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

March 14, 2008
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 106 comments. Post your own now!

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!
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
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.. :)))
maggierocksyosocks said...
Aug. 20, 2010 at 11:58 am
this is a really good piece :) i can relate to slot of it :) god bless
MarinaDelRay said...
Aug. 2, 2010 at 2:26 pm
Your essay is so well-written. I'm trying to write about a similar situation (but not as traumatizing as yours!) and put in as much emotion as you did. Great job! This has served as a huge inspiration to me.
Alejandra R. said...
Jul. 19, 2010 at 8:33 pm
I love this piece. I have been struggling to write my own paper on a pretty similar situation. I hope my comes out this good!! Great work!
Yoki said...
Jul. 6, 2010 at 4:31 pm
Wow this is AMAZING. I really hope one day I can write like that.
Ni-Ni said...
Jun. 30, 2010 at 12:15 pm
i really loved this easy! it really surprised me how you could actually put all of your feelings, emotions, and inspiration into one essay! i absolutely loveddd it!
Miranda said...
Jun. 20, 2010 at 1:49 pm
Thank you. :) It's awesome that it's been 2 years since this was published and people still read my story.
love2run said...
Jun. 14, 2010 at 9:36 pm
wow, this is amazing and inspiring. i really admire your ability to put this kind of feeling into words. i definitely know how you feel. great job!
tears_like_rain said...
Feb. 2, 2010 at 3:21 pm
This is a very amazing article. I have never felt connected to teens that aren't struggling with drugs or family problems. But this? this is an eye opener for different struggles. Ones that i can not begin to grasp or understand. But the greatest thing about your story, your testimony perhaps, is that you are inspiring others to not let their environment shape them into a bitter person. This is such a work of true art. Thank you so very much for sharing this story. God Bless you!
oxStardustxo said...
Jan. 13, 2010 at 6:51 pm
wow really inspiring and beautiful <3
Jan. 11, 2010 at 3:16 pm
you are bothan inspirational and a talented writer. i cannot begin to formulate words that can describe how your story has moved me. continue writing, striving for success, and persevering. thank you so much.
TresVoguexx said...
Dec. 27, 2009 at 11:26 pm
This was an amazing story and essay
writeitloud This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Dec. 26, 2009 at 3:00 pm
This was amazing. I loved it. You're an amazing writer.
xMeadowx said...
Dec. 20, 2009 at 9:55 pm
It's great. I really like this piece.
hanNxzs said...
Nov. 30, 2009 at 6:15 pm
this piece is great. it starts like a"bang" and ends like a "bang"... :D
Julietbyheart said...
Nov. 28, 2009 at 9:02 pm
That's really good. I can relate to a lot of that. You've done very well! I think that is a really tasty piece of chocloate - delecious reading.
Roisin This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Nov. 28, 2009 at 6:51 pm
I really like how you emphasize taste in this essay, with the different tastes you use like bitter and sweet, which also add emphasis to the title. It makes the essay pull together throughout the whole thing, and the opening paragraph of this was amazing- it really made me want to continue reading.
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