The ‘Y’ key on my keyboard stopped working, right in the middle of an application to grad school in Chicago, right in the middle of a sentence about why I believe I’m a qualified candidate to study Comparative Literature for the next several years.
I tried the key again, and it didn’t work. I slammed a finger down onto the key, and tapped it a dozen times, and then a few more, just for good measure, just in case. All of the other keys worked perfectly fine: The ‘A’ key, the ‘Z’ key, and everything in between, the ‘1’ key, the ‘2’ key, and all the other numbers, as high as you can count.
Normally, it would’ve been an easy problem to solve. I would’ve borrowed my roommates computer and finished the application, waited three weeks, received a joyous acceptance letter, and moved to Chicago, leaving my twisted plans, confused relationships, and broken keys in my small, dull apartment in Ohio. But my roommate was out of town, and had taken her computer with her.
I looked at the clock. 45 minutes until I had to submit. I checked the application essay questions once more, and considered the level of difficulty that would come with writing short answer essays without the letter ‘Y’. I think that if they knew I wrote the second half of the application with the letter ‘Y’, maybe they would be more impressed, and accept me right away. I imagined a mustached faculty member in the admissions department at the University of Chicago reading my application, realizing the lack of the use of the letter ‘Y’, and giving me a giant stamp of approval, saying “This one’s in, for certain!”
I drove to the library, logged in to one of their ancient brick computers, and finished my application, with less than a minute left. I felt poorly about it, but I guess that’s what I get for waiting until the last minute to submit. The questions weren’t difficult to answer – there weren’t any questions about why I was leaving my hometown, or what I wanted to do after I graduated. They didn’t ask me to explain why I’d broken up with James, or my fears in moving to Chicago, or if I thought I was making a wise choice by going to grad school in the first place. They only asked the easy questions.
I was too busy the next day to take my computer to get repaired, so I spent the next evening trying to respond to email and messages and Facebook comments without the letter ‘Y’. I couldn’t type ‘Happy’, or ‘Joy’, or ‘Funny’, or ‘Yes’, but I discovered that I rarely needed to.
The next morning, I took my computer to a repair shop, in that sketchy looking shopping center that I pass every day on my way to work. There was a bell hanging on the door that chimed when I entered. A thin, jittery man looked up from behind a counter, between shelves and shelves of computers and parts, like some kind of electronic graveyard.
“Can I help you?” He stammered, adjusting his thin glasses.
“The ‘Y’ doesn’t work.” I said, putting the computer down in front of him, gently.
“The why doesn’t work?” He asked, opening the laptop with his long, thin fingers.
“The ‘Y’ key. On the keyboard.”
“Oh! The ‘Y’ key. Got it.” He tapped the key several times, then chuckled. “Wow. Must be tricky to type anything without a ‘Y’. You wouldn’t be able to type very much.”
I nodded, interested in getting my ‘Y’ working, not in conversation.
“Couldn’t type ‘Happy’ without a ‘Y’. Or ‘Yes’, or ‘Yellow’, or ‘Year’. Or ‘Why’.”
“When can you get it fixed?”
“I can get this back to you tomorrow. Yeah. Come back tomorrow.”
“I will.” I said, and left.
I came back the next day, and paid for the repair. I got back into my car, in the middle of that sketchy parking lot, and opened my laptop, testing out the ‘Y’ key. It worked, just like a ‘Y’ key should. I could successfully type ‘Yes’, and ‘Happy’, and ‘Yellow’, and ‘Joy’, and ‘Year’, but I realized the only reason I needed a ‘Y’ key was to type one word.