The Meaning of Paper

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I tried biting my pillow and screaming into it, but it just made my mouth dry. My face was starting to hurt from all the crying and dry tears, so I decided to make a conscious effort and stop.
I couldn’t exactly stop, you see, so I took out a notebook that had remained untouched for four years. It dated back to a darker time in my life, and I’d been eager to forget about it. Now, for some reason, I was looking back at one of the worst days of my then-seventeen-year-old life.
I looked at the last entry.
Journal.
You’re my closest friend. You’re the only one who sees me bleed when everyone else thinks I’m laughing. Me? Laughing? No. Never.
Want to hear about my day?
I woke up and had a Pop-Tart. It was strawberry, which I hate; Henry ate the better ones. I got to school and found a pop quiz in Physics, which I hate. I asked my teacher and he said I’d failed it, and was failing the class. Then, I got to government. I had my debate today, the one I’ve been preparing for ever since I got home from Seattle during winter recess. I’d gotten the information from my friend. She told me the wrong debate topic, so I was rather screwed. I knew every f***ing detail about affirmative action when my opponent was attacking me about capital punishment.
I need to start watching the news.
Then I got to Bio. This was the only good part. We got back our biochem tests and I got the highest mark. I was actually smiling until I left class for lunch and realized that I had no money. I stalked over to my locker and dug around for some quarters; I managed to get two cookies. Guess what? They weren’t fresh; I was stuck in the nurse’s office s***ting my a** off for the rest of the afternoon.
When I finally got home, I totally blanched in horror. It hadn’t occurred to me what day it was until I opened the mailbox, expecting the latest issue of People and finding five thin envelopes.
Their names were Amherst, Boston, Vassar, Johns Hopkins, and Bryn Mawr.
I tore them open, knowing I was really tearing my dreams apart, and almost cried. Almost. But I wasn’t surprised. I knew it was coming. I didn’t really expect to get into a few of the best schools in the country, did I? I don’t stand a chance against all of those valedictorians and super volunteers. I never did. Why was I so stupid to even try?
All of a sudden, I was absolutely furious with myself. I tore up the rejections into a million little pieces. It felt nice. Took the big chunks and started to cut them into even smaller chunks with my scissors. I didn’t mind when the blade accidentally grazed my arms and wrists on the way to the paper. It felt kind of nice and refreshing. It was the wake-up call I needed.
Of course I decided to ignore the two fat acceptances from a state college and a safety. I didn’t care about them. I wasn’t a dumba**, or so I’d thought. I was the biggest dumba** of them all.
I completely broke down on the kitchen floor. Maddie waddled over to me and started licking my face, as if I was loved for some weird reason. I pushed her away but she came back. How could I say no? You and Maddie are the ones who love me, Journal. My parents care but they don’t know anything. I’d already cleaned up the mess. I told them that I’d gotten rid of the rejections. They were upset for me but moreover upset with me. They wanted me to go to Brown. I didn’t want to go to freaking Brown University in the middle of Rhode Island. It’s a stinking Ivy League school anyway. Who needs the Ivy League, or any elite school? Who needs anything more than the bare minimum, the state school? Why all the embellishment? If you’re smart, you can flourish anywhere. You can go anywhere.
But wait--I’m a dumba**. I’ll just have to settle for the state school and oust any dreams of transferring to anywhere worth going.
They knew I was upset when I sat down at dinner. I only picked at the lo mein. They asked if it was the college drama, and I said yes. Plain and simple, b****es. Why even ask? It’s so damn obvious.
I got pissed at their ridiculous question and went upstairs. I went on my laptop and doodled on Paint until my eyes were burning from being sucked into the technicolor world. I needed some darkness. I put on heavy music and shut the curtains.
When I woke up just now, the clock read 11:11. You know what I wished for? I wished for happiness. Not necessarily a better life or a better college or anything like that. Is it too much to just want happiness? Really?
I used to believe in God. When I got to high school, I started using my brain and realized that God does nothing for us. Except, hopefully, grant 11:11 wishes.
My phone rang. It was Kelly. She’s all super excited ‘cuz she got into Yale and Columbia. She can’t decide. Well f*** her! I didn’t get into a single one of the damn schools I needed to go to for my career, and here I am, listening to Kelly Greene go on about the two blue Ivies. I told her to choose SUNY Binghamton. She was like, “Ugh, whatever, Brenda. I’m gonna think about this and I’ll, like... I’ll see you at school.”
Translation: B***H.
So here’s the final tally: I suck at physics. I aced biochem. I have horrible friends. I’m a dumba**.
I just want to be happy.
--Brenda
PS--I’d like to stop crying, too.
The book actually fell from my hands. I started to giggle. The giggles evolved into a full-on laughing fit. It was remarkable how much a person can cry in one day. Absolutely remarkable.
I’ll be brief, because I’m starting to cry just thinking about the end of this story.
I woke up this morning and put on a pair of heels. They weren’t pumps, but they were tall. Walkable, you know? But still professional. The dress I put on was perfect for the heat wave we’re going through. It’s weird even for May. I cooked an omelette--the latest cooking success in a strange series of successes. I even managed to clean my apartment!
I stopped in the mirror and arranged my gown. The hat on my head admittedly looked silly, but I had no say in tradition. I drove to the ceremony, got on line, received the diploma, and sat for only a few minutes.
Then, I stood.
“... our Valedictorian, Brenda Olsen.”
I looked out at the eight-hundred or so people and smiled. The wind blew the tassel in my face; it stuck to my lip gloss, annoyingly.
“My fellow graduates, there are a million people we can thank: family for helping us through, friends for being by our sides, professors for teaching us all the right things, but we cannot forget our faith. Without faith in ourselves, we couldn’t get here. If we didn’t believe in ourselves, we couldn’t have reached this proud day in our lives. So please, thank your faith, thank your God, and thank yourself for giving yourself a chance to succeed.”
I went on for a while but I’d never felt such a strong urge to cry in my life. That changed.
I met up with William after the ceremony finished; he looked at me like I was the light in his life, but it’s really the other way around. He just won’t admit it.
We were walking out of our restaurant when he stopped dead in the middle of the crosswalk and said, “I bought an apartment.”
“Where?”
Logical question, right? But I was already feeling heartbroken. He’s a big lawyer; he can go anywhere. Why stay here and go long distance with me?
“Boston. Right by the Charles. It’s got the best view. And just down the river... I think you can see--”
“Harvard!” I gasped. My hands flew to my mouth, but it wasn’t enough to cover my smile. “But--I thought you were going to Florida, to join that practice?”
“I can’t go to Florida,” he said softly. My heart was hammering. “I can’t go another day without you. I’m not good enough. I don’t know why you let me stay with you so long, and I don’t want to be afraid of losing you anymore.”
In the middle of 3rd street, under the violet flag of my alma mater, my NYU, he made me cry with happiness.
I haven’t stopped crying since.





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