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Fear isn’t new to me.
It’s the hollow incessant ring in my ears. It’s the prickly shiver of fingertips as they dance furiously across my icy skin. It’s the rapid way my vison blurs from color to blacks and vivid whites. It’s the sharp scent of salty sour that burns my nose.
Fear is the slow burn of hot metallic crawling down my throat.
Desperation isn’t either. They go hand in hand.
The world races by me in a fantastic blur as I shove past appalled looking aliens. My clothes scratch sweaty skin and I can feel the wind chilling me to my core through the thin, holey fabric I call clothing.
“Get back here, you lousy kid! Someone stop her! Thief!” I cringe as his voice pierces the bitter air. Guilt hits me hard.
The shopkeeper doesn’t deserve this.
I bite my lip as tears blur my vision. The angry growl of my stomach sneers at me to get over it.
“Get back here!”
I feel the fear rise like bile in the back of my throat. I choke it down hard as I pull up every last bit of courage and ingenuity I have left.
How am I gonna get out of this one?
I break into a dead run. My chest heaves, body aches, and eyes frantically search for a way out. Relief fills me like a drug when I see a familiar back alley. My dirty bare feet slap against the rough sidewalk and I wince as I skid, unsteadily, when I make the turn. I slip down the tiny alley and when I see the rickety fence that marks the end, I dive for the loose planks at the bottom.
My breath is knocked loose from my chest as I collide, face first, with the fence. Astonished, I jolt my head up to see two new planks nailed over my only hope. Frantic and running out of options- by the sound of the angry footfalls behind me- I jump and catch my fingers on the top of the seven foot fence. Desperately, I pull my body frantically up and just barely clear the top before landing, unsteadily, on the other side.
My ankles scream with outrage when I hit the unforgiving concrete. My cracked feet feel wet and I don’t need to look down to see the bright red liquid caking the soles of my feet. I stumble, painfully, but force myself on.
I hasten down desolate alley after abandoned corridor between the deserted warehouses. The pain doesn’t matter. The guilt doesn’t matter.
Me, getting home with this heavy backpack, that matters.
Seeing the familiarity of my warehouse, I finally allow myself to breathe. With a cautious glance over my shoulder, I falter to my knees. After crawling over and knocking twice on the crumbly grey siding, I push away the two heavy boards. I belly crawl inside and struggle to my feet.
It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust, but soon enough I’m able to recognize the dismal place I call home.
There’s a curtain to my far right, which divides the rest of the place from the ‘bathroom’. This only really consists of a little bucket and a stack of boxes in front of a broken shard of mirror taped to the wall. Off to the right is a room filled with more boxes and then pressed against the far right corner are two piles of rags and torn blankets that suffice as beds.
I walk over to the bathroom and study my pitiful reflection. My dark blonde hair is dirty and tangled beyond any soft of hope.My pale grubby face is all angles and hollows; my eyes are red rimmed, dark, chasms of anxiety. My mangled shirt is practically falling off my scrawny frame.
I pull myself up onto the boxes and timidly wrap both my feet with the last of the cloth spare. I sigh and head back into the main room. I empty my backpack and sort everything into different boxes, then take the perishable food and head into our makeshift bedroom.
A small wispy form is curled up on one of the piles of rags, with one or two blankets draped over her. I crawl over and rake my fingers through her short honey blonde hair. My sister stirs, her six year old body twisting to gaze at me.
She’s thin-far to thin for my liking- as dusty pale as a ghost and only slightly cleaner then me. But bright blue eyes, same as mine, shine out with a child like hope and innocence that mine haven’t known for a small eternity.
She sits up and I hand her two pears and a water, choosing only to keep my water bottle and an apple for myself. She frowns at me, “Jeanie, you need to eat more than that.” she whispers as she pushes one of her pears toward me.
I shake me head, “Eat it all or I’ll eat none of mine, Jenna.” I reply, determinedly.
She pales, but begins to eat without another word and I start in on mine too. When we finish, I lay her back down and kiss her forehead gently as she closes her eyes. I sing Mom’s old lullaby in barely more then a sweet whisper, proud I still know the words by heart. I brush the hair off Jenna’s forehead and edge over to my bed.
I pull a blanket on over me and stare, lost in my worries and anxieties, at the ceiling. What am I gonna do for food next time? What about school? Jen needs to go to school. How am I going to keep her healthy, clean, and warm when winter rolls around?
I’m pulled out of my reverie when my sister, younger then me by six years, timidly crawls over to me. I feign sleep as she curls up against me, resting her head on the top of my chest, she presses her cool forehead to the warm hollow of my throat.
In the silence of this simply sweet moment, I smile. Right now, it doesn’t matter that Mom and Dad are gone; it doesn’t matter that I’m still hungry or that we’re sleeping on the floor of some abandoned old warehouse.
Jenna lifts her sleepy head and presses a sloppy kiss to my cheek, “’love you, Jeanie.” she whispers, sleepily. As she settles back down I slip my arms around her frame and kiss the top of her head, “’love you more, Jen.”
I hear her giggle and I grin, foolishly, to myself.
The rest of the world can have their money, their food, their warmth; all I want is for Jenna to keep breathing, keep smiling, and keep giggling.
“Not possible.” she murmurs, sleepily.
“Anything’s possible.” I reply as I kiss her head again.
Jenna giggles and that’s all that really matters…