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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 madness.

--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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