Prologue Describe a significant experience or achievement and the effect that it had on you. (Harvard)
"You shot me," I said.
I was lying on my stomach, wondering if I was going to pass out from the pain. Twenty feet away, she stood with the machine pistol in one hand and the sawed-off shotgun in the other, wiping the blood out of her eyes. It was three a.m. We were in my father’s law office on the forty-seventh floor of 855 Third Avenue, or what was left of it. The cops were taking cover behind the couch.
She was talking but I couldn’t hear anything. The gunfire had left me temporarily deaf.
I thought about my father.
I took a breath and watched the room wobble at the edges. I was going into shock. The pain wasn’t getting any better, and I thought that I would probably black out before I found out how this was going to end. Just as well—I was never particularly good at finishing things.
She walked over, knelt down, and wrapped her arms around me. She pressed her lips to my ear, close enough that I could make out the words.
"Perry," she said, "I had a very nice time tonight."
Explain how your experiences as a teenager significantly differ from those of your friends. Include comparisons. (University of Puget Sound)
Gobi was my mom’s idea.
Not that I blamed her. What happened wasn’t anybody’s fault. I’m not exactly religious, but there is something sort of Catholic about the way guilt gets handed out when blood starts spilling—some for you, some for me, pass it on. Don’t forget that guy in the corner—did he get his share?
I guess you could hold Gobi herself responsible, but that’s like blaming God for making it rain, or the earthquake in some third world country where half the buildings are still made out of clay. It happened, that’s all. Human beings are like the screwed-up children of alcoholic parents in that way, picking up the pieces afterward and trying to make up reasons why. You could argue that’s what makes us interesting, and maybe it is to some alien race studying us from a million miles away. From where I sit it just seems pathetic and sad.
Anyway, it all started because my mom’s family once hosted a foreign exchange student from Germany back when she was my age. They’d all gotten along famously and Mom still kept in touch with this woman, who was now a family therapist living outside of Berlin. Mom and Dad visited them whenever they went to Europe, and my understanding is that they all had a high old time together, laughing and joking and rehashing the good old days. Just before my senior year of high school Mom thought it would be culturally enriching if our family hosted someone. Dad went along with it in his usual autopilot way—I’m not even sure he was listening to her, to be honest with you.
That’s how we got Gobi.
Mom made me and Annie write her name down twenty times each and we looked up the phonetic pronunciation on a Lithuanian website to make sure we were saying it right. I don’t think she would’ve corrected us anyway. From the moment we picked her up outside the International Terminal at JFK, the most I ever heard her say about it was "Call me Gobi," so we did, and that was all.
Back at the house she got the guest room at the end of the hallway with a private bathroom and her own laptop so she could Skype her family back home. My room was next to hers and at night as I’d sit there memorizing SAT words or banging my head against a college application, I’d hear her voice through the wall, talking in low bursts of consonant-heavy syllables I didn’t understand, communicating with family members half a world away.
At least, that’s what I thought.
Say "female foreign exchange student" to any group of high school guys and you’ll get the exact same look. It’s like every single one of the dogs playing poker simultaneously catching wind of the same exotic new Milk-Bone. I’d certainly joked with Chow and the other guys enough about it beforehand, all of us picturing some chic Mediterranean lioness with half-lidded eyes, fully upholstered lips, curves like a European sports car, and legs of a swimsuit model who would tutor me with her feminine wiles before I went off to college.
That’s not even funny to me now.
Gobi wasn’t much taller than my kid sister, with oily dark hair that she always tucked back in a fat bun behind her head, where it always escaped to stick stubbornly out, shiny and angular on either side, like flippers on a penguin. Her face all but disappeared behind the massive industrial-grade black horn-rims, their lenses so thick that her eyes looked swimmy and colorless, like two amoebas at the other end of a microscope. She had pasty, instant-mashed-potato skin that could make the smallest single pimple or blemish stand out angrily. Once, and only once, my twelve-year-old sister, Annie, offered her makeup tips, and Gobi’s reaction was so awkward that we all pretended that it never happened.
Her one facial expression—a startled combination of hesitation and uneasy befuddlement—might have made her a target for bullying in some high schools, but in the halls of Upper Thayer it made her literally invisible, a shadow always hovering somewhere near the lockers with an armload of books clutched against her chest. Her wardrobe tended toward heavy wool sweaters, smocklike shirts, and dense brown skirts that tumbled down below the knee, avalanching over whatever shape of body might have been hiding under there. The only jewelry she ever wore was a plain silver chain with half a heart dangling from it, halfway down the slope of her chest. In the evenings she sat down to dinner with us, silverware clinking, politely participating in the conversation in her low, formal English, answering Mom’s questions about sports or current events until we could all reasonably find an excuse to escape to our separate lives.
One day, six weeks into her visit, she collapsed in the lunch room, passed out in a tray of Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes. I was on the other side of the cafeteria when I heard the screams—Susan Monahan was sure she was dead—and by the time Gobi woke up in the school nurse’s office, she’d managed to explain her condition.
"I have spells sometimes," she said. "Is nothing serious." When my parents asked her later why she’d never told us about it, Gobi only shrugged. "Is under control" was all she said.
Except that it wasn’t, not really, and from that point she had at least a dozen similar "spells"—they seemed to come in clusters, stress-related— and we were never sure when the next one would come. Eventually we found the technical term was temporal lobe epilepsy— basically a short circuit in the brain’s electrical activity, either genetic or brought on by some form of head trauma. Dostoyevsky had it, and Van Gogh, and maybe Saint Paul, too, when he got knocked off his donkey on the road to Damascus, if you believe that sort of thing. All I know is that she wasn’t allowed to drive. Once I found her sitting straight up at the dining room table with her eyes half open, staring at nothing. When I touched her shoulder, she didn’t even look at me.
In spite of all this, or maybe because of it, I always smiled and said hi to her in the halls. I helped her with her English Lit homework and practically did her PowerPoint presentation on the New York Stock Exchange on the morning that it was due. Even so, whenever she saw me coming,