We were always told, or brainwashed, that we were the ‘Olympic Year’. We were the ‘it’ year. The year that would have the best grades on record. Simply because our GCSEs happened to coincide with the 2012 Olympics.
Back at home, we tried to sit down and watch TV like a normal family, like we had forgotten what a mess we were in. But it never worked. There was always an atmosphere that hung about the house, like someone had sucked all the air away, like the stars didn’t exist, like the sun wouldn’t rise the next day.
I remember coming back from my paper round one day to another argument. I was doing the job with a ‘friend’, but people didn’t like me much. Perhaps it was because I struggled to have a good time; too much baggage. The Olympics was on. I can’t remember which sport.
What I do remember was my mom in the kitchen cooking like nothing was wrong. My sister on the sofa watching the TV. Her face pale but otherwise unemotional. And she? I didn’t know. To anyone else it looked like a normal scene. I never knew how I could tell, but I always could. The air felt thick, heavy. It was like the atmosphere was suffocating, telling me to get the hell out of there. We had become used to this. We had accepted that we had fallen short of our dreams and were just scuttling along against the wind.
‘Mom?’ I called, going to put my bag down before sharply pulling it back up onto my shoulder. If I left it there, I might find it thrown across the room or at me later. She didn’t like things left around that weren’t hers.
‘Yeah?’ Her voice was sharp, like it had been defending itself not long ago.
‘Just letting you know I’m home.’ I didn’t want to ask what happened. There’s only so much a sixteen-year-old should know. She nodded.
I walked up the stairs. I knew she must be up here, so I tried to get to my room undetected. It was difficult since my bedroom was so small, I couldn’t shut my door properly. It would hit the bed and always remain open by at least a third.
I got changed in quiet terror before sneaking back down the stairs. I sat with my sister watching the swimming. Nobody said much. We always just waited, the awful kind, like waiting for the salt in the air to be swallowed by a coming storm.
When we heard the stairs grumble under her steps, we collectively held our breaths. The door creaked open. She went into the kitchen. We waited, minds whirring, as on TV someone won a gold medal in the men’s backstroke, people blissfully cheering, their excitement almost mocking.
We could hear sharp words, hushed voices. We tried to watch the Olympics but didn’t take much in. You can only pretend that everything’s okay for so long until the bag that’s being held on your head suffocates you.
Lauren Turner recently graduated from the University of Wolverhampton, where she studied Creative and Professional Writing. She is the first person in her family to go to university, and believes you have to work hard to get what you want. A horse enthusiast from a young age, Lauren hopes to own a horse of her own one day. She has just completed her first novel.
Banner image: John M, Geograph