I believe in the emancipation of one’s emotions through essays. Not only does it create a sense of pathos to boost one’s persuasiveness, it’s also a little bit healing. Writing things down and then burning the paper or destroying it in some equally caustic manner is a waste of time. No one knows what you’ve felt; they’re silent screams, just like cutting. But in an essay, you can be assured that some teacher, as distant as she is in class—miles of tiles away at the whiteboard—is connecting directly to you through the words you’ve scribbled on paper. For the entirety of the five minutes it takes her to read it, you’ve got all attention on you. If it’s truly evocative enough, maybe you’ll get seven.
However, there are a number of hazards that one must skirt in this cautious revealing of the self. I don’t want people to know me; I’m afraid of that spider-web connection, of getting too close when no one can assure me that they won’t dash my identity like waves upon rocks, a haphazard ignorance of an issue. No, it’s better to pawn something off as fiction if anyone asks. That way, when they solemnly prod you to reach for help, you can take on a blithe personality and shrug a blank, complacent “no.” You can always fake joy in person, but felt-tip pen bleeds through real feeling.
Anxiety fills me before I turn each assignment in, and I linger over whether I should allow this stranger to become someone not-so-strange. I wonder which is more important to me—my good grades or my shield of anonymity. When I inevitably opt for passing the class, I place my paper—a manuscript piece of my own psyche—into a red plastic basket and shift uneasily, my eyes darting from the made-in-China carrier of my fate to my oblivious teacher to my white-knuckled regret and hesitation. I tremble in relief when my words wander back to me and there are no marks in a foreign handwriting beckoning my presence after class or inquiring about my welfare or, the very worst, a simple sad face, two dots and a frowned crease with an onyx teardrop. Tacit recognition follows me from then on, and for a while, this suspicion stops progress until I can no longer concentrate on damming the suppressed words that hum and writhe in my tell-tale keeper of ink and secrets far darker.
A window to one’s soul may be in the eyes, but an essay is a door. Each year, I slowly twist the handle and crack open that door, only to slam it shut in unspoken frustration and sit behind it, preventing an intruder, when the well-meaning grader asks about my writing. No more puzzle pieces then, however nicely knit the prose is that stems from it. From that point on, the only thing that flows from my pen is ink.
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