Feature image from tumblr.com.
Victoria and I weathered applications season like we’d weathered the rest of high school: together.
Except this time, instead of walking her through her crushes over the phone, I listened to her mini-freakouts about sending transcripts and SAT scores. Instead of listening to my outlandish plans for the future (“Let’s run away and start an indie band!”), she lent a patient ear as I worried over the prospect that I might get rejected by every college and end up a hobo, kicked out of the Si family.
(Just kidding. My parents love me.)
Joined at the Hip
As Victoria and I struggled through our applications and essays and recommendations and general anxiety, both of us couldn’t help but feel like there was an elephant in the room. Adcoms had no way of knowing that we were best friends — to them, we were just two applicants from the same school, both fighting for a spot at their revered institutions. No relation. In fact, we were basically competing against each other.
For a while neither of us brought it up, but the thought has definitely crossed my mind — of course we wanted to go to the same school, if at all possible. Our school lists were nearly identical. But what if we didn’t both get in?
Our class ranks and academics were comparable. She was our salutatorian; I was only one rank behind her. We were mostly in the same extracurriculars, with a few variations. Most of our teachers said that we were “joined at the hip” and they were right, pretty much. We were rarely seen without each other. She could show up at my house while I was away and my parents would still let her in (it’s happened before). It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that our chances at schools were relatively similar — right?
But there were differences; I scored higher on my standardized tests. She had aimed higher than me, applying to HYP and a few other big names that I didn’t dare venture into.
If they took her, it’d be stupid of her to not go — but at the same time, we’d be separated. For my high school senior self, something like this was almost unthinkable, but I don’t know if she felt the same way. And I definitely didn’t want to be the reason she goes to a school that’s below her level.
Sometime in January, after most of our apps had been sent off, I finally decided to break the ice on the topic.
We had been on a long phone call about nothing in particular. I remember I was rolling around on the bed; it was a Saturday evening. Conversation had gradually lulled to a natural stop — we had been talking about an ideal situation in which we both got into UPenn. For some reason, though neither of us have ever been in or near Philly, it had become our dream school.
I bit my bottom lip, feeling the warmth of the phone on my face radiate onto my right cheek.
“Hey, but what if we don’t get into the same school?”
The words staccato-ed into the conversation unceremoniously like marbles from a bag; my voice scattered and grew weak.
“What…do you mean?” asked Victoria evenly, with a tone that signaled she knew perfectly what I meant.
“Like. Come on. You know colleges are weird. The odds of us both getting somewhere are ridiculously slim.”
“No, you mean the odds of us both getting somewhere good are ridiculously slim.”
“Okay, yeah, that. I guess we could both go to the local community college.”
Victoria made a sniffling sound; she was probably sick.
“But you wouldn’t be happy there, would you?” she asked. That question could have been rhetorical.
“Neither would you.”
We both wanted to see more of the world — this we agreed on ages ago. The bedroom community we lived in was wonderful for growing up, but it wasn’t a good place for adventuring and exploring. It was too safe – we knew it inside out and backwards. It’d be impossible for either of us to get lost here.
I took a shallow breath and prepared to break the silence that Victoria didn’t fill.
“Listen. I just want you to know,” I began. “We know that the odds aren’t good. But like, if you get into a really good school that I didn’t get into, don’t let me hold you back, y’know? If Princeton or some super elite college decides to take you, don’t worry about me. Go for it and don’t look back; no hard feelings.”
I internally cringed at that last line; since when had I learned to be so cheesy?
“No, I’ve been thinking about the same thing actually. You too. Don’t go to some school that’s not at your level just for me. Although I honestly think that you’ll probably be the one leaving me behind, if anything.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, genuinely confused.
“You’re so good. And you do all these extracurriculars. You have leadership positions. You scored higher on tests. You can probably get into one of these fancy places.”
At that moment, I could feel my eyebrows raise and my lips part. I’d always thought that Victoria was the better one — people knew that she was second in our year, and she was brilliant. She was the one that shone brighter; I was merely a shadow next to her. She had so many people believing in her talents (including me), believing that she’d go so far and make us all proud.
“Yeah, but you have the higher GPA, and it’s not like you don’t have any of these things either,” I said. “You’re rank two. It just wouldn’t make sense if you didn’t get into some big-name school. Plus, I don’t think I’m really all that compared to all these other people.”
“Don’t say that about yourself. You’re one of the only people to get an A in AP Lit this semester. If you say that, what about everybody else?” she asked, going for my jugular. English was my favorite subject and my singular strength.
“You know what, I’m not having this conversation with you. We’re not having a ‘who’s more miserable’ competition right now,” I said — parrying, retreating. “Can we just not talk about this anymore?”
“You’re the one that brought it up.”
I sighed. I thought I heard another sigh through the phone. Both sighs relieved the conversational tension only slightly.
“But yeah, just don’t worry. I don’t want to hold you back,” I said.
How Far We’ve Come
It’s been almost three years since we’ve both had that conversation, and we’re still friends that talk to each other on an almost-daily basis.
We also happen to go to school on opposite sides of the country — she’s in Berkeley, California, and I’m in Ithaca, New York. It seems that we’ve both kept our word; neither of us even suggested going to the school we liked the most that accepted both of us (UC San Diego, if you were wondering).
Are there times that I wish we were at the same school? Absolutely. First semester freshman year was especially hard without Victoria, and both of us logged long hours on the phone with each other. I even started writing letters to her whenever I got stressed. She didn’t see all of them, granted, but it was a useful de-stressing exercise.
However, if I could choose to go to the same school as Victoria, I don’t think I would. I probably would have answered otherwise as a high school senior, but as a college junior I definitely would stand by our mutual decision to go to different colleges.
It was nice in high school, when it was just the two of us against the world. But conversely, we also became each other’s crutches. I wouldn’t have to work on some of my weaknesses because she’d always shield those for me, and she wouldn’t have to confront hers because I was there to support her. While this kind of “us against everyone” mentality might be good to have later on in life, I feel like at this point in my existence, it would’ve kept me from growing and changing as a person.
Without Victoria, I had to learn how to say ‘no’ to things for myself. While I used to be more passive in high school, I’ve now learned to become more assertive and a little more outgoing. I had to make new friends by myself, since I used to always have Victoria wherever I went. Attending college without my childhood best friend by my side led me to become more independent, more accepting of who I am, more daring, and more complex as a person. And honestly — as much as I still love Victoria, I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
But…wasn’t there tension?
That conversation years ago did make me realize one thing. We were almost arguing with each other, yes — but it was because we each thought the other was so much better. We both thought the world of each other, and because of this it was always so upsetting to see the other put herself down.
In a really weird way, there was emotional tension between us only because we loved and respected each other so much.
I still don’t know how this makes sense at all. Maybe it was because we were both so competitive and we just had a need to one-up each other in everything (partially true). Maybe it’s some hidden Freudian insecurities on both our parts — I don’t know. Admissions season does strange things to people.
But I think in hindsight, it was productive to have this conversation in the first place. I feel like this weird tension would have only gotten worse if we both decided not to bring it up. Between the two of us, at least, awkward conversations are better than stymied passive-aggressiveness.
Frankly, admissions season can be a hard time emotionally for everyone — even the people closest to you. And sometimes, the best thing you can do is to be patient, listen to each other, and talk things out.
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