This piece placed first for middle school writing submissions in the 2021 Ánimo Voices Writing and Art Competition, which invited students to express the reality of the challenges they or others face and/or how they or others find hope through difficult times. The competition is an opportunity to motivate, recognize, and celebrate our strong student voices through writing and art.

Ringtone

“Why can’t I go see Mom and Dad?” I sob looking up at my Auntie with a face full of
sorrow. She replies in a calm gentle voice and puts her hand on my hair.

"They’ll come back, I told you. They’ll be fine”

But I don’t believe her, I don’t understand. It doesn’t make any sense. How did my parents get sick? Why can’t I visit them at the hospital? What if something happens to them before I even have a chance to say goodbye? I hug her tightly, eyes filled with hot tears holding them back. Trying to stop them from pouring out.

I’ve been with my Auntie for three weeks now. She is very nice, but I want to be with my
parents. It’s hard to stop thinking about them. I steadily tap on my Oakwood desk. Staring at the
computer. I’m tired and just waiting for my zoom session to be over. I am in a class with older
kids. They don’t like talking to me. Most of the time in class I only hear the teacher talking. When
the teacher isn’t talking the zoom is deafening silent. I always stay on camera. Nobody else
does. It feels like everyone is staring at me. Is someone looking at me? Is someone making fun
of me? The teacher’s timer goes off. It is 3:30. School is over. We are dismissed.

I close my computer and put my head down on the desk. The memories keep replaying in my
head. The memories of the day the ambulance came to take my parents. The loud sirens
wailing. The firefighters, paramedics, my parents leaving me. I don’t even know what happened
to them. Everything happened so fast. It was late night. I was in the fuzzy state between being
awake and asleep. I was in my room sleeping when my mom started coughing heavily. The next
thing I remember was my parents on the stretcher. both of them. I wonder if they are ok right
now. Everything about that night scares me.

“Knock Knock” my Auntie teases standing in the doorway.

I look up at her but I don't feel like talking. I force myself to say

“yes?”

“Wanna watch a movie” she marvels.

“I... I’m a little tired”

I am tired really. I’ve been feeling really fatigue lately.

"I wanna go to sleep” I whimper.

"Have you been eating”

I am starving but for some reason, I don’t feel like eating?

“Ok fine” I snap.

I had to stop hurting myself. I was hungry. I couldn't tell myself no. So I went with her to the kitchen.

We sit at the table in silence. I want to talk, but painful flashbacks stop my words before they
can reach my tongue. The same questions are repeating in my head. Over and over and over
again. I get anxious. “Auntie...” I cry.

"When are they coming back?”

“Soon,” she said not making eye contact with me.

I wanted to know. I wanted to feel less worry. “Soon” is not the answer I am looking for.

“When is soon” I start to sniffle.

“They are coming back. They are doing fine. I just don’t know when.”

The same answer every time I ask. She said that the day I came here, she said that a few weeks ago, she said that a few months ago. Is she lying? What if they’re gone and she’s just trying to hide it from me? No, not even something to consider. But what if it is true? What if this is the truth. I’m so scared I’m shaking. My chest tightens up. My teeth are chattering, My eyes widen. Tears slowly fall down from my cheeks to my chin. This is
the truth, isn’t it?

"They’re dead?” I say in the quietest whisper.

I run over to my room and lock my door. I get to my bed I can’t even move. I am paralyzed in
fear. Why didn’t she tell me? I was going to find out sooner or later. I wish I knew that day. I
would have been terrified but I would’ve been relieved. I would know they were in a better place.
I would get that by now. I’ve been worrying all this time and they’re... gone

"Eleanor!” my Auntie gasp. “Eleanor! Open the door!!!”

I don’t open it. Even if I wanted to I was in a frozen shock. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. I could barely even think.

"Eleanor!” she yelled continuously.

She started to bang on the door probably scared of how quiet my room got.
The high pitch sound of the weeping wailing sirens sending large sound waves through my
head. I start to see the ambulance. Feel how cold it was that night. I hear the paramedics talking
to each other, but it slowly gets surpassed by a loud ringing tone. I feel dizziness. Nausea.
Feeling as if I were moving away from my own body. They’re really gone forever.

Everything swirling around in my head, but then everything stops. The room becomes quiet I am
sitting on my bed. I feel the summery air of the bedroom, the bright light from the window
touching my skin. I begin to hear a soft melody. Lyrical. Someone singing maybe but it sounded
really peaceful. Calm. I recognized this melody. A lullaby my mother would always hum. I look
over to the door.

“Auntie” I stammered.

She didn’t answer. I walk over to the door and put my ear against it to listen.

"Do you guys know when you’re coming back?” my Auntie wept.

"I think we’ll be out in two days. I’m sorry I couldn’t call you sooner.”

My Auntie and dad talk back and forth. While I scramble to unlock the door. I finally get a hold of it. I swing the door open. “Dad!” I beamed. I don’t even think I just grab the phone.
“Ellie!” he chuckled.

A bright smile on his face and mom cheering beside him. That’s all I needed. To know that they are ok. Safe. Happy.

That feeling is the best feeling you could ever have.