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Lithium Things I won't be including in my Common App

Dec. 5, 2018
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Dear admissions officer,

If you choose to accept me into your college, you are accepting a mind that never stops. You are accepting a boy who is scared of so much. You are giving me a chance that I’m not sure I’ve earned. 

First, I have a confession:

I’m a hospice volunteer because I feel bad about myself when I don’t visit patients. And I’m sincerely regretful that it’s not a purely generous pursuit, but that’s the unfiltered truth. 

Next, an event that made me who I am:

A rupture inside me. A pop. A hole in my lung. 

I was born premature, and for the first three weeks of my life I didn’t leave the NICU. My grandparents flew out from halfway across the country. There are hundreds of pictures of my tiny, cable-wrapped body. Only in high school did I realize that neither of those were the case for my sister—that my family thought I was going to die. 

I still have an inch-long scar across my left side, remnants of a surgeon’s fleeting hands. Late at night, on my worst days, I can’t escape the image of a fluorescent room and a family, hungry and tired, closing their eyes for minutes at a time in front of a receptionist. It’s never been the blood or the ruptured lung that bothers me, it’s the waiting room. It’s my mom and her dad crying as my grandparents prayed to a god I don’t believe in.

I’ve grown from damaged roots, planted into the ground before the rest of me was ready. My body’s been holding on to whatever it could grasp my whole life. I’ve spent long nights with IVs dripping slowly into my veins. I’ve wanted to look out of windows while tethered to medical machinery, unable to leave the bed even to use the bathroom. 

What I remember most are all the wires. The stickers across my chest and down my back, the mask tied tightly around my face, all the things people used to save my life. All the nights when I was told moving more than a few inches could tear something loose. My dad gave me the image of a tree toppled, its roots freed by a great storm.

What I’m trying to say is that sometimes the things we can’t escape keep us alive.

If I were to describe myself in six words:

Privileged, sad, and trying so hard.

A metaphor:

When a tree is struck or burnt early in its life, the scar remains at the bottom of its body, staying close to the stump. The tree can grow and grow, its leaves reaching the skies, kissing the clouds in the wind.

Why aren’t we like that?

A short list of things I’m afraid of:

The quiet. That I’ve never fallen in love. That my cat is dying. All the places I’ll never visit and books I’ll never read. That I’m going to settle into a life that’s comfortable, not exciting. That one day I’m going to wake up and all of a sudden feel the weight of all the time that’s passed, become buried in lost time. The moments when you meet someone and remember what it means to want to love somebody without kissing them. That I’ll never shake this feeling of needing to apologize.

An academic confession:

I carry around my notebook like an asthmatic does their inhaler. I fill its pages top to bottom with notes and questions, practiced line integrals and derived formulas for approximating functions. There’s always a pen close by. I let myself wash away through the ink, seeping into the page with every formula. If I forget math, I might as well die, be not alive, unbreathing and still. 

I’ve lived my whole life in noise. There’s music in every grocery store, on every car radio. There’s a clicking sound or trucks rumbling in the distance. Maybe the soft sounds of a gentle rain. I’m good at math because math is my way out of my own head, allowing me to detach from myself and fall into differentials and infinities.

Do not mistake a need for silence for a love of learning.

Why I want to go to your school:

Because I want to get out of this town where nothing ever happens. I want to grab life by the throat before it gets to me. The only thing I’ve got right now is the future. I’ve lived the past decade surrounded by the same friends, peers, coaches, parents, librarians, everyone. 

I’m ready to throw myself into something new, to dive in headfirst, to rip through the page, to explode under the pressure of a million new faces. 

Applying to college is much more about what I’m leaving than where I’m going.

A final thought:

The first time I ever visited a hospice patient, they looked me in the eyes like they were digging for gold in my corneas. They stared and asked, “Who the hell are you?”

And, dear admissions officer, I don’t know the answer to that question. But I’m afraid it isn’t pretty.


A concerned applicant