Presentation on theme: "Example Essays. While grabbing lunch between games at a water polo tournament, I noticed one of my new teammates rarely looked me in the eye. Instead."— Presentation transcript:
While grabbing lunch between games at a water polo tournament, I noticed one of my new teammates rarely looked me in the eye. Instead of taking the empty seat next to me, he opted to sit across the table. Even when I tried to start a conversation with him, he only looked down, and mumbled, “Oh, hey,” and walked away. This type of cold-shoulder treatment wasn’t new to me. I’m a big guy. In bare feet, I’m about 6 feet 7 inches tall, and I’m pushing 300 pounds. Yes, it can be a pain. I bump my head going through doorways, I don’t fit in most mid-size cars, and I can barely squeeze into most classroom desks. But I understand that the world is made for average-sized people, and I like to think I’m above average. One thing, however, is hard for me to take: People who don’t know me assume I’m mean. Like my frosty water polo teammate. I understand why he was intimidated by me, especially since he was one of the smaller players. I would have felt the same way. When I meet people for the first time, I often draw conclusions or make assumptions. Almost all my life, I’ve had to deal with the expectations and judgments people make about me just because I’m often the largest kid in the room. Ever since I was a kid there has been pressure for me to perform athletically because of my size and strength. When I went to grocery store, random people consistently asked me if I played football. When I told them, “No,” the men always lectured me not only about why I should play football, but what I should be doing with my life, with my body, and with my potential. I normally just nodded and smiled, but it bothered me that they thought they knew what was best for me. Not only did I never play football, but I defied many of the assumptions people made about me. How many people my size love nothing more than mixing up a chocolate batter, and decorating a three-layer cake? Beside my passion for baking, I also love working with little kids. For the last two summers, I volunteered at a camp where I taught kids how to surf. My nickname was Teddy Bear. And if I wanted to make my friends fall on the ground laughing, I reminded them of my dream to learn to play the violin. In general, I ignore what people say to me or think about me when it comes to my size. Instead of reacting, I usually just give them a smile. On many levels, there are advantages to towering over most of the world. I always get the front seat since I don’t fit in the back. No one even dares call “shotgun.” I usually have the best seat in the house, whether it’s a rock concert or a ball game, no matter where I sit. And if people are getting rowdy and making my friends uncomfortable, all I need to do is step in the middle and simply ask, “What’s going on?” and they disperse. Even the people who are intimidated at first by me eventually come around once they get to know me. Like the water polo player at the restaurant. Within about two weeks, we finally had a conversation and ended up finding we had a lot in common. In fact, he ended up as my best friend. For me, it is a small world after all, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Dangling about 30 feet above the ground, I looked down on the entire neighborhood park with its rolling hills, vibrant green grass, and multiple tall eucalyptus trees. Buckled tightly in my brand new Diamond Mountain climbing harness, I admired my handiwork. My old blue-and-black braided climbing rope thrown over a branch held me aloft, while a slipknot I tied while hoisting myself up prevented my descent. After a few minutes, I decided to return to the ground, but realized my knot grew too tight for me to untie. I was stuck. Ever since my dad taught me the Bowline in second grade, the intricacy of knots has fascinated me. I spent hours mastering the craft, reading every knot book and website I could get my hands on. All my knots usually came in handy. In 8 th grade, I won a competition in the Boy Scouts with a square knot, beating the instructor who taught an alternative knot that took longer to tie. A couple years later, I rescued my brother’s pickup out of the mud with the unbreakable loop of the Bow Line during one of our off-road adventures. I even returned a stranded rock climber’s lifeline by tying a Sheep’s Bend between a small piece of paracord and his climbing rope. Ironically, on the day I got stuck in the tree, I spent all morning trying to finally conquer the biggest and baddest knot of them all: the Monkey’s Fist. After at least 50 failed attempts at the step-by-step process, my trusty blue rope finally bore the complex, dense sphere of rope. With a heavy Monkey’s Fist on the end of my rope, I could throw an end over any branch. After hoisting myself into the treetops that day I dangled for several hours due to that hastily tied Slip Knot. When my dad finally returned from work and saw me, he lugged over an extension ladder, and laughed as he untied me from the tangle he inspired years earlier. When I reflected on this adventure, I realized another irony in the situation: It took a complex knot like the Monkey’s First to elevate me into the tree, but a simple Slip Knot stopped me from getting back down. Comparing these knots, I learned that the effort and persistence I invest in a challenge like tying a knot translates into a certain lasting power. A Slip Knot is extremely easy to tie, but disappears with a quick pull on the rope. However, a Monkey’s Fist takes hours to learn and minutes to tie, but is impossible to untie. In so many other parts of my life I have experienced this similar relationship: that the more I try, the more useful and permanent the reward. I expect that my knot-tying adventures, and the related lessons, even the most embarrassing ones, will help me through any future hang ups I encounter from here on out.
Life without language: all the ideas, thoughts, and emotions present, but unable to be expressed. This is how I picture my grandfather when he first immigrated to America with my grandmother and their nine children. Lost, he wanders around, hoping to bump into someone who can understand him. He raises his own children to know Vietnamese and hopes his future grandchildren would also be connected to the language of their ancestors. But when I form my lips into unnatural shapes to speak these words, they come out pathetically. I cannot speak Vietnamese. As a child, the conversations between me and my grandfather consisted of feeble attempts at speaking each other’s language. Only a couple of familiar words could momentarily break the wall that divided us. Whenever I visited his house, I exchanged a shaky “Chào ông” for his heavily accented “He-llo,” and ran off before the shame from my inability to understand could affect me. At the time, I was unaware of the synchronized rhythm that beats in the hearts of me, my father, and my grandfather. My grandfather loves playing the violin. Although he is not classically trained and can hardly keep a beat, he loves it and I can sense it every time he plays. When my family came to America, my father struggled to adjust as any teenage immigrant would. Vietnamese was confined to his family’s home and English was difficult to learn, so instead, he picked up the guitar and taught himself how to play “Yesterday” by the Beatles. Forty years later, he claims he still cannot get it down perfectly. On the piano in our living room, he sings in broken English… “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away…” Like my grandfather, music is a part of my father’s design. By the unchangeable threads of heredity, I was also fated to have a connection to music, just like them. And it was music that could break the language barrier between me and my grandfather. A single sheet of music sat in front of me. It was a beautiful piece, no doubt, but we, the All-State Senior Band, were playing it without any emotion. After a couple of unsuccessful run-throughs of this piece entitled “Hometown,” our guest conductor Samuel Hazo told us to look at measure thirty-three, reflect on a personal memory that reminded us of that part, and write about it right there on our sheet music. Soon after instructing us to do the same in the other parts of the piece, everyone’s sheet music was filled with our lives in the form of tiny scribbles between the lines of melodies. When we played the piece again, we were finally able to “sing our life stories,” as Mr. Hazo would call it. Every musical phrase became a vessel for retelling our most precious memories: stories of first loves and recollections of childhood memories. No one had to say a single word. There in the music, I finally spoke to my grandparents. As I played measure thirty-three, I pictured them sitting there on that boat in the middle of the ocean, holding onto a faint glimmer of hope for a new life in America, looking for their own new “hometown.” I said “thank you” for their courage to come to the strange and unknown America and “sorry” for being unable to speak Vietnamese. After the concert that night, I received a bigger hug than usual from them and I knew that they had heard and understood me. Being a part of a family and culture is more than just knowing the language. Emotions are enough to make words unnecessary. In my family, we speak three different languages: Vietnamese, the language of our origin, English, the language of our new home, and music to connect everything together.
I feel perfectly content at Woodrow Wilson Skateboard Park, a cement swell in the ground located just west of the easternmost point of the north side of Chicago and trapped perennially in the mental space inhabited by fourteen-year-old angry youths. Outside of home and school, it is the place where I have spent most of my life. Its terrain so familiar, I could navigate it blindfolded, towed on my board by a pack of feral dogs. Much of what I know of life, I learned there. A sea of nods and handshakes and back pats welcomes my every arrival to this municipal oasis. Here, I am known. Called variously Mor, Bob Morley, Mordog, Mo, Mo Money, or (long story) Tom Pork. It is the only place on earth where (were an election ever to be held) I could almost certainly be mayor. Among the strange, sometimes downcast, and essentially good people here, I have found another family. I need them as much as they need me and as much as we all need skateboarding. This four-wheeled toy brings us inner peace. Skateboarding is a standing meditation, a time to put conscious thought aside and let primal impulse guide the body through various jumps and balancing acts. I turn to skating in times of joy and in times of strife, to celebrate a good day, escape writer’s block, social failures, or other minor tragedies. It is at Wilson that I encountered once, and then again, a man called Temper. I was thirteen when I crashed into a beefy shadowy figure I had heard talked about only in whispers. This man, known by the word he had chosen to affix to hundreds of walls around Chicago, had earned a spot in the community as a respected graffiti artist and skateboarder. His improbably light feet and on-board grace were known to most of the city. I was barely inaugurated into the park scene when I plowed headlong into him, knocking both of us down, turtle-like and winded. I hadn’t been paying attention and apologized rapid-fire while trying to scrape my body off of his. When we both got to our feet, Temper knocked me down again and walked away without comment. It was the most frightening thing that ever happened to me at Wilson. He left the park that day, and I had seen him once, maybe twice, since. The five years since the incident have been more or less good to me. In high school, I abandoned the dream of becoming a professional skateboarder and discovered a fuller gamut of life’s offerings. I learned to think about things other than skating and in turn discovered physics, girls, cooking, and writing—a pursuit I love as much as skateboarding. The same cannot be said for the passage of time in Temper’s life. I saw him recently and had lunch with him and my friend. He told us of overcoming a crippling drug addiction, spending time in jail, and contracting AIDS—a disease that every day reminds him that his time on earth is coming to an end. He is trying his best to make the most of it all. It was with the greatest trepidation that I told him about the Wilson incident. Over pizza and lemon soda, I explained how much he had scared me. I added that it was important that it had happened. I think it helped me grow up, I explained. An awkward silence followed. His head turned down and to the side for a moment. Then he just laughed. His eyes apologized, and I laughed too, collectively embracing that very Wilson mentality: life, like skateboarding and men named “Temper,” will knock you down. There is nothing else to do but forgive, forget, and stand back up.
The air is tainted with unnatural fumes of grease, wood, and burnt electrical tape. Oil slicks stain the floor. Thick wooden shelves sag unnervingly close to buckling under the weight of old house paint and power tools. A workbench lies buried beneath papers, rulers, cans, and metal shards. An uncomfortable growl pours from the water heater. Most people wouldn’t describe my grimy garage as pleasant, but I love spending my free time here. It’s where I built a 2 ft trebuchet in sixth grade, a 4 ft trebuchet in seventh grade, and plan to build an 8 ft trebuchet this winter break. It’s where I built a battlebot and slapped an Arduino microcontroller on top to give it intelligence. Ever since I sat watching jets shake the sky and explosions rock the screen in the movie Iron Man as a stunned sixth grader, I’ve spent weekends experimenting in my garage, trying to learn everything I can about engineering and robotics. Sure, outside of my garage I love wildlife and hiking, history, and weird foods. I love classic rock, jazz, and maybe even secretly Katy Perry. Nevertheless, I’ve always had a life plan centered on robotics: go to a great college, learn robotics, build robots, get a Bernese mountain dog, and live happily ever after in a beautiful forest home. It seems strange that I’ve committed myself to robotics so easily despite my many interests, but in reality, robotics combines nearly all of them. Computer science, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering are crucial to the robot, but combine them with biology, astronomy, music, or ecology, and that’s when robotics becomes amazing. I could help the sick with robots that give surgeons more dexterity while operating. I could help the poor with affordable, robot-made products. I could aid the elderly, replace the limbs of wounded warriors, and keep fire fighters from harm’s way, all with robots. Although these robots may not be the crimson and gold Iron Man suit that first got me interested, I love the realistic and heroic possibilities in the field of robotics. Almost as exciting as imagining the robots I could build, is imagining where I could build them. I could become a professor and research cutting edge A.I. algorithms. I could become an entrepreneur and bring my creations to market. I could even become an employee for a tech company and devote myself to its latest innovations. Maybe next year around this time, I will even be studying on the Freshman Quad. With the LCSR robotics lab, the minor in robotics, a top-notch engineering program, a beautiful campus, incredible seafood, and what the visiting admissions counselor described as a “vibrant a cappella scene,” Johns Hopkins will both make college fun and satisfy my inner nerd. But for now, I will go on working in my garage, competing for space with the family car.
Last summer, I worked in an Asian clinic in Oakland, California. Over the course of the summer, I realized the plight of immigrants when it comes to obtaining equitable health care. In the modern health industry, immigrants and other residents who possess limited English proficiency are often overlooked because of their inability to communicate their symptoms to the doctor and complete paperwork in English. This problem is exacerbated when they cannot apply for health insurance, resulting in exorbitant health bills. In a country that claims to be the "melting pot" of cultures, this kind of neglect is no longer acceptable. Many patients suffer extended waits in the hospital, unable to obtain assistance. It is possible that a worsening stomachache is the initial sign for appendicitis, which needs to be treated expeditiously. Often, hospital signs are also not translated into other languages, making navigation difficult for elderly patients. These scenes are played across hospitals in the nation everyday. After my experiences this summer, I realized that I wanted to channel my energy into the revitalization of this system. It is no longer sufficient for us to stand on the sidelines and watch. To this end, I participated in a medical interpretation training program and was licensed as a Mandarin health interpreter. I hope I will be able to contribute my efforts to the field of public health, especially immigrant health, in the future. These patients cannot afford to passively wait for language-accessible care and continue to sacrifice their right to treatment.
He held up the sheet of wrinkled paper, his eyes in silent protest. The tattered bill requested 13,800 dollars for a three-day hospital stay. "Why call the ambulance? Just leave me alone!" the frail old man muttered. Just a week ago, Mr. Vu suffered a stroke that required hospitalization. Because he could not understand English, Mr. Vu had not applied for health insurance, resulting in the exorbitant bill. An internship at an Asian clinic opened my eyes to the untold story of limited-English proficiency patients, who often struggle to obtain health care in a maze of foreign forms and convoluted policies. Suffering from a worsening stomachache, Mrs. Wong was neglected in the county hospital for over two hours, unable to flag down a passing nurse for assistance because of the language barrier. Clutching a X-Ray order, Mr. Park searched in vain for Radiology in a blinding flurry of English letters. Over the summer, these stories became too common - accounts of immigrants fighting for their right to care in a shockingly monolingual health system. After the internship, I participated in a medical interpretation training program and was licensed as a Mandarin health interpreter in November. I wanted to change the status quo. My experiences this summer solidified my conviction of entering into public health, especially immigrant health, as my future course of study. America has long prided itself as a "melting pot" of cultures. Isn't it only fitting that there exists equitable access to health care, regardless of the language spoken?
I hit a home run yesterday. I've never felt so good in my life. My teammates finally appreciated me, because it won the game, and I'm glad all the hard work paid off. I realized what it meant to succeed. We were tied, 4-4, in the ninth inning with barely enough sunlight for another at-bat. I looked at a strike. On the next pitch, I tightened my core, swung the bat low, and felt it make contact in the middle of the ball. I was almost to second base by the time it crashed into the scoreboard beyond the right-field fence. My teammates greeted me at home plate with the obligatory dogpile. Last year, a swing like that would have been unthinkable. No matter how much time I spent at the gym doing workout routines from the Men's Fitness app and using a Fitbit, nothing worked. All the while, I ignored Coach Jones. I figured a 75-year-old assistant coach couldn't help me. One day Coach Jones pulled me aside. He told me that baseball wasn't about fancy workout routines or technology - it was about working hard. That's what he did when he was in high school. Baseball was the same game then. He got me doing pushups, sit-ups, and sprints -- by the dozen, and then by the score. It worked. I may be growing up in the digital age, but baseball is played on a field, not on a tablet or a phone. I just needed some old-fashioned advice.
As my mom backs out of our driveway, I glance at the back seats to make sure my basketball gear is there, along with my schoolbooks, phone charger, and beat-up copy of Catch-22. We slowly wind through my neighborhood and over about a half dozen speed bumps, then pull onto the highway heading south with the other Sunday traffic. I sit back and watch the familiar landmarks—the large Denny’s sign with the missing “N,” the short stretch of undeveloped land, the Shell billboard that meant we were almost there—flash past my window. I’ve made this 20-mile trip between my parent’s homes for the last decade, four times a week, ever since they divorced when I was seven. I must have taken it more than a thousand times. Sometimes I dreaded getting into that car, and resented my parents for putting my older sister and me through the circular logic that moving us back and forth will make our lives normal because we see each parent often, but moving back and forth isn’t normal, unless they make it normal, which isn’t normal. Now I know it makes sense because normal isn’t ideal, normal is the unexpected and the crazy and the unforgiving. I now realize that those rides were the consistency amid the madness. Looking out the window and down to the lane reflectors I think…about how on Friday’s basketball game my jump shot was off because I was floating to the left, about how I’m excited to see my dog and cat, about how upset I am because of Yossarian’s predicament, about how I’ll miss my dad, about how veterinary medicine is fascinating, about how I needed to study for my chemistry test, about how I will work harder to get into my dream school, and about how I’m glad that I get to take a nice nap before I go to mom’s. I even remember the first time years ago when I noticed the smudge on the rear driver’s side window, which was shaped into a leaping dancer—a dancer in white. I would watch her move through the trees in El Cajon Valley, bob my head up and down to help her jump over hillside terraces of Spring Valley, and keep her from crashing into the Westfield mall sign two miles from my mom’s home. It was those hours I spent thinking silently to myself when I learned more about who I am, where I envision myself going, and what my role is in this world. Sitting in the front seat, I’d take a moment to look back to see that same dancer in white, however faceless, nameless, and abstract, gave me a sense of comfort. That even though I wasn’t really ‘home,’ I still was, because home isn’t simply where you rest your head, but also where you have the security to dream inside of it.
I was in fifth grade eating breakfast with my family when the floor of my home gave way under our feet. We barely escaped from the house before it buckled into two pieces, and ran to safety before the entire hillside gave way. Our home was destroyed, and we narrowly escaped with our lives. Six years ago, my family was caught in this terrifying landslide when my house and a dozen others slid down the side of a canyon in Laguna Beach. Within less than 10 minutes, my life literally fell out from under me. For the next five years, my family moved over a dozen times, often living out of boxes with friends and relatives. Besides my clothes and basic necessities, the only thing I hauled from house to house was my collection of skateboards. Six months after the landslide, the city of Laguna Beach relocated us to a recycled trailer on a parking lot at the end of town so my parents could save money to rebuild our home. I see it now as an extremely generous gesture but at the time it was difficult. Living in this dilapidated, thin-walled trailer was definitely not the life I had envisioned. My backyard was an enormous parking lot. As a lifelong skateboarder, however, that flat expanse of asphalt helped me get through the hardest years of my life. You see, I’m a skater from a hillside neighborhood and had never experienced such space and opportunity. I took advantage of the situation and made this neglected, dirty parking lot into a skateboarding oasis with ramps and rails that my friends donated. We would all gather together after school as a release from the pressures of life for a while, practicing trick after trick, working to fine-tune each maneuver. Contests were created, videos shot, and movies made. For the first time in my life, I had a flat area where my friends and I could hang out. Even though we didn’t talk much about the landslide, these friendships were both a distraction and softened the unpleasant living situation. Also, balancing sports and loads of homework, I turned to what I thought of as my new backyard skate park at night to escape from reality each day. The sense of riding back and forth on a cold night helped me relax and persevere through my studies and life in general. Numerous years passed in that cramped rickety, old trailer and life wore on dealing with everything from highway noise reverberating right outside our door to the constant rodent problem. When my family’s new, hillside home finally came to completion at Christmas last year, I was more than ready to move. The only thing I would miss from my five-year ordeal was my beloved “skate park.” After moving into our permanent home, the crazy life I endured since fifth grade was now over and even though I could not bring the skate ramps themselves, I was able to bring plenty of memories. One of the most important lessons I learned through all this is that I have the ability to find positive opportunities even in the grimmest circumstances. If I could find friendship, support and fun in a parking lot, I know I can find the upside to almost any situation.
My brain is utterly discordant. Curiosities, ranging from abortion in colonial America to the enlarged paralimbic region of whale brains, battle for priority of investigation in my mind. As I sit hunched over my laptop, my screen is always split in two. What my mom sees as a teenager wasting away behind a glowing screen is actually me trying to watch a documentary on Magritte and his genous style of surrealism while learning about the groundbreaking water geysers found on Jupiter’s moon Europa. Such investigative tendencies are even evident in my running list of ideas for the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, with topics ranging from the cycle of recidivism that fosters the prison industrial complex to the removal of people of color from 17th and 18th century paintings in current academia. I look to Johns Hopkins not to contain my brain, but to feed the insanity. I need the lack of a core curriculum and intersession courses so I can investigate a breadth of topics thoroughly, to a much fuller extent than I can manage with just the library and the internet. I look to Johns Hopkins as the home for my eclectic interests so I can continue playing soccer just as well as I can continue pursuing photography at the Homewood Arts Workshops. As I rave about my recent cosmic ventures like going to a Brian Greene lecture and meeting with an astrophysicist at the Goddard Space Flight Center, I look to Johns Hopkins to engage my enthusiasm with research institutions like the Applied Physics Laboratory and the Center for Astrophysical Science. Where my college search left me faced with so many small, lackluster physics programs, Johns Hopkins shines with the delightfully extensive Henry A. Rowland Department of Physics and Astronomy. As my boyfriend and I have an involved discussion about the incompatibility of an omniscient God with libertarian free will, I look to Johns Hopkins’ Department of Philosophy with classes like The Existential Drama and Freedom of Will and Moral Responsibility. With sketchbooks full of musings on topics like my cognitive dissonance of rejecting free will while revering Sartre, I am insuppressibly excited by the undergraduate philosophy journal Prometheus. Seeing that no new issues of Prometheus have been published in the last couple of years, I am determined to resurrect the thought-provoking gem, just as decidedly as I am to start and Ethics Bowl team at Johns Hopkins. As I passionately rant about rape culture and cultural appropriation in the shower, I look to Johns Hopkins’ student organizations like the Hopkins Feminists, Sexual Assault Resource Unit, and the Office of Multicultural Affairs so I can contribute my soap-studded ideas and take action. I look to Johns Hopkins for its diversity of people, the city of Baltimore, and as a home for the next four years. I look to Johns Hopkins to conduct my dissonant brain into a melodious symphony.
I have a Kafka quote that is very close to my heart. I like it best edited, the way I first saw it, with the middle part (which is not convenient for this essay) cut out: “It is not necessary that you leave the house. Remain at your table and listen… The world will present itself to you for its unmasking.” In a way, I follow Kafka’s advice every morning. After eating breakfast, I stay at the kitchen table and listen to music for 15 minutes or so—most often Bach or Mozart, Beethoven being a bit difficult to digest at that hour. I don’t read, I don’t puzzle over a math problem, I don’t wonder what we’ll do in physics that day. It’s difficult, but often I manage to do nothing but listen. And I am quite content. This is strange because learning has always been the chief joy of my life. I have my nonintellectual pleasures— running and yogurt come to mind—but given the choice, I always devote my time to thinking. I have consistently refused to pick up a sport because I felt I needed the time for math. I spent last summer struggling to play Schumann and reading a biology textbook, and the summer before that at a small college in Massachusetts, studying mathematics for eight hours a day with 50 other nerds. So why am I so at peace in the one time of day when I am certain not to be learning about anything? Part of it is simply what I’m listening to. I adore classical music. I love it so much that I sincerely believe that the rest of the world shares my enthusiasm for it, but that most people simply do not realize it yet. At the very least, I am convinced that deep down we all love Chopin. Beauty, order, complexity, mystery—the same things that draw me to mathematics and biology draw me to classical music. The primary different is that cleverness takes a back seat to emotion and intuition. It is hard to be more specific because all of the great composers have something different to offer, often several things at the same time; Brahm’s raw emotion expressed with the greatest refinement and discipline; Beethoven’s stormy sublimity, unimaginable beauty, and that famous “vision of infinity”; Mozart’s entirely different reality, a heaven of pure light; Bach’s majesty, grace, and clarity; it goes on. They were all geniuses of the highest order, towering over history, but they all created things greater and more perfect than themselves. They fulfilled the promise of humanity. There is also something else going on, though, when I remain at my table. Classical music is the example I use to support a larger point that I feel I need to make to myself every morning. The world is very harsh, but also very big and very beautiful, with so many things to do and so much to explore that you’ll never run out of things to think about even when you can forget about your day-to-day concerns. You can learn all you want. It’s just that it isn’t easy: you’re not really discovering anything if it’s easy. You need to make it hard, to do something out of your reach, something new or frustrating. You have to throw yourself in the water and swim as hard and as fast as you can. And before you can go swimming—before the world can “present itself to you”—you need to take one last deep breath. You know you love to swim when you really relish that breath.
Sometimes I had dreams of being in plane crashes with my twin brother, Matt. We’re standing on the wing of a plane, balancing in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Matt is screaming, “No! I don’t want to jump! Where’s the water? Where’s the water?” A wave rushes over the wing and takes us under. Matt calls, “Jacqui!” reaches for my hand, and I wake up. I know a lot about my backstory because it has shaped who I am and who I want to be. Knowledge of this story is necessary—I need to keep the words alive, even if time wants to quiet them. I know my story so that I do not forget, so that I can tell others. My brother, Matt, is visually impaired and has autism. We were born in May instead of August, sixteen weeks early, during spring instead of summer. Of all the seasons, maybe we should have been born in winter. Matt and I clung together on the icy medical tables. Winter children, at home in the frost, trying to take air into translucent lungs. The facts of our story are easy to tell. I can tell about the identical scars that run from our shoulder blades to our chests. How our doctors and parents looked at us, in our isolettes, with heavy eyes. About the five percent chance of survival that we beat, or the likelihood that Matt would never be able to see and I would never speak. I can tell others that I would not change our story—that I want to tell it throughout my lifetime, because it has a purpose. I can say that the dream of us clinging together on the plane wing in the middle of the Atlantic is a continuation of how I feel and who I am. It’s harder, though, to tell of the pride I feel whenever my voice carries across the room. Nine years of voice therapy, nine years of learning how to project and nurture my one working vocal cord—I’m afraid people won’t understand. They might just think of it as a story with a nice ending. But my goal is not to tell a nice story—it is to make others feel something deep in their chests, like I do. It’s even harder to share the very core of who I am; the fact that Matt and I are forever tied together with the story of how we were born. We are here for different reasons—mine to write and be his guide; his to make others happy, like he makes me. Where we come from and how we got here makes us who we are in this moment. That’s the purpose of our story; that’s what I want others to know. My half of our story allows me to exist in a world that is parallel to Matt’s. Few others fit in his world—but I must. And my ability to fit into his world drives… everything. It makes me strive to see him smile, even if it’s a hint of one that appears when I tell him his socks are totally cool. It brings my dreams of plane crashes alive, so I can release those feelings into my writing, and truly be part of his world. I must fit into Matt’s world forever, and so I must be a good enough sister to tell his story. My backstory makes me who I am—a writer, a guide, a sister. I am a girl standing on the wing of a plane, eager for my words to stretch to every continent. Eager for everyone to know my story.