Monday, August 10, 2009

On Not Being Able To Write

Membership has it's Privileges

[On Not Being Able To Write: Recovered File July 14, 1995]

I am writing this letter because I simply do not have the strength or courage to say these words outloud.

I did not lay when I told you that my father was denying insurance coverage, or when I told you that my mother felt that my illness did not justify her early return from Bermuda. I neither lied about these things, nor in my recollections of similar incidents in the past simply because I do not believe that a child could make such things up. I do not believe a child comes into the world innately evil deserving of such memories, and I will no longer take responsibility of the actions of two very bright, but very cruel individuals.

When I brought you the first draft of my Cornell essay, you told me there was much more to talk about than a learning disability, and indeed, there was. I wrote over one hundred copies of that essay, each version trying to explain some kind of failure.

Through each graduate application, I heard my father’s words echoing throughout my mind bringing me back to a sadder time. I will never forget these words:

“If you don‘t go to an Ivy League school, it doesn’t matter where you go...”

“These schools don‘t like to see kids who went to so many schools, they want kids who will stay there for all four years... “

The first letter I received was from Cornell. My first letter of rejection came from the graduate program in Health Policy Analysis at Cornell University. Yes, it represented failure, but I do not believe it was my own.

It was the failure of a society with rigid social norms. One that demands the sequence and continuity so many us lack in this modern day society of step families once, twice, three tines removed... yes, children of divorce, children like myself lack . A society that is afraid to see; afraid to hear; and afraid to speak. A society allowed a child like me to feel as though their entire self-worth is based solely upon the judgment of four strangers at an Ivy League Institution.

It is a society made up of individuals taught how to think, how to feel, how to conform, and how to hide. It forces us to place the world into simple categories so that we may understand the complexities around us. We are taught that a spirit is our savior and the law is our sanctuary.

We learn to recognize good and evil; black and white; blessed and damned. We are forced to choose good or evil; black or white; blessed or damned.

It is a society that allows us to believe in fate and destiny and blame failure and injustice on circumstance and gods.

It teaches hatred and intolerance and breeds complexity and anger. It is a society that I neither respect nor believe, and a society that needs careful evaluation and gentle handling.

There is no order, there is no justice, there is no comfort. It is the society of a people, and people in need of a soul.

There is a theory about psychologists that claims many people choose to study the field of psychology in an effort to understand their own mind. I have spent so many hours contemplating the source of my insecurities and fears.

Eventually I came to the fields of sociology and education, since I feel it was the combination of the two that facilitated my belief that a degree from Harvard or Princeton or Yale would make my problems disappear

The day I was accepted at Columbia was one of the most difficult days of my life because it was something I was told I would never accomplish (even though Columbia is only “the doormat of the Ivy League”).

I chose to go to Vanderbilt since it represented freedom. Freedom from the confused ideals of my parents, and marked a clear boundary between their world and my own.

In the hours before I left to drive to Ithaca for my first interview, my first interview, my mother told me I did not deserve to get into Cornell.

Because I was only 21 at the time I applied, I was being claimed as a dependent child on my mother’s tax returns and my father placed on the payroll that had enormous consequences even to this day.

I could not complete the FAFSA financial aid application, or apply for need-based scholarships since neither parent would release financial statements to the Dept of Ed or anyone else.

I begged my father to reconsider and sign on as a guarantor. His exact words were, “I am not willing to gamble $50,000 on your future,” so I was on my own once again. I thought that if I could just make it through Graduation, everything would be okay. I would be able to pick up student insurance and my pain, stress, and anxiety would all disappear.

I would no longer be subject to my father’s conventions of checks and balances: the stress of dependency would all disappear—I would finally be free from the ghosts and voices echoing through my head.

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Elyssa D. Durant, Ed.M.