Now that I'm well into my second year at Emory, I don't reflect on my college application experience (aside from recruitment when I said about 30 times that the recruitment process was exactly like the college application process). But there's one facet of my experience that I always think about because it remains so rooted in my life and psyche.
I wrote my Common App essay in 30 minutes. After spending two months working with a writing coach, the piece that should have been my final product made me want to scream. It was entirely about me, but it sounded nothing like me. Ever since I began writing essays and papers in class, the one piece of consistent feedback I got was how distinct my voice was (even when this was a negative criticism reminding me I really should take a more academic tone). And here was this piece that should have been the most personal manifesto I ever wrote and it sounded like a piece of cardboard reading a script from another piece of cardboard.
So I sat down two days before I was supposed to apply to college, much to my parents' shock and slight dismay, and wrote the one thing I had been dying to explain for years. Somewhere in the center of my chest, there has always been this heavy feeling that I tried for so long to put a name to.
As I explained to any college counselor who read my application, the first clear memory I can recall with this feeling is on a random day in May: I was nine years old and we had had guests out on the patio for a late lunch. It was the time of year when the sun didn’t set until close to eight at night, and I remember seeing the sky turning orange behind the trees in my yard. I had cracked open the bottoms of the windows in my room, and my thin curtains were pulsing in and out with the breeze. I sat staring at this scene in complete silence with my feet propped up on the windowsill.
I remember, as clearly as anything that occurred yesterday, the sound of my mother closing the garage, walking up the stairs, and sighing deeply. With no warning, I began to cry. My mom walked into my room and asked me what was wrong, but nothing was. Everything in my room was as it should have been; everything in my life was as it should have been.
And yet, I couldn’t stop feeling this weight.
As I grew up I began to discover movies, books, and songs that could trigger this sensation with no rhyme or reason. Some days, I allow this feeling in by intentionally revisiting the things I know will set it off. It's not a sadness so much as an extra weight, or a heavy filter on my image of the world. Others, I find myself taken by surprise when something new prompts a reaction and I become unable to separate myself from the melancholy.
I should explain: this feeling is not constant.
I'm not always festering, all mercurial and existential. It's hard to explain, but it is as if the sensation is a part of me, one that lies dormant until directly addressed. I am never going to be me without my melancholy, though I don't know if that's necessarily a bad thing. As I explained in my essay, I do my best writing when I'm in a melancholic mood.
But more than that, and more important to me than it would ever be so someone deciding if I should be admitted to their university, my melancholy reminds me of home. It reminds me of change, adaption, and to take a minute to look at the world outside of my window.