This story has a happy ending, but that’s not the important part. The stuff that comes before the happy ending is usually ignored, and I don’t think that’s fair.
Christmas 2014. It’s my final year of college. During Christmas break I spend hours typing essays and filling out forms, making sure everything is perfect. I apply to three graduate programs. Then I wait.
Spring 2015. I am accepted to two of the schools I applied to; rejected by one. My top choice. My only choice. I am devastated. Furious. It is hard to focus on schoolwork. Some days, I feel like I am slipping out of my body. I lie on my bed in my dorm room and try to focus on breathing. I am terrified to be heading toward the end of the school year without a plan for the coming months. At my graduation ceremony, I whisper to the classmates sitting next to me that I think I might faint. I haven’t been sleeping well, and the heat in the gymnasium makes it hard to breathe. My body is shaking as I walk across the stage to accept my diploma. It should be a triumphant and celebratory day, but it is muddied by fear and uncertainty.
January 2016. After living with my parents for six months and having no success getting a job, I decide to give graduate school another go. I transplant myself in the city of the school that rejected me. I begin taking classes as a non-degree seeking student while the program reviews my application for a second time.
This semester proves to be one of the hardest periods of my life. I have to adjust to living by myself for the first time ever. Paying bills, shopping for groceries, locking the door at night, checking under the bed when I get home. I throw myself into my studies. For three months straight, I feel like I am being interviewed, with every class and assignment and interaction with professors or classmates being added to my application. It is mentally and emotionally exhausting. Winter lasts all semester, and the sun stays away for too long. I become lethargic and depressed, as I do every winter.
March 10. On the way back from spring break in South Carolina, we stop for the night at our old university. I am sitting on a couch in my old dorm building when I open the email.
“Your application for has been carefully considered and the committee was very impressed by your application. However…”
I text my mom and my boyfriend. I cry in the dark room, willing one of my friends to walk in and sit with me in my distress. But they have meetings and events and homework. So I wipe the tears away and try to enjoy my short stay at my alma mater. Try to pretend as if this doesn’t feel like a cruel repeat of the previous year.
I have been wait listed. It feels like a door slammed in my face for the second time.
March 29. I find some hope to clutch. The director of the program tells me I am at the top of the waiting list. I will be one of the first accepted if some other candidate turns down their offer.
So I wait. It is hard to focus on schoolwork. Some days, I feel like I am slipping out of my body. I am terrified to be heading toward the end of the school year without a plan for the coming months. My sublease is ending, and I have to decide if I should find an apartment for just a couple months or for a whole year. I have to write the longest paper I’ve ever been assigned. I have to finish training for a half marathon.
I have a panic attack. I buy sleep aids at a natural health store. They don’t work. I just want to be alone in a dark room for a very long time.
April 15. I get the acceptance letter. My masters degree will be funded.
I get a dream internship to carry me through the summer months.
I sign a lease on an apartment.
All within the final two weeks of the semester. I am a mess, but okay.
And that’s the happy ending, but it isn’t.
Because the story isn’t over. I know the stress and the anxiety and the depression will return. In exchange for the funding I am receiving, I’ll be teaching. I am already obsessing over the feeling of terror I will have as I stand in front of a room of college students expecting me to teach them something about writing.
I’m happy, but I’m not.
As I waited and yearned for an acceptance letter, I saw my friends posting their own triumphant stories online. And I was bitter. I felt as if, in their joy, they had no capacity to hold my pain, to sit with me in the unknowing. I have been hesitant to tell people about my acceptance to this program because I know how my joy can sound to those who have been rejected, who are enduring sleepless nights and heavy anxiety.
I want to hear and tell both the triumph and the defeat. I want to know your stories even if they don’t ever have happy endings. Because they are true and important.
So here is mine. Tell yours. I’m listening.