Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Gigi Hartzheim’s College Application Personal Statement

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Prompt 5. Topic of your choice. 250 words minimum.

My first impression of the men's shelter was War of the Smells. Gag-strong disinfectant versus a mildew, sweat, and excrement triple threat. With stinging nostrils and grim forebodings, the other volunteers and I stepped into the facility's greeting hall and shared one thought: "It's vacation -- why aren't we at the pool, laying down the base for this year's tan?"
A community assistance mission had drawn us to Eastside Shelter. North High School's Key Club, which I'm the president of, co-sponsored a Habitat for Humanity service project during Spring Break. The men who rely on this dwelling include alcoholics and addicts, the physically impaired, the luckless and hopeless, and one exceptional visionary. For an entire day, 12 teen-aged volunteers toiled alongside these indigents. We stripped thick paint off wood, scrubbed mold from windows, and rootered gunky drains with plumbing snakes. At the end of the day, the building shone and looked more habitable, some pampered students were reminded of our socioeconomic advantages, and I had befriended the most influential person of my life.

Jubal Crews and I teamed up in the kitchen. He wielded a putty knife, while I aimed a hairdryer to soften caked layers of trim paint for easier scraping. Home Depot had donated our dust masks and goggles. Six feet tall, unwilling to remove his heavy rucksack, hindered by early-onset arthritis, my partner Jubal was Zen concentration incarnate with bright blue eyes. Like an old-time wanderer, he seemed to carry worlds of secrets in his heart and mind. When we took a sandwich break, he told me he was 31, a mix of many races, and a citizen of Planet Earth. The longer we talked, the more dazzled I was by his captivating soul, like that of a prophet.

In a ramshackle shelter kitchen I discovered that a man stripped of every typical success marker can still abound in the merits that define a leader -- acceptance, diligence, passion for justice, and knowledge. Abandoned by his family at age 16, Jubal had been penniless for years at a stretch. Impoverished as he was, he'd put himself on the line, advocating for the disabled, picking tomatoes in solidarity with farm workers, and protesting the World Trade Organization in Seattle. Only someone who's not a slave to convention can be so selfless and simultaneously self-content.

I was awed to be taken into his confidence. My labor felt fueled by a deeper purpose after lunch. We stripped all the kitchen trim and brushed sealant over the exposed wood. When the sun dipped low and the Habitat project wound down, panic struck. I dreaded having to part with this person who had expanded my frame of reference and become so essential to my being. I wanted to delve deeper into his profound consciousness. And Jubal, it turned out, reciprocated my desire.

We have fused our separate journeys into one. Through him, I learned the ecstasy that comes from faith in a power greater than oneself. Jubal said that even if you never believed in a deity before, when you're homeless, each day that you wake up alive on the sidewalk, you thank God. He showed me the precious cargo in his backpack -- copies of The Rights of Man, The Upanishads, I and Thou, A Season in Hell -- and shared his wise analysis of these classics.

Our relationship might seem dangerous in some people's eyes. It wouldn't apply to any items on Bishop Frake College's approved list of Hobbies, Athletic Activities, and Extracurricular Undertakings. But other topics I could discuss in this application -- my Amigos trip to Bolivia or the photo I took of our school's star basketball player in the throes of a leg spasm (a shot that won first place in a national photojournalism contest) -- would be far less significant. Bonding with Jubal has been a learning opportunity, consciousness-raising experience, and athletic endeavor. As topics of choice go, our love hits all the hot buttons.

Due to county health resource restrictions, Jubal, heartbreakingly, doesn't always have access to medications for maintaining an even emotional keel. Before I met him, he was sleeping in North Park near the train track or on the dry artificial turf at Bobby Bonds Park, where the police patrol 'til long after midnight and arrest vagrants. That's why, even though confinement in the shelter agitates Jubal, he moved in during a freak cold snap in February.

Yet hardship does not determine his identity. Spending several overnights together unveiled to me the rare individual some might not see in him. We have opened ourselves fully to one another. Despite the persistent, oozy rash I've contracted and an ongoing cramp in my groin, I relish every exquisite intimacy Jubal has lavished upon me.

So, Mom, how's this for your ultimate nightmare? Step away from the computer -- PLEASE!

As soon as I mentioned my application essay, I knew you were burning with curiosity and would search my hard disk files. For violating my privacy, this is what you get! Actually, the rough draft I wrote in longhand during English class is in my locker at school. I'll show you a serious personal statement in the fall. Your input will be welcome then.

P.S. I'm not applying to Bishop Frake in Glendale, even though you went there. U Mass and Wetmore Film Institute are my top choices. Also, I'm going to prom with Josh Cochran. He's not homeless or sick; he's a senior with a shaved head and diamond ear stud, which I expect you NOT to comment on when he picks me up. He got into Penn and Dartmouth. Jubal Crews does not exist. Will you pay for a prom dress and my share of the party limo rental?


Mindela Ruby received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley and works as an adjunct college professor and literary consultant. Her two sons, in their mid-twenties, remain a source of endless delight. She has completed and is shopping the novel Nymphomaniacs Anonymous. Please visit the Mindela Ruby Facebook Page.


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Cool story, Ruby. Of course I'm not sure the mother would have made it all the way to the end. At least I know a few mothers that would have run screaming from the room when they got to the rash. Nice work.
As someone who has helped many university-bound students with their applications, I was drawn to this story and immediately struck by how well it captures and then slyly satirizes the "high achiever" style. Then came the surprising and delightful ending. Very well crafted and my thanks to Mindela Ruby for a witty read.
Great. Nice see the story here.
How fun and wonderfully written. It does speak to that funny quirk about motherhood: I want you to grow, thrive, be your best/biggest/brightest shining-light self. But be perfectly safe while you are doing it. Thanks
I found myself wincing at how finely a line Ms. Ruby draws between the absurd demands we place on our kids to engage in their passion, but to do so within reason. And I was also struck by how much our kids want to do just this to please us. Nice piece, Ms. Ruby.
I loved this story--ill, rich, rhythmic, funny! I look forward to reading more of your work, Ruby.
F-ing hilarious! Talk about a subversive teenager! Love it, love it, love it.
Super fun piece. I loved the way the essay takes you in, and you're thinking that the admissions folks are really going to love this essay....then there's the bit about the rash and you slowly realize what's going on, as does the mom. Very skillfully done!
Oh, you are a clever writer...had me all the way to the end, and then, WHAM! Reminds me of being a teenager, and having two diaries. The fake one written for my mother's eager eyes, "hidden" under the corner of my mattress--the real one stealthily concealed by, of all things, the stack of text books on my desk. Hats off to you for showing us how much fun you had while writing this piece. And I'm relieved you don't really have a rash.
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