I am a warrior. Or, rather, my heart is. It has won battles and suffered losses: learning how to operate the mower, riding a horse, my family leaving my father, being abandoned by my mother. I’ve armed my heart, granting it more defenses with each trial I overcome. Gauntlets, breastplate, and helm all protect me as I move forward, making me stronger each day. In my mind I am able to relive battles in seconds: dank smells, tears, screaming, fear, hope. My heart, the warrior, pumps with adrenaline, recalling them. Many battles were fought and won, but I do not settle for past glories. I look ahead toward my next challenge, meeting it with a smile.
For six years of my life, I lived in the basements of anyone willing to house my broken family. Always damp and chilly, I thought of my sister, my mother, and myself as cave-dwellers. The unknown inhabitants of the upper world almost never stooped so low as to consort with basement people. I can’t blame them; poor, hungry cave people in tattered clothes are hardly good company.
It seemed we would be forced to spend the rest of our days living in musty environments that flooded with each rain. The only thing keeping us company were the forgotten possessions of the upper-worlders and a growing mold creature that resided on the wall. I believed we committed no crime to deserve this. But I was wrong.
My favorite times were when Mom and I would take a drive away from our cave. She would meet up with a woman sometimes, and they would converse. I didn’t listen; I was off pretending, trying to forget the gnawing in my stomach. Cave people do not have the means for food. My mom would hand the lady money, and she’d get a plastic bag in return with red pills inside. Cave people do not have the means for food, but they do for pills. I’d ask my mom what the pills were for. She wouldn’t answer.
That’s how things went for the longest time. Drive. I’m hungry. Money. My stomach hurts. Pills. What are they for? No answer. I knew what they were, but I pretended I didn’t.
Our underground chambers were never permanent. We were nomads, traveling from location to location. I always hoped our new quarters would be better than the last. Usually, though, each space seemed even more decrepit than the last.
And so it went, until one day, I ceased to dwell in the cobweb-infested cellars and came to live sun-side. A woman named Marsha took me into her home as if I was her own daughter. I know I could easily have been resigned to a life of misery, but she gave me a chance, an opportunity I will never forget or squander.
My mom left. I didn’t allow it to bother me; I was prepared for her absence and I adjusted accordingly. I also had to reform my worldview. I had always been a basement person, but now I was able to think like a sun-dweller. I could think of hope, of possibilities, of life, and of my future.
Victory or defeat does not matter. It’s what I learn from them that matters. I know how rare chances are, and I will take advantage of each one that I get because I know their worth. I know that one chance can change my life. I know I cannot dwell over the defeat and glorify the victory, they are both important. They will prepare me for the challenges that have yet to come. When they do come, I will be happy I have the chance to face them.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.