The letter came. I’d been waiting months for it. I tried to predict what my reaction would be when the moment of truth became real. Would I burst out into tears and slobber sloppily onto my pillow, or jump up and down like Bob Barker just called my name on The Price is Right?
When the letter finally arrived, it almost seemed surreal. I was trying to be polite but I snatched the envelope out of the mailman’s hands (who knew I’d been waiting for it), and dashed inside. My blustering energy had left the cats curious enough to stir awake from their naps. I looked at the envelope for one whole second before tearing it open, although carefully enough not to rip the letter itself. My throat had dried up like I’d just swallowed a stick of chalk. My hands were shaking like Momma needed a drink. I felt as if my entire destiny lay in the words before me.
I read the letter.
The words ‘unfortunately,’ ‘we encourage you next time’ and ‘thank you’ (for nothing) jumped out at the page. I’d been rejected. I didn’t get into the MFA in Creative Writing program I’d applied to.
As you can guess, dear reader, my reaction was not one of Bob Barker’s fans ecstatic to the point of a seizure. My go-to self-soothing words of, “it wasn’t meant to be,” and “it’s not that your work wasn’t good, you just have to keep trying,” failed me. What if I wanted something to be—really, really badly? And furthermore, if my work really is good, then why wasn’t it good enough?
Although my ego felt like it’d been run over by a dump truck, I looked at the time. I had to go to work.
My co-worker, another bartender who’s been bartending longer than I’ve been alive (seriously—37 years) noticed something was wrong as soon as I clocked in. “What’s the matter?”
“Nothing,” I shrugged.
“C’mon, you can tell the old man,” he prodded.
I sang like a canary: the letter, waiting months for it, the rejection and feeling like a world-class loser.
“Toughen up, kid. You don’t want to go to some stupid school that won’t take you anyway! What would cheer you up? How ‘bout a slice of carrot cake?”
“I don’t want carrot cake.”
“Too bad, I know it’s your favorite. Listen, you can’t give up; you have to keep applying for as many things as possible. And above all—you have to keep writing! You don’t want to end up an old and cranky bartender like me, do you?”
I looked at him. He was pointing his muddler at me.
The ruca picked me up from work and surprised me with a box of chocolates, and besitos all over my face. I stayed home that weekend and watched back-to-back episodes of The Office on Netflix and emotionally ate myself into an oblivion. It was great.
On my next writing day, I stared at my computer long and hard without turning it on. For days, all my emotions had been fluttering inside my chest, like butterflies rapping their wings inside me to escape. I recalled an old Ernest Hemingway quote: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Finally, I sat down with my computer. The cats cuddled up all around me. I began to write, my emotions bleeding out onto pages and pages.
It was beautiful. It was savage. And going forward, it was my only choice.