The first A minus I ever got in an English class broke me. I was in eighth grade. I wrote a twenty-two page story called “Searching for Becca Fischer.” My teacher faulted it for the little things; she thought that some of the characterizations went too quickly. At the time, I cried. I had spent a long time on that story. I felt like I really knew who Becca was, like she was a part of me. I still think about her sometimes; she was the first character of mine I really identified with. So when I saw the A minus, my black and white brain interpreted it as a failure because I was so connected to the work. I thought that, in rejecting Becca, my teacher was rejecting me. I reread the story last night when I couldn’t sleep, and I realize now that my teacher was right. The characterization is weak in places. There’s a lot that I could do with the piece now that I’m a better writer. But at the time, I was so connected to my work that all I saw was the failure that wasn’t even a failure at all. It was an A minus. A bloody A minus. But it was a rejection all the same.
Fast forward fifteen years to court and my (now) ex’s stupid face. After all the things we went through, the end was sudden. Jarring. It wasn’t the same sort of rejection, but it was a definite lack of acceptance. Over the course of our marriage, he invalidated everything that I thought I was. I tried to change for him, but I was never good enough. I never made the cut in his eyes. I could never be who he wanted me to be. I had ten years of my life between high school and college that feel like a waste, like time that went by and has left me nothing but older.
I got my first graduate school rejection yesterday, and it brought me right back to that day in my eighth grade classroom, right back to all the time spent in court. I cried a little. Ate froyo. And then spent most of today being sad. Because a large part of me feels like a failure. I know that it’s only one rejection. I know I still have seven schools out there, pondering my future for me. But I’m still really bummed for a wide myriad of reasons. One—it was a school I REALLY liked, and they didn’t like me back. Two—it feels like my entire life is on hold because I can no longer plan for my future. Three—it feels like I wasn’t good enough. I talked to a professor today who pointed out to me (or maybe this came from my mouth) that the graduate school application process is really like a lottery. A bunch of little balls get loaded into a bingo-like cage and some big-wig pulls them out and calls a number. That number gets in. The hundreds (thousands?) that don’t get drawn just stay in the little cage. It paints a stark reality, this rejection letter I received. A reality where my future is incredibly uncertain, a reality where I have worked my ass off but might still not get in anywhere, because my number might not be called. I have done all of the right things, taken all the right courses, kept my grades up, become a TA, tutored, edited at the magazine…and I might not be right. I might not fit. That reality is very much in the forefront of my brain now, because I am accustomed to not getting what I want. I have worked my ass off and it might all be for nothing. There might not be an MFA in my future. I might not be a writer. That is so, so scary.
I think that, over the last year, I have put a good 99 percent of my eggs in the graduate school basket—and I’m scared now because I worry I put my hope into the wrong thing. I had a gaping wound that I needed to fill and I filled it with this whole graduate school process. What happens if that process doesn’t come to be? Will I start to hemorrhage again? Will I lose my place? Did I fill myself with the wrong thing? Is it possible I won’t be a writer? I have carved an identity for myself within academia and this plan that I have made to go to graduate school. I will have to reshape it if I don’t get in. It seems like I am always reshaping. I want to be the cause of that reshaping, just once. I want to prove to myself that I can be successful without him. In my head, I’ve made graduate school equivalent to success. Now I’m worried I will be lost.
I feel like I need to make plans, somehow. But without knowing where I will be next year, that’s hard. So, I’ve come up with an awesomely outrageous Plan B. (The first of many, probably, since I have time to ponder before more letters come, but a plan I really like.) I want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Really, I won’t have anything to lose—it would be the perfect time to do it. I don’t have kids or a family. I don’t have any stuff. I just have me. And it would be nice to wander into the wilderness for that length of time and just…be. I’ve read all of Cheryl Strayed’s books: Torch, Wild, and Tiny, Beautiful Things. Her writing is amazing. Yup, she was pretty dumb to wander into a hike of that magnitude with little training. Yup, she was very lucky to survive. But she did. And not ONLY did she survive, she wrote a book about it. And that book is amazing. That book is the story of a woman who figured out how to conquer her shit because she grappled with it and won. She beat her shit. I want to beat mine.
I will start with the tattoo: “How wild it was, to let it be.”
How I finish will be up to the graduate school application lottery.