When I imagine myself without most of the belongings I have right now, I feel confident I can live on but never wish to part cards and gifts from my high school friends. The notebooks that had my high school’s logo at front with the gate to the school. The backpack I got from my boyfriend because he was a smart-ass and got national prizes. I never said it, but I think my 15, 16 was the best years of my life. Even though it might not be if I look hard enough in the past, I want it be so, and I let it so. It was when I worked hard on my studies and got into Phổ Thông Năng Khiếu or Vietnam National University – High School for the Gifted.
PTNK ranked as one of the best high schools in my country, from which there were many talents who went on to win at the international “playground”. I remember there were nights when I walked on the street and saw the blue uniform, thinking how smart these people had to be and how devouring they were to their studies. When the thoughts had gone great length, I returned to my reality, bewaring that it will forever be a dream for me to get in such high schools. Such prestigious places. Such first-rank classes with teachers who knew what they were doing.
And then I got in. Those days were blurry. That summer, my main activities were playing the piano, reading books, and scouring the Internet aimlessly. I was still waiting for the entrance exam scores, confident that I will get in Gia Định, a high school close to my home and where all my best friends will get in. (But it turned out that the people I felt most comfortable talking to ended up in other High School for the Gifted such as Trần Đại Nghĩa, Lê Hồng Phong, or ĐH Sư Phạm. Good thing I got into somewhere that can sorta be “an equivalent.”) I remember the smell of stew fish which my Mom made before she went to work. I didn’t remember my sister hanging around. Thankfully I had convinced Mom to send my sister to school in the summer. I had more freedom that way.
My Dad called at noon to tell me PTNK has sent out the score results. He told me to check because he had to work, and I did. I got in. I got into Literature-focused Class. I got into PTNK District 5 campus. I got in. I didn’t know a soul who I could share the news with. Who didn’t have their own problems to worry about. Who would feel truly happy for me. So I called Vi and she didn’t get in and we hung up and I walked around the house aimlessly again and took a nap and called my Dad and my Mom who didn’t know what PTNK was and we hung up and I waited to pick my sister up from her school and I looked up more information about a school that had been an out-of-reach dream and I couldn’t believe what had happened and it got dark and I went to bed.
In my dream, PTNK sent out a different announcement, “There was some mistakes on the score,” and I didn’t get in after all.
For days after, Mom told me to not go to PTNK. “It was too far.” “Their courses would be too hard for you.” “I think you should focus on your English instead of Vietnamese Literature.” All and all, I heard, “you don’t deserve it.” I heard, “it’s probably just another overrated high school that accepts just about anyone.” And I believed that. My friends called and said I should go to Gia Định, because Vi would be there. I said Vi got into Lê Hồng Phong, another High School for the Gifted, another trường chuyên. Our call went silent. I felt bad for him. I didn’t know what he wanted from me. I knew not everyone was happy for my result.
But my Dad was. He had faith in me. He was the one who spent a couple hundreds of Vietnamese Dong to register for the many exams I took to get into PTNK. The couple of hundreds that I didn’t think I deserve. The couple of hundreds that motivated me to actually do the exams to make it worth it. He drove me there and went back to his company building and picked me up again after a few hours. He smiled when he saw me and asked where I wanted to eat and I said phở and we drove the 13 kilometers to the best stall close to our house. He was happy I ate much and got fat. He was happier I was healthy than I got into PTNK. Until now, he is the sole soul I consult academic topics. Still, because he never thought I would be any sorts of supermen, he taught me to not be one. To be ordinary instead. To live by.