Personal statement for a Columbia Law transfer application
I sat in a pool of my brother’s blood. Right there in the spot where he ended his life. I wanted to be exactly where he had been, see what he saw, feel what he felt, think what he thought in those last few seconds before pulling the trigger. I wanted to get as close to being him as I could so that maybe I could finally understand him. Especially at that very moment. I’d been trying to understand my brother for years, and now, six months after his death, I believe I’ve started to and I’m realizing that I had understood him all along but neither of us knew it. The anguish that plagued my brother his entire academic career, the feelings of not fitting in, of not being good enough, the feelings of hopelessness… I recognize those. My brother lived his life in a dark tunnel of gloom and despair, and I have been inside that dark tunnel since the day I started at UM.
The difference between my brother and me is that he was always inclined to give up, and I, on the other hand, am always inclined not to give up. I stay committed to a situation to the point of foolishness. I ignore the signs telling me to get out because I so desperately don’t want to be seen as a quitter. So I stayed at UM despite the signs. Is that as misguided as taking a gun to my head? Not nearly. But it is nonetheless foolish. And I’ve started to see that. Trying to go back to my studies in the first few months after my brother’s passing was again my attempt at not quitting. Only this time, something was nagging at me, a little voice telling me that stepping away didn’t mean I was giving up, it just means that my sanity and well-being depended on my being somewhere else for now. I think my brother left me a gift; the gift of clarity. Now that I’ve finally started to understand him a little bit more, I wish he’d been able to see his own situation the way I see mine so that instead of giving up he would have found the courage to make the necessary changes in his life; to stop punishing himself for perceived failures when they weren’t really failures but just pursuits that weren’t right for him.
I’ve been with my family now since the tragedy. I’ve cared for my father who was in cancer treatment and overwhelmed at his son’s passing. I took charge of my brother’s final arrangements, right down to what he would wear. I oversaw the execution of his will. I finalized everything. I even pressed the send button on the final text message he drafted on his phone, but left unsent; a goodbye message to my father. I’m still understanding him a little more each day. I try to see things as he might have seen them, and then I acknowledge what it is I’m meant to learn from it.
It’s time for me to resume the path of my own life. No, not resume, change. This catalytic event has made me see that I have to make a move. I don’t belong at UM. It’s been crushing my spirit and I’ll never reach my potential there. In that final moment, for my brother, the path must have seemed so clear to him. I can understand that feeling because I am having that moment now. I can see exactly what’s wrong with my picture. But I’m choosing a different way to change it. I want and need to be where I can thrive, where I fit the culture and vice versa, and where I will be able to connect with more people like my brother and myself; people whose excellence is imbedded in not fitting the mould of excellence, people whose normalcy is anything but normal, people whose differences are what make them the same, people who often feel like they don’t fit in. I don’t have an obvious diversity. On the surface I look just like any other white girl with a normal upbringing. But inside, I am that gay girl, that fat girl, that girl in the hijab… I am just like everyone else who has to work so very hard at feeling just like everyone else.
Looking back now, I feel silly having waited this long or needed such a dramatic event to knock the clarity into my sightline. But here it is. My brother made a decision to change his situation. For him it seemed like the only option. His decision has shaken me to my very core and made me realize that I too have a decision to make because, like him, the path I’ve been on simply wasn’t working for me. As difficult as it is to acknowledge, I appreciate our similarities; the fears, the demons, and yes, the depression. But what I survive on is not our similarities, it’s our differences. I understand my brother’s journey very well. I even understand the moment now. I can easily see how at any given point in my life, I might find myself right there where he was, but I am choosing to take another path.
That’s the difference.