Raised to Win
Where I grew up kids were sorted.
The “smart” kids were given AP classes, extra curricular work, nerd clubs, quiz teams, awards, etc. The other kids were given remedial classes in trailers and free lunch.
Where I grew up kids were stuck.
My graduating class was probably 150 kids total in our small town, and there was no escaping your cohort group because there was only one elementary school, one middle school, one high school, and that was it. The kids you pissed off in first grade would stay with you the rest of your academic life - which meant if you were smart, you tried not to piss kids off in any grade.
Where I grew up kids were expendable.
Their mom’s might have had them out of wedlock, or by accident, or for the extra welfare checks. Or because they were silly and in love with their man, who may or may not have stuck around. They were wanted or unwanted, ignored or overly mothered, all kinds of things, but it didn’t matter because there were always more mouths than free lunches and the rush for the cafeteria never slowed down.
Where I grew up kids knew the score.
If your dad and your granddad and your great-granddad had worked in a factory, that’s probably what you were gonna do. If you were a girl then maybe you wouldn’t have to work in a factory, but for a lot of girls it took more than one paycheck anymore so you might - if you wanted a better life for your kids. The kids who most girls thought of as inevitable because making babies was what girls did. Babies who would also work in the factory, when they grew up. Three generations of a family often worked at the same factory - which meant it really sucked when the factory eventually shut down.
Where I grew up kids had little hope.
If you were a broke misfit your hope was to leave town, assuming you could afford it or wouldn’t end up broke and homeless in a big city. If you were a rich misfit you might just move in with richer relatives maybe somewhere more tolerant. If you were a lazy take-what-you-get lout who just settled for apathy then you ended up like all the rest of the kids in the same style trailer your family raised you in. If you were a rebellious, screw-this-I’m-forging-my-own-way kinda asshole, then maybe you’d die young...or end up miraculously in a nicer home with a motorcycle and a few scars/stories to tell.
Where I grew up kids taught me more than teachers.
My friends recognized I could get the homework / group work done faster. They didn’t refuse to help - they just didn’t know how. What they didn’t realize was keeping me sane with jokes, distractions, drawings, and all those little things gave me more hope than the constant pile of expectations and work my teachers and parents shoveled on top of me. My friends taught me to enjoy my childhood because it could only get worse from there. My adults just pushed me to grow the fuck up already because they incorrectly associated my friends’ behavior with their maturity levels rather than their ability to see the future and resent it.
Where I grew up I was “gifted”
The adults told me so. They gave me a special label and put me in a special class once a week so I would feel smart and appreciated. Except I still had to get all my work done, and there was no break or reward for my work just more work because I COULD do it. They thought my friends’ refusal to do it meant they couldn’t. I recognized this was stupid and dropped out of the “gifted” class. The adults thought I just didn’t get it. My friends did, though. Which meant more to me than any recognition from an adult.
Where I grew up is called “red” country.
It’s where the evil Trump supporters live. It’s where broke ass white racist assholes drive around in pickup trucks and carry guns and buy drive-thru liquor and do dumb ass shit that the news covers all the time. It’s where my Liberal, blue state friends fear to tread, because it’s where the heart of evil supremacy dwells waiting to be tapped by smarter, manipulative forces ready to pounce on the economic despair of those factory children I once tried to renounce my “gifted” title to appease. It’s where the kids I knew have grown into strangers I might not recognize if I went back. It’s where the misfits who stayed have reforged into beautiful, strong adults standing against a tide of constant anger. It’s where churches still hold reign amongst the poor and the miserable. It’s where nobody moves in and people just keep moving out. It’s where the old homes I grew up in sit, or the old trails I biked lie, or where the drive-thru big box stores and restaurants fill in the gaps because nobody has the energy or the funding to start a small business.
It’s where I ran away from, yet in my heart I can never escape.
Because no matter what happens, how awful it was, how limited the resources, how racist the people, how broken the systems...
It’s where I grew up.
And I don’t think anybody understands yet why “winning” when you were raised to lose appeals to so many people. But honestly speaking - nobody ever won where I grew up.
Not even me.
The rock bottom is a quiet place. Sun rays can reach every planet in our solar system, but they dissolve hundreds of feet above your head, and so you sit in total darkness. You can feel that the sea bed under your body is cool and sandy. You tap the ground around you delicately, and you find two things - a little rock, and something smooth and oblong, like an old bone. There's no noise, either. Somewhere up above waves the size of skyscrapes blow up and crash like a city during war, or maybe today they're little and elegant. You don't know. You're at rock bottom. Then a glimpse of light catches your eye - it's a tiny pink jellyfish that glows in the dark. It's not really swimming though, it's mostly floating in place. It's a very different world from the one you know, but you're not ready to move on just yet.
No. No, I can't win, I can't beat him. This is my thought process as I'm standing in the arena. I had a peircing sharp sword in one hand and my other was resting on the dagger in the sheath at my hip. I was fighting against Neptune, my true love. We were forced into the arena because in the village of Valon being in love with another man is forbidden. Jupiter and Neptune, a romance like no other that nobody in Valon could ever understand.
"Neptune, please. I can't hurt you." I say this loud enough that the hundreds of eyes watching us scream "boo". His sword is extended in the way he does when getting ready to kill. Neptune is a trained warrior, he knows how to fight and I've watched him as he trains, I know the way he fights and how to know when he's about to strike. And he's about to strike.
"I'm sorry, Jupiter. I have to, I have to live and defend Valon." I watched as tears stung his eyes. That reflected on me as I felt the warm tears run down my cheeks and dribble off my chin.
"I can't do this." I whisper. I drop my sword, listening to it clatter on the ground, another round of "boos" going around in the crowd. Neptunes eyes widen and I see his heart drop. He knows that now that I've dropped my sword he has to kill me. The tears come harder now, from both of us.
"I love you, Jupe." He says.
"I love you too." He walks towards me, dropping his sword as well.
"We're both going to walk out of here, I promise." Neptune says. He wraps is arms around me and I thrust my head into his shoulder, smelling his aroma of sweat and pine needles.
"Don't make promises you can't keep." I mutter into his ear. My dagger is in his chest before I can stop myself. He falls to the ground, his blood pooling around him. I get on my knees, moving my hands to his blood-soaked chest.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry! I didn't mean to, I'm sorry... please don't die, mi amor." My hands are already drenched in his blood and I know that it'll never truly come out. I'll always have the memory of killing the love of my life and his blood being on my hands.
"Thank you..." he breathes in a raspy voice. His last words.
I place my head onto his chest and sob, knowing blood will get in my nose and mouth but not caring. I will never forget today, the day I killed mi amor. I will never forget the day where the only option was to win.