The years 2017 and 2018 were chalked full of more rejection than I had felt in my entire life. Those slim two years held a kind of pain that I find kind of hard to describe seeing as the hurt itself was moderately paralyzing at times. I was crippled with a feeling that I did not recognize. Rejection was something I had dealt with in exceedingly small portions before. I was made fun of by peers, not liked back by my crushes, and even practically fired from a theater company I volunteered for at fourteen. However, none of these things stung quite as badly as the ache of rejection I received in 2017 that topped over into the 2018 year.

I was first rejected by my dream college. That college was just about all I discussed with anyone at any time ever. I talked and talked about how great it would be when I was finally with my friends again and the experiences I would have when I got there. However, there was a quiet nagging feeling in the back of my mind telling me that this would never happen. I knew it was true and many of my peers around me knew it was true too, but the blow was still fatal. I received my rejection letter in the mail along with another rejection letter to a college I had wholeheartedly thought I was going to get into. I received letter after letter after letter of rejection from every college that I had assurance was going to accept me. I truly did not think it could get much worse than this, however, I could not have been more wrong.

I fell for a guy I knew was most likely wrong for me, but despite my best efforts I was unable to shake the feeling. I knew it was not ethical to feel the way that I did, but that in no way stopped me. I could not shove my feelings down and when I tried they bubbled back up until erupting into unrequited love for him. His interest was elsewhere and I was aware of this. My jealousy would spew out at times while talking to me and I feel certain that he was able to sense it. I was trying my very hardest to push my feelings aside so that I could work on getting rid of them entirely, but even though I worked my hardest, such actions were never rewarded.

I went out to ice cream to talk about it with friends, journaled about it, and even discussed it with my therapist, but one thing was for sure, I had it bad. The love I felt was nothing like the beautiful sentiments that I so often read about. I always thought relationship issues, crushes, and unreciprocated feelings were things that girls without a whole lot of problems complained about. However, this proved to be anything but the truth as I experienced it.

Every butterfly I felt was matched with an equal amount of anger, anxiety, and turmoil. I felt the emotional rollercoaster that so often plummeted downward take my thoughts away. Every time I saw him speak to her, I felt a part of me waste away. I knew it would never work. A platonic friendship was all we had. I continued to try though seeing as the feelings never faded.

I never actually informed him of my feelings. However, I saw my entire episode with him as a sort of pre-rejection. I never did the confessing so that I would not have to go through the process of rejection. Rejection was something I had come to know all too well and by no means did I intentionally want to place more of in my life so I avoided my confession of love in order to spare myself and my heart. He had someone else and even though the inner feminist within me informed me that I was a beautiful woman worthy of the absolute world, I asked myself what it was.

Am I annoying?

Am I obnoxious?

Do I try too hard?

Perhaps I’m ugly?

I went through the steps of self-blame and self-pity that many people do when faced with rejection. I told myself I was the problem and if I was a little better, perhaps I could be wanted. Maybe a college would want me if I was better. Maybe someone would actually want to love me if I was better. Perhaps if I was just overall a little bit better, my life would improve. If I was smarter, quicker, funnier, classier, better looking, or suaver, maybe I would actually make it somewhere in life.

After being turned down from my dream college and my dream man, I really thought that the rejection was coming to a close. Life hit me in the face one last time. Hard. For the past three previous summers, I have worked in a summer camp where I truly feel I have poured my heart out into the children and the love I have received back has been a kind I could have never imagined. I still see my children, I babysit some, and the friendships I made with fellow counselors at the camp was unbreakable.

I discovered Newks Eatery that summer which has gone on to be one of my favorite restaurants that I eat at every single Tuesday and Thursday for tomato basil soup day. I go so often now that they know my order and I have actually befriended a few of the staff members. (Sometimes I get free drinks depending on who’s working that day.) I would often hop into the car of one of the counselors and we would drive off to whatever restaurant we wanted to try during our breaks. It was a time in my life that I truly do look back on and smile and although I love my job that I have now, I don’t think any job I’ve ever had filled me with the amount of joy that job did. I still see myself there when I smell sunscreen or see a waterslide.

We had massive rallies in the morning where the camp director played outrageous games and massive flashing spotlights eliminated the room. It was all a big budget production with expensive lights, confetti cannons, and a massive cage full of ball pit balls that kids would compete in.

I worked the 2015, 2016, and 2017 year. I spent my seventeenth and eighteenth birthday there and had never experienced such love. Every single person at the camp showered me with birthday wishes and even with presents. I was brought Taco Bell breakfast on my eighteenth birthday and then the entire camp staff sang to me. On my seventeenth birthday which was spent at the camp as well, I was chosen for our lip sync battle and was serenaded by the entire camp. In conclusion, it rocked. I enjoyed my time there a lot and was looking forward to spending my fourth summer working there. I interviewed and it really didn’t go well. He asked me about college (yes the ones I had just recently been rejected from) and I almost started crying.

I felt weird interviewing anyway seeing as this was a place I had worked out for the past three summers of my life. I applied again this year for my fourth year and was not really worried at all. A few weeks after the interview, I received a rejection letter informing me that I was not in the proper place to return as a counselor this year and although there was perhaps hope for me in the future as a counselor, there was not any currently. I was a bit blindsided, to say the least. I had spent the past three years of my life at this place and now I was being rejected as though I was a stranger. I felt degraded and angry that I had even spent so much time there and even angrier that the time had come to an unexpected close. I was left jobless for the summer seeing as I work at an elementary school and my work ends in May each year.

My stomach twisted a little when I saw the email. I realized it was sent from his personal address as opposed to the camp address. I was moderately shocked, but after the long line of rejection that I repeatedly faced, it was, unfortunately, something that I had kind of learned to expect. I have always been plagued with an overwhelming amount of pessimism and this only increased as the rejections came rolling in. It seemed to me that almost every aspect of my life was chalked full of rejection. I fear rejection just about more than anything in the entire world, however, it was something I learned to face because if I ignored it, I feared it would kill me. It was a lot to stomach and I can’t say I handled it like a professional, but moving forward seemed to be my only option so that, indeed, is what I did. I trudged forward sluggishly without any real clue of what it was I was going to be doing.

The email, however, was a fatal blow amongst a long line of punches to the gut. I actually felt moderately nauseous while reading it and although I deleted it quickly so that the memory would not be etched in my brain, I found myself going through the trash section in my email just to read the words again. They were just as brutal the second time. It seemed to be me like the entire email was composed of a very large tap dancing around the phrase I suppose wasn’t professional to say, but “you aren’t good enough, we’re just better here” seemed to be the overarching theme. I was just baffled because there was a time where I was completely good enough. There was a time where I was actually better than good enough.

I excelled in my work there and although rejection was a theme in my life, this particular rejection was one I wasn’t expecting to have to face. It also bothered me that the entire operation of running an organization doesn’t really fall on the back of one person. For the most part, I would go unmissed. It was evident to me that in a job where a new summer starts every year, people come in and out relatively frequently. People who did not return for the next summer were rarely discussed seeing as the last time they were seen working was over a year ago and so much had happened since then and really I suppose it was old with the old and in with the new. People were forgotten quick in a job that moves so fast. I knew in my heart of hearts that I wouldn’t be missed. I would be longing for something that did not long back for me. I was missing something that I knew wasn’t missing me back.

The whole situation hurt, like a weird sort of backward breakup in which you are treated exceedingly professionally even though there are quite obviously personal feelings involved. I felt weird and sad and like I was being nostalgic over memories that I was given the option to continue. It was like it didn’t really have to be over, but it was. I was given the opportunity, an interview even, to make it not be over, but it was still over. I thought a lot about all the fun times I had and when I did I was filled with a kind of joy I can’t really describe and it was a joy I desperately wanted to feel again. I didn’t even know at the time that these moments were ones that I would deeply treasure, but I did know I was bidding an informal goodbye to something that I thought I was actually going to be able to continue living.

I ended up getting accepted into the University of Alabama and enrolling to be a part of a college I had known and heard about practically my whole life. I worked my hardest to get over the boy I loved who never seemed to be able to love me back. There are times where my heart hurts a little, but I really do know that there is someone out for me and I refuse to ever think otherwise. As for the job, obviously, I still don’t have it. As the summer approaches, I am applying for every summer camp in the state of Alabama so if you know anyone looking for a camp counselor, kindly hit me up.

(Yes, that was a bit of shameless plug, but desperate times do call for desperate measures.)

All in all, things did work out. I will be attending University of Alabama in the fall and I am excited for all the adventures that await me when I am there and do certainly hope that those adventures are plentiful. Boys really and truly do come and go and as a bisexual woman, I’ve learned girls tend to come and go as well. My dating pool is almost 100% wide open and I am ready for love in whatever form it comes. I am still saddened by the job and feel like I had a part of me brutally ripped away before I was truly ready, but I have accepted that this is just a rather unfortunate part of life.

I will think of the memories, but not too often lest they put me in a sad state of longing. What I had when I worked there was beautiful, and perhaps I will never have such contentment in a workplace ever again, but it was an experience that I do cherish. I will try not to look on it with bitterness and realize that every aspect of our life was brought to us for a reason. My last three years dedicating my time to that camp was one that I know taught me many things and probably holds lessons I have yet to even discover.

Life is full of rejection. This is a terribly sad, but incredibly true fact. However, it is how you choose to take rejection that serves as a mirror to who you truly are. I know I am strong even though I’ve had so many people in my life try to convince me otherwise. Whether it’s bosses, boyfriends, girlfriends, lovers, or universities, I know that I will be hearing disappointing words quite a lot. I have chosen to fight on. I have chosen to pull through. I have chosen to be a warrior in spite of the stones I feel are being hurled my way. Rejection is life, but it is also a lesson. It is a lesson we all learn at some point or another and although it stings I have grown. I, Lizzie Bowen, am greater. I am stronger. I am alive. I am ready to face the world no matter its’ cruelties.

(Oh, and also I was serious of that camp hiring thing. Hit me up.)