Elation, Then Life Intervenes

From The New York Times:
By Sophia Gimenez
I was shaking off the icy December chill from my stinging face as I returned home from school when I saw the Knox College letter patiently awaiting my arrival on the kitchen counter.

Lungs filled with cement would have an easier time breathing than I did at that moment, and my heart was slamming feverishly into my rattling ribcage. Before the tsunami of panic could engulf me, I threw off my backpack, leaped for the letter, darted to my room and slammed the door.

In my solitude, away from any family members who could peek over my shoulder, I sat clinging by the edge of my bed as I examined my precious mail. I flipped the letter over to the back and tore eagerly at its seal. I was hoping for the best, because Knox is not only one of my top picks, but also the college I’ve had my sights on for years.

However, I didn’t rule out the unpleasant possibility of rejection, reminding me to keep an emotional first aid kit available if needed. My quaking, inept fingers were not opening the envelope as briskly as I wished them to, resulting in my savagely gnawing at it with my teeth in blind, fuming impatience. I ripped the contents from the envelope so furiously that papers flew everywhere and crashed to the floor in a chaotic mess. I rocketed to my knees and flipped through the disarray to finally uncover a sheet with the golden words I had been waiting to hear:

“Dear Sophia, your application for our fall 2011 class has been accepted!”

Sweet victory! Bathe in my rays of triumph! But that is not how this story ends.

I have never been proposed to, but I think reading my first (and hopefully not my last) college acceptance letter came pretty close to the feeling of such an event.

The screaming silence of anticipation was soon over for Mills College as well. An admissions counselor at Mills, amazingly, gave me her personal congratulations over the phone before I received my Mills acceptance letter in the mail! My life at that point was a joyous celebration.

And that was when cruel reality crashed the party.

In the midst of my college acceptances and applying — including to Scripps, the University of Colorado at Boulder and Colorado State University at Fort Collins — my mother fell frightfully ill. Just as I had nervously awaited for results from Knox and Mills, my mother, along with the rest of my family, anxiously awaited the results of her spinal tap. She couldn’t share good news like I had, and unfortunately, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Coping with a loved one suffering from an incurable neurological disease is no easy task, and this difficult circumstance has altered my college decision making.

Confronting other health problems and tragedies within my family has concocted a bitter familiarity with the physical frailties and vulnerabilities of mortality. Out of my awareness of life’s fragility buds many new fears of leaving for college.

Do I really want to be all the way out in Illinois attending Knox or far away in California attending Mills at the risk of my loved ones facing medical turbulence in my absence?

These liberal arts colleges are the schools of my dreams, but will the honor of attending them outweigh the guilt of the distance I put between me and the ailing people I love most?

I’m applying to two fantastic in-state universities that could help close the gap, but if my endeavors are still intrusive to the attention my mother or any other relative might need, I’m considering the possibility of sacrificing college altogether until further notice.

College can and will give me many opportunities and benefits, but what I know it can never do is surpass the responsibility I have for my family.

For now, there are no fixed decisions as to whether I will or will not go to college. When the time comes, I will make that personal choice. It all really depends on my mother’s future condition.

Over all, I would describe my present status as elated but conflicted.

Ms. Gimenez is one of six seniors at Cherry Creek High School in Denver who will be blogging about her college search for The Choice until May.