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I remember when the important things were the little things. When a scoop of ice cream was worth more than your friends. When the only things that mattered were toys and treats. The days when you could have imaginary friends and throw them little tea parties. If only those days hadn’t gone by so quickly. If only I had known they would end.
I remember jumping up and down on a trampoline, my hair blowing wildly in the wind. I remember flying through the air on a swing. When I could pretend to be a princess in a locked up tower or a brave knight going out to war. Those days when I would just sit and laugh with my friends, sucking on a popsicle my fingers all sticky and full of mud. I remember all those times and I wish they had never ended.
I remember that day too. The day I had to suddenly grow up. The day my whole life changed. It was raining and the sky was black as night even thought it was only around two. They pulled me out of class. I remember the large intakes of breath as I walked out, my face as pink as the eraser I clutched in my hand. In my school it wasn’t often someone got pulled out of class and even then, I had never caused trouble. I remember I was led to the principal’s office, my heart beating like a drum the whole way. The teary eyed assistant sat me down with a lollipop and told me to wait. The whole time I didn’t say a word, I was to confused to speak. I remember another teary woman walking my younger brother and sister in. I remember her telling them to sit down next to me before she rushed over to the woman at the desk and began whispering wildly to her. My siblings grabbed my hands and my sister leaned in close and asked me if I knew what was going on. I shook my head no and shushed her, telling her not to worry. I remember squeezing her hand so tightly that it turned white as snow.
We waited a long time before the principal finally showed up. His face was dry unlike all those of the others that had passed by. My siblings and I stared up at him, our faces a mixture of bewilderment and confusion. He stared back at us for a moment before wiping his forehead nervously with a thick white handkerchief. I remember him looking around as if he was looking for anyone who could take his place. He took a deep breath and bent down onto his knees, so that we were at the same eye level. A shiver ran through me right then. I remember I could tell he was trying to smile kindly at us, but his face remained in a permanent sad grimace. I remember he took another deep breath then exhaled slowly.
I don’t remember exactly what he said, but I remember the message loud and clear. Our parents were dead. They had been driving and they veered off to the side to avoid another car. They didn’t realize there was no rail and they tumbled down the cliff, landing on the rocks and half frozen water below. They had died instantly. Of course that wasn’t what the principle said, I learned the details later. He just said they were in a better place. I remember thinking that there should be no better place for them then with us.
I don’t recall much else from that day, I think my sister cried. My brother was to young to understand what happened, but I remember him asking for mommy, pulling at the hem of my dress to get my attention. I didn’t say a word though. I didn’t shed one tear. Later I was told I had stared at nothing a vacant look in my eyes, as if I were in a trance. The assistant principle took us home, told us to pack all our things and not to worry, that we could take as long as we needed. She told us we could come back for the rest our things later.
I don’t either remember packing, just crawling on to my bed and falling instantly asleep. We were taken to my old aunt, who lived not far from where we did. I remember her tearful embrace as me and my siblings stood rigid in her arms.
The funeral took place three days later and I don’t remember much of that either. All the different faces of people giving their condolences mixed together, blurring into a sad rainbow that stretched along the length of the cemetery and fallowed us like a small puppy that we couldn’t ignore. I remember noticing how none of them could look us in the yes. They all mumbled their ‘sincere apologies’ while staring at the ground. Only uncle harry looked us in the eyes as if he knew what lost meant.
After that the weeks passed in a zombie like trance as we passed from relative to relative. I remember there were more apologies there too. More ‘I’m sorry I can’t take all of you’ or ‘I’m sorry but the three of you is just too much. Those blurred to, into one long run on sentence, like a train that only travelled in circles.
A year past and we all grew older, not just by our age. We were more cautious, more aware of all the wrongs in the world. I remember when my brother turned six. That birthday took place in crazy great uncle Earl’s house. I remember how bad his house smelled like beer and cigarettes when we first walked in. How the bathroom was full of mold, how big spiders made their homes by our shared bed. I remember my brother’s birthday because he was the only one of us that got a cake. We all ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhed’ at the fancy pink and blue icing covered cake as one of the ladies from the foster care system brought it through the half broken door. Two days after her visit we were moved out of crazy great uncle Earl’s house and into the Carlton’s foster home.
I remember how nice they were. How they always treated everyone with respect no matter where they came from or how they looked. I remember how they always looked everyone in the eye when they spoke to them. I don’t know why, but that was always so important to me. I wanted people to not look away and fiddle their fingers when they spoke to me, as if they had done something wrong.
We lived in the Carlton’s foster home until two weeks after my thirteenth birthday. I think it was around June because I remember that the sun was shining and flowers were blooming all across the field in the backyard. I remember Mrs. Carlton not looking so good on the day of my birthday. I hadn’t really paid attention then but her face was pale and she hadn’t even bothered to get out of her soft pink robe. She made me my special breakfast that all the birthday kids got and ran off to the bathroom. I remember she forgot to wish me a happy birthday.
The next day Mrs. Carlton to the hospital, turned out she had cancer. She passed away a week later. I remember I didn’t cry then either, but I held my brother as he threw a wild fit and destroyed half his room before collapsing in my arms.
Mr. Carlton called all the kids down to the living room the next day. I remember his grave face as he rung his hands nervously. We all sat in silence as we watched him try to speak. The words seemed to freeze on his lips and his pain radiated off of him so strongly I think we all held our breaths. He looked up slowly, his eyes full of tears that wouldn’t fall. He tried to speak and stumbled over the words a bit, but finally he managed to get them out. We were all going back into the foster system.