October 29, 2017

I enjoyed life before. We didn’t have everything, but we had enough. Enough to be happy. One of the people that was responsible for a huge part of that happiness was my little sister, Ashley. I loved her so much. She was everything to me. She was so little and innocent, special in her own way. At 6 years old, she didn’t know much about the world or how it worked. She didn’t know the reason why our mother was not with us or why our dad was the way he was. She didn’t know.

It was a chilly, Monday morning in our small, run-down home in Detroit. I woke up to the annoying sound of an alarm clock on the left-hand side of my bed. I turned it off and then sat up. You could hear the wind howling outside. The banging of metal. I looked at the light coming in from the window and then at Ashley, which was sound asleep in her bed. I didn’t want to wake her, but we needed to get ready for school. I walked over to her, shook her gently, and whispered, “Ashley. Ashley get up. It’s time for school.”

She slowly opened her eyes. They were a bright, clear shade of blue, just like Mom’s. “Already?” she yawned.

“Yeah,” I smiled. “Come on now.”

I walked over and grabbed some clean clothes from the closet and laid them out on her bed. I left the room and went to our barren living room, which was mostly empty with the exception of an old, torn black couch and a small tv. The couch was empty, as usual, which meant Dad had already left that morning.

Dad was rarely in the house. The majority of the time he was either out working his ass off at any job he could get or drinking. He was never good at conserving jobs, which is why I also had to work at certain times. I loved my father, I was just never the best at showing it. I guess I got that from him. I always wished he would have spent more time with us: his family, but after Mom left us, he was never the same.

I proceeded into our tiny kitchen and quickly cooked up some breakfast. Ashley and I quickly ate and then I helped gather her supplies for school. I grabbed her 2 used notebooks and her color bag which consisted of broken crayons and dull markers. I put them in her black backpack and helped put her coat on. I grabbed my jacket and closed the door behind me. The cold wind blew as we began to walk.

One wish I always had was for Ashley to never lack anything and for me to be able to give her everything in this world. I wanted her to live a good life and for her to always be happy. That wish was my biggest motivation. It kept me from giving up hope. It made me see the positive side of things, no matter how bad they seemed. It made me get up everyday and give my best effort at everything I did. It made me want to work hard so that I could grow up to become something in this world to be able to help Ashley and to provide a better life for her.

We arrived at school just as the bell rang. Lines of kids were being taken inside by their teachers as they prepared to begin the school day. “Well it’s time. The bell just wrung and you don’t want to be late.”

I kneeled down and gave her a tight hug. “I love you, Ash.”

“I love you too, Johnny,” she replied.

School was a part of the day I looked forward to most of the time. I liked all of my classes, but one of my favorites was literacy. I loved to read. I would read wherever I had the chance and often I would check out plenty of books from the library to keep myself occupied. I loved writing and any form of it. Everytime I heard that we were going to write some sort of poem, story, project, or essay, I’d get excited. I saw writing as way out. Some sort of chance to let go of my emotions and to say what I really thought or how I felt about things. I think what I really loved about reading and writing is how they demonstrated the true power of words and the effects they could have on people. Words could make people feel and change their emotions. Words could make people who they are, change the things they do everyday, and how they see certain things. Words allow you to imagine an area or scene without physically seeing it with your own eyes and allow you to show your passion and feelings towards certain things that are very important to you and your life. However, words can also be used to influence people in the wrong way and lead them to take hurtful or incorrect decisions, either to themselves or others. Words can break people down. They can make people think that they are less. That they are meaningless. That they don’t matter to anyone or anything. I experienced this a few times in my life. People making fun of my clothes, of my supplies, of my home, and of my economic state. Calling me things such as ‘broke’ or ‘poor,’ just because I didn’t have the same things they did or could afford them. I never let those words have any impact or effect on me though. They didn’t mean anything to me. They were just comments of people with limited minds that couldn’t see the bigger picture. I would pray to God that Ashley never had to experience what I did, because I wasn’t sure if she would have the will to take it the same way I did and I never wanted her to feel less than anyone else in this world.

The day went by quickly and it was time to pick up Ashley from school. I waited patiently for her to come out, along with the rest of her classmates. When she did, I waved so she knew where to find me. I received her with a hug and carried her backpack for her. “So how’d your day go?” I asked curiously.

“Great! Today we went to art and made tombs, like for mummies, out of clay! We had to make a small box and it’s lid first. After that, we made two little figures. One of them we molded into the lid and the other was the actual mummy that went inside the box. Right now we’re waiting for them to dry but once they are we’re gonna spray paint them gold!” she said with tons of enthusiasm and a large smile on her face.

“Wow, that does sound great! I’m glad you had a good day Ash,” I replied.

“Oh! I also checked out a couple of books from the class library! They’re in my backpack.”

“That’s great! How about we read them together after dinner?” I asked her.

“Yes! Wait, don’t you have to go work at Don Julio’s store today?”

That had slipped my mind the whole day until that moment when Ashley reminded me of it. I started helping Don Julio at his store about a month before. I met him when I was out looking for jobs. All I was in charge of was cleaning which was pretty easy work since he had a relatively small store. I worked for him on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Most days I had to take Ashley with me since Dad wasn’t usually home by the time I had to go to work. Ash played with Don Julio’s granddaughter which also went to her school while I cleaned which helped the time go by faster. Don Julio paid me pretty well and was a person I could talk to and someone I considered a friend.

“I had forgotten about that. But I’ll try to finish up as fast as I can so that we can still read a bit, ok Ash?”

“Ok Johnny,” she replied with the same, big smile on her face.

We got home, ate, continued to ask each other about our days, did our homework real quick, and then watched some tv on the couch. I had to be at Don Julio’s by 5, so I decided to take a quick shower. As I was walking to the bathroom, I heard the sound of Dad’s busted up Ford pulling up in front of the house. Thankfully there was warm water that day and I didn’t have to heat up any myself. I got out of the shower, grabbed some clothes, and got dressed. It was a 10 minute walk so I was right on schedule. I went back to the living room and went with Ashley who was still watching tv. “Well Ashley, I have to go now but Dad’s here so he’ll take care of you for a bit until I get back. If you need anything just ask him, ok? I won’t take long so don’t worry,” I told her.

I could tell she wasn’t thrilled about the idea. “Ok Johnny.”

I smiled. “Ay, cheer up now. Remember that when I get back we’ll read the books you checked out.” I said, trying to reassure her.

Her face lit up with joy. “Oh yeah! Well don’t take too long then!”

“I’ll try,” I said.

I gave her a tight hug and kissed her forehead. “I love you, Johnny.”

“I love ya too, Ashley.”

It was dark now and the wind had died down since that morning. The moon shined brightly in the clear, night sky, along with the millions of stars that filled it. It was a beautiful sight. Dad was still in the truck when I came out. He was staring down at the wheel. He looked odd. I walked over to the driver’s side and knocked on the window. He rolled it down. He seemed sober. I looked into his eyes. He looked extremely tired. His hands were black, filled with dirt and ash. His clothes were muddy and worn out. Sweat and dust covered his face and neck. I could tell he had worked a lot that day. “I’m going to Don Julio’s, so take care of Ashley for a bit, please. She already ate and is watching tv right now, so she should be fine,” I told him.

He still had that strange look on his face. “Okey, mijo. Be careful.”

Something seemed off. I couldn’t fully tell what it was, but things seemed different. “Dad, are you ok?” I asked.

There was a slight silence for a moment. All you could hear was crickets chirping in the distance, until he finally responded. “Yes, mijo. I’m fine. Don’t worry about your old man, ok?”

His response caught me off guard, but I didn’t want to tire him with more questions. I figured the least he deserved was a chance to get some rest and relax for a bit. I simply said, “Alright Dad,” and then started to walk away from the truck. Just then, I heard the door open behind me. I turned around and saw Dad standing outside the truck, looking at me. He then opened up his arms and said, “Come here son.”

I was confused at that moment. I didn’t really understand what was going on. This wasn’t like Dad. It was out of character. As I got close, he put his arms around me and hugged me. “I’m so so proud of you son. You’ve become a greater man than I could ever be. You’re so responsible, hard-working, and kind-hearted. You’ve never let our economic situation or our issues affect who you are. You’re still you despite everything and I’m so thankful to God for giving me a son like you and a beautiful family. But I’ve realized how ungrateful I have been. How I’ve overlooked all the things I have in life to be thankful for. I realize I have been the worst parent for Ashley and you. I realize how much I’ve changed since your mother left us. How much I’ve broken down. I haven’t been there for you like I should’ve been. I haven’t supported you or spent enough time with you. I haven’t showed you two how much I truly love you. You two are everything to me in this world. You’re my motivation to keep going. You’re the reason I work from dusk till dawn. But I now know that I’m not doing enough as a father, which is why I swear to you son, that from this day forward, I’m going to change for the better. I’m going to dedicate my heart and soul to you two. To giving you two a better life. To being there for you whenever you need me. To showing my love for you and to being a better parent overall. I don’t know if it’s too late to change or if you’ll ever forgive me for the time I have been missing in your lives, but I just want to tell you that whatever happens, I love you, Johnny,”

I stood in my father's arms in silence. I didn’t know what to say. How to react. I stood there for a moment, until I finally broke into tears and wrapped my arms around him tightly. I hadn’t realized how much I needed to hear that from him until that day. “I love you too, Dad,” I said with tears rolling down my face.

And so we stood there. Under the night sky, letting go of all of our emotions that we had kept hidden for the last years of our lives. He hugged one another. Shared our love, our happiness, and our sadness. And at that moment, under the white light of the full moon and the glow of the stars, deep in my heart, I knew that our lives were going to change forever.

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