Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Mysterious ways.

When I was seventeen, I desperately wanted to go to a certain college in my home state, so much so that I only applied to three others--one backup state school, one stretch private university, and one random, Midwestern oddity. Everyone around me was confident I'd be accepted at my first choice--my grades and intelligence were perfectly in order with its standards, and despite its being selective it was also a state school so I thought I had more of an in.

I was wrong! When the thin envelope came bearing its indifferent news, I was devastated; not just disappointed that I couldn't go to the college I had daydreamed of but burningly crushed and humiliated that I hadn't been judged good enough. Every time I heard the school mentioned I cringed; if I learned of someone else I knew going there I hated them passionately; when I had to tell my coworkers that I hadn't gotten in, their genuine shock and sympathetic outrage at the admissions decision was faintly cheering, but didn't protect me from my own intense mortification.

I didn't care any longer where I went to college or even if I went at all. What did it matter? I was rejected at the stretch university--not really a surprise considering I had whited out part of my handwritten application, perhaps subconscious sabotage--and accepted at the backup school (judged that year the second party school in the nation by Rolling Stone, which was not cheering to my dad) and at the little school in the Midwest, which not only granted me an academic scholarship but also bore a scribbled note on the acceptance letter from the admissions director: "I LOVED your essay!"

My mom, who had persuaded me to apply in the first place ("It's IOWA, Mom. I'm not moving to Iowa." "Just go to the interview, honey, it'll be good practice!") determinedly bought plane tickets and we went out one spring weekend to tour the campus.

Our plane (the first one I'd ever been on) touched down in a cornfield. It was snowing. In April. The air on the drive from the airport to the hotel reeked of something pungent and indefinable--the Quaker Oats factory smell that I would later come to know intimately. I see some of you nodding as you read this.

There's no way, I thought to myself.

But the tour the next day changed my mind. The cute little campus was welcoming, and the school pulled out all the stops for its potential freshmen, for this was Scholarship Day. We talked to history professors and art lecturers; looked at the theatre; toured the dorm I would, as it turned out, live in that fall. Still stinging from my rejection and not feeling terribly invested in my immediate future, I told my mom, "Okay" and we flew home to begin the Bed Bath & Beyonding that new eighteen-year-olds all over the country were doing.

That decision changed my life. The four years I spent at that school were indescribably happy--not every minute, of course, but even the lows were experiences I wouldn't trade, for they made me a bigger, fuller person. The friends I made there are to this day the ones I count my best--you'll notice that they're the only ones outside of family with whom I share this blog. By the time I graduated, I was so happy that my life took the path it did, even if I did still toss my head when that other, not-to-be school was referenced.

This is the Internet, so as much as I want to I won't get into the funny "coincidences" that upon moving to New York caused any lingering regret over that long-shredded thin envelope to evaporate completely, heartily replaced by a deep, devout gratitude and an urge to turn up the radio whenever a certain Garth Brooks song is played.

Along those lines, on Saturday night Chris and I took the subway into midtown for a cocktail party at which many of the other guests were alumni of the school in question.

This post is just to say--Dear God: Thank you. So much.



Kt said...

i thank him too.

the other lion said...

had to go and make me cry! i thank God every time i think of you, which is pretty often. i love hearing this story. thanks for sharing.

Sara H said...

wickedly agree.

Traci said...

Me too! Me too!

liz said...

Great post miss. You got me crying too. And if you didn't notice then, I was tearing up when you were telling me your lion story. Adore you.

d. said...


Laura said...

It's funny, I actually wrote this post to be snarky about certain people, and then I wound up taking most of those references out, making this a mushier post than it was originally...and in return I get all these nice comments. Wow! Positivity DOES work!

Sarah said...


well, even if you had been snarky i am still glad you came to cornell. i would not have known what i missed, but i bet it wouldn't have been nearly as good.

Elizabeth said...

Serendipity :)