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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!

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Nov. 4, 2009 at 11:38 am:
You are not alone, girl. I went through a lot of this, but thank God, never the homelessness. Never give up!
 
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JustHales said...
Sept. 23, 2009 at 11:08 pm:
Wow, I really like this essay! It was really an amazing story and I'm glad that you never succumbed to bitterness.
 
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ayyyism said...
Jan. 26, 2009 at 7:05 pm:
dangggggggg gurlllll
thats me rigth thurrrrr
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v
Hayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy gurl hay!
 
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ayyyism said...
Jan. 15, 2009 at 7:19 pm:
dangggggggg gurlllll u went through that? you bomb though, stay upppppppp!
 
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brdwaybabe94 said...
Jan. 4, 2009 at 3:01 am:
That was absolutely AMAZING..you touched my heart; and may i add that your wording and similies/metaphors were used very well.
 
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mcs142354 said...
Jan. 2, 2009 at 4:57 pm:
What class was this essay for?
very well done. keep writing!
 
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Moose said...
Dec. 25, 2008 at 5:55 pm:
wow, superb essay,
really touches the heart.
 
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Tigerlils13 said...
Dec. 12, 2008 at 9:32 pm:
Your essay really touched my heartstrings! For the past several months, I've been struggling with my own college essay, but in the end, I wrote about a topic similar to your own. I applaud you, for I know how hard it can be to write about such a difficult personal experience without sounding immature or making your life out to be a pity party! Your essay is wonderfully polished in a way that I can only hope mine to be. I hope your essay serves you well in your college pursuits!
 
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lubear said...
Dec. 2, 2008 at 5:39 pm:
This essay is real banging and very nicely written. It amazing and it will most likely get you into tye college of your choice. Great Job
 
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lahotbrownie22 said...
Dec. 3, 2008 at 3:51 am:
for whoever said this was a pity essay, i pity them because they don't understand the triumph of overcoming seemingly impossible hurtles. and i say I also do not pity you, instead i admire you for being so witty in your life's reflections. for which ever college this is for, they will undoubtedly see your stellar style and technique of getting your point across. its not about the situation, but how the person comes out of it. i only wish i had the ability to write this well. :) god bless.
 
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Miranda said...
Dec. 3, 2008 at 6:24 pm:
lahotbrownie22, I am so glad you understood the message of my essay.

To remalgrez: I did not write it to generate pity. In fact, my intentions were the opposite. I sought to emphasize how anyone has the chance to move on with life, no matter his or her past. So to anyone out there who is facing hard times: Stay positive and do not feel sorry for yourself, you CAN overcome anything. This essay was also a means of therapy for me. Writing everything down helped me cope with the dark me... (more »)
 
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kaymay said...
Dec. 4, 2008 at 3:45 am:
Wow! That was awesome! The last part of the first paragraph was my favorite. It was so well-written. Any of my attempts to get that message across would have been unbearably awkward. Congrats!
 
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shine-shine said...
Nov. 27, 2008 at 10:24 am:
It is a good story and i have been moved by it.
 
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Ammazing Comments said...
Nov. 15, 2008 at 12:09 am:
People have responded well to your life but you have lived this life. I hope everyone around us would not allow this to happen to any one. We all need to make sure that no childhood is not lost like this. Now, i am worried about your sister, are you with her during your college days, make sure she gets better education.
 
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remalgrez said...
Nov. 12, 2008 at 6:35 pm:
i think this is a pitty essay i dont feel bad for you
 
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soldier101 said...
Nov. 12, 2008 at 1:49 am:
very well written , the strength of your words and the personnal setbacks you are willing to share with the world will inspire others to overcome obstacles in their lives also. Thank you for sharing life with us.
 
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ayk12 said...
Nov. 10, 2008 at 3:00 am:
This story is nice. when I read almost ending, I felt nice and warm. This essay is great!
 
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Take said...
Nov. 10, 2008 at 2:58 am:
I think it's a good story. I got intrigued by the way you wrote and could follow the story easily,
 
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lol said...
Nov. 10, 2008 at 2:58 am:
This essay is great!! As I was reading this story, I felt warm in my heart.;) Good job.
 
Leo116 replied...
Nov. 25, 2010 at 8:51 am :
I loved it this is a great piece that will get you into any college. When reading this it made me cry.
 
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