Fried Twinkies and Ice Cream

Another college application essay.

I walked up the dusty dirt road towards the approaching vans, feeling the heat of the ground penetrate through my rubber-soled sandals.  The vehicles halted, doors slid open, and teenage girls poured out.  I helped grab one girl’s baggage, walked towards the cabins, and introduced myself: “Hi, I’m Joy!  What’s your name?”  But while my voice was cheerful, my thoughts were uneasy.

Here I was—barely fifteen—working with my church at a summer camp in rural Mississippi.  The girls we were serving, some of whom were older than me, were from Jackson’s inner-city.  Besides the age differential, the girls could be challenging in other ways: they had a reputation for back-talking, disregarding instructions, stealing, and fighting.  They lived in the “projects”, came from broken homes, watched relatives drink to unconsciousness, shared the streets with gangs, saw friends incarcerated, were witness and victim to violence and crime.  These facts gave us pause.  And besides the “big” issues, I had my own (admittedly petty) concerns:  What if they stole our supplies?  What if they didn’t pay attention to our lessons?  How would I remember all their names?  (This turned out to be at least partly legitimate: they had names like JoQuita, Shemp, and LaTamarah—unusual to a Seattle-ite who has friends with names like Joanna, Sally, and Liz.)

The week passed.  Our fears, thankfully, were unwarranted: the girls cooperated, participated, and were generally nice to each other (and us).  We shared time fishing, cooking meals, swimming, riding horses, and making crafts.  My most treasured memories are of the evening discussion times we shared in the dormitories.  Here, we provided a framework of questions for the girls to answer, ranging from the trivial (What’s your favorite food?) to the serious (What are you afraid of?).  Their responses were revealing.  Favorite foods included stereotypically southern fare (sweet tea, pulled pork, anything deep-fried), in contrast to our clearly northern palates (steak, crab, salads)—though everyone agreed that ice cream was a favorite.  The girls willingly shared their fears with us.  There seemed to be a universal fright of darkness.  One girl said she was afraid of knives, because she saw her cousin being stabbed.  The girl whose bags I had helped carry on the first day—Ebony—mentioned that she feared men “because they are stronger than girls and can hurt us”; a number of the others agreed.  Her statement struck me.  These girls spent their lives in fear of tragedy, violence, drugs, while I lived in cozy, naïve oblivion (where the greatest danger was slipping in the shower).  I could carry their luggage, but I could not even imagine what sort of emotional baggage they were carrying, much less bear their burden.

Externally, we seemed so different.  They were African-American; I was Asian-American.  They lived in the “ghettos” and the “projects”; I lived in a middle-class suburban neighborhood.  They faced the stresses of gangs, violence, and drugs; my biggest stressor was tomorrow’s math test.  But in so many ways, we were similar.  We were all teenage girls; we all had hopes, fears, and dreams; we all came to camp with prejudices and preconceived ideas about each other—and in some way, overcame them through friendship.  And even if I don’t like fried Twinkies, we all still like ice cream on a blazing summer day.

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The Cliff

Well, that’s that.  College acceptances (and rejections) are DONE.  Everything has arrived; I know where I can and can’t go to school next year.  Deciding is entirely another matter.  The whole process has been rather surreal.  Over the past year or so, intensity increased incrementally, faster and faster, moving upwards as applications came due, dying down during the waiting period, forming miniature peaks as a few early acceptances arrived, then drastically shooting up over the past couple weeks as the majority of the decision letters arrived–and then nosediving off a cliff today, as my last notification arrived.  I suppose, like Sisyphus, I’ll be marching up and crashing down the cliff again as I work on MY end of the decision process.  Only, I only have to climb up once more (until grad school, at least).

Moving on, though: now, I can start sharing some of my application essays with you (whoever you are).  I’ll start with the one I used on the CommonApp (one application that can be sent to many institutions–one of the best innovations of the college application process).

The lights dimmed.  I felt the apprehension in the air as the drummer raised his sticks.  I stood in the back of the sanctuary, sweating hands on the master volume control. 1-2-and-1-2-3-4.  ON.

What was I doing back here?  What if I did something wrong?  What would people think of me?

After weeks of practice, my church’s youth group was ready to lead the musical portion of the regular church service.  My role had been varied based on availability: backup pianist, emcee, second percussionist, stage assistant.  Honestly, though, when I was discharged from my musical duties, I was relieved—performing in front of a large group isn’t my favorite activity.  Instead, since I had previous sound technician experience, I was recruited to assist the regular sound system manager.  Easy, right?  Just listen to the sound, then twist some knobs, flip some switches, or push some sliders up and down.  A perfect fit for me—musical, but not performance-oriented; mechanical, but not overly technical.  But my reprieve was short-lived.  I discovered, only a few days before the service, that the lead sound tech could not attend.  I would be flying solo.

I can’t do this.  I’ve never done it by myself before.  What if I actually break something?

I couldn’t quit, but I couldn’t do it alone.  But I didn’t have an option: I would have to, whether I thought I could or not—the clock was racing onwards.  The service started and pulled me along with it.

Mic one up.  Piano down.  Bass guitar up.  Signal  percussionist to play softer.  Mic three down.  Rhythm guitar up.  Bass guitar up again.  1-2-3-4.  Fade out.  Vocals OFF.  Master volume OFF.  One song down, only a few more to go.

And like that, the service raced by.  A couple more songs, then a sermon, next a prayer, then one final song, and it was finished.  And it wasn’t so bad, after all.  I did not die of fright; the music team did not suffer a train wreck; the sound system did not explode; the congregation did not start hurling rotten tomatoes.  It wasn’t so hard, was it?

In reality, though, I was never alone.  The music team on the stage was with me, although separated by rows of chairs.  They were supporting me, and not just because I controlled whether or not the congregation could hear them.  Even if I had made a mistake (envision that awful screech that sometimes emanates from speakers), they would have forgiven me.  And that’s all the support I needed.  They supported me because they trusted me to do what was right.  They trusted me as their sound tech, and as their friend.

People trust me.  I trust myself.  I will succeed.

All rights reserved.  (If you want to reproduce in whole or in part, please ask first and cite correctly.  That is all.)