Kiki felt ready on the first day of class, but she woke up early to go over her notes from the class readings just in case.
She arrived an hour early to her first class, before the doors to the lecture hall were even unlocked.
No matter–it was a beautiful morning, warm for winter.
The first lecture, in photography, filled her with so many new concepts. She had no plans to be a photographer, as Ira had been, but as a painter, all the ideas of perspective, shading, and framing could transfer to her chosen art form. It would just take time to process the new ideas.
Between classes, she read or got ahead on homework. What she really needed was time, to integrate what she was learning, but time was something that didn’t seem to be part of the university experience–every moment was filled.
Each evening, she had either practice or a game. She still felt honored to be part of the team, and deep down, she believed it was developing really good personal skills that she wouldn’t be called on to develop otherwise, but even during the first week of the semester, she came to realize that sacrifices came with this opportunity.
She was tired and dirty and sore every night after practice, and then, she still had to either stay up late or get up early to complete her course work.
Aleki, one of her roommates, studied art history, and he’d often join her at the breakfast table before class.
They’d share ideas and inspiration, and sometimes, she’d be so excited when it was time to head to class that she’d leap out of her chair. Around her, she felt the air became texturized with thought–blues and indigos from Aleki’s insights swirled and mingled with the purples and maroons of her own.
The richness of ideas became too much sometimes, pressing in on her temples. But when she stepped outside, the swirling thoughts had room to stretch, and she could find a passage way through them.
She pushed herself so hard, in her studies and practices, that, in hindsight, an injury seemed inevitable. She sprained her left wrist when diving for the soccer ball, and though she worked with the team trainer on rehabilitation exercises and kept the arm taped, the injury persisted. She didn’t let on how bad it was, for she didn’t want to be benched, but there were some nights when the pain was severe.
She could do it, though–that’s what she told herself. And because she was young and fit and excited by ideas, she pushed herself through it, and sometimes, she even soared.
How high could she go?
Could she skip sleep to study or paint?
Could she practice harder each session?
Could she workout, even when exhausted?
Now and then, she crashed, and crashed hard.
But being young is an amazing thing–a shower, a good night’s sleep, and then next morning, you’re ready again, all fired up and driven by ideas!
She started to get noticed on the team, and sometimes, while she was waiting for class to start, the university mascot would show up and cheer her on. She did her best to ignore him. She was definitely not in this for the attention.
She was in it for those quiet times, before or after practice, when she ran down the campus streets alone, when the university was so silent that all she heard was the slapping of her feet on the pavement and her beating pulse. Then her ideas would fall in line with the movement of her body. Composition helps you make sense of competing visual input. Subject matter allows you to convey meaning. Light and dark play off each other, tracing paths through which the eye could follow.
During her first year, these moments when she was alone were what kept her sane.
Never before had she felt the type of stress that arrived at the end of the term. Finals. A researched term paper. A presentation. And championship games.
It was too much for one person. It was too much for her. Her injury was acting up again, and she wasn’t sure how she could handle everything. Maybe she should drop out.
She had no way of knowing if her paper was any good or how well her presentation went. She felt good about both of them–but, well, the presentation was really a blank. Had she even delivered it? And she felt sick all through the finals. She couldn’t even remember what she’d answered for most of the questions.
The team won their first match in the championship, though, and she’d made a few of the winning plays. So there was that. But still, if she flunked out, she wouldn’t be able to stay on the team. Maybe she should just drop out.
The grades arrived in the mail the day after her team won the championship. She’d been named MVP, due to making the most scores and blocking a few crucial attempts by the opposing team’s forward. It was a great feeling–her rooky year, starting out as a trainee and ending as MVP. God, she hoped her grades were good enough that she wouldn’t be kicked off the team or put on probation.
She took a deep breath. She opened the transcript. Being a champion was a great feeling–but this was even better.
Honestly, she had to look three times, and even then, she halfway expected that there’d been some mistake. But when she looked again–really looked–there it was. A wall of A+’s starting right at her.