Life: Lived Like Nobody’s Watching

Over three Aprils, I got four letters.

The first came the April I was 17. No, it said. You won’t be coming to Brown in the fall.

I read the letter with some sadness. I’d fallen hard for that school. Not the idea of it, which was a fine idea. But the day-in, day-out of it. The feel, the mood, the freedom of it.

But I got it. It was competitive, I knew. Lots of valedictorians and all-stars and prodigies, none of which I was.

So, I decided I’d try again. And try harder. I did one year at another college. And I did everything you should do: I came early to class, left late, closed down the library, stayed in on Friday nights writing my Brown application. And while I could have been happier, my grades couldn’t have been higher.

April came. And along with April, another letter. Waitlisted, it said. Then, a second letter. Sorry, it said. No.

But this time, I didn’t get it. I’d tried as hard as you could try. I’d done everything you’re supposed to do. And what did I have to show for it? Two Aprils with three letters saying, “No.”

So I called Brown. What, I asked with some frustration and some hurt and some outrage, do I have to do? Well, Brown said, why don’t you go do what you want to do. Then tell us about it.

I hung up the phone. I looked at my life. And for the first time, I decided I’d live it for me.

I forgot about Brown, forgot about the supposed-to’s and should-do’s, forgot about looking good and smart and accomplished. And I did all the curious and odd and interesting stuff I’d wanted to do:

Waitressed at a big, old lobster house. Took a documentary storytelling program. Got my first passport and went to work on a farm in Italy.

I lived this life of mine like nobody was watching. And I got to know a kind of joy and untetheredness I hadn’t known before.

And in my application to Brown, which I nearly forgot about, I told them all about it in this big, passionate rush.

Take me or leave me, I thought. It doesn’t matter. I’ve fallen hard for the day-in, day-out of my life. The feel, the mood, the freedom I’d found in it.

April came. I was weeding a sunflower field in Tuscany. And a man came walking across the soil and seeds with something for me.

It was the fourth letter from Brown. But the first that said, “Yes.”

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