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It was the five stages of Kübler-Ross in two-point-seven seconds. Tear-mixed snot collecting in the philtrum, nails digging into palms, manic laughter bubbling behind the vise-like choke of silenced gasps, like a sock to the stomach muffled through flannel. Somewhere underneath it all lurked a knowing smile.
When I first found out, I hid. The light was off, the blinds were shut, the trailing edge of a blanket ghosting over my shoulder in an inanimate caress of compassion. I think even the carpet beneath my feet pitied me. At least, it certainly felt like pity when I fell onto it knees-first in a prostrate pose any soap opera femme would envy. Head slumped, arms dangling, hands facing up in supplication, it was bargaining, denial, anger, depression and… not acceptance.
Three syllables, one word, the sound of shears snipping the thread of a dream. The silver clink still echoed when my father came up to look. He was kind, I was a mess; the duality was heartmendingly reassuring. He came, saw, comforted, left. He must have known I wanted to howl in peace.
And then there was the audience. The friends you had to text, the flimsy armor you had to don when the phone and the computer is your sword and shield. “Better luck next times” and “there’s still hopes”—hollow but necessary, the only thing you can say. Every college hopeful’s been on both ends.
And if the college of your choice has yet to take your spirit and break it in half over their knee, then you have one more thing to look forward to: the next day. People either look you in the eye with a cheery grimace, or skitter away without a sound, reeking of pity. Teachers who have seen it all dust off the psychologist’s mask and throw it on with a weary smile, a pat on the shoulder. There’s something comforting in the sea of platitudinal uniformity.
How do you get from the beginning to the dream deferred? It starts with a romance movie plot, with you finding the one, if the one can be a line of buildings designed in the gothic style. It lasts through the admissions presentation, through the statistic-instead-of-name dropping school representatives that warn of low acceptance rates with a conspiratorial wink, as if you’re the only two in on the game and no one else’s application matters. It stays with you through the grueling school year, egging you on with its whispers of “just one more A+,” its assured claims of “you don’t need that extra hour of sleep”. And even when your soul gets sucked out through the computer screen, spread as if by a grubby child’s hands across each and every word of your essays, still it clings to you, burrowing into your heart, pumping belief and hope in a flow as steady as blood.
And even up to the day of reckoning, there’s that buoyancy in your step, that buried faith in getting what you deserve, earning the payoff. But the process is selfish. It takes your time and your dreams and smelts it in the fire of perseverance, makes you think that surely you’re the only one to go through it like this, surely you’re the only one who’s tasted the tang of a iron hammer as it beats you into shape.
But when the deferral comes, the context explodes. There are more of you, more of students exactly like you, who slog through days and study for hours and try and try and try and crave, and their chances are equal, if not better than yours. You like to think you have that hidden ingredient, because you’ve gone through the fire and come out as the person you want to be; the process will surely reflect your individuality and your talent.
But deferral, rejection, anything except a loving embrace—it’s the great equalizer. All the things you felt were yours alone, your penchant for obscure literature, your online know-how that keeps you über-informed, your ability to communicate intelligently with adults and get your points across—they’re more universal than you’d ever thought.
You get swept out to sea about the insignificance of it all, and all because a college doesn’t want you enough to let you in. You eat, you talk, you cry and scream and punch the wall and then regret it when you know you won’t be able to write that in-class essay as fast as you’d like tomorrow.
Three syllables, one word, the sound of someone pounding against a locked door with both fists.