And today was just like any other day at school except I got in trouble in math class for popping my gum too loudly too many times. Otherwise, I smiled for a lot of today and ate for an hour or so at lunch and propelled myself into the net seven too many times at volleyball. I did, however, get one attack that killed the corner and strained the fuck out of my neck. And so I sit here, post-shower, on my bed with a towel around my waist. Then I move to lie here on my bed and my too-moist hair is making my pillow also too moist to be able to sleep on later. The growing pile of laundry is my only motivation to get up and do something. And so the thing I do is throw my dirty clothes in the washing machine and put some underwear on.
My mother is speaking grays at dinner. I’m not registering the conversation wholly but we exchanged the necessary ‘how was your day’ and I told her that I didn’t really learn anything new.
“I’m meeting with my college counselor tomorrow. I need her to take a look at my essay and give me feedback on my list.”
“Are you planning on applying to any lottery schools?” This is not the first time Esther introduced the idea. Her gaze is gentle, yet throbbing in my periphery.
“I’ve thought about it. I probably am but honestly, the odds of me getting into one are literally crazy. I can’t bank my next four or so years on that. I have a kind of solid-ish plan in just applying to schools with what I’ve got, ya know?”
“I mean, may as well just do it and see what happens. If it happens that you don’t get in that’s fine because you’ll, hopefully, have another option. If it happens that you do get in then better yet; mom and dad don’t have to dish out money for tuition and you can go to a dope school,” her eyes are focused on the mashed potatoes and she scuttled the peas around her plate passively. Kind, olderly sister advice.
“Yeah, yeah, I think I’m gonna submit to The Vanguard and leave it at that.”
“These are all reach schools for you, Harvey.”
Smile fades. Eyes meet.
“You’re gonna need to change up your list to something a little more accessible,” Ms. Grant, raising her right eyebrow. Her eyes are beckoning a response open wide.
“Yeah I know but these are the only schools I want to go to. Did you get a chance to look at my essay?”
“I haven’t had a chance yet but I’m more than happy to look at your essay; I’m just worried that you’re going to be spending money to apply to all of these schools only to receive rejection letters in the mail. Could I at least point you toward some schools that fit your credentials?” Her mouth pointing downwards in a frown of concern told me that she wasn’t going to take no for an answer.
“Sure, you have me for another fifteen minutes before class starts,” I resolved.
“Okay, great. A lot of students have been interested in the state schools around here, but they’re a bit bigger. I see the schools on this list are more geared towards liberal arts. I know Lawrence University has a great undergrad program. You could also look at Willamette, in Salem.”
“Where’s Salem and where’s Lawrence?”
“Oregon and Wisconsin.”
“I’m not super into being cold in any way. I don’t have access to enough rain gear to enjoy it. Rain, ya know? Not that I’m saying I wouldn’t make the effort to enjoy the schools but weather’s got a big part in my decision making,” I let out a sigh and shrug my shoulders to emphasize the ‘try harder’ mentality.
Ms. Grant puts both of her elbows on her knees, clasps her hands together, and leans forward; “But Reed College is on your first list along with Colgate University. Reed is in Oregon, too, and Colgate is in the coldest part of New York,” sigh. She shrugs and leans back in her chair. Try harder, Harvey.
“So, I lied a little. But Salem sounds, and probably is, haunted and Lawrence exudes a lack of personality from the name alone.”
“And at the same time, you’re only considering schools based on prestige. Do you even want to go to college? There are other options,” her impatience exemplified in the gentle shaking of her head.
“I’ve considered the other options and I do want to go to college. It’s probably gonna be a lot of fun. I think I can get into these schools. And if I don’t I’ll try again next year. There are a few that are test optional so I won’t have to submit my scores. Then the app is just resting on my GPA and my essays. I have a dope essay. Can you just look at it tonight and give me feedback tomorrow? The deadline for these schools is in, like, three days.”
“Which is another thing; I’ve been trying to get in touch with you all of first semester and all of winter break and you’re coming to me at nearly the last minute,” no need to exaggerate. Leaning over her desk with the index and middle fingers of each hand massaging her temples, “I’ll look at your essay this afternoon. Let’s schedule a meeting for tomorrow morning before classes start.”
“Perfect! I’ll be here at 8:30 sharp. See you then!” and so I strut out of her office with my struttiest of struts.
The ‘Submit Lottery Application” and “Submit Common Application” buttons are drying my eyes out. The two sit next to each other and taunt everything holy in my life. There’s no way I’m getting in if I submit my common app. At this point, I’ve flipped a coin twelve times to be sure and it’s landed on heads (yes) eight of those times. You told yourself eight out of fifteen; it’s go time and I clicked on the former.
“Lottery Application Received. You will hear back from The Vanguard the day following our January 15th deadline (January 16th at 12:00 pm Pacific Standard Time to give you a concrete answer). Keep in mind; at this moment 423,745 prospective students have entered the lottery. This number will only grow in the days leading up to our deadline. There are 50 lottery spots available at The Vanguard in the coming year. We sincerely hope you have a backup plan. :)”
“FUCK,’ I don’t even know anything about The Vanguard. What if I had a better chance at another lottery. Fuck me up. What’s with the fucking smiley face? “Mom I did it, God, I should’ve tried another school for my lottery fuck.” I charged down the stairs to my parents’ midnight room. The towel over my father’s lamp dimmed the ambiance and softened the eyes behind his glasses.
“Can you chill out and stop yelling?” Dad, eyes still soft.
“Yeah but damn. More than four hundred thousand people submitted lotteries to that damn school. I would’ve had a much better chance at, like, The Bishop or something. Sanders submitted his there and literally only like fifty thousand people did the same. Ugh, fuck me,” the noise that follows from my mouth/back of my throat can be reasonably described as some sort of dying animals mating call. I plop my upper body on their bed oooh they just cleaned the sheets between the lumps of parents’ bodies.
Mom reaches to tuft the scruff of my hair to physically reassure me before verbally doing so; “Harvey, it doesn’t matter that much. You’re probably gonna get into at least one of the schools you actually applied to. Granted, The Vanguard will be an amazing opportunity for you if you get in. Otherwise, you didn’t spend enough time on it to be worried.”
I lift my face off of the bed to respond but strain my already strained neck. “I’m not getting into any of those schools and I’m gonna die uneducated and unfulfilled. I need to talk to Ms. Grant again tomorrow to get a more solid plan. I debated whether or not I should just submit my common app to The Vanguard but decided that I would’ve had less of a chance getting in than entering the lottery.”
“Son,” Dad, “why are you stressing about this so aggressively? You don’t even like school now.”
“Yeah, my point exactly. But you guys have hyped college up since I was like negative three years old. I kind of just assumed that would be the direction my life would go.”
“Who knows?” I’m propped up on my elbows now, “This could have been the turning point for me but I’ve ruined it and now I’m gonna sulk until I find out whether or not I’ve gotten in in three and a half days and then sulk until I find out whether or not I’ve gotten into those other schools in two and a half months,” and sink my head back into the crevice of my arms.
“Well, you go ahead, honey. Sleep it off for tonight, huh?”
“Yeah fine I know you guys are just trying to bone. Neither of you has showered yet, which, you’re already in your bed and that’s kinda gross but you do you. Goodnight, love you guys,” and before I could close the door behind me my dad called after asking “Did anybody tell you that they loved you today?”
“I do,” Mom first, then Dad.
“What’d you think?” My body unsettled by my shaking legs.
“I’ll say that it’s a great essay. I have a few nitpicky grammar notes but otherwise, I’m very impressed. Would you care to walk through it together?”
“Nah, I think if it’s just grammar I’m fine. Unless you have anything you think I can expand on?”
“I think no more backstory is really needed on why you have such a critical teeth-brushing routine; you’ve given a lot of attention to that. Do you have anything you wanted advice on?”
“No. But I did wanna tell you that I submitted my lottery app to The Vanguard yesterday and almost cried when I saw the numbers. At this point probably 500,000 people did the same.”
“Just. Keep. Working. You have your backup plan. Did you re-structure your list like I said? Apply to the schools you want to apply to but make sure you give attention to more foundation schools,” Her voice was breathy at the end of the speech, exhausting all of her reassurance in just five periods and one question.
Okay. Resigned, “Okay.”
“You’ll know in two days. You can be patient. Just don’t forget to submit your other apps. If you don’t at least apply to Willamette or Lawrence I’m going to be very disappointed in you.”
And in each class for the next two days, I lose myself in my blinks and shakes and giving attention to all of the negatives that could happen in two days or two months. Negatives, a list: I could not get in anywhere I could live with my parents forever I could strain my growth but does anyone stop growing I could definitely stay the same in the same place while everybody I know except everybody in the grades below me starts to grow in different directions and my direction stays the same and everybody in the grades below me is an idiot and it’s too bad that I’m probably gonna die in this town.
(Continued): My parents are gonna stop loving me and resent me for never leaving the house like Esther do I resent Esther for coming back no I don’t do Mom and Dad resent her for coming back literally they don’t she’s doing everything she needs to be happy well I could be happy too.
Other thoughts come up, too. I remind myself to give as much attention to the positive as I do the negative. But, eh, that’s not nearly as self-deprecating. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.
The email arrives a little too on-the-dot. 10:00 am to name the dot. Addressed to me, from The Vanguard:
Dearest Harvey Brenner,
I re(smile fades)gret to inform you that you have not been accepted into The Vanguard’s lottery program for the upcoming fall term. We had a strong pool of applicants for this year’s lottery. Fortunately that doesn’t really matter because it’s a lottery. No competition. No hard feelings. I understand that this news may be quite taxing. It may not be taxing at the same time. However, in terms of the former we hope that you will take the necessary measures of self-care.
Keep in mind; the current winners of our lottery have not yet confirmed their spots to join our student body in the fall. Every year we have applicants that make the mistake of applying to another, less formidable school through the Early Decision process. When this does occur, we run our lottery applicants through the system another time until the vacant spaces are filled.
You have my best wishes,
Dean of Admission and Lottery Program
It’s some time in February and volleyball preseason is over. I’ve missed eight serves and only landed in the net twice today in practice. I am not on a roll. I take a water break to center my mental game.
To be fair though, my coach is having us do this weird ass thing (ass thing) where we approach and attack the ball following the bump, rather than after the set. His incentive being that if we pull it off correctly we could successfully gain one whole point in a game and I guess never use it again in the same game and I guess try to gain momentum back in a game. I guess. Weird ass thing.
I’m playing right, aka back, hitter when I get back from my water break.
The ball is in play and it’s a “Down ball!” somebody shouts on my side of the court, I think in the back row. Jeremy moves between Jeremy 2 and I as we shift back for the ball to come over the net. Steph passes it to Jeremy, the first one, while I call for a set because I’m ready. I’m ready. I’m ready. Jeremy, first again, sets it to the outside (left) first. We shoot and it’s Leon making the attack. At this point, I’m showering in the sweat that’s draining from my pores. They send it back and it’s their outside hitters turn so I’m blocking him and him is Pillow (the first year, apparently he fucks his pillow) and I send that shit back to the ground on opposite side of the net. This back-and-forth goes back-and-forth until we win the set, and the scrimmage, in thirteen more points. We didn’t get a chance to pull off the weird ass thing that coach wanted us to but that’s mostly because it would literally never work.
Mom’s voice occupies the periphery of my mind at dinner. “How was your day,” per usual and hers was good. Dad’s too. Esther has a new friend crush on the bag boy at the grocery store and she says it like “I definitely have a friend crush on the new bag boy at the grocery store.”
I haven’t showered yet. It’s the first thing I’m gonna do when dinner is over.
I’m naked in my room to hear the ding. Actually, it’s more like a schwoop that starts out high with the schwo- and mellows out to a more neutral note for the –op.
Dearest Harvey Brenner,
Six applicants declined The Vanguard’s offer to participate in our Lottery Program for the upcoming fall semester. The first of these students applied Early Decision to Stanford and was henceforth obligated to commit to the university once accepted. The second, gap year, trying to find oneself. The second’s offer from The Vanguard will translate to next fall. Three declined to offer a reason for their absence. Four’s father wants four to take over the family farm and that’s a pity. Five and Six both eloped to run away from home for separate reasons. Also, Five and Six did not elope with each other. The Vanguard has made it a point to send each of these students a flag branded by the institution as condolences for their absence.
Your name was confirmed in the third spot in place of the student that neglected to reason their absence. A computer chose your name out of 697,348 other names and here I am, reaching out to extend The Vanguard’s offer in hopes that you will not make the mistake of not taking it. To elaborate on said offer, a list:
- The Vanguard is offering you the chance of an education that is absolutely free. The institution covers all textbooks and meal plans and housing costs.
- You are 1 of 50 students to be accepted into this program. Each of you is coming from a background equally as vivid and profound as the next. This fact is not meant to separate you from other attendants of The Vanguard, but to help you understand the circumstances that will provide the foundation for your growth at our school.
- You will find support here. You will find everything you need to reach out for support here.
- Harvey, you are not going to let yourself lose this opportunity.
We will be offering to fly you out to visit campus in the coming weeks. Our Lottery Program begins with a spring orientation to allow students that have been accepted a chance to engage with our community as soon-to-be members. During this visit, you will have the chance to meet with me one-on-one, attend several classes in various subject areas, and meet with your potential advisor(s). Our spring preview week is set for the 12th to the 17th of March. Spring break for you, right? You will receive another email in the coming days with steps to confirm your place for our preview week. I sincerely hope you will consider the offer The Vanguard has given to you. Please reach out to us if you have any questions and confirm your place at The Vanguard by the 1st of May.
Dean of Admission and Lottery Program
“WHAT FUCK MOM DAD FUCK ESTHER HOLY SHIT I GOT IN I MADE THE LOTTERY FUCK,” ecstatic. Smile gained. I’ve literally got tears in my fuckin eyes my eyes are bleeding tears. Still naked, I run down the stairs.
Their reactions only confirm and validate the letter I just read.
I go back to my room and lock the door behind me so I can be excited and masturbate and cry in the shower with no interruptions.
After the fact, I’m lying in my bed and of course, I can’t sleep. What how. I’m obviously gonna accept the offer like what the fook my body is shaking stop shaking nah it’s okay I know you’re excited but holy jeez this is incredible I wonder what it’s gonna be like I hope the people are nice holy shit I’m probably gonna meet the love of my life but like maybe and also I’m gonna get to do so much fun shit I wonder what the other lottery students are like I bet they’re all pretty neat I hope they all go to the preview week is there a Facebook page I should check. And I search up “The Vanguard Class of 2018” on Facebook to so easily find an official page with all members of the potential class of 2018. My request to join the page isn’t accepted right away but I spend more than a minute/an hour stalking all of the members on the page exciting myself even more aggressively. Everybody looks so dope. I’m not sure what that means but they do.
I close my eyes intending to sleep until about 2:30 when I successfully do so. The email is what wakes me up at 9 the next morning.