This piece placed third for middle school writing submissions in the Ánimo Voices Writing and Art Competition, which invited students to consider a change they’d like to see in their community or the world and to convince an audience, through any genre of writing or visual medium, of the importance of this change. The competition was an opportunity to motivate, recognize, and celebrate our strong student voices through writing and art.
Breakfast every morning is more or less the same, cereal or a slice of bread, put it in the toaster if you want. The foster parents are never home, except when the money comes through, but I don’t see a cent of it.
At school, nobody talks to me, but I hear them whispering about me in the hallways. My “friends” won’t even spare me a glance anymore.
“Alena,” I hear someone call me. “Alena,” Ms.Simmons says again. “Yeah” I say. “Do you want to show us how to solve this problem?” I stare blankly at the white board but nothing makes sense. “No, sorry”. She gives me a half smile, she always could tell when my mind would drift. “Okay, next time,” she said then called on someone else.
Nowadays I walk back to the house alone. "Hey!" I turned to see a boy sitting on the porch. “I’m Jason, didn’t your parents own the shop on the corner?" I just stare at him. He's about 16 years old with dark black hair, a harsh contrast against his pale skin. " They were good people," he says. I don't answer and he starts to look uneasy, " You know, if you ever want company you could just come over." From behind him appeared a girl, they look alike, with the same deep
brown eyes and same slightly crooked nose except she’s tan and has dyed platinum hair.
"Jason, Mama dijo que tenemos que entrar para comer." she says and turns to me, " Oh! Hi," she says, and introduces herself "I’m his sister, Lillith Watson." She looks at me expectantly," And you are?" "Oh, Alena Valdez." I say, a bit startled that she was interested enough to ask my name. " Well nice to meet you Alena, but we gotta go." She says. Jason turns around and calls
out" Come, tonight at 8, bye!" I waved back and kept walking.
That night I had met them outside on their stoop, there were 5 other kids there. “So how you feeling?” Jason had asked. “I don’t know, nothing.” I had responded. Another kid howled, “Well, you want to feel something? Come with us we gonna hit a house tonight!" "Hit a house?"
"Oh!" one of the boys head jerked up, " I forgot my keys inside." "Come on we’ll all go with you!" Another one said, and so we all went. I hadn't know why it was necessary for us all to go but it was better than going back to my foster home where nobody paid attention to me anyways. I remember they all had backpacks on, but it didn’t seem important until we all jumped over the
fence and they started stuffing things inside. I then realized they were stealing from a strangers house. Jason had gestured for me and handed me a backpack. " Come on Alena, you’re part of us too now." I hadn't understood exactly what I was "part of" but I enjoyed feeling a part of something, so I had grabbed the bag and started throwing things in.
The guys were fair, they split all the things we'd stolen equally among us. The adrenaline was still rushing through my veins, I ran nonstop until I reached the foster home. The next day, I couldn’t stop thinking about doing it again. So I did.
That was 5 months ago but it feels like yesterday. Ever since then I haven’t woken up in the middle of the night crying with images of my parents in flames, pleading for someone to save them. Now I know how to keep my mind preoccupied, I can buy my own clothes or a real good burger when I want. Anyways, I don’t care about those strangers, just like they didn’t care about
“Hey Jason, we going again tonight?” He takes a second before replying, “No we been going too often we have to be careful.” “Man I need to!” I walk out, it’s fine I can do it alone.
Tonight it’s extra chilly, or maybe I'm shivering from being so nervous. I walk down a dark block, I spot a white house with a small fence that’s easy to jump over. As soon as my feet hit the concrete I take off, straight to the back of the house hoping the back door is unlocked. “Dang”, I say under my breath. I look at the open window and push the window screen in to fit my hand inside.
The house is quiet, I walk up the stairs and walk down the hallway then I notice the picture on the wall. “No way.” I turn back around, “Hey, who’s there?” I freeze. In the dark I can see her tall figure, Ms. Simmons. I run anyways, but as I get closer she says, “Alena?” And grabs my arms. “Let go of me!” She kneels down blocking the stairs and notices my backpack, “what’s that?”
“Don’t call the police. I haven’t even taken anything yet.” She looks surprised, “You were stealing? Alena you can’t steal, especially from your own community. We need to take care of one another not hurt each other.” I try to break away but can’t. Frustrated I say, “Oh really? Well nobody was there when my parents needed them! Were where they, huh? Everyone j-just let
them die! And nobody tried to find out who did it!” The tears come rushing down my face and Ms.Simmons pulls me closer. “I’m sorry, Alena that wasn’t fair. But you can’t be getting into trouble, I'm here to support you. Okay? You’re not alone.”
As I cry into her shoulder I’m grateful she didn’t call the cops on me but also she might be right, maybe I can find another purpose, instead of being so mad about losing my parents or the terrible house I got put in. Maybe there are good people who care or listen and it feels good to be able to say that out loud for the first time.