I hadn’t expected it to come in the mailbox, and so when I reached into the metal depths and dragged the pile of envelopes and junk-newspaper-things out and saw it there, my knees became hollow. I thought they’d email me. But they—one of the universities I applied to for graduate school (which will remain nameless)—had sent me a letter.
A pitifully thin one, with few words—but the words sunk into my skin and made their way to my heart. Once there, they battered it with their little fists until the tears that I had sworn not to cry had nowhere to go but up and out of my eyes.
“(Insert school name here) rejected me,” I said to my husband, Louis.
“Ah, I’m sorry. That sucks. But hey, there are five more programs! Don’t let this get to you,” he said. And my mom said the same thing—try not to take it personally. But for the specific degree to which I applied—a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing—I had sent writing samples to the schools. So, I thought. They read my words and hated them. Fine. That’s only one school. I didn’t want to go there that much, anyway.
And then I got another thin letter. And then an email popped into my inbox and pushed a sliver of hope into me right before sucking it away again. We regret to inform you…they began, and though I had built the best casing around my heart that I could, I cried. For the entire day. In one week—which happened to be my most stressful week of the quarter already—five out of the six M.F.A. programs I applied to rejected me.
Louis and I started talking seriously about Plan B, and we became elated with what we decided. I applied to a different kind of program, which brought me joy to think of joining. I almost want Plan B more than Plan A now, I thought. But the sting from the letters and emails of rejection bubbled under my skin and cloaked me in sadness. After all my hard work, after everything I have done to learn all I can about my craft and about literature, after the quarters of straight A grades, this is what happens. This is my reward.
When Louis asked me why the rejections bothered me so much, I could not pinpoint why. People get rejected every day, and they do not spend days drowning in their own tears. They shake the hurt away and face the day with joy.
“Well,” I told him. “It’s like they killed my writing babies.” And, as I said that, I realized it was true, because as I spoke, more salt rolled from my eyes. “I’m having a pity party, and I can’t stop it.” He let me mourn the dead pieces of writing, which, I slowly realized, are not really dead to anyone but to those who rejected them. They are still my writing babies, and they will find people to appreciate them. And none of them was And the Blackbirds Mock, which is my biggest baby and has its own opportunities, its own life apart from any M.F.A. program.
In the last week, I have finished feeling sad about the rejections. My family’s (as in Louis and me) future includes graduate school next year no matter what—it’s where we must go in order to keep moving forward, keep pursuing the dreams that we have whittled from the titanic visions of success from freshman year to less grandiose, more meaningful goals we know will bring us real contentment. And he is still waiting to hear from a few programs, and I am still running to the mailbox each day to search for a letter from the sixth M.F.A. school. But if I do not get in—and I am expecting not to—I know I will cry, collect the pieces of my dignity from their places on the floor, and move on to better things.
And besides—I graduated from college today with my Bachelor of Arts degree in English, with a minor in Spanish. The hard work I moaned about last week brought me that degree, and no one can take that from me, not even if they tell me a bachelor’s degree is worth less than it used to be. I have completed something big and have learned an incredible amount about life, writing, reading, critical analysis, science, math, art, love, history, humanity, and friendship in the past almost-four years, and that in itself is worth the work. A bachelor’s degree is also a stepping stone to a master’s degree, which is then a route to a career I will love, and to me, that will never be worthless.
Laura Melchor, B.A. (I can’t help writing my name like that…I promise it’s only this once. 😉 )
I’m linking up with Kirsten Oliphant for Not So (Small) Stories, Spring Break Edition: http://kirstenoliphant.com/2014/03/18/small-stories-spring-break-edition/