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Dream Deferred This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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It was the five stages of Kubler-Ross in 2.7 seconds. Tear-mixed snot collecting in the philtrum, nails digging into palms, manic laughter bubbling behind the vise-like choke of silenced gasps, like a sock to the stomach muffled through flannel. Somewhere underneath everything lurked a knowing smile.

When I first found out, I hid. The light was off, the blinds were shut, the trailing edge of a blanket ghosting over my shoulder in an inanimate caress of compassion. I think even the carpet beneath my feet pitied me. At least, it certainly felt like pity when I fell onto in a prostrate pose. Head slumped, arms dangling, palms up in supplication, it was bargaining, denial, anger, depression and – not acceptance.

Deferral.

Three syllables, one word, the sound of shears snipping the thread of a dream. The silver clink still echoed when my father came up to check on me. He was kind; I was a mess. The duality was heartmendingly reassuring. He came, saw, comforted, left. He must have known I wanted to howl in peace.

And then there was the audience. The friends I had to text, the flimsy armor I had to don when the phone and the computer were my sword and shield. “Better luck next times” and “there's still hopes” – hollow but necessary – were the only things they could say. Every college hopeful's been on both ends.

If your college of choice has yet to take your spirit and break it in half over its knee, then you have one more thing to look forward to: the next day. People either look you in the eye with a cheery grimace or skitter away without a sound, reeking of pity. Teachers who have seen it all dust off the psychologist's mask and throw it on with a weary smile, a pat on the shoulder. There's something comforting in the sea of platitudinal uniformity.

How do you get from the beginning to the dream deferred? It starts with a romance movie plot, with you finding The One – if The One can be a line of buildings designed in gothic style. It lasts through the admissions presentation, through the statistic-dropping school representatives who warn of the low acceptance rates with a conspiratorial wink, as if you're the only two in on the game and no one else's application matters.

It stays with you through the grueling school year, egging you on with its whispers of “just one more A+” and assured claims of “you don't need that extra hour of sleep.” And even when your soul gets sucked out through the computer screen, spread as if by a child's grubby hands across each and every word of your essays, still it clings to you, burrowing into your heart, pumping belief and hope in a flow as steady as lifeblood.

And even up to the day of reckoning, there's that buoyancy in your step, that buried faith in getting what you deserve, earning the payoff. But the process is selfish. It takes your time and your dreams and melts them in the fire of perseverance, makes you think that surely you're the only one going through this, surely you're the only one who's tasted the tang of an iron hammer as it beats you into shape.

But when the deferral comes, the context explodes. There are more of you, more students exactly like you, who slog through days and study for hours and try and try and try and crave, and their chances are equal to – if not better than – yours. You like to think you have some hidden ingredient because you've gone through the fire and come out as the person you want to be; the process surely reflects your individuality and your talent.

But deferral, rejection, anything except a loving embrace – it's the great equalizer. All the things you felt were yours alone, your penchant for obscure literature, your online know-how that keeps you uber-informed, your ability to communicate intelligently with adults – they're more universal than you ever thought.

You get swept out to sea over the insignificance of it all, and all because a college doesn't want you enough to let you in. You eat, you talk, you cry and scream and punch the wall and then regret it when you know you won't be able to write that in-class essay as fast as you'd like tomorrow.

Deferral.

Three syllables, one word, the sound of someone pounding against a locked door with both fists.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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