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Life Outside of the Cardboard: Essay Critique


The crinkle of paper and the throbbing pain of my paper cut were rooted into my morning as I sorted through the stack of my childhood. If mom hadn’t made it clear that I wouldn’t be leaving the house without a spotless room, I wouldn’t be sitting at my shelf in the middle of the floor; papers scattered in every direction. To my left sat the origin of my mess: a worn cardboard filing box, the corners rounded with age and the title “TESSAS SCOOL STUFF”; the spelling still impeccable for the 5 year old who had written it in forest green marker. The very top layer was recent and included the failed math assignments of my sophmore year, the English essays I had procrastinated against but finished, and the progress reports that no longer seemed so important. I skip over these, tossing the artwork and state science fair awards out of the box with careless abandon; trying to reach the layers that had slowly erased themselves from my memory.

I find my 8th grade work underneath published poetry and pastel drawings and look through the pages. They consist of the graded homework that I had done the same night that I received them, and the glowing comments from teachers on my hard work and no doubt radiant future. It seemed as if every single paper had an A+ in the top right hand corner. I don’t remember the assignments, but I remember the struggle I went through to do well on each of them. I think of this as the last year that I was so sure of myself, of my future and of my place in the world, even though in reality I knew nothing about anything.

Skipping all the way to the bottom, I heave out the thin sheets of my youth and blanket the carpet in fluorescent highlighter and college ruled paper. The very first memoirs of my education experience are represented by construction paper that’s been perfectly flattened underneath years of other homework, as if framed by future endeavors. I recognize more marker, the handwriting block-like and careful, and imagine the concentration of the little girl that wrote the captions to her stick figured people in kindergarten class. I trace the writing with my finger, thinking about how this five year old seemed so put together. I compare this to how foolish and careless I am now and laugh. Placing the pages of my life back into the box like a haphazard puzzle, I suddenly realize that I am ready for college.
My childhood has been organized and arranged in a white cardboard box, waiting for the first application that I send in the mail. Enclosed in a white envelope instead of a pocket folder and covered with not markered letters but cursive pen, my future will be addressed to the place where I will start a new box.
The years of paperwork that I’ve overcome, the problems and answers that are long ago handed in are all in this one cardboard container; all a small piece to a larger story; and I think about my progression.




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