A few weeks after I send off my last college application, white envelopes begin to stack up. At first I keep them on my messy desk, but quickly designate a small space on my white desk to the pile. Each envelope comes in different sizes: large, medium, small, rectangular, and square. I wait until the last letter arrives to consider opening any of them. The responsibility soon to follow the initial reveal suffocates me. They sit, staring, each day until my anxiety topples down screaming to open one. What do I have to lose? Freedom, I respond.
Grabbing the stack of envelopes, I plop down in the middle of my bedroom’s floor. I push my floral highback chair to the side of the room with my foot, not daring to stand back up and lose my focus. Meticulously, I lay the envelopes in rows and columns, biggest to smallest. Then alphabetically. Finally, I decide to lay them out by order of arrival in a circle. Circle of life and all that. I take a deep breath, close my eyes, and let it go. The breath blows stray hairs out of my face, clearing my vision. Abruptly, I stand up. Simultaneously, I turn on my orange salt lamp and turn off the overhead light. A soft glow from the salt lamp relaxes me. Sitting back down in the middle of my envelope circle, I look at the mysteries before me.
Standing back up, I search through my desk drawers for a notepad and pen. I slide the pen behind my ear, grab a piece of loose leaf notebook paper, my brown clipboard, full of doodles, and flop down into my highback chair. The letters stare up at me, shouting to open one, just one. I only need to open one and everything will be done. My choice will be made once they are open. My responsibility will be ten times greater once they are open. My freedom will be ten times less once they are open. But what if I don’t want to choose? With the choices looming over me, I write down the names of each college and university on my lined paper. Drawing lines horizontally and vertically, I create a pros and cons list like Rory Gilmore. It worked for her. She chose. It will work for me. The latest weekend marathon of Gilmore Girls memories stand behind me, but I look behind for guidance in the present. Great campus? Check. Wifi? Check. Distances from home: 52 miles, 200 miles, 600 miles…
The choices build up and up creating a tower taller than Mount Everest in my mind. Pros and cons line up to join my list, filling up multiple sheets of paper. Finally, three hours later, according to my alarm clock, I finish. Looking down at the pristine circle of envelopes, I feel the dread and responsibility of opening one. Just one. That’s all it takes. Pushing myself off the chair, I stand within my suffocating circle again. I can do it. I close my eyes, spin around, bend down, and pick up one of envelopes. Without opening my eyes, I weigh the choice in my hand. Heavy. The embossed words peer up at me. My typed name takes up the majority of the envelope, but quickly disappears when I flip the large envelope around. Deep breaths. Choices. Deep breaths.
The envelope crinkles as I rip open the side of the envelope and struggle to slide the letter out. Congratulations! We are excited to inform you… A tiny glimmer of joy sparks inside me quickly dampened by the realization of withering freedom, but I ignore it as I reach to grab the next envelope in line. We are excited… The envelopes quickly follow one another until the excitements and regrets pile up next to each other on my floor. Chaos of empty envelopes and letters fall upon my carpeted room. Not a word vocally comes from my mouth, but my brain screams and cries as my choices dwindle. My freedom follows along with the choices. With a final rip, my freedom dwindles to five. Five? My brain screams at my stupidity. FIVE? Then it reminds itself: All the same in the end. All the same degree in the end. A deep breath follows each repeat.
Kneeling down, I grab my acceptance letters and lay them on my now clean desk. I compare my notes with the pros and cons list and cross out the bottom three. My top two tied, so I close my eyes. I imagine.
I imagine myself walking along the campus from my messy dorm full of new friends to my first class in the morning. Hugging a cup of green tea, a hint of honey, close to my body for warmth, I freely jog to catch up to my friend in the same class as me. We exchange hellos and discuss today’s class topic. Our laughs intermingle and echo off the brick buildings. Did I make the right choice?
I imagine myself sitting in a library across from a boyfriend, my first love. He looks up and smiles when he catches my eyes. No matter if we have been together for six months or not, his smile still makes my heart jump. Responsibility causes me to glance down at my homework, but freedom allows me to ignore it all and smile back. Standing up, he reminds me about our date tonight. Is he the right choice?
I imagine myself sliding into hard, metal-back chairs in rows and columns in a cold gymnasium. They announce us as the class of 2021. Congratulations, they say, for finishing this far. Now off to the rest of your life, they say. Responsibilities gone, they may have said, freedoms back. My cap slides off my head and into the air. Was this the right choice?
All these daydreams follow me back into reality. I look at the letters, my pro and con list, imagine again, and back to the letters. With a final deep breath, I feel tears come to my eyes. Joy or anguish from the choice? Finally, with resolve, I pick up both envelopes. In my bedroom, kneeling on the thin carpet, I decide.