There is a big picture collage of college campuses that covers the wall behind my computer: historic New England architecture framed by trees turning fall’s most brilliant orange and red hues; gigantic mid-Atlantic lawns; quads surrounded by palm trees climbing higher and higher each time I look at them. I have always pictured myself somewhere in these photos, and ping-ponging among the images, back and forth between where I belong most, is one of the best things I have. The pictures have been there for the last year, since I started collecting the brochures that Mr. Rose gave me: Stanford, Pomona, Brown, Tufts, Hopkins, St. John’s, Chicago—that was just the start. I used to sit down on my floor, cross-legged, and sit down with the photos, cutting out the best ones, and putting them up on the wall. The last one to go up was Harvard. It was two weeks ago. I’d been afraid to jinx anything, or shoot too high or ruin something. Set unreasonable expectations. Hitting the top is never something we’ve known in this family.
“It’s time to aim for what you deserve, Tiffany,” Mr. Rose said. Another day working with him after school. An hour later, I’d written another poem, and it was a good one. He’d said so, but I also really knew it. That night, I came home, sat on the floor, cut out the big picture of the Harvard quad, and put it up on the wall.
I’m sitting at the computer staring into the collage when my email count goes to 1.
It’s so fucked up.
The email comes from firstname.lastname@example.org. The subject line says Hi Mom. In the message, there’s a picture, and I gasp when I click on the attachment: open on my screen is a crudely Photoshopped sonogram with my face on it. It’s followed by a link to the Facebook page of “The Lovechild of Mr. Rose and Tiffany Sullivan.”
I’m just sick. There’s no other word for it than just sick. My stomach gurgles, the pit drops out from it again low, so low. There is a foot on my chest—an entire army of feet—and I swear I am wheezing, even though I am silent.