• Yale Will Not Save You

    Esmé Weijun Wang

    Winter 2019

    The moment I received my acceptance letter from Yale University was one of the happiest of my life. I stood at the bottom of my driveway, where two tin mailboxes nestled against one another, and found a large envelope waiting inside. Large envelopes from publications were a bad sign; they almost always bore my own handwriting, and usually held a rejected manuscript and a perfunctory note. But a big envelope from a university—an envelope with instructions, with welcome, with a full-color look-book—that was news. I stood at the mailboxes, shrieking. I was not the type of girl to shriek, but I was seventeen, and I had gotten into Yale. I was to be in Jonathan Edwards College, Class of 2005.

    I was an overachieving child, the daughter of twentysomething Taiwanese immigrants who came to Michigan and then California with their baby girl. My parents were broke. They applied for food stamps; they told one another that someday they’d be rich enough to eat at Pizza Hut any time they wanted. Eventually we moved for the sake of a different school district, and while raising me and my baby brother in a largely white small town, my parents told me that school was all-important and that I should always do my best. In elementary school, I assigned myself essays to write while on vacation. In fifth grade, I wrote a two-hundred-page novel about a kidnapped girl who becomes a cat. Soon my parents were both working in tech jobs at the height of the boom in Silicon Valley, and were no longer broke. They never spoke the words “American dream,” but that was what their lives signified, and so in middle school I chose to take a 7:30 a.m. class in C++ programming, and I wrote a short story that my English teacher went on to teach even four years after that. In high school, when I told my mother that I was thinking of suicide, she suggested that we kill ourselves together, which I didn’t fully recognize as the bizarre response it was until I told the story again and again over the following decades of my life. I won a gold medal at the Physics Olympics, was a California Arts Scholar, and crossed the stage at graduation with a GPA that belied the hundreds of self-inflicted scars lurking beneath my nylon gown. I chose to go east for college because I wanted to get away from the chaos—the accusatory fights, the sobbing—that occurred inside our home too often to take note of.

    I dated someone briefly at the end of my senior year of high school who broke up with me because I was undiagnosed and frightening. Before he ended our relationship he invited me to a poolside barbecue. He wore girls’ jeans. We stood around the glassy pool at his apartment complex and his mother asked me what I was doing after graduation.

    “I’m going to Yale,” I said.

    She did a double take. “Good for you,” she said. Even back then my instability was clear to most.

    “I went to Yale” is shorthand for I have schizoaffective disorder, but I’m not worthless.

    Yale is the third-oldest university in the country, after Harvard, which is the oldest, and the College of William & Mary, which was established in 1693. Yale used to be called the Collegiate School, but was renamed for Elihu Yale after a succession of gifts from the English merchant and philanthropist, including books, exotic textiles, and a portrait of George I. These generous donations, the sale of which helped to fund the construction of Yale College in New Haven, were vigorously encouraged by Puritan minister Cotton Mather, who also vigorously encouraged the Salem witch trials. In troubled Salem, babbling and odd movements could signify witchcraft. The bewitched Goodwin family children, he said, “would bark at one another like Dogs, and again purr like so many Cats.” We all know what happened to the witches.

    I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder the summer before I left for New Haven, the summer before the spring I was first hospitalized at Yale Psychiatric Institute (YPI). My then psychiatrist informed my mother and me that I had bipolar disorder. This diagnosis was the culmination of a month in which I demonstrated most of the classic signs of mania, including a hectic manner of speech and an uncharacteristic affair with a man eleven years my senior. Although the new diagnosis meant I required different medications than the ones I had been taking for depression and anxiety, she said, she would not prescribe me those new medications while I was under her care. It would be better if I waited until arriving at college, where I could have a doctor there prescribe the appropriate pills; the presumption was that my future psychiatrist would be able to monitor me appropriately. (Later my mother would tell me that had she truly understood what the doctor was saying, she never would have let me move cross-country to attend Yale.)

    When school started, I began to see a doctor at what was then called the Department of Mental Hygiene at Yale University Health Services. Stigma clouded the visits, but I quickly learned that I could pretend to be visiting the Gynecology Department, which was on the same floor. I would exit the elevator and wait a few beats for the doors to close behind me before finally turning right, where students kept their eyes on their textbooks, notebooks, or hands—on anything instead of one another; if we looked long enough, it was possible to recognize the instabilities lurking.

    The Department of Mental Hygiene didn’t believe in assigning students both a therapist and a psychiatrist, which would create the inconvenient need for back-and-forth communication, and so I saw a woman that year who served as both. She prescribed me Depakote, also known as valproate or valproic acid, which is an anticonvulsant used as a mood stabilizer. She returned again and again to the subject of my mother, whom she blamed for most of my emotional difficulties. During my first semester at Yale, my mother swelled and grew monstrous in my mind; she loomed as someone whose emotional lability had imprinted me with what I frankly called an inability to deal with day-to-day life.

    Much of the time, I told the doctor, I felt too sensitive to cope. I was in constant agony. I liked my doctor well enough, but I didn’t seem to be improving, and the skittish feeling beneath my skin warned of trouble. Eventually, I would stop sleeping for days at a time; then off I would go.

    Yale introduced me to swooning over course descriptions in the Blue Book; “shopping period”; my being openly queer; life without my family, whom I avoided calling for months; WASPS; the attitudes and postures of old money; goat cheese; people who bought six-hundred-dollar boots; the understanding that six-hundred-dollar boots existed; legacy students who’d known the fight songs since birth; Gothic architecture; Beinecke Plaza; Audiogalaxy; theory; statistical analysis; a shy young man in ill-fitting jeans I met at a party, who would eventually become my husband; 9/11 and the War on Terror; Islamophobia; Wong Kar-wai and In the Mood for Love; secret societies; falafel and lemonade; binge drinking screwdrivers; Animal Models of Clinical Disorders; being offered, but never taking, cocaine; carillon bells ringing out Handel and “(Hit Me) Baby One More Time” as I walked to class, or stared out my dorm window; how to dress for snow; saying “I love you” and meaning it; eggnog in December; feeling so very special, as though virtuous, simply because of where I went to school.

    Yale is mocked for its determination to be elite from the get-go—for fashioning itself in the likeness of Oxford and Cambridge, and then having acid dumped on itself to simulate age. Yale is, in the world of elite universities, a prepubescent girl swiping on mascara before the first day of middle school. Yale’s campus is still the most beautiful campus I know.

    Many of my classes, including Introduction to the Human Brain, took place in Linsly-Chittenden 102. Larger than a seminar room but smaller than a lecture hall, LC 102 is famous for an elaborate Tiffany window along one wall, titled Education. Art, Science, Religion, and Music are depicted as angels across its panes. The center section depicts Science surrounded by personifications of Devotion, Labor, Truth, Research, and Intuition.

    (Why is Intuition the provenance of Science? Why is Inspiration governed by the angel of Religion, which is to the right of it, and not by the angel of Art?)

    During a manic episode, I scribbled nonsense along the center and edges of my notebook pages, where I was ostensibly taking notes. The words crawled like spiders. Look. The edge why position not under where? Lit light like night. The center figure of Education was a trifecta of the things I wanted from my Ivy League schooling: Light—Love—Life.

    In the elevator, among a group of acquaintances—other members of an Asian American performance-art group I’d joined—the topic of the Mental Hygiene Department arose.

    Someone’s eyes widened. “Watch out for that place,” she said.

    “I have a friend who went there,” someone else said. “He stopped because he knew they’d put him in [Yale Psychiatric Institute] if he kept talking.”

    “They’ll put you in YPI for anything,” the first person said. “Never tell them you’ve thought about killing yourself,” they counseled me. I was a freshman. They were taking me under their wing, offering me wisdom. “Never tell them you’re thinking about killing yourself, okay?”

    I think about that advice now: never tell your doctor that you’re considering killing yourself. Yet this was sound advice, in the end, if I wanted to stay.

    Margaret Holloway, known as “the Shakespeare Lady,” hustled on campus by reciting Shakespeare for spare change. According to rumor, she’d once been a student at the esteemed Yale School of Drama, but had dropped out after a psychotic break. (In truth, she had graduated from the School of Drama in 1980, and experienced the first symptoms of schizophrenia in 1983.) Like most students, I’d heard that the Shakespeare Lady possessed encyclopedic knowledge.

    I encountered the Shakespeare Lady only once. One night, my then boyfriend, now husband, C., and I decided to pick up dinner at Gourmet Heaven, the bougie convenience store on Broadway that carried an astonishing variety of Haribo gummies. I’d never seen such thick fog in New Haven. Holloway appeared like something out of a dream: thin, and asking us for twenty dollars. She needed it to get into the women’s shelter, she told us, and she wanted a specific brand of yogurt that she could get only at Gourmet Heaven, but she was banned from the store because of the corrupt police. I know now that in 2002 she was arrested for blocking the entrance of Gourmet Heaven, and apparently was arrested several times after that for other small crimes. In 2004, when I was no longer a student at Yale, she had gotten down to ninety pounds, and in 2009 she was in the local news for “cleaning up her act.” On that foggy night, I gave her more money than she’d asked for, and waited with her while C. went to buy the yogurt she’d requested. I didn’t ask her to recite Shakespeare.

    In 2002, I asked my therapist-slash-psychiatrist—not the woman I’d originally been assigned, but a man who became my doctor after my first hospitalization, and who looked like Gene Wilder—“Are there any students here with schizophrenia?”

    “Why do you ask?” he asked.

    I didn’t answer, but what I’d meant was: Is there anyone here who’s worse off than I am?

    The fog was still pressing its velvet paws to the windows when C. and I returned to his dorm that night. I rested my face against his shoulder, and he asked me what was wrong. I asked him if he thought I could become the Shakespeare Lady. If my mind might go so far it couldn’t make its way back.

    “It won’t happen to you,” he said, though I had asked a question that resisted reassurance, and I knew it. In truth, neither of us could know. Still, I needed to hear his promise that I would be okay. I would ask him variations on this question over the next decade or so: “I’m not going to be crazy forever, am I?” But we never spoke of the Shakespeare Lady again.

    Michelle Hammer did not go to Yale, but she was one of those mysterious college students with schizophrenia whom I tried to learn about through my Gene Wilder psychiatrist; I learned of her through the advocacy-focused clothing line she runs, called Schizophrenic.NYC. In high school, Michelle told me, she believed that her mother was trying to kill her; once she was accepted into college, where she would play lacrosse, she was relieved by the notion that she would be safe from harm. Within a few months at school, however, Michelle began to fear that her roommate was trying to kill her. It was at that point, she told me, that she came to a realization: “It’s me; it’s not everybody else. Why do I think this way?” Michelle went to the student health center. She hoped to be diagnosed with something, because the idea of being “crazy” scared her, and the promise of treatment offered some kind of hope. After an initial evaluation, she was told she had bipolar disorder, and made an appointment with a psychiatrist, who prescribed Zoloft. “It didn’t go well,” she said. “[The psychiatrist] never told me that these medications can make you more depressed or more upset. So I would take it, [but] I would not take it; I would take it; I would not take it, and then . . . So that’s all first semester going into the winter break.”

    It was during the winter that things got truly bad. There was a snowstorm, Michelle said, and classes were canceled. She was getting drunk in the dorm—a forbidden activity—when she began to become afraid: “I’m thinking, I’m gonna get in so much trouble. All the terrible stuff. I took a piece of glass and slit my wrist.”

    The girls down the hall found out. Someone from the university police department (UPD) showed up—“this six-foot-tall, humongous woman,” Michelle said—and tried to figure out what was going on. Everyone, including Michelle, was shepherded into the dorm’s common room.

    “So everybody’s in there,” Michelle said, “and we’re all in a semicircle around her . . . She goes, ‘I heard there’s a problem here. Everybody lift up your sleeves.’ So pretty much she starts on the left, everybody’s lifting up their sleeve and they’re all good. And she gets to me, and I go, ‘Yeah.’ And then she goes, ‘Well, I wanna see your arms.’ And I go, ‘Well, how about we just go into my room.’

    “’Cause this is about three feet away [from everybody else], and I could just show her in my room, ’cause it’s very embarrassing to do that to anybody. Especially in front of all these people.”

    According to Michelle, she turned around to go into her bedroom—and the woman from UPD grabbed the hood of her sweatshirt and threw her onto the floor. Michelle tried to crawl under her desk. “All of a sudden,” she said, “my neck gets stepped on with a huge boot. And she steps on me and she puts her pepper spray right in front of my face, and she says, ‘Don’t move or I’m gonna spray you.’” Finally, Michelle was handcuffed. Despite the woman’s repeated questioning, she continued to refuse to pull up her sleeve—even as she was pinned up against a wall on the floor—even as she kicked her leg out and booted the UPD officer straight in the face. In the end, the officer took Michelle to a hospital.

    It was clear, in hearing all of this, that Michelle remains resentful about how she was treated by the officer who came to assess the situation. Without prompting, Michelle gave me the full name of the woman. She said, “It took me about nine years to be able to tell that story.” It isn’t clear whether the officer was given crisis de-escalation training, or any kind of training at all in dealing with mentally ill students. I can easily picture the scenario: a campus cop goes into a dorm, knowing only that a student has cut her wrist. The dormmates are whipped into chaos because of alcohol and a snowstorm and the dramatic, self-destructive behavior of one of their own.

    Periodic blood tests need to be taken when on Depakote, the medication I was prescribed when I arrived at Yale—not only to monitor the level in the blood, but also to check the health of my liver. I’d had my blood tested several times before the spring of 2002. No one had ever told me anything was wrong.

    A few weeks before spring break, I started needing less sleep. Instead of growing tired at night, the day would crowd in on the empty space, demanding to be filled by activity. My thoughts skittered through like messages on ticker tape, and I wanted to run instead of walk; I punched a tree on Cross Campus, shuddering with an energy my body couldn’t contain. The mania was at first a welcome change from the inexplicable fifteen hours of sleep I often needed each night. As most manic episodes do, however, the mania swiftly escaped my control—my thoughts rearranged themselves into nonsensical, violent shapes, and soon I stopped sleeping completely. If anyone noticed, they kept it to themselves, although C. was concerned and said so. I’d told him about my diagnosis of bipolar disorder, but bipolar disorder had no visceral corollary for him. He not only lacked the experience to know what the illness truly meant, but he also had no plan for what to do in a psychiatric emergency.

    After the wild high came the low. My thoughts leaped to suicide—my entire life had been marked by illness and depression, and there was no reason to think that it wouldn’t continue in the same way. I was convinced that I would be depressed forever, though the previous week alone had proved this belief to be erroneous. My vision remained myopic and dim as I wrote two lists in a notebook, marking down the pros and cons of permanently removing myself from my life. The cons list was longer than the list of pros, but I knew that I was in trouble.

    Around this time, I received a phone call from the student health lab with the results of my blood work, which surprised me because they’d never called before. “Your liver looks fine,” they said, “but did you know that you’ve never had a therapeutic level of Depakote in your blood?”

    Upon hearing this, the clamor in my head soured, becoming what is known in mood-disorder parlance as a “mixed episode.” Such episodes occur when a person is experiencing symptoms of both a manic and a depressive phase, such as in episodes of agitated depression. It is considered a dangerous state to be in if that person is suicidal; a severely depressed person will find it hard to summon enough energy to plan and execute a suicide, but a severely depressed person shot through with norepinephrine is reckless enough to do both. My doctor, it seemed, had never adjusted my Depakote to a therapeutic dose while I was in her care. I couldn’t get over the incompetence. If she couldn’t be bothered, why should I bother to keep living when it was so hard to be alive? Suicide seemed like a good option, and yet I walked with my lists to the Mental Hygiene Department; despite the warnings I’d been given about expressing suicidal ideation to a Yale psychiatrist, I didn’t actually want to die. At Mental Hygiene, I was assigned to Urgent Care, and when the psychiatrist on call heard about the lists, I was dispatched to YPI. I wasn’t strapped down—I would be the next time, after taking an overdose—but I was placed in an ambulance. A nurse at Mental Hygiene reassured me that my doctor would meet me at the hospital. As it happened, she never came.

    After over a week at YPI, I reached a compromise with the dean and the head of psychiatry: I could stay at Yale if my mother came to stay with me, off campus, for the rest of the year. (Upon hearing of this plan, a friend who knew of my family history said, “I thought they wanted you to get better.”)

    My mother lived with me in a small two-bedroom apartment that was close to both my residential college and a stretch of loud bars. Slowly, our relationship improved, even if my illness didn’t. Between classes I escaped to the bathtub; because hot water was scarce in the apartment, my mother carried in stockpots heated over the stove. She made Taiwanese noodle dishes. She wrote elaborate medication charts on watercolor paper. She called my psychiatrist when I lay writhing on the floor, sobbing, caught in knotty torment.

    Somehow, I made it through that year. I had a summer away from Yale, at home in California, and then I went back in the fall, when the weather was still hot and damp like the inside of a feverish mouth. I was shaken, and wanted more than anything to be okay.

    I’m still trying to figure out what “okay” is, particularly whether there exists a normal version of myself beneath the disorder, the way a person with cancer is a healthy person first and foremost. In the language of cancer, people describe a thing that “invades” them so that they can then “battle” the cancer. No one ever says that a person is cancer, or that they have become cancer, but they do say that a person is manic-depressive or schizophrenic, once those illnesses have taken hold. In my peer-education courses I was taught to say that I am a person with schizoaffective disorder. “Person-first language” suggests that there is a person in there somewhere without the delusions and the rambling and the catatonia.

    But what if there isn’t? What happens if I see my disordered mind as a fundamental part of who I am? It has, in fact, shaped the way I experience life. Should the question be a matter of percentages of my lifetime, I’ve spent enough of this lifetime with schizoaffective disorder to see it as a dominant force. And if it’s true that I think, therefore I am, perhaps the fact that my thoughts have been so heavily mottled with confusion means that those confused thoughts make up the gestalt of my self; this is why I use the word “schizophrenic,” although many mental health advocates don’t.

    My friends with anxiety disorders, for example, tend to speak of anxiety as a component of their personalities. Laura Turner writes, in her essay “How Do You Inherit Anxiety?,” “It is from Verna Lee Boatright Berg that I inherited my long face, my quick hands, my fear that someday soon I will do something wrong and the world will come to a sharp end.” In their minds, there is no tabula rasa overlaid by a transparency of hypochondria, generalized anxiety disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder; such thoughts are hardwired into their minds, with no self that can be untangled from the pathology they experience. Another friend’s obsessive-compulsive disorder has calmed significantly since taking Prozac, but she continues to be most comfortable when things are tidy, even though her tidiness is no longer disruptive. She still washes her hands more thoroughly than anyone I know.

    There might be something comforting about the notion that there is, deep down, an impeccable self without disorder, and that if I try hard enough, I can reach that unblemished self.

    But there may be no impeccable self to reach, and if I continue to struggle toward one, I might go mad in the pursuit.

    I left Yale for good in early 2003, although I did not know at the time that it was the end. I’d been hospitalized for the second time at the institute—two times in one year, was the way the head of psychiatry put it, although it was two times in two school years—and because of this breach of etiquette, they asked me to leave.

    The dean at my residential college gave me the option of declaring my departure to be a voluntary medical leave. If I officially named it for what it was, he explained, an involuntary medical leave would be a black mark of which I could never rid myself. Offering me this choice was meant as a kindness, but I was unable to see anything that they did to me that month, including putting me in two-point restraints, as a kindness.

    Yale told me to leave immediately. I was not allowed to reenter campus, and so someone confiscated my student ID, and my busy father, who had flown from China to be with me, was tasked with packing my things. I was told to be at JFK on the same night that I left the hospital—so urgent was Yale’s desire for me to leave. But my father, in his largesse, instead arranged for C. and me to stay at the New Haven Hotel for a night. By then C. and I had been together for over a year; the next few years would be spent in a long-distance relationship, although at the time we had no idea how we’d manage to stay together. Upon my expulsion from Yale, we had one night to say goodbye.

    While C. and I sat with my father in his hotel room, talking things over before leaving for ours, my father’s phone rang. He answered it. It was someone from Yale. “Are you in New York?” they asked.

    “Yes,” he lied.

    The only thing I remember from our night in that hotel is that I fell asleep early while C. watched Show Boat. I would never return as a student again.

    In 2014, Katie J. M. Baker published an article in Newsweek titled “How Colleges Flunk Mental Health.” It was the piece I’d been waiting for—after blogging about my Yale experience, I’d received a flood of emails from students battling to stay in their colleges, students on enforced leave from their colleges, and former college students who, like me, were never allowed to return to school. In her article, Baker makes the case that psychiatric illness is punished by colleges and universities that instead ought to be accommodating students under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Rather than receiving help, mentally ill students are frequently pressured, as I was, into leaving—if not ordered to do so—by the schools that once welcomed them. The underlying expectation is that a student must be mentally healthy to return to school, which is difficult and unlikely to happen to the degree the administration would like. This was saying, essentially, that students should not have severe mental illness.

    How the ADA works for mentally ill students varies from school to school. I have no memory of Yale telling us anything about registering as a disabled student, though such an explanation might have been given. When I transferred to Stanford, in 2003, the Office of Accessible Education reached out to me in order to set up accommodations, which felt like a godsend. At the University of Michigan, where I received my MFA in fiction, it is possible to register a mental health condition as long as the diagnosed illness or disorder “substantially limits one or more major life activities.” “It is important to note,” the student-life website states, “that a mental disorder in or of itself does not necessarily constitute a disability.” A student seeking to register their disabling mental disorder must send a completed verification form, and if they qualify, they will be assigned a disability coordinator. This system is worlds better than it was when I researched disability accommodations for mentally ill students a handful of years before this writing. In 2009, I was also told, during my graduate-student-instructor training, to never give accommodations to students claiming to be depressed, because it was easy enough to pretend to be depressed.

    Baker adroitly points to the difficulties college and universities face when it comes to dealing with students with mental health issues: institutions of higher education fear liability, because no school wants to be sued over a student’s suicide, or held responsible for a mass shooting. Colleges and universities, according to many who live and work at them, can’t realistically be expected to give students with severe mental illness the treatment they need.

    What hope does exist for improved conditions rests in the hands of organizations such as the Office for Civil Rights, which is “actively developing policy” regarding best practices—although the progress of such policy development is opaque at best. The Saks Institute for Mental Health Law, Policy, and Ethics held a 2014 symposium called “Many Voices, One Vision: Assisting College and University Students with Mental Illness Make the Most of Their Academic Experience,” which included sessions on “reasonable accommodations” and “preventing fear, risk management, and miscommunication from derailing a successful academic experience.” The Jed Foundation, a national nonprofit that describes itself as “[existing] to protect emotional health and prevent suicide for our nation’s teens and young adults,” announced in 2014 that fifty-five colleges are examining their health services, with a focus on mental-health policies. A cursory online search, however, indicates that in higher education not much has changed for mentally ill students, who are still being regularly ejected for being too crazy for school.

    In a 2014 article in the Yale Daily News, Rachel Williams describes her experience with an evaluating official at Yale who, after hearing that she cut herself, told her that she needed to go home. “‘Well the truth is,’ he says, ‘we don’t necessarily think you’ll be safer at home. But we just can’t have you here.’”

    I went on a yearlong voluntary medical leave. I took classes at UC Berkeley and the California College of the Arts, and I worked as a web designer too. I dabbled in marketing. Always, I planned to go back to Yale, where C. was still taking classes. He was sane; he could still freely roam the campus and its outskirts. I made a list of things that I would do once I returned: go to more art shows, join clubs, make new friends. I concocted plans to live in an apartment off campus with an avant-garde blond and a pothead friend who had a crush on me.

    I flew to New Haven for four interviews that would determine whether I was fit to return. The only interview I remember is one in which a jolly man I’d never met told me I seemed ready to come back. I flew home to California and waited to hear back from them, and when I did, the answer was no.

    From an email I sent to Yale University’s head of psychiatry:

    Dear Dr. X,

    My mother and I left messages yesterday and today in hopes of reaching you, but we never heard back or received any hint of when we might possibly hear back. I thought I would try the email approach, although you are probably deluged with emails all of the time.

    I was surprised (as were all of my friends, family, etc.) to hear that I had not been readmitted, even though I had tried to prepare myself for the worst. Dean C told me to call you, as you would have information on how to “make [my] application more viable the next time.” If you do have such information, I would like to hear it. It frustrates me to know that I was not readmitted, because I have become quite certain in the past year that I am more than ready to return—my friends know this, my family knows this, and my doctors at home know this. Unfortunately, the litany of people who know that I am ready to return does not include the readmission committee. I am not sure why there is such a disparity of opinion, but I am hoping that you will be able to give me some idea through your knowledge of what makes a more viable application. I keep wondering what it is that I did wrong. Was it my grades? My essay? The recommendation letters? Was it something I said during the interview process? (Unfortunately, one of the interviewing deans even told me that he/she would give me “a glowing recommendation.” I guess that glowing recommendation did not do much for me in the end.)

    One statement that kept coming back to me during the interview process was that the committee was deciding not whether I could return to Yale, but rather when. I surmise that the committee has decided that it is in my best interests to keep me away from school for another semester, probably to “grow” or “mature”—I can’t speak for them and you, obviously; I can only guess. And I know that I will have to, out of self-preservation, find interesting things to do during that semester. The disappointing part is that I know that this semester (and maybe even more semesters after that—the way the process looks to me right now, I can’t fathom how these decisions are made or how they are swayed) will probably go by the same way this past year on medical leave has gone by: with me at the end feeling fine, excited to go back to school, and knowing that my fate is being judged based on how well I show off just how very fine I am.

    I was also wondering why you never contacted my doctors at home, considering they know me very well and have worked with me during my leave, and also considering the fact that you told me you would at the end of the week I went to the interview.

    I would like it very much if you could respond to my questions as much as possible, as this has been a few days of frustration and disappointment (with no end in sight) and it would help to understand the process behind what seems right now to be a very arbitrary and incorrect decision. Also, I am at a loss as to what to do this next semester. I do not think a school would allow me to register to take classes this close to spring semester. What is required of me if I want to reapply again?

    As stated before, a response would be very much appreciated. Thank you for your time.

    In the end, Yale owed me nothing, not even an explanation. It did not have to admit me a second time once I’d proved lunatic, nor does it have to acknowledge in its alumni magazines, all these years later, that I was ever a student; it does not have to allow me into the Yale Club in Manhattan.

    And I owe Yale nothing. I recycle the donation requests C. receives without opening them. Same goes for the alumni magazines.

    When I was a Yalie, I used to shoplift. Rarely did I take anything substantial: a pen here and there from the art store, a headband once from Urban Outfitters. One day I was holding a stack of books at the campus bookstore on Broadway and saw that the line was a long one. Impulsively, I held my head high and walked out of the store, still carrying the books. No alarms went off. No one chased me. I look back and tell myself that I was young and stupid; then I catch myself. One of the few photographs I have of myself from college is a snapshot of me standing in front of the Urban Outfitters on Broadway, holding up a sleeveless shirt I’d bought on sale. I have a big smile and chopped-off bangs. I am young and full of mistakes that I have yet to make, but I’m not the only one who erred back then.

    Esmé Weijun Wang is the author of the novel The Border of Paradise (2016) and the recipient of the 2019 Graywolf Nonfiction Prize for the essay collection The Collected Schizophrenias. She received a 2018 Whiting Award and in 2017 was named one of Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists.

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