Amanda Jessen

Amanda Jessen

Before last
summer, I professed to know the meaning of life. It
consisted of school, friends, and that fragile reality
we call “family.” I strapped myself to
books, took my AP tests, and prepared for the mindless
perpetuation of summer days.

Then I fell in
love. It was unpredictable and wholly unexpected. It
wasn’t, however, your typical boy meets girl, boy
holds girl’s hand, boy and girl have sex and
become a statistic in California’s tally of
underage pregnancies. I fell in love with a woman. What I
had internalized as preteen anxiety led to an
implosion of truth. I am gay. And I am the gay
daughter of an ultraconservative mother and stepfather,
the gay daughter of a former Marine, the gay granddaughter
of a community dignitary. All hell had broken loose.

I was sent to
live with my grandmother, no longer welcome behind the
facade of security known as “home.” But even
after hours of counseling meant to
“cure” me, I remained the person who I will
continue to be. Life as I knew it had changed, yet I
was still the same. Now my mother hopscotches between
acceptance and warnings of eternal damnation. One
morning she wakes up and cheerily butters my toast, and that
afternoon she anxiously curses and crosses herself in
my presence until she’s dizzy. Ultimately, I
hope to walk away with the comfort of family still
intact and the assurance that I am still who I was before
coming out, a neurotic overachiever who believes that
Stevie Nicks is her fairy godmother.

I have devised
ways of loving whom I want to love even within my foggy
surroundings, and I am the happiest I’ve been in
years. It seems that the best way to live a
misunderstood lifestyle is to smile right back at the

—An edited version of the essay that got Jessen,
18, into the University of California, Los
Angeles, where she will begin classes this fall

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