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The Bitter and the Sweet This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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The candy’s smooth wrapper crinkles as I trace its edges with my fingertips, imagining its contents. The wrapper tears like a fine fabric, revealing a corner of dark chocolate. I break off a piece and take pleasure in its creamy essence. I have always had a sweet tooth, but it is not just sugary snacks that I crave. Being raised by a single parent has been a bittersweet experience, but one that has given me resilience and ambition.

When I was young, my mother would tell me that the racks of candy in the store’s checkout line belonged to the cashier. She said this not to confuse me, avoid spoiling me, or even to teach me a lesson about earning rewards, though she inevitably did. She said it because she didn’t want me to worry because she could not afford a 50-cent chocolate bar. Nevertheless, I saw through her tactic and made a promise to myself that I would grow up to be prosperous enough to buy my family all the Hersheys on the stand.

Instead of focusing on our economic instability, my mother selflessly pushed me to strive for success so that I could lead a more comfortable life than hers. She worked long hours every night and struggled to pay the minimum due on her bills. Still, she would find time to read and snuggle with my sister, Emily, and me. Mom taught me the value of perseverance, education, and moral fiber. Although I did not have two parents, I was loved and nurtured just as much.

Not all of life’s milestones were easy; some left an insurmountably bitter taste in my mouth. Domestic abuse, divorce, and homelessness, for example. I dealt with these when my mother married a man in Maryland and moved us several states away from our roots in Georgia. The first few months were great: baseball games, family trips to the mall, dinners together, and movies. It felt like we were the perfect All-American family. Then things changed. Baseball games were too expensive, and trips to the mall were replaced with days Emily and I spent isolated in our rooms on his orders. Screaming matches between my stepfather and my mother interrupted dinners, and he swapped movie tickets for vodka.

We spent five years living in a family setting that had turned into a war zone. I remember the verbal spats became so routine that I would no longer rush to my little sister’s room to cradle her in my arms and wipe away the tears spilling down her cheeks. Emily and I grew so used to this lifestyle that we just turned on the televisions in our rooms to drown out the screams. We became immersed in the world of sugar-coated sitcoms, pretending the spiteful cursing matches downstairs were normal.

Then one evening, an argument erupted. My sister and I had begun to predict the start of these altercations. We called our system ETF, Estimated Time of Fight, named for its accuracy. Emily joked about patenting it some day. But on this night my mother swung open my bedroom door and told me to pack – we were leaving and not coming back. I could hear Emily sobbing in her room.

We loaded our things into Mom’s Ford, my step­father barking hatefully all the while. We drove for a long time before Mom pulled into the parking lot of a large store. I gazed out the window, watching people carry bags to their cars and head off to their warm homes. They were oblivious to our bittersweet tears. They had no idea how relieved and traumatized we felt, all at the same time. I was 14, my sister 11, school was still in session, and we were homeless.

“We’re not the first people to go through this, and we won’t be the last,” Mom assured us.

A friend of my mother’s let us stay with her. Each day, Mom would wake us before dawn so we could commute from Virginia to Maryland for our last three months of school. I remember looking out at the gleaming Washington Monument from the Potomac bridge, wondering how many others in the nation had suffered in silence. How many had packed up and moved on?

We eventually relocated to Texas, where Mom is still working to re-stabilize her life. And now, as I compose this essay with some dark chocolate – my favorite candy – close at hand, I realize my family and I are at the best point in our lives. I have triumphed here, both academically and personally. I ­satiate my hunger for knowledge by remaining dedicated to my intellectual pursuits – for example, the Distinguished Graduation Plan with its rigorous course of study and community service, and the learning opportunities it offers.

I savor the fact that I am not a bitter product of my environment; I am not a person who lets trying times interrupt her focus, for I know that they are learning experiences also. Success, like candy, can be the sweetest treat of all.


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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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This article has 101 comments. Post your own!

ramfthomas4This teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Sept. 5, 2013 at 9:18 pm:
go moms!  and good job.
 
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Wagner said...
Mar. 10, 2013 at 12:59 pm:
You have much courage to share your life story! Congrats! I'm brazilian and I'm learning English. Your story will help me to write my college essay! thanks
 
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Aakriti_13This teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
Jan. 13, 2013 at 12:17 am:
Wow...you are amazingly strong and brave. I know how you feel, to some extent. 
 
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Dee. said...
Aug. 14, 2012 at 6:04 pm:
I have tears running down my face right now.  I hope you got into your first choice and bought all the hershey bars <3
 
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garthgirl8888 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jul. 18, 2012 at 9:24 pm:
Thank you for your beautiful story.
 
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Roadtosuccess said...
Jul. 11, 2012 at 8:15 am:
This essay was great. Very motivational.you show people that no matter how hard things, they will eventually get better. I'm an 11th grader preparing to start writing my essays for college and my program teacher is having my class read your essay to show what a great essay is.
 
Miranda replied...
Oct. 5, 2012 at 6:12 pm :
That's awesome, where do you live?
 
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gla1234 said...
Dec. 2, 2011 at 12:57 pm:

i can imagine your story

good essay

 
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thedon said...
Oct. 12, 2011 at 6:27 pm:
It's a great life story but I don't get how you go from each having TVs in your rooms to be homeless. Something doesn't really line up there...
 
Miranda replied...
Oct. 14, 2011 at 12:43 pm :
Sometimes, life just changes in an instant. When we left my last step-father, my mother had no money saved and we could only take a few essential possessions. Thus, we had to start from scratch.
 
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JBowley96 said...
Oct. 11, 2011 at 10:08 am:
I really enjoyed this essay because of the deep connections to most broken homes without the sense of it being a pity party.
 
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sookie said...
Oct. 5, 2011 at 10:42 am:
I don' t want to sound maudlin but this really did made me cry, maybe because of the fact that it connected deeply with a part of me. You don't know how much i owe you now for inspiring me at a time when I was in great need of it! 
 
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sallysunshine69 said...
Sept. 21, 2011 at 7:36 am:
i love teenink :)
 
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mellowmari said...
Sept. 18, 2011 at 11:24 am:
wow this is so emotional! I loved how you had all this strength through these hardships that you went through
 
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StrugglingPoet said...
Sept. 11, 2011 at 3:30 pm:
Great essay - it gave me chills.
 
FreedomForAll replied...
Sept. 13, 2011 at 6:42 pm :
I really enjoyed your piece. What got me most was the pervading metaphor of bitter and sweet. I'm thrilled to hear that you have grown from these experiences, and I hope that you will continue to grow and reach your dreams. As a fellow applicant to college, I can only hope that my essay can be as good as yours!
 
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ChainedDreamer said...
Sept. 7, 2011 at 9:22 pm:
This piece was most definetely well written. Good luck in college. I like the tie-in with candy
 
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marina said...
Sept. 1, 2011 at 8:16 pm:

wow this is amazing. i cant not express how much you admire me after i read this essay....

hopefully if you do not mind you would be able to read mine when i finish :)

im so proud you accomplished all this on your own :')

 
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Jaden said...
Aug. 23, 2011 at 3:21 pm:
I really liked this essay and your metaphor and imagery.  Another good place to find essays is a book I got on Amazon called "Acing the Admissions Essay."  Your essay reminded me of one of the essays from that work. 
 
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cam_a said...
Jul. 2, 2011 at 7:21 pm:

I can't express how much I admire your piece. Please know that reading this magnificient piece is something that will constantly throb in my thoughts everyday, as I write my own college essay. You're strenght and courage as a person is truly inspiring. I'm in the middle of a situation completely different from yours but in similiar in some way. In a nuteshell, i'm away from my broken up family, and in foster care, trying to write my own college essay. With everything going on, its very diffic... (more »)

 
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