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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.




Join the Discussion

This article has 103 comments. Post your own now!

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.
 
Lee Eisuke said...
Nov. 10, 2008 at 2:53 am
I like this story because I can see that u had very poor life, but u learn something from this experience. Therefore, I was persuaded by your essay!
 
janicexoxo said...
Nov. 10, 2008 at 2:51 am
this story made me realize that there is so much things that can happen in life. I learned a lot from your essay.
 
Auem said...
Nov. 10, 2008 at 2:48 am
Good Job! The way you write inspired me. I can see another side of people who are trying or fighting to have a better life.
 
Kenzish said...
Nov. 4, 2008 at 3:29 pm
A very nicely written essay. The only thing I'm not fond of is the intro. It's a bit over the top. I think using other descriptive words that aren't so "intense" would make the intro more comfortable to read.. All in all a really great essay!
 
ROOSTER said...
Nov. 3, 2008 at 7:45 pm
nice story!
 
josh said...
Oct. 29, 2008 at 6:26 pm
not inspiered
 
nathan said...
Oct. 25, 2008 at 3:07 pm
Oh my God, this is essay is perfect. I love it and even had some tears. I think it not only give the the lesson for application essay but teach me the lesson of life. Thank for uploading.
 
dreamer17 said...
Oct. 19, 2008 at 10:43 pm
Amazing! It takes a lot of guts to write something that personal, just to revisit that pain is scary. You did a great job.
 
Miranda said...
Oct. 17, 2008 at 8:05 pm
You mean read? :P Thanks again for the comments, especially the critiques.
 
dinerz824 said...
Oct. 15, 2008 at 6:31 pm
This is by far the BEST college essay I have ever written. Its refreshing to see someone writing something real with a deep personal significance. It takes a very brave person to share something to personal. I hope you get into the school of your dreams, you deserve it.
 
daieeeeellle said...
Oct. 14, 2008 at 11:18 pm
This made me a tad teary :) Excellent job, and I have to say that was one of the most moving things I've read in recent memory.
 
mannytheDON said...
Oct. 14, 2008 at 5:18 am
Wow. I made a profile on this website just to compliment you. THIS ONE BROTHA FEELS YOUR SWAGGA YOU GO GIRL!
 
jdenise4life said...
Oct. 14, 2008 at 4:48 am
Well, the first paragraph and a couple of lines after that were a bit over the top, but the middle and the end were just amazing.. i know it is a bit hard to start an awesome essay, btw yours is.. It got better through the part "Not all milestones....." all those lines after that were so emotionaly well worded.WOW!
 
Frenzy123 said...
Oct. 11, 2008 at 1:49 am
Your essay was absolutely amazing. One of the best, if not the best, college essays I've read so far and I've read a lot. At first I couldn't understand why your essay was about chocolate but you quickly reeled me in convinced me to read the whole thing up until the last paragraph which put it all in perspective. You've been through a lot but I think you have a very bright future ahead.
 
TeacherTeacher65 said...
Oct. 10, 2008 at 5:00 pm
Wow. What an amazing piece of writing! I know you've been through so much, and it obviously matured you, but in a good way! I hung on your every word. Good luck at college.
 
collegeconfused said...
Oct. 9, 2008 at 8:58 pm
This is amazing. you better get into like harvard with this essay!
 
trinigirl781 said...
Oct. 3, 2008 at 10:00 pm
This is me. I immediately thought of myself while reading this. Well done, you're amazing!
 
Miranda Morgan said...
Sept. 6, 2008 at 3:47 am
Thanks to everyone who read or critiqued my essay. The subject matter is very personal, but I'm happy to share my words with the world and grow as a writer. Keep the comments coming! :)
 
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