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Unconscious This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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There was a dead girl in front of the library this morning. She was breathing, but she wasn’t alive. Whatever existence she’d had during her few years – I calculated she was around 13 – certainly wasn’t life. She was tossed carelessly on the trash-­littered sidewalk in front of a boarded-up doorway, drugged and utterly unconscious of the world around her. The filth and stench of the city were caked into her skin. She seemed part of the garbage she was ­lying in.

My home in Medellín, Colombia, has a lot of poverty. I’m used to seeing dirty, starving children begging in the streets, unkempt old men sleeping ­under newspapers, and hopeless teen­agers forgetting their pain in glue and needles.

But this … this was different.

The girl’s clothes were pulled high above her chest, ugly testimony to what had been done to her the night before. Person after person walked by. Boys leered. Children gaped and were pulled away by mothers who wrinkled their noses and quickened their pace. Not once did I see a trace of caring.

I knelt down and shook her gently.

She stirred and turned her head to me, and a grimace flashed across her face. I realized she was no child. All concept of age was erased from my mind. Perhaps she was barely a teenager; perhaps she was as old as humanity.

“Señora,” I said softly. A fly alighted on her cracked lips, and I brushed it away. Still she did not wake. I don’t know why I cared. Certainly no one else did. But I couldn’t leave her like that. I couldn’t. I should cover her. I reached out to pull down her shirt but retracted my hand. I had no right to touch her.

I knew what I had to do.

Even as I pulled the sweater over my head, I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to give my favorite sweater to someone who would just sell it for drugs. I didn’t want to care. But it was too late. Once you open your eyes and see reality, you can’t close them again that easily. And even though I wished I didn’t care, I did. She was a girl, my sister in ­humanity, a person just like me. God have mercy on us both.

I draped the sweater over her. The pulsating noise of the street suddenly quieted. The outside world ceased to exist, and a deafening ­silence enveloped us. Time slowed. The moment seemed eternal. We were the only ones in the universe – just me, the girl, and the dark blue sweater fluttering down in slow motion.

I had the sensation you get when you pull the sheet over the face of a corpse and say, muerto esta. The last fold of cloth settled on the gray cement, and suddenly time was once again going. I heard the rushing cars at my back, felt the burning sun, and smelled the filth. Nothing had changed.

I got up too quickly, nearly losing my balance. I needed to get away.

“La felicito,” an old man, who had apparently been watching me, said in congratulations. “Is it a little girl? So sad, so sad. What a shame.”

“Yeah … I don’t know,” I mumbled, hurrying away, horribly embarrassed that I’d been seen. Supposedly, when you do a good deed, you get a warm fuzzy feeling inside. But all I felt was a deep, aching sadness.

I used to believe those heart-warming stories about how people’s lives were changed by some small act of kindness. If this were one of those ­inspirational stories, years later we’d meet again. She would have risen from her poverty and pain, achieved success, and been converted to some nice religion. I’d be down about something, perhaps thinking that my life was worth nothing. On an impulse I’d step into a church and – voilà! – she’d be there giving her testimony about how she’d lived a totally empty and meaningless existence until her life had been changed by the act of a caring stranger who had covered her with a sweater.

And then I’d get up, with tears in my eyes, and shout, “I am that stranger!” And we’d hug and become best friends and I’d go home completely happy in the knowledge that my life had been good for something after all.

But this isn’t an inspirational story. The real world isn’t that nice. When the girl came out of her stupor, she probably wouldn’t even notice the sweater or wonder where it had come from. She’d use it to get more drugs. That night she would again sell her body and her soul, and the next day she would once more lie on the street with her shame open to the world. And my feeble act of caring would be worth nothing.

I headed down the street and sud­denly, to my disgust, found tears running down my face. I dashed them away, not knowing whether I was crying for that girl, my favorite sweater, or the fact that no one had cared.

I thought of the Jesus I’d been taught about in church. He would have cared, I think, if he’d been there. But he wasn’t there. I wished he were. It hurt.

People at church would tell me that he was there, that he’d cared through me.

I sighed. Maybe. Maybe.

But all the way home, the pain ­remained.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.





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This article has 460 comments. Post your own!

Madelyn said...
May 14, 2009 at 8:39 pm:
Yeah totalbookworm, he does care, I can promise you :)
 
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daisydee123 said...
May 6, 2009 at 1:07 am:
wow this is well written and i really related to it but remeber aesops own words " no act of kindness no matter how small, is ever wasted." its sad how we all expect to get rewarded for every good deed we do, but its also sad how people are to careless to do those small good deeds.
 
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totalbookworm96 said...
May 5, 2009 at 11:11 pm:
thats so true. you summed it all up - does jesus really care? does it really matter when we do kindness? i dont know. does anyone? really good job.
 
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alwaystryin 2smile28 said...
Apr. 21, 2009 at 12:30 am:
i thought that was great, it made you fell pained when u read, but thats what made it good. it made u feel so many powerful things...
 
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Brittany. said...
Apr. 9, 2009 at 10:38 pm:
Wow that was very nicely written! I like it.
Its one of those stories that make you think you know?
Makes it all worth wild in the end, but wow! i mean that was brilliant. Keep it up.
 
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Ashley S. said...
Mar. 3, 2009 at 9:55 pm:
Amazing!! I've never been in any place like that, but I felt like I was there, and it is completely true and that makes it twice as bad.
 
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mariasalami This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 25, 2009 at 3:18 am:
yo entiendo exactamente lo que sientes

yo vi mi primer cadaver en medellin, cuando tenia dos anos, durante las vacaciones

mi tia recogia los cadaveres de las montanas, y llegaba a la casa con la ropa roja

es una realidad horrible lo que los colombianos tenemos que vivir, especialmente a tan corta edad
 
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RayRay said...
Feb. 19, 2009 at 10:23 pm:
wow!
simple as that! how real this is!!
but its not always about making a difference, but about doing what you know is right! And maybe, just maybe...you did make a differnece, anything is possible when you put your trust in God!
 
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possible aspiring writer-to-be said...
Feb. 9, 2009 at 12:16 am:
this was amazing. your discriptions reminded me of when we visited Costa Rica three years ago. but none of my experiences were nearly that powerful. great writing.
ps. Jesus does care.
 
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someone else said...
Feb. 6, 2009 at 5:14 pm:
this is sad but completely true...
 
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tweedle dee said...
Feb. 6, 2009 at 1:41 pm:
what you did was a great thing, and i care.
 
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blondyx125 said...
Jan. 17, 2009 at 6:02 am:
You have a talent for conveying reality through your writing. This is real. Well done piece.
 
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wingedgirl4eva said...
Dec. 30, 2008 at 10:25 pm:
Wow. I don't know what to say. It made me happy, then heartbreakingly sad, then happy, then sad again. It made me feel so many different things. Mostly it opened my eyes. Next time I see someone in pain, even if they wouldn't appreciate my help, I will help them. Like the bumper sticker - "Commit random acts of kindness". It really does make the world a better place, even if it doesn't seem like it.
 
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tasharocks said...
Dec. 19, 2008 at 10:12 am:
hey wow this was great to read and opened my eyes to the fact that most people don't care and that we should help are fellow human sister and brothers.
 
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MattBringuier05 said...
Dec. 16, 2008 at 1:03 am:
i care
 
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Bouncestep said...
Dec. 14, 2008 at 8:15 pm:
This is really good.
 
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amberlene10 said...
Dec. 13, 2008 at 5:46 am:
i absolutely love the bluntness of this is reality..this isnt like a movie that u can polish up with a happy ending..in the real world life sucks..an interesting piece to read overall..also loved the use of spanish :)
 
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Mrsz.Ladii said...
Dec. 13, 2008 at 12:55 am:
omg this story was amazing and heart warming it makes you think about all the harm the world goes through..
 
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skitlez495 said...
Nov. 30, 2008 at 4:27 am:
wow wat a powerful story this hit me and now i relize how so many ppl dnt care about those less fortunate around us weather they got raped beaten or simply passed out we should care about those in need
 
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missgracexo said...
Dec. 7, 2008 at 3:17 am:
This is horrible, but the reality. People don't wanna think that outside their perfect little worlds lies something like this. This really made me think, and that's a really good thing.
 
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