Working in college admissions at Emerson College, I read literally hundreds, if not thousands of essays a year.
These essays, written by a name on a screen, are part of an application to college. My job is to use the information presented to form a more complete picture of the applicant and make a decision as to what happens next.
Most students never know who reads their essay, who gets to see the vulnerability, wisdom, humor, or faith they put into these carefully constructed pieces of work. It is an incredibly raw experience.
While I do not have memory or access to what I wrote for my own college essay in 2009, I do have this work here below. I have written about regret for Outsports previously. If I were applying for college today, I would write about bringing together two identities in my life that present a picture of whom I am.
My hope in writing this is to show LGBT youth who are actively involved in sports that they can bridge the gaps in their lives and thrive in doing so.
MY NEW COLLEGE ESSAY
With the palm of my hand and the edges of my fingertips, I begin using a force of motion to dribble the basketball in an empty gym. The gym is empty because I am by far the first one here, earlier than anyone else because I need to be. An empty gym with a basketball hoop is far from loneliness for me. Rather, the sounds of a clunk off the rim on a missed shot or the pounding of the leather on the hardwood floor all bring me peace and joy.
Not many people find peace and joy in something so simple. The simplicity of moments like this are what brought me to love the game of basketball again. These moments of solitary confinement between the four walls of a gym, four sidelines of a court and in between two rims remind me of one thing. Have you ever found peace in something so empty? An empty gym is that for me. The lights on, no music in the background. Just the sound of the leather ball to the mahogany hardwood floor, the squeaking of shoes, and the velvety sound of a swishing basketball through a hoop. Peace.
This is where I feel at home. This is the definition of escapism, finding a place where I am all my own and no one can take anything away from me. It is here that I do not feel the pressures of my peers, my family, my teachers, or any other figure in my life to be something I am not. I am not hiding anything when I am here. Here and now is where I am unapologetically and authentically Mike. There is a freedom in being who you are at your very core. The peaks and valleys will be there, without a doubt. However, persevering through this, and being yourself, is so important. Regardless of age, or background, we all have the ability to be ourselves. It does not cost us money; it does not cost us time. What it may cost you, at most, is the people in your life who do not embrace you for who you are, or the things that come along with those people.
For the longest time these concepts felt foreign to me. This foreign feeling felt like I was occupying a space meant for someone else, the game of basketball trying to tell me that I was not wanted and did not fit in. That I was not worthy of the confinement in-between the lines and hoops, the walls bringing it all together. It brought me a sense of betrayal-a game I had dedicated my entire life to and countless hours practicing and playing, telling me it was meant for someone else? It was my hardest break up.
Imagine dedicating so much of yourself to something, whether it be art, sports, writing, reading, anything that makes your heart tick. How would you feel if it was all taken away from you, ripped away from something you did not understand and could not admit? I chose to be a basketball player, but I never chose to be anything else. I never made a conscious decision to struggle with whom I was, and in doing this, face the reality of losing the love and appreciation of those around me. I just wanted to play basketball, to feel that freedom and wild spirit while running 90 feet in-between two hoops.
But as time went on, the inner turmoil that I was struggling to suppress began rearing its ugly end. With every dribble I took on the court, the suppressed ideology of a life I wanted became more like the life I was never going to live. Every movement, every dribble, every moment of impact on a court pushed the game further away.
I was fighting to stay in this relationship with my beloved sport while I felt the sport was trying to break it off. This period of turmoil eventually won out, and I lost the love I thought I had for the game. The tragedy of growing up as a millennial won over, and my sexuality was a point of every conflict in my life. I could not be gay, an athlete, a brother, a son, a nephew, a friend, a neighbor because nobody wanted me. I went on through this period feeling stripped of the very thing that made me.
It was not until I spent years away from playing the game — those years spent coming to peace and comfort with my sexuality — that I could begin dribbling forward again. With every movement I felt that joy and happiness come rushing back into me like a thrilling victory. Every dribble was a major moment in life, and with each passing dribble, I conquered a move in life, alternating between my left and right hand. Had I won the greater game? I had learned long ago that life is the greater game, and that you do not always win. You cannot always win. However, time away from the thing that defeated me previously, amongst other life events, seemingly brought me back into this relationship. It healed the Charley Horse I got when I was dehydrated, the bruises I got when setting picks and the tenderness in my back when taking a charge. They healed the confusion of sexually confused young adult who thought that he would never be able to merge the two things together that were the most significant parts of his identity.
A basketball player and a gay man. Representation lacked, resources lacked, but by the grace of a higher power, I got to where I am today. I willingly embrace these vastly different spectrums of my life. I can express myself as a confident gay man, screaming “Yas queen!” as I walk through life, then quickly switching into shoes made by Nike and telling someone to come at me harder. I wait for that moment of impact that reminds me why I love this game. I love the challenges; I love the things in my life that have caused me to feel growing pains.
While no game is perfect, and not every day in the gym is fun, I try to remember that some days are about the countless sprints just to get to the finish line, and others are about the fundamentals that make the play beautiful. When you bring these together, you get to where you want to be. A point of solidarity. A place of comfort. A sense of belonging.
The truth is, I am just happy to be home again.