The, “We are sorry to inform you” rejection letter came on the same day as Papa’s funeral. I had been looking for it for weeks and I suppose the Enemy decided that day of all days would be the best for deepening disappointment. Kick me while I’m down sort of thing. Or maybe it is Divine Intervention instead. Too early to tell.
When the I pulled a thin rectangular envelope out of the mailbox instead of a heavy packet, I knew immediately. This was not my first rodeo. Yep, I am quite familiar with hearing no from this school since I had gotten the same response this time last year.
My phone started playing the melody that lets me know when my mom is calling. She was calling to see how the funeral went but because of this recent unfavorable reply, I really did not want to talk to her.
“Hello,” I caved. It is my mother after all. Easier to answer than to call back.
“Hey honey, just seeing how today went.”
She started out quiet as I gave her details from the service. Lots of people I didn’t know talking to me. Open casket. A Mason service. Got to wear that navy blue dress we bought in Virginia. Good to hear the stories about Papa. When there was nothing else left to say about it, I brought up the letter. By the time I got “it’s a no” out of my mouth, she had gone from somber listener to angry protester.
“You’ve got to be kidding me. They didn’t. Ali, are you serious? How?? Why!?” When the sentences started becoming questions her tone got louder. This was not going well.
I calmly explained that my scores simply were not as good and, believe it or not Mom, there are people out there who are better than me, who scored better than me, and who got in to the program. It was no use. She’d stopped listening to me as soon as she realized I had nothing else to say about it, which gave her more time to debate like she was on CNN.
Then she did the thing I’d been fearing since middle school. She threatened to call the school. My adviser. The head of the program.
I am twenty nine.
It was not enough that I’d already explained how my low test score was what did it, she wanted to know why they chose to personally victimize and reject my very character and existence over the past two years. Me, Ali, daughter of Kelly. High Priestess of Failure.
“Mama, that’s enough. Do not do that.” I begged, growing agitated. I did not plan on ever seeing or speaking to anyone from the school again after this but just in case, I did not want to be known as the grown ass woman whose mother cussed out the admission faculty. I understood why she was upset, she’d seen me work hard toward this for so long that it felt like an injustice to be told no. But what good would it do to tell that to a group of faculty who’d already made their decision?
I finally calmed her down. Her silence was more frightening than her yelling because it did not assure me she wouldn’t make that phone call after we hung up. (She’d been googling the name of the program coordinator while we were on the phone.) Annoyed and disappointed that I felt, again, like I’d disappointed her, I curtly got off the phone.
A few hours later I received a text from her. I did not mean to upset you. You’ll understand one day. No matter how old your baby is, you want the best for her. You want her to have all the opportunities she deserves and it’s painful when things don’t happen like you want them too. I love you.
Oddly enough, you know where the next day led me? To buy a sketchbook. Something I have not wanted any part of for the past three years. You see, all my life I’d been known as an artist. But graduate school, three years ago, had killed something inside me. Even though I was in the program, it too, had been a rejection of sorts. And it did feel very personal.
But during that moment, the feeling from within that told me to go get the sketchbook was stronger than avoidance and anxiety and resentment and fear. This feeling did not come quietly. It came passionately, with purpose. It said not to be afraid. It said I could be absolutely free and absolutely futile with it. There was no pressure.
I am reminded of something the French writer and artist Andre’ Breton said: “Beloved imagination, what I most like in you is your unsparing quality.”