Originally published on The Purple Fig
“Can I have the toy, sweetie?”
Small sticky fingers hold tight a soft, orange elephant. One leg is crushed between pink gums. It emerges, dark and moist with saliva. Yuri examines the toy, for a moment, before slowly and cautiously handing it to her mother.
“Good girl!” Yuri’s mother exclaims.
A smile lights up Yuri’s cherubic face. She doesn’t understand the words but the tone is one of happiness and praise. She wants this. Mother’s praise is nourishment for her still-forming mind.
“Be a good girl for grandma,” mother says as she waves goodbye.
Yuri loves grandma’s house. Here there are areas yet to be explored, toys she has yet to play with, and grandma. Grandma is always so eager to make her smile with snacks, games and songs.
They play for hours – well past nap time. The drowsiness settles in and Yuri’s mind feels foggy. Her colouring page is becoming messy. More and more colours stray past the bold, black lines. Good girls colour inside the lines.
She becomes frustrated with her tiredness and lack of focus. Overcome with irritation, she presses too hard with the red crayon and it snaps in two. It leaves a great red blemish on her picture. In a moment of anger she throws a piece of crayon and yells.
“Now now,” Grandma chides, “Good girls don’t throw things.”
Yuri immediately regrets what she has done. She imagines her mother’s disappointed face. She hears her stern voice in her head. She cannot take back the bad thing she has done. Mother will be disappointed and there’s nothing she can do and she’s so tired and she begins to cry. She wails and sobs herself into a fitful sleep.
When her mother returns she asks the question: “Was she a good girl?”
Refreshed from her nap, Yuri is no longer in a panic but she stares nervously at her grandmother. “We had a grumpy spell but mostly she was a very good girl.”
Her mother smiles and Yuri basks in her approval.
It is Yuri’s first day of high school. She has excelled in school and the thought of a greater challenge is both exciting and nerve wracking.
All of her classes have been in the main building of the school. Math, her last class of the day, is listed as classroom A114. She knows this means it is in the Annex building but she can’t find the way. She doesn’t recognize any of the faces walking by and she decides to look a little harder before asking a stranger.
Yuri doesn’t realize how much time has passed since the last bell. When the second bell rings, the one that signals the start of class, it startles her. The blood drains from her face and she feels a panic build in the pit of her stomach. She walks faster.
She’s never been late before. Good girls are always on time. She is a good girl, any of her old teachers would say as much. They would know it wasn’t her fault. But her old teachers aren’t here. There will be a new teacher and her lateness will create a first impression. A bad impression. Yuri wonders if she will vomit.
Tears sting her eyes as she slowly enters the classroom with her head downwards, her hands gripping her books. Her entire body radiates apology. Students stare at her as she makes her way to her seat. The teacher has not arrived yet. Warm relief washes over Yuri.
Yuri fills out the application forms. She can make three selections for university. She stares down at the list she has made. Three health and medicine programs and two visual art programs. She considers selecting at least one of the art programs but the requirements for the med programs are high, even for a student as accomplished as herself. She might not get into them all. What if she doesn’t get into any? She feels her muscles tense at the thought.
She thinks back to the career path meeting she had attended earlier that day. Her parents and the student counsellors had smiled at the arts pamphlets clutched tightly in her hands.
“Why exactly are you thinking about taking those programs?” her counsellor had asked, a slight emphasis on those – as if mildly repulsed. “You have a lot of talent in the sciences and there’s so much potential in medicine. Your parents say you are thinking about becoming a doctor.”
Yuri had conceded to this. Her parents are always so excited when she mentions it, she finds it hard to talk about any other possibilities. Both the counsellor and her parents have told her that she could do so much good for the world if she pursues medicine. That it would almost be a waste for her not to go into the sciences.
She feels embarrassed for even having brought up the arts programs. Good girls want to help other people. Doing anything else would be selfish.
She loves the arts and, staring at the application page, she feels torn. Inside though, she knows what she will pick – there has never been any real doubt in her mind. She writes down the names of three universities followed by the titles of the med programs.
Yuri unlocks the door to her apartment. The dishes in the sink are piled high and there are text books everywhere. She has just come off of a 24 hour rotation at the hospital and is too exhausted to tidy up now. She makes a mental note to tidy up in the morning before the seminar she is planning to attend. Her parents are visiting in a couple of days and she doesn’t want them to think she neglects her home.
Yuri feels overwhelmed. Between clinical placements, saving to pay off her student loan and keeping up her apartment, she struggles to catch her breath, as if she is drowning. Tonight is a bad night. She looks at the clock – 9:06 pm – and considers calling her mother. She decides against it.
Yuri has noticed that her mother becomes agitated when she complains about home or work. If she complains that she’s behind on the chores, her mother says she’s just being lazy. If she tells her it’s been a rough day at the hospital, her mother reminds her that she is going to be a doctor. Apparently there is no higher compliment than that – being a doctor. It always makes her mother happy.
She has even told her mother once, just once, that she thought she might be depressed.
“Well you’ll just have to find a way to be happy,” had been her simple, confident response.
Yuri doesn’t want to disappoint her mother but she knows that she can’t avoid expressing herself tonight. So she doesn’t call. She walks to the bedroom and lays down on the bed, fully clothed. Her life is a physical and metaphorical mess.
Good girls don’t make messes.
Another long day. When Yuri comes home her husband is asleep. She is tired and stressed. She wants him to hold her in his arms. She wants him to touch her, to make her feel good, to make her forget the pain she has witnessed all day.
She lays down beside him and stares at the strong muscles in his back. At the waves in his dark hair. Her hand drifts downwards, stopping just above the waistband of her pyjamas. She thinks about this man whose warmth she can feel beside her.
When they had started dating, he had told her that he liked good girls. That it made her even more cute.
Yuri doesn’t think good girls ask for sexual favours. She rolls over and eventually she falls asleep.
The labour lasts for nearly a day. Yuri is exhausted and sore, but also relieved.
She holds her tiny, sleeping baby in her arms. A little girl with her own delicate features and a shock of black hair that had surprised the nurses. Yuri thinks that this is the first time in her life that she has ever felt true happiness.
Her mother walks into the room. She takes the baby and rocks her gently.
“She’s already smiling in her sleep. She’s going to be a good girl, just like you.”
Yuri stands, shakily, and walks to her mother. She takes her baby back and holds her against her skin. For the first time, she doesn’t care that her mother is disappointed.
“I hope not. I’d rather she be a happy one,” Yuri says.