The Noticeboard Gatherings brought me face to face with a reality I have been too ashamed to face.

Often, when life hands you shame, an escape designed to fling you into momentary bliss shows up. Mine was music. My relationship with it was quite abusive. It had a way of elevating and depressing while keeping me hooked.

You could also say it was manipulative: luring me in while isolating me from everything else. Music reflected my pain well and so with it I drowned. It felt like a great friend.

Whenever I appeared on the fail list, friends would tell stories of jobless graduates who got First Class Honors. They never said it out loud but it was to make me feel better. It didn’t work. Moreover, their statements were mostly repetitions of stories handed down to us from the seniors. There was no real evidence.

That’s why I preferred music. It didn’t urge me to deny or abandon my pain. Furthermore, no kind of glitter could add sparkle to failure. Ugly was what it was.

The first time I saw my name on the fail list, my heart sunk but I laughed it off. Campus people celebrated failure and so no one wanted to seem affected by it. Coming to terms with that fail was difficult and with it came gripping fear.

The fear made me study hard but also wonder what exam papers said about me. The question of identity was always dominant. It was paralyzing and so I failed even more.

You see, grades and worth go hand in hand in my world. When growing up, there was no mentioning my name without adding my academic performance right next to it. I would use my clean As to solicit monetary rewards from visiting families and relatives who happily obliged. I loved it that way. It also gave my parents joy. My results went well with their academic professions.

An academic’s daughter getting Es is like a pastor’s daughter club hopping every Friday night. The pressure at home was unlike any other. Our grades determined whether we would be embraced or denounced. It was academics that strained my parents’ relationship with my brother. The matter, therefore, had far reaching effects. Getting Es made me perceive myself as less of a daughter.

Four years of consistent failure was accompanied by endurance of a silent battle that drove me into depression. Never telling or showing it, I resulted to clowning. It was easier. People thought that I didn’t care about my grades but I did.

I also realized that my own words could be used against me so I went mute. At some point, I almost dropped out but kept going for one reason only, vain as it may be: What will they say?

All confidence in myself and abilities I may or may not have possessed was lost. I hated the person I saw in the mirror and judged her quite harshly. That hasn’t changed. All the judgement I passed on anyone, I had already passed on myself. In addition, I became dependent on people’s opinion of me: If it was not pleasant, it hurt.

Anytime anyone referred to me as smart, I would silently scoff. I went as far as shrinking my social circles so as to dedicate as much time as I could to school work. Most of it was, unfortunately, spent wallowing in self pity.

Despite that entire struggle, I am quite reluctant to send my resume for employment consideration. This is because academic performance is used by employers and some friends to decide on how worthy or unworthy one is. That transcript with my grade on feels like the hangman’s noose for sure.

Results don’t always define me 30% of the time. There is always that ray of sunlight fighting to light up the dark pit. Despite failing some exams and scoring an overall grade of C, I made it to the finish line. Moreover, I acquired the knowledge. I like to tell myself that that has to count for something.

Grades or not, time doesn’t wait and life goes on. I am not certain about what I want from life yet. I sometimes think of pursuing higher education. The thought is always followed by a reminder of my dismal undergraduate grades so I usually decide against it.

I also have vivid visions that could amount to great art. They stir me up into action until doubt sets in. After all, school was what it was. Can I, with all that failure, make art so good it would sell?

Story Inspired By: Rita Irungu