For my friends, I was someone who helped them in the hardest situations of their lives. Once, a girl named Natasha told me that she wanted to die because she was feeling fat. She was bulimic. I told her: “Este no es el fin” -- “This is not the end.” The words just went out from my heart. Three weeks later, a friend called me to tell me Natasha was in the hospital because she cut her veins. After a long time without praying, I prayed for her. I was scared, but I felt hope. Then I received the call that she had died. I was freaking out because I thought it was my fault, that I wasn’t there for her. I became a joyless person. Just thinking about it made tears stream down my face and pushed me into my room to remember how miserable I was for not doing anything to help her. I felt like there was no way to fix my broken soul. That was when, in English class, we started to read this book, “Night,” about the Holocaust. One day, when I was lying on my bed listening to the Guatemalan singer-songwriter Ricardo Arjona, I grabbed the book and forced myself to read at least five pages. What a great idea. I ended up finishing 21 pages. Every single thing that happened to the main character overwhelmed my heart. He was so me. I felt understood. At the end of the book, I figured out the reason why I was so connected to it. It was reinforcing a lingering idea -- “This is not the end.” I have a great feeling now of how to face life and I thank this book for that. I know that Natasha’s death was not my fault. Even when it bruised my heart and made me the saddest person in the world, I understand that although it may seem to be the end, it is not.
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Scene & Heard
An act of disobedience that saved my life
One morning, I heard people yelling. I went downstairs. I saw water slowly entering the ship. “We’re all going to die,” people shouted. “This is our end time.” The next day, the water was increasing. I saw many people swimming. Some were crying because their children were dead. I remember the smell of the ocean. My brother, at 13 the oldest of my siblings, was about to jump into the ocean. My mom became crazy. She started crying and telling him: “Stop my son. I beg you. You will die.” My brother was able to secure a small rowboat floating in the water. One by one, from the youngest to the oldest, all seven of our family members jumped in. After several hours, we safely reached Yemen. My brother was really brave, though he disobeyed my mother. He risked his life to save ours.
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“Take care son,” she told me that time in 2012. “Be focused on your future. Maybe this is the last day that I see you because I am too old and sick and I know I can be dead soon.” I gave her a big hug and said, “I love you mom. Take care. I promise I will become a good man and support you.” When I arrived in Boston, my life changed because it was hard to face things without my mom. I wasn’t used to living with my father. I totally forgot how it is to share the same house with him. I love my family above all because my mom demonstrated that I am an important part of her heart. I want to show her that I kept my promises because now I am a real man. I have many opportunities for a great future in the US. I know that everything is possible here because, in my homeland, the US is called “The country of dreams.”
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Instead of being excited, I got bitter and asked my parents to give me a choice. But I had no choice. I had to move because my life depended on my parents. I got the ticket from my mother as I stood in my bedroom. I wanted to tear the ticket in half right away, but I didn’t. I couldn’t see anything through my tears. I blinked and the tears fell down slowly on my cheek. And so I quit school and came to the US two days before my 17th birthday. In school here, I didn’t talk to anybody. In my head, I had to translate what everyone said from English to Vietnamese, and then translate what I was going to say from Vietnamese to English. I soon realized that the other students could learn English by talking to each other. I built a conversation in my head and spoke the words out loud to myself. After two months, I came to school and talked to other people automatically. I got a little satisfaction from my accomplishment, but I also was dismayed because, during learning English, I became more American. I felt like a stranger, not the person I was in Vietnam. It made me anxious. Sometimes I believed I was losing my culture. In Vietnam, all the young people have to obey the elders. We had the lectern where the teachers always stand. They don’t come closer to the student when they don’t understand, while the teachers in the US do. The Americans are more equal; they express themselves if they don’t agree. After 11 months in the United States, I can fit in. But one thing I didn’t forget is that I’m proud of being a Vietnamese girl and I love my “home.” I’m going to keep my culture by asking my mother to teach me more. I will return home after I succeed. I want to be a nurse or pharmacist and then go back to my country and help the poor.
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There I was looking at my mother back in 2004. Everyone was very solemn, giving each other hugs and kisses. I was crying and wishing she wouldn’t leave me and screaming in my head for her to stay. I was only five. I thought to myself: “My life is over.” I remember when it happened that I was at our house and the darkish hallway smelled like slow death. The sounds of the ambulance got louder as it approached. The EMTs saw me sitting next to my mother and holding her hand. One of the guys picked me up and put me in my room and closed the door so I couldn’t see her. I was very upset because I wanted to stay with my mother. She was very loud and outgoing. She was a good person. I learned that even though my mother is not here, I know that she is in my heart. I can keep going on even though there are times when I want to give up and just let myself go. I still write letters to her -- telling her how much I miss her and how I’m doing in school -- and put them on her grave in a bottle. I go back and put more there for her even though I know she can’t read them. I want to go to college and make something of myself, become an in-house therapist for autistic kids. I think my mother would be proud of me.
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