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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!

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 »)

 
Miranda M replied...
Aug. 17, 2011 at 3:49 pm :
I'm so happy you enjoyed this piece. Good luck with your own essay and I wish you much success with getting into the college of your choice. Remember to never let your setbacks interfere with your ultimate dreams. :)
 
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sincerely_anna This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 20, 2011 at 4:13 pm:
I have major respect for you because of your success even though you were homeless. I wish this were the case with the majority of homeless youth today. Unfortunately, there just aren't enough resources in our school system to adequately accomodate for trying circumstances, such as learning without a place to call home. In my college essay, which has been posted on this site, I discuss how the services in American public schools are failing our minority and low-income children. Check it out if y... (more »)
 
Miranda replied...
Apr. 22, 2011 at 3:03 pm :
Anna, what is the name of the essay? I'd love to read it.
 
sincerely_anna This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Apr. 22, 2011 at 4:50 pm :
It's called "I Want To Go Home...But I Can't"
 
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Vikram K. said...
Apr. 17, 2011 at 4:09 am:
WOW, crazy essay
 
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WindDancer said...
Mar. 10, 2011 at 4:08 pm:
This is spectacular!! I would say more but everyone has already said it. Keep writing and best wishes for you and your family!!!
 
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BitterSweet1993 said...
Mar. 10, 2011 at 8:53 am:
I wish I knew more poeple who had half the strength you do. The hardship you went throught must have been earth shattering, but you pulled through not many peopl are able to do that. Colleges would be lucky to have you as a new edition to the universities. Keep strong honey. Keep Strong.
 
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arimarion said...
Dec. 28, 2010 at 10:49 am:
this essay is really exemplary. your candy metaphor keeps it from becoming  unfocused and diary-like but it still reads just as true and just as graphic as  anything one would write in a diary. The fact that you can write with such clarity about such a sensitive issue will be very attractive to colleges. it shows a maturity rare in middle aged adults, much less high-school seniors
 
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silvermoon11 said...
Nov. 5, 2010 at 5:06 pm:
This is beautiful. And your metaphor with the bittersweet was amazing. I am trying to write my own essays right now and I wish I could write something as good as this
 
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stefann45 said...
Oct. 31, 2010 at 4:16 pm:
Amazing essay, hope everthing turned out alright! : )
 
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music-is-my-life said...
Oct. 20, 2010 at 1:23 pm:
this was very well written. great job
 
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PeppyStephy said...
Oct. 1, 2010 at 12:01 pm:
This Essay Relates To Me And I Know Exaclty What You Are Talking About... This Is Beautifully Written.....
 
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WHiteshrtblackstain said...
Oct. 1, 2010 at 9:18 am:
I Knew what you were saying, It was easy to understantd what you were saying. I thought this was a very good essay. You knew how to capture the reader in the begining.
 
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Miyu_Moto said...
Sept. 20, 2010 at 7:57 pm:
....i envy your writing. But wow, I was blown away. This inspired me. Thanks!
 
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hush4 said...
Sept. 5, 2010 at 3:24 pm:
Woah, this is great. I heard about teenink through a friend and just started today and submitted my college essay which is a lot like yours. Yours is fantastic and well written.
 
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LovesTeaDearly said...
Aug. 29, 2010 at 11:28 pm:
Seriously, this is the best college essay i've ever found online. It's helped me a with formulating my own-- learning to give my words meaning as you've done with yours. Thank you. (:
 
Miranda replied...
Aug. 30, 2010 at 6:41 pm :
I'm so glad I was able to help you get ideas for your own essay!
 
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EmseaHailey said...
Aug. 26, 2010 at 12:44 pm:
I so relate- not only is dark chocolate my favorite candy, but my parents have had all sorts of fighting matches- check out A New Him if you're interested in my story
 
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Dj_roxtar said...
Aug. 24, 2010 at 6:13 am:
wow congatratez dear .. awsomework.. im proud of u.. keep up the gud work God bless u.. :)))
 
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maggierocksyosocks said...
Aug. 20, 2010 at 11:58 am:
this is a really good piece :) i can relate to slot of it :) god bless
 
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