Child Abuse In Our Backyard

I remember my last December spent in Rye.  Everyday, a thick sheet as white as milk blanketed the high school parking lot.  And everyday, the senior hallway was as bare of students as the trees were of leaves.   The teachers called it senioritis.  We called it a well-deserved year off.  But as much as slacking was the cool thing to do at the time, there was one dreaded but important duty required of us: college applications.

Christmas was a fortnight away and, while Santa and his elves were rushing to finish their latest toys, I spent my days burning random pedestrians with a flamethrower in Grand Theft Auto 3.  In school I practiced my secret agent skills to avoid my stalking guidance counselor, Mr. L.  But one day I failed and he caught me.  As his towering body loomed above me, he reminded me that I had only ten days left to hand in my applications, otherwise I would not go to college, would never get a job, never get married, and would die a piss-poor lonely man.

“You’ll have them,” I told him so he’d bugger off, but what I really wanted to say was, “Geez, thanks for the added pressure.”  I mean, really, couldn’t he understand that I had more urgent matters to deal with?  Earlier that morning my friend Steve had bragged about how he’d gotten to the 12th mission on GTA3.  I was barely on the 3rd, so if I wanted to keep my dignity among my peers I’d have to pull an all-nighter just to catch up with him.  College applications were the last thing on my mind.

I got home that afternoon thinking hard on how to plan the rest of the evening.  I would play videogames until 6 P.M, then order Dominos’ – pepperoni and cheese – watch Malcolm in the Middle, and then back to videogames.  Senior year was really the shiznit, man.

People say I scream like a girl.  As I think back about that December afternoon when I entered my room to see a dust-less spot on the table where my TV should have been, I realize that maybe it’s true.  I shrieked like a kid who sees the monster come out of the closet, I shrieked until my throat throbbed, and even then, I shrieked some more.

Mr. L had called my mother and expressed his concern about how I would die piss-poor and lonely.  Consequence: my TV had been confiscated until my applications were sealed and mailed.  The comprehension slowly sunk in, but I did not cry.  No, I might scream like a girl, but I took it like a man.

I stormed to my room, cranked up the radio – it helped me concentrate in dire times – and sat behind my desk.  It felt strange; I hadn’t been in that area of my room since Junior Year.  But I was determined to work because I desperately needed my TV back by the next day.  The biggest event of the year was coming up: the MTV Movie Awards.  I could not, under any circumstances, miss it.  It would be the end of me.  I mean, what if Britney Spears and Madonna kissed?  I would look like the world’s biggest fool if I didn’t see it.

And how hard could a college application be?  Check a few boxes, write down some words, and voila, you’re off to college.  The first few questions – first, middle, and last name, gender, and birth date – were somewhat easy.  But from there things went downhill.  And when I say downhill, I mean like a speeding avalanche charging down a mountain side and crushing everything on its way.

First came, possible areas of academic concentration/majors.  I had a vague memory of a conversation with Mr. L as he told me what I should major in, according to my grades.  But I hadn’t been paying attention; as I sat across the stalking guidance counselor in his office, I was more interested by a bird outside nibbling off a dead rabbit.  So I tried to remember what he had told me.  Something about science.  Surely that couldn’t be it.  I never looked at my report card, but I knew as a fact that my grades in any science class never exceeded C-.  Maybe Mr. L wanted me to fail  Or maybe, I thought as I looked through a booklet of majors available, he had meant Political Science.  I didn’t know what that was, but that’s what I chose.  If you can’t trust your guidance counselor, who can you trust?

Next I was thrown, possible career or professional plan.  I hadn’t thought about my future since I’d been five or six, when I wanted to be a firefighter during the day and a police officer at night.  I doubt that’s the kind of answer they were looking for.  So I pondered.  What did I want to do?  My long term life goal was to become a billionaire and buy a soccer club.  But how would I get there?  I didn’t want to waste any time – the MTV Movie Awards sere only 27 hours away – so I put down undecided.  I’d have four full years of college to come up with a brilliant plan to gain billions.

My hand ached – I hadn’t written that much since Junior Year – so I took a break.  A Kit Kat break.  Then after a few minutes of singing along to the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army, I plunged myself back into the 4-paged demon.  I continued answering personal questions, such as whether I would be a candidate for financial aid, and then went on to give details about my “secondary school you now attend.”

The next part, entitled Test Information, almost gave me a heart attack.  They wanted to know my SAT scores.  How could they be so cruel?  How could they remind me of those 6 painful months spent memorizing words scribbled on colored index cards and which I’d already forgotten?  I had done everything to forget those stupid SAT tests; when I returned home that night, I had lit a fire in the fireplace and burnt, one by one, all those colored index cards.  And now the SAT’s were back to haunt me.  Whatever.  I slowed my breathing and told myself this was only about the MTV Movie Awards, nothing more.  Forget about college.  Forget about Mr. L.  Just concentrate on the MTV Movie Awards.  And I did.  I wrote down my SAT scores – 1190 – and moved on.

They required general information about my family.  What is your mother’s name?  Isabelle.  Is she still alive?  And if not, date deceased.  Damn, I wish my mom were dead, then I’d have my TV back.  But no, she was still alive and puffing those Marlboros day in and day out.  Cancer had to be just around the corner for her.

Then followed an enquiry about extracurricular activities.  Well, I had played soccer until 10th grade.  I’d also been a member of the chess club.  But most proudly, I had been co-founder of the Director’s Club.  Its goal had been for its members to write a screenplay and then shoot the movie – a goal that had eventually led to failure; we had held only one meeting.  But officially the club existed.  I was asked about positions held and honors won in the said extracurricular activities.  As president of the Director’s Club, I immediately honored myself with the club’s Most Dedicated Member of the Month Award for all the months since the creation of the club a year ago.  That filled some lines.

After that I was asked to, “briefly list or describe any scholastic distinctions or honors you have won since the ninth grade.”  Because I’m a nice guy and I was asked to, I gave the briefest answer possible: none.  I could have taken the time to make something up – it’s not like they would have called all my high school teachers to check if I’d really won anything – but I was eager to finish the applications and get my TV back.

After a few struggling questions about Work Experiences and a short answer on my most meaningful activities, I neared the finishing line.  All that stood on my way was the College Essay.

Please write an essay (250-300 words) on a topic of your choice or on one of the options listed below.  I checked out the choices they offered me and settled on discussing, “some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.”  I don’t have that many strong convictions in life; I hate politics, I’m an atheist, I don’t even have a favorite movie.  But if there is one thing I strongly believe in, it’s that community service should not be forced upon you.  It defies the whole principle of the act.  But Rye High School didn’t see it my way; if you wanted to graduate, you were obliged to volunteer for 60 hours of community service.  So I wrote my essay on how our local case was actually of national interest, because American teenagers were enslaved to “volunteer”.  Forget about Chinese kids working in Nike factories for 5 cents an hour – at least they were paid.  Ours was a clear case of child abuse.  I typed the essay – word count told me I had only 245 words.  So I entitled the piece, “Child Abuse in Our Backyard,” and printed the 250-word essay.

I signed the Common Application, my hand trembling from disbelief that soon I would get my TV back.  I also realized that, now, high school was really over.  No more would I have to break a sweat on a Monday night to write a five-page essay due the next morning; no more would I have to hurry to school in frustration because I overslept; no more would I have to care about a teacher threatening to call my parents because of a missed homework.  Well, not until college, anyways!

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