United States Air Force Academy

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Essay

French writer Michel de Montaigne penned the first creative essays in the 16th century and writers have been in love with the form ever since. From sharing personal experiences to navigating complex social, political, and ecological issues, essays open up a world of nonfiction writing to readers everywhere.

  • Maria Gianna Gasparovich
    An Open LETTER:

    To Anyone Who Will Listen

    Maria Gianna Gasparovich

    I do not think I have ever felt so supported and alone in my entire life. Who would have predicted that I would have made it into one of the hardest schools in the country, but life would decide to unpack my darkest moments all when the finish line is just skimming the horizon? I am gray in a world that begs for black and white. You see, I’m not a fan of categories, but that does not mean I don’t understand their purpose.What a predicament it is when you are an oval trying to fit into the perfectly symmetrical circle that the black-and-white world so desperately wants you to fit in. I am a survivor, this is true, just not of the variety that catches headlines here. My innocence was taken from me at twelve years old. The tragedy being that I had no idea the gravity of what had happened to me. So like anyone I packed it in a box. Then I took that box and threw it in a trunk. I wrapped it with steel chains and the biggest padlock I could find. As anyone would expect, I threw that trunk into the river I so effortlessly call my mind. But like any river, the things we throw in eventually make their way to the top. The lock rusts as the chains loosen. We could perform an infinite number of experiments, but scientists around the world still couldn’t tell you exactly when that box reaches the surface.

    For me, that box exploded during my second year. Nine years exactly from the date. This singular event that I was so happy to be ignorant towards came hurdling toward me without a sound. The funny thing is when you’ve gone nearly a decade without connecting a memory to something horrific, you think you’re relatively normal. Since you’ve read this far, won’t you humor me as I walk you through a little role play? Imagine you’re closing your eyes and can feel yourself behind the controls of your dream airframe. What was a steady and perceptively uneventful flight begins to death spiral. Your body forces you awake at 0300 at least three times a week. Alone, frozen in your black-and-white bed as gray tears slide down your oval face.As trained, you check your emergency procedures. In a fervor, you over-analyze, connecting all of your behaviors to the period of your life where you were supposed to just start learning about yourself. Now you’re in an uncontrollable stall. “If this didn’t happen to me would I trust people differently?”—“Would I have allowed myself to be vulnerable sooner if so?”—“If I am broken, what is the point of trying to fix things?” Pulling on the controls for dear life, you recover from what should have certainly been your death. Like the good pilot you are, you do exactly as your training has taught you after a mechanical failure. You start to recover altitude and without a second to think you are already reaching out for help over the radio.

     


    But like any river, the things

    we throw in eventually make

    their way to the top.


     

    The recovery continues and you make your approach back to home. You’re scared.Mostly because you’ve been the only one in the plane and now your confidence has plummeted, sinking to the bottom of your boots. Now, we’ve put the gray into terms of black and white so the world might not feel so lonely. This one event, after all, changed the entire trajectory of a young girl’s life and she wouldn’t know it until the world considered her a woman. I could be as poetic or straight-laced as I like, but the truth is my experience is still in the process of getting dredged from the river.We cling to this category of “survivor,” hoping that this universal string that bobs and weaves to connect all of us together can provide at least some shred of shared unity. Maybe it was a miracle that I have been forced to deal with my past when I am going through the most physically challenging time of my life. Maybe, just maybe, this place has provided me with the structure that my past so grossly lacked to overcome this unpredictable hurdle. As optimistic as the previous words may seem, the nihilist in all of us hungers to scream out that it isn’t all sunshine and roses.

    I still have only begun my journey to find peace and, so far, it still stings worse to hear the ugly words others have to say than the uplifting ones. It is at these crossroads that I would like to impart a few words of advice.To anyone that will listen: (1) be careful what you say because you do not know who is listening back, (2) it is not our place to offer opinions when we are explicitly asked to listen, (3) in a world of black and white be the gray that invites others in, and (4) it is okay to feel alone and supported all at the same time. The Academy has taught me all of these things as I’ve slowly worked my way out of my metaphorical stall. Not all advice is universal, but just as you’ve lent me your ear, I am always willing to be the one person who will listen. Thank you.

    Sincerely,

    A Survivor