns
As a freshman walking down the halls, it was hard to avoid being swallowed by the raging sea of kids scurrying to their classes. Paintings and inspirational quotes plastered on the walls and doors helped keep my head above the waters, distracting me from flow of rushing students threatening to pull me under. As the weeks passed, the maze of hallways straightened out and my daily route from class to class burned itself permanently to the front of my brain. The children passing me in the hallways slowly morphed from man-eating fish into ordinary kids, simply trying to get to their classes on time. The posters and paintings changed too. It wasn’t like something out of Hogwarts. The posters never actually moved or sang. They were, however, certainly different from the first few times I saw them. Some would change frequently, switching almost every week into something else entirely. Others took their time, slowly transforming as the months went by. My favorite poster of all changes every day, exciting me with a completely different image each time I see it.
Whenever I pass room 117 on my way to math, I can’t help but linger at the door. Sometimes it’s held open allowing me to stare at my favorite poster plastered to its surface. Other times I can only catch a glimpse of it as a student pushes the door open and disappears inside the classroom. The poster may look ordinary to any usual passerby. To me however, that little square of paper means the world. I could stare at it forever, watching it change before my very eyes. Words sprawl out across its brightly colored surface, asking you to “meet who is responsible for your grade.” Below it your face peers back at you through a mirror glued to the bottom. The mirror isn’t really a mirror though. It is a cheap piece of reflective paper. The paper isn’t quite flat either, leaving your reflection to look more like a disfigured monster than your real self. But that’s my favorite part. Everytime I look into that “mirror” I don’t see myself like the poster wants me to. I see a mangled, distorted version of myself staring back at me. I see a monster. Everytime I pass the poster I see a new creature, each more horrendous than the last.
It reminds me that the devilish image being trapped in the shiny paper is actually the one responsible for my grade, not me. I’m not the one who wants to go to bed at midnight after completing hours of homework. I’m not the one who is so stressed about an upcoming test that I can’t enjoy a moment of family time away from my textbook. No, that is all the work of the monster in the mirror. The hideous creature may get the job done, my grades reflecting the pain it put itself through. However, it shouldn’t have to be this way. In fact, this monster that the school created with its piles of homework and assignments shouldn’t exist in the first place. It should just be me in the mirror. The real me that doesn’t care about letters on a report card. Not the monster that would rather go a week without sleeping than get one bad grade. I’m not the only one living with the creature. I can see them around the school, sitting heavily on the shoulders other students. Looking into the mirror on that poster fascinates me for it is the only time I can see my own creature, perched there on my shoulders. Looking at the monster in the mirror can be scary at first, but the more you stare, the less horrifying it becomes. It changes from day to day, growing or shrinking depending on what the teachers feed it. It’s better to acknowledge its existence than pretend it doesn’t exist. So next time you pass by room 117, look into that wavy sheet of reflective paper. Really think about what you see because chances are, you too might catch a glimpse of the monster staring back.