by J.R. 8th
A soft ding rang as the elevator doors slid open, revealing a huddled group of five well-dressed young men. An older man wearing a navy suit jacket and a light-brown tie walked in and pressed the button for the fourth floor, then leaned into the corner adjacent to the crowd. His hair was a sharp, dark-brown hue, and he had a briefly grown mustache running along his upper lip like a caterpillar. The walls were made of glistening steel, reflecting the man and the group perfectly. One of the young men, a blonde with a cigarette dangling from his lips, turned to the newcomer and said, “Hey, sir - do you have a light? My friends here seem to have forgotten theirs.” He nudged one of the men with his elbow.
The older man dug into his jacket pocket and pulled out an old book of matches. “Sure, have at it.”
Looking pretty healthy for a smoker, he thought.
The blonde quickly snatched it and lit his cigarette. The reflection of the match’s flame filled the elevator with an orange-brown hue, only to die out when it was extinguished.
“Thank you, sir.”
He handed the matches back, but the older man said to keep it, and that it was no problem. But it was, for he was quickly sickened by the scent of the expanding smoke.
“I didn’t catch your name,” the blonde said.
“Oh, okay - nice to meet you, Hank.”
Hank leaned back into the wall, and the group began mumbling among themselves again.
For a moment the mumblings of the group ceased, and the elevator was silent. Only the soft taps of their shuffling feet and the puffing exhales of the blond young man could be heard.
As if to break this silence, the blonde turned to the older one and said, “Say, are you here for the interview? With Mr. Donner?” The whole group stared at the older man now, eyes bright with interest. Hank began fiddling with his fingers in his jacket pocket.
“Yes, I am. Do you know him?” He leaned to the side as he scratched at an itch on his back.
The blonde took another sucking puff of his cigarette. “Oh yes, we all do. We’re his... associates.”
“Anything I should know about him? You know, just for safe measure?”
The blonde turned to the group with a smirk, then back at the man.
“He’s an old bastard, that’s for sure - in his seventies, I think. He’s ruthless, so be careful.”
Another of the young men laughed and said, “Yeah, he’s a stickler.”
“He’s got bad bones, osteoporosis or something. Still kicking though,” the blonde mentioned.
The elevator dinged again and came to a stop, and the group moved towards the door.
“This is our floor - good luck with the interview,” the blonde said. Smoke still crawled through his lips as he walked out, floating upwards like a dead man’s spirit.
“Thanks, have a good one.” Hank said. They left, and he stood alone with the whir of the elevator.
He emerged on the next floor, into bustling sounds of an office - clicking typewriters, soft conversations, and the almost rhythmic thump of footsteps. Briefly he thought he heard a humming, maybe even a chanting from below, but he disregarded it. His feet squeaked against the tile floor as he walked out of the elevator and started through the hallway, toward the opening with a notice that stated “OFFICES OF PARACELSUS.” As he turned through it, a matrix of cubicles stretching to the edge of the building was revealed, and the bustling sounds he’d heard grew. Many people - hundreds, maybe - sat hunched over computers, typing wildly as others wound through the rows grasping papers and coffee mugs. At the end of the room a wall with a door and a thin window stood. He walked reluctantly towards this wall through the row of space that divided the cubicles.
The entire room seemed to emit a piney scent.
Like a car’s air freshener, he thought.
He searched for the source of the smell as he traversed the aisle and saw that each desk had a little green pine tree pinned to its side, almost uniformly positioned.
Nearly tripping on a box, he walked up to the desk where a small woman with bright red glasses sat typing. A bronze nameplate was perched on her desk stating SECRETARY.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” Hank said. “I’m here to see Mr. Donner. Is he in?”
The woman kept typing, but peered up at him. “Are you here for the interview?” she asked.
“Yes, with Mr. Donner - I’m Hank Wareheim” The woman stopped typing now, and looked up at him with an open smile. “Have a seat Mr. Wareheim.” She watched as Hank went to sit at the small leather bench placed next to the door, then seemed to continue typing. Unbeknownst to Hank, she stared at him as he waited - peering through her glasses, tapping gibberish onto a blank document.
He sat restlessly, fiddling with his bag and checking his watch. He thought he’d been on time - if anything, a bit early. But it had to have been at least 10 minutes, and there was still no sign of Mr. Donner.
He got up and walked to the secretary, leaning in to match her height.
“Excuse me, ma’am? When will Mr. Donner be arriving? I’m a bit tight on time,” he said.
“Oh, he’s already here - over there, in his office.” She pointed to the window in the office’s wall. Inside a short old man stooped over his desk, holding a wrinkled paper and an empty glass.
“Well, is he ready for the interview?” Hank demanded, a bit flustered now.
“Whenever you are. Just go right on in, Mr. Wareheim.” Hank paused, looked at the window with an open mouth, then back to the secretary.
“Well what’ve I been waiting for? Was he ready all this time?” He waved his arms around in the air as he talked, but quickly placed them to his side with embarrassment.
“Just go on in, Mr. Wareheim. He’s waiting for you.” The woman repeated. She looked back down to her keyboard, clicked a few things, then began genuinely typing.
Hank let out a disgruntled growl, then walked to the office door and knocked. He waited for a second, then opened it. The short old man he’d seen through the window stood looming over his desk, sipping from a glass. The room smelled of pungent alcohol, with a slight hint of the air freshener from outside - his desk had a little tree pinned to its side, too. “Ah, you must be Mr. Wareheim,” the man said excitedly.
“You can call me Hank,” Hank said.
“It’s very nice to meet you then, Hank.” The man replied.
He gave Hank a firm hug, and a slap on the back. The bristles of hair on the man’s chin scratched against Hank’s cheek.
“Oh yes, It’s good to meet you, too, Mr. Donner. I’m here for the job you’re offering, the chemist?” Mr. Donner shuffled back to his desk and said, “Of course. You seem like prime material, you know.” He sat down with a thump and grabbed another glass from his desk.
“Sit down, Hank.” He carelessly pointed to the leather seat that sat across from him, spilling some of his drink. “Oh Jesus, look what I’ve done.” He rustled into his pockets and pulled out a red handkerchief, then wiped at the puddle of liquid. A brownish-red splotch was left in the wood of his desk, spreading corrosively. “Sorry about that, Hank. Anyways - what makes you think you’d like this role? It can be hard at times, even painful.”
“Well, I’ve always admired what you and Paracelsus do here. Pharmaceutics has always been a goal of mine - it saves lives, gives people what they need to go on. You’re really out to help people, and that’s something I’d like to be a part of,” Hank said.
Mr. Donner took another sip of his drink, and looked at Hank for a moment. “That’s very inspiring, Hank, and I like your attitude - but the recipients of our products demand a certain quality, and I need to ensure that standard is met with your role. Remind me of your academic background?”
“I spent three years at UC Davis earning my doctorate degree, then another four years at UCSF to get my Pharm.D.”
“Oh, very good, Hank.” Mr. Donner laid back in his chair, fiddling with his empty glass. “What was that like?”
“I really enjoy being at San Francisco. The things I’ve learned to do here are amazing, and the lessons are very interesting - and I love the city. I think I’ve really thrived.”
“That’s good to hear. I love it too - been here all my life.” Mr. Donner reached for a bottle from underneath his desk, clinking it down and opening it. “Say, can I get you anything to drink? I’ve got a lot to choose from.” He began pouring him a glass.
Mr. Donner pulled a small vial of red powder from his coat pocket and popped open its cap, then poured the substance into the glass. It very slowly diluted into the drink, changing its hue from a light-orange to a dark red.
“What’s that stuff?” Hank asked. Mr. Donner screwed the cap back on and placed it in his pocket.
“It’s one of our newest products, Hank. One of the things you’ll be helping to create. Would you like some?” He held out the glass to Hank, and the corners of his mouth curled up into a smile. “It’s really quite good for you. It makes you ever so young, and keeps you that way for as long as you like.” A swirl of inky red twisted around in the drink, cloudy and unappealing.
“I’d really rather not, Mr. Donner, I shouldn’t drink this early - I’ve got some things to deal with after this. But how does that work, if you don’t mind me asking?” Mr. Donner paused for a moment.
“I think you’d really enjoy it. After all, how can you be a part of this if you can’t even try the things we produce?” He shook the glass a little bit, swirling the drink around.
“Well, I don’t even know what it is. How does it do that, make you young?” Hank pressed.
Mr. Donner laughed, then perched his hand on his knee, still holding the glass. “I don’t know a thing or two about it myself, you’ll have to ask the boys down in the third floor - if you get the chance, that is. They’re the ones I’ve bugged about getting the stuff for myself. I just know it’s very sacred, very effective. Fixes up your bones, smooths your skin. It’s very important to my clients, and to me.” He swallowed the glass of liquid down in a single gulp, then grabbed the bottle and another vial. “I’m getting to be quite an old man. I’ll be eighty-eight by next month. It's been so long since I’ve had that thrill of youth - something I miss very much. But this stuff - and the other products we have - just gives me a chill, a spirit unlike any other. It’s beautiful.” The old man began looking off into the picture hung behind Hank’s head - a painting of an orchard, with an old Ford truck driving by. He seemed entranced by it, almost within it. But as Hank shuffled around in his chair, he quickly turned back to him.
“Are you sure you don’t want any for yourself? It comes straight from our best men.”
Hank’s knee began to restlessly bounce against the floor, and he turned to look through the window. “Well, if you truly insist. You make it sound so great, how could I not?” he said with a smile. He leaned in to Mr. Donner, and carefully held the glass.
“That’s it, good choice,” Mr. Donner muttered. His drink was poured, and Hank chugged it down, slapping the glass back onto the desk. He almost immediately began to cough, and he brought the back of his hand to his mouth.
“Oh, that tastes horrible. Why is it so salty?” he choked.
Mr. Donner chortled as he placed the vial back into his pocket. “It’s bad, isn’t it? You get used to it - maybe yours will be better. My people would be delighted to get a better flavor.”
“I’ll do the best I can,” Hank said. He ran his tongue along his teeth in an attempt to rid them of the taste.
Mr. Donner placed the bottle to the side, and pulled himself up straight in his chair.
“Well then, Hank - tell me a bit more about yourself. How have you been physically?”
“Physically?” Hank asked in confusion.
“Yes. Physically - you know, fitness-wise. Do you exercise regularly?”
“I suppose I’ve done well - I’ve passed all of my highschool fitness tests, and try to get exercise pretty frequently.”
“Good, very good. Any diseases?”
“Um, none that I know of right now. I hope I don’t have any.”
“Do you have a family history of diseases?”
Hank looked at Mr. Donner with discomfort. “With all due respect, how is that important?” Hank said.
Mr. Donner leaned toward him a bit. “I don’t want you to contaminate the product, Hank. It may seem strange right now, but you’ll understand soon enough. A lot depends on this.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Hank said.
“Just answer the question, Hank. If you want this, you’ll answer it.”
Hank began to smell something putrid, but only very briefly - the scent of the air fresheners seemed to overpower it. “I honestly don't know that well - I have an uncle who’s diabetic, but other than that we’re pretty much disease-free.”
“Very, very good, Hank. So far, I think you’d be a prime addition to our company. I do have one more question for you before we make a decision, though,” Mr. Donner said. In the background, the humming noise that Hank had heard in the hall grew, and a thumping sound came in regular intervals from below.
“Really, only one more? It’s barely been five minutes,” Hank replied.
“Oh yes, we’ve got to make these interviews quick so we can get you all set. We only need this basic info, then you’re off to making more of our product.”
Mr. Donner pulled open a drawer in his desk, and took out a small slip of paper. He held it up and began reading it aloud: “Are you willing to do whatever you can to get this role, and, if you do, are you willing to shed your blood in the name of Paracelsus?” He set the paper down, and meticulously placed his glasses back where they originally were. “Sorry, the boys said I have to read it exactly as it is, just as a formality.”
“Well, that’s a bit dramatic - but yes, I’ll do whatever I can for this, and in the name of this company, if it helps me get this job.” Mr. Donner began to smile again, and swiftly picked himself up out of his chair.
“Well, I suppose that’s that - welcome to Paracelsus, Mr. Wareheim. I’ll call up the boys from downstairs and we’ll get you set for the job.”
Someone knocked at the door, and the voice of the young blonde was heard to say, “He ready, Mr. Donner?”
“Look, they’re already here for you, Hank!” Mr. Donner exclaimed.
Hank hoisted himself out his chair, flustered. He demanded, “But Mr. Donner, the job? Right now? I can’t do that now, Mr. Donner, I told you I had things to finish up today. I’m really not ready at all right now!”
Mr. Donner grabbed for the doorknob, his glass and a new vial in hand, the corners of his mouth curling up into an enormous smile.
“For this job, I don’t think you can ever be.”
by Daisy A., 11th
In our everyday lives, we interact with many different people, some that we like and some that we don’t. No matter how harshly we judge someone, we never judge them as harshly as we judge ourselves. In his book, The Voice of Knowledge, Don Miguel Ruiz uses his personal experience to explain how we treat ourselves worse than we treat others, because we listen to the voice of knowledge. Ruiz describes the voice of knowledge as a subconscious voice in our head that is instilled in us when we begin talking. As our knowledge increases, the voice of knowledge gains a larger presence within us. The voice of knowledge consists of the lies we’ve been exposed to: the stereotypes we’ve heard, the insecurities we have, and the societal norms that have been engraved into our lives. The voice of knowledge uses the lies instilled within us to expel the love we have for ourselves, and it uses the vast knowledge we have about ourselves to attack our known insecurities.
When we allow the voice of knowledge into our life, it utilizes the knowledge we have been exposed to, to abuse us. From an early age, we have been exposed to various lies such as false stereotypes and societal norms. I come from a Mexican background, and in Mexican culture, men are significantly valued more than women. Growing up, I was exposed to the narrative that women should stay at home and men should work. I wasn’t taught this; I observed this in my surroundings. My mother was a stay at home mom who cleaned the house and cooked while my father worked. I internalized this lie, and I believed that I wouldn’t be able to have a career because I am a woman. The aspirations I had for my life and the confidence I had in myself diminished, as I realized I would never be able to have what a man does because I am a woman. Ruiz would argue that I am using the word against myself. The word symbolizes our knowledge. He says, “How do you know when you are using the word against yourself? Well, when you are suffering with envy, with anger, with sadness. Suffering of all kinds is the result of misusing the word; it is the result of believing in knowledge contaminated with lies.” (150)
I envied men because they have a choice about what they want to do with their lives, and this envy and suffering was the result of my misuse of the word. Ruiz explains that “when you believe in lies, you are using the power of the word against yourself. When you believe that nobody likes you, that nobody understands you, that you will never make it, you are using the word against yourself” (148). I was using the word against myself in this situation. The fact that I believed this lie influenced not only my thoughts but also my actions. When doing chores at home, I will do most of the cleaning while my brother does nothing, and I will judge myself harsher if I don’t do my chores because I am a woman, and I should clean while men should not, according to the cultural values I have been exposed to. I know I don’t need to conform to this social norm, but the voice of knowledge pushes me towards changing myself to fit this social norm. I allowed the word to control because I don’t love myself enough to value myself over men.
We all have the ability to love, and it comes easily to us when it regards other people, but we have a harder time when it comes to ourselves. Due to the presence of the voice of knowledge has within us, we are unable to love ourselves. We focus on the negative aspects of ourselves and use these as barriers that hinder us from loving ourselves. Ruiz argues, “love and respect are what we should also teach our children, but the only way to teach them love and respect is to love and respect ourselves” (180). He believes the adults in our lives do not love and respect themselves, and they teach their children to not love themselves, which only adds on to their self-hatred. Ruiz proposes a solution that can end the cycle of self-hatred and allow the future generations to grow up with parents that love themselves when he says, “By changing ourselves, by loving ourselves, the message we deliver to our children carries the seeds of love and truth [ … ] Imagine how our children will grow up when we share with them the seeds of love instead of the seeds of fear, judgement, shame, or blame” (181). If my mother would have stood up to the societal norms she was exposed to, I might have learned to love myself enough to go against the voice of knowledge.
The voice of knowledge causes us to develop insecurities which we then use to put ourselves down and de-value our existence. “Every self-opinion, every belief, is made by words,” and these words are contaminated with lies and negativity about ourselves, therefore, insecurities are created (149). We judge ourselves more harshly because we know ourselves the best. When you judge yourself you attack all of your known weaknesses, hitting where it hurts the most. When you attack other people, you are speculating about what their weaknesses are, but when you attack yourself, you know what your weaknesses are. There’s a saying that sometimes the people who are closest to you hurt you the most; this is because they know what you think are your flaws, and this gives them the power to hurt you. Although many people know your flaws and insecurities, no matter how transparent you are with them, the only person who knows who you are is you even if you aren’t able to interpret what that is yet.
I know what I like, what I dislike, my fears, and my dreams. I am always changing and growing, and these aspects of my life change, but the only person who knows when they change is me. It is your instinct to be who you are, but this can be overcrowded with the societal pressures you are exposed to and the voice of knowledge that engraves these pressures deeper into your mind. It can do this because it is always with you. A larger presence is able to have a larger impact on you which is why you impact yourself the most. You know what you are insecure about, and you know what buttons people shouldn’t press. Just as these buttons are off-limits to others, they are also off-limits to you, but the voice of knowledge pushes them anyway. Ruiz argues that the only way to overcome our low self-esteem is to be impeccable with our word. “To be impeccable means that you don’t use your own knowledge against yourself, and you don’t allow the voice in your head to abuse you” (149).
We abuse and judge ourselves more than we judge others. We know ourselves best which allows us to target our known weaknesses, and we act on these targets when we don’t love ourselves. The judgement we carry with us regarding ourselves or others causes unnecessary suffering. Ruiz believes we can live a happier life if we rid ourselves of this pain by expelling the voice of knowledge from our lives and being impeccable with our words. We cannot control people experiencing pain from the loss of someone; but what we can prevent is our choice to hurt ourselves. We need to build up our self-esteem not tear it down, and we can achieve this through love. If we all love ourselves, we will be able to truly love others, and the world will be a better place for this.
by Perla, 8th
I am an immigrant from El Salvador. My name is Perla Hernandez and I am 13 years old. My family came to the United States because we needed a new beginning. Now we have a new beginning in Oakland, California.
When I was younger in El Salvador, my family had a problem. My grandfather had a gun and some people were mad about that because they didn’t have a gun. The guys who had a problem with my grandfather got in a fight will him at a rooster fight. After that fight they killed him. I was so sad about that.
Then my uncle called my dad and he said take your family now because we are in danger. My uncle came for us, and then we went to a hotel. We stayed one night at the hotel and then in the morning we were waiting for two men. We left and were taken to a big house. It had big beds and blankets. The coyote called my family and told us it was time to eat. We said ok and we went to eat. And then, they said go to bed. We followed what they told us to do, but it was raining . We were cold in the morning when they said “wake up, it is time to go.” It was 6:00 a.m. and we got to a bus and the police stopped us on the street. Then we got to another hotel we stayed there two nights and in the morning we washed our clothing. Then they call us because our aunt was calling us to see if we were ok. They told us “you need to stay two nights - you and your family.”
In the morning we went up to a small store. All we had to eat was tomatoes and beans for the whole time. We took a taxi and we got to a blue house. We stayed five days. After the five days we left. A car came for us and we crossed a big river. They helped us to cross the water in a boat. They said “walk this side, don’t stop.” The migration officers saw us and they took our cooler. Then, they checked our hair and we ate. At night a bus came to get us and we took one hour to go to the airport. Then we took another bus and another bus and another bus. When we finally arrived in Oakland, I was so happy to see my family, especially my cousins and my aunt.
The similarities between immigrants in U.S. history and my story are many. We both had to pay to come to the U.S. We both had to learn English and wait for a long time to come. We are both from another country. And immigrants in 1890’s - 1940’s came for better schools, and I did too. The biggest thing all immigrants have the same is we came to this country for a better life. The differences between the immigration station on Angel Island and today’s immigrants now is clear. Immigrants 100 years ago came to Ellis and Angel Island, but I immigrated to San Antonio, Texas. They had to take medical tests, but I didn’t.
Today, people like my mom have to wear ankle bracelets because of their immigrations case, but in 1900s they just keep them on the island like jail. I learned a lot about immigrants now and before. It is so hard to come here and I see how they worked hard and had a difficult time. I think about immigrants 100 years ago and their experience. It was difficult because they were not educated and they didn’t speak any English when they came here. The immigrants from then were totally different from me because they came on a boat, they had to go to Angel and Ellis Island, and they had to take tests. I hope that immigration in this country changes. I also hope that immigration officers, la migra, don’t come for all of us. I hope we can stay together and stay happy in Oakland like we are now.
by Nalli, 10th
When I hear the word home
I think of the small things that I once took for granted thinking they would always be there.
I think of the yellow, orange, and green buildings I grew up in.
Yellow to let the demons out
Orange to haul them back in
Green to start over
The apartment buildings we would have never been able to let go of if it weren’t for the letter giving only six days to leave behind a lifetime.
I knew exactly which floor tiles creaked in the dead of night.
How to turn the knobs in the shower to get just the right temperature.
And the downstairs neighbor who dreamed about growing her own garden but was never able to.
I think of the way the leaves fell from the trees in the fall and flooded the streets like rain.
How when we first stepped foot in that neighborhood my brothers were still using training wheels.
The room with a giant closet I avoided at night just incase there was a ghost living in there.
The hall full of photos of my brothers and I and the Christmas tree mom took down and sold before it was even Christmas.
And how in the Autumn time I would leave my window open so I could listen to the giant trees swaying and creaking in the wind.
My dad walking me to my fifth grade class
Tracing the lines on the fences with my fingers as we walked side by side.
I was too embarrassed by sixth grade
And by seventh grade I walked alone every morning.
Waking up from an after school nap to a dark living room
The sunset peaking through the window
The sounds of my family getting ready for dinner.
Jumping in the creek even though we knew we shouldn’t
Building clubhouses in the field
Stealing the neighbors oranges and never really eating them.
Riding my bike in the driveway
Riding my skateboard in the driveway
Attempting to build a seesaw in the driveway.
Dancing with the thought of never leaving.
Playing soccer in the streets late into the night.
Sitting at the top of the stairs waiting for the sun to rise.
Watching as the neighborhood slowly came to life.
I think of a world that no longer exists.
And how there’s no feeling crueler than nostalgia.
by Summer B. 11th
Each of us is on a journey.
Cocooned in a
mold made by the world
vulnerable to the elements
Hoping to one day
Seeking milk and honey
As we struggle to feed
our starving souls.
Burning bountiful forests
to pack our pretentious pockets.
Building off the backs of others
breaking bonds between
our brothers, as sisters are
silenced and sold to satiate broken beings.
We bind ourselves to
Denying our own
If only we could
dissolve the film!
that filters our perspective
Emerge into a world
outside of ourselves,
and see we’re interconnected.
One blue rock
that lives and breathes
Formed from stardust
And born by storm
Each beat of wing,
suspended in space
by Hazel Grace, 7th
The hands on the clock tick slowly by,
around and around.
Please help me put my feet on the ground.
Head spinning, don’t wanna fall down.
No tears left to cry.
Tears all dried in,
life goes on by.
Time is precious, don’t be so reckless.
Help make a change.
Stop being so feckless.
Learn your lessons.
Don’t take things for granted.
Time’ll leave you stranded.
The hands on the clock tick slowly by,
around and around.
Please help me.
I don’t wanna fall down.
by E.M. Miles, 8th
Brynn stepped off the rumbling, rickety bus. The strap of her duffel bag dug into her shoulder, and she shifted it uncomfortably. The sun glared down at her, rendering her momentarily blind as she groped for the sunglasses that rested on the top of her head. With her vision clear, she finally takes her first look around the town she grew up in, and her heart twisted. The sprawling landscape of tiny houses was flat, and no glaring glass buildings or garish billboards marred the vivid blue sky. It was late spring, and fat robins and sparrows fluttered and perched on branches, filling the air with their chirps and the rustle of flight. The hiss of car tires on asphalt was muted by the rush of the nearby river. The chatter of a town of people who all knew each other's names and stories rose into the atmosphere as well. A sweet, heavy smell of fresh flowers and river water floated by, carried by a cool breeze that tousled Brynn’s dark brown waves.
Despite it all, Brynn felt sick. She took another desperate look around the town, knowing that she had never been there in her life. The public library of her town was made of red brick, not the harsh white marble that made up the one here. No river ran through the town of her childhood. And where was the wood that bordered the west side of her town, the one she had spent so many summer days exploring? Where was the park, the stretch of grassy field that Brynn tumbled and rolled in? Where was the old, rotted, tumble-down farmhouse on the edge of town that Darren Pickett had once raced out of, his eyes as large as saucers, swearing he had seen the ghost of old Farmer McPharrel? Where were the ravens that came screeching out of the wood? Where was the water tower where she and her sister, Cass, had climbed up to get the best view of the fireworks? What is this place? she wondered wildly. Where am I?
by Jay, 12th
A conversation that flows smoothly in a conversation between black girls
So much passion through the words we speak of something so simple
Something we all connect with
Something that lift us up when we are feeling low
A new hair style
Fulani braids, weave, marley twist, singles, Senegalese twist, natural hair
I wear it all
Also a conversation that’s awkward when speaking to someone with no history on black hair
This conversation can become strange when someone other than my fellow black girls ask strange questions
Is that your real hair?
Is it fake?
How long is your real hair?
Do you not like your real hair?
Can I touch?
I am not a pet you cannot touch my hair
Believing I don’t appreciate my natural hair because I wear weave and braids
You don’t deserve to see my natural hair
Hearing girls with straight hair complain about their hair being “nappy”
Sweetie your hair is tangled NOT nappy
I love my real hair which is why I take care of it
Hot oil treatments and deep conditioning
And all the weave and braids I wear it’s called a PROTECTIVE STYLE
Understand the meaning behind these styles
by Andy Hunter, 12th
10 A.M., Saturday, October 15th, 2016
Bzzzzz. BzZZZ. bZZZZZ. I groggily reach for my alarm as the ceaseless monotony of beeps brings me to my senses. I begin to roll out of bed, and then remember I have to be careful. The last time I rolled out of bed super fast, I fell on the floor onto a Lego. Ouch. I sigh. Today’s the first day of track practice, and I should be excited, but instead I’m just really tired. I slowly rise and shake my head to clear it before stumbling to the bathroom. “Hopefully, I’m not this clumsy at practice,” I mumble to myself.
As I wash my face and finish brushing my teeth, my mom calls up the stairs, “Josh! You’re gonna to be late for practice!” Stumbling with my duffel bag slung over my shoulder, I hastily grab my keys off my desk and manage a “Coming!” before flying down the stairs. I yank open the door and take a deep breath of fresh air before running to my car.
I look at the dashboard as I pull up to a red light. 10:35 AM. I glance away, then do a double take. 10:35?! I’m already 20 minutes late! My hands are jittery. I didn’t get much sleep last night, so I’m even more jumpy than usual. Nervous thoughts begin running through my mind. Coach is gonna kill me! I’m supposed to be the team captain, the role model. What if he demotes me for setting a bad example? The state championship race is tomorrow! Will he still let me compete?!
As the light turns green, I push the gas hard. Way too hard. I ram into the car in front of me, and my body lurches out of the seat. The last thing I see before I pass out is the blinding brightness of the sun as I’m laid out on my back among a wreckage of glass.
* * *
1:30 P.M., Saturday, October 15th, 2016
My first thoughts when I awaken are that my whole body hurts, but my right leg is particularly painful. There are shockwaves of pain from my right knee down to my foot when I move even a little bit. I feel an odd sort of apprehension, like something terrible happened, but my brain is fuzzy and I can’t really put my finger on it. I groan and lay back on my pillow, then do a double-take as I look around the room and see the IV tubes and other foreign beeping machines around my bed. Slowly, I come to my senses and realize I’m in the hospital. But for what? I can’t remember. I lay back gently into my pillow, and drift off to sleep again.
The next time I awaken, I open my eyes to the sight of a middle-aged man who appears to be my doctor. He says quietly, “Josh? Are you awake?”
“Uh, yeah,” I respond slowly, still half-asleep.
“Okay. Do you know why you’re here, Josh? Do you remember anything that happened?”
“I’m not really sure, sir. My memory’s still fuzzy, but I remember being in a car and worrying about being late to soccer practice.”
“Ah, I see. The story is starting to come together a bit. Well, I’m sorry to tell you this, Josh, but at the intersection of 12th and 3rd Street, you rear-ended a car and flew out the windshield. The passengers in the other car were all okay. You were found unconscious, and transported here. You’re currently at Bellevue Hospital in New York.”
Whoa. I must’ve hit the other car really hard. Suddenly, everything comes rushing back. Being late to practice. Pulling up really close to the car in front of me. Seeing the green light too late, and panicking. I don’t think I had my seatbelt on either. No wonder I flew out the window. I sigh quietly as the memories slowly recede, then speak up again.
“Doctor, what’s happened to my leg? I can barely move my leg without it feeling like there’s a thousand needles shooting up my thigh. Is there any serious injury to my leg?” My thoughts turned to my track career. “Will it impact my running at all? Can I even run? I’m on the track team, you see.”
The doctor puts up his hands, palms facing me like stop signs. “Whoa, buddy. Calm down. You have a fractured kneecap from the crash, and we’re going to have to cast it. You won’t be running anytime soon. Probably not for 6-8 weeks. Sorry, buddy.”
A slight sense of panic begins to rise in my stomach. What am I going to do? How am I gonna tell Coach what happened? Will I be kicked off the team? I have no idea what’s in store for me now.
* * *
4 PM, Monday, October 17th, 2016
I’ve been in the hospital for two days now. The state finals finished up yesterday, and the champion was someone I beat consistently for the last three years. What a perfect way to cap off a horrible weekend. They casted my leg about an hour ago, so I’m trying to learn how to walk with crutches. It takes me a bit, but finally I get the hang of it, and I sit back down on the bed, waiting for my mom to arrive so I can be dismissed from the hospital. I hear a ding from my phone, and reach across the bed to check the message. It’s from my mom.
Hey Josh, I have some bad news. I talked to your coach about your injury and what’s going to happen to you moving forward, and he told me that he can’t justify putting you on the elite team anymore. He said he thought your injury would really hold you back from reaching your full potential now, and that the best choice forward was to drop you from the team and put you in the lower level team. He said he hopes that you find the new team satisfactory, and wished you luck in your recovery. I’m really sorry, Josh, but there’s not much we can do. We’re in no position to argue with him, as he told me already that he thought about dropping you from the organization altogether, after your teammates expressed that they didn’t think you should continue to be captain. We’re out of luck, hon. Text or call me when you’re up or if you need anything.
I stare at the screen, dumbfounded. Did this really happen? There’s no way. Just as everything seemed to be trending up in my life. My grades were surviving, I had just asked a girl to Homecoming, and I’d just made the elite team of one of the best track clubs outside of school. And suddenly, I’m in a cast for six weeks, I’ve wrecked my car, and my own team has betrayed and shunned me. Who would’ve thought, in the fraction of time it takes to press your foot against the gas pedal, the state of one’s entire life could be changed forever?
* * *
5 P.M., Saturday, October 22nd, 2016
I’m finally done with my homework. Time to research more teams that I could possibly join. As soon as I got out of the hospital, I called Coach, telling him that I would be dropping out of the organization. I’m not planning to tolerate a hostile environment where I’m not wanted, much less recover in one. Munching on my favorite snack of cashews and honey roasted peanuts, I browse casually through the results of a Google Search, scanning for any opportunities that seem worth checking out. As I scroll down the search results, my eyes catch onto one particular link and I raise my eyebrows as the page loads. Team Eagle. That name sounds oddly familiar. As it dawns on me, my eyebrows raise even higher. They are division rivals of my old team, and there is quite a heated competition in town between the two squads. Their coach has tried to convince members of our team to join theirs several times over, and their members have taunted ours endlessly. With the rising tensions and animosity, there was nearly a brawl at the final meet of the season last year. To join them will anger my old team to no end, and will cause even more chaos between the two teams. But I have no choice. They abandoned me, and I need a team. I can’t worry about them; I need to focus on myself. I navigate to and slowly click the “Contact Us” link.
* * *
6PM, Sunday, December 15th, 2016
I anxiously pace up and down the length of my room, glancing every few minutes at the fluorescent glow of my laptop. I’m wound up so tight right now with nervousness I could pass for a jack-in-a-box. I’m awaiting an email from the head coach of Team Eagle, who said he’d respond by 6PM in his latest email. I’ve been contacting him for a while now, nearly two months. Although they are division rivals of my former team, and I don’t want to cause any trouble, Team Eagle has done something no other team has done for me recently. Team Eagle showed interest. In fact, they were the first team to even respond to any of my emails or phone calls. By talking with the head coach, and presenting my track resume with my old team, I’d managed to convince them to give me a tryout. Now, I’m awaiting the results of the tryout, to learn if I was on the team or not.
My brain tells me I didn’t make it, but my gut feels as though I squeezed onto the team. I can’t tell for sure. I’d finished slower than two other guys trying out, but I also think I’ve made enough of a good impression on the coach that he’ll attribute my slow time to my injury. Hopefully he won’t forget my past times.
A loud Ding! causes me to jump a little, before rushing over to my computer to check my inbox. Sure enough, there it is. “Tryout results,” the subject line reads. Apprehensively, I click the email.
Hello! If you’re reading this email right now, congratulations! You have been accepted to one of the biggest track organizations in all of New York. You’ve accomplished quite a prestigious achievement! Check down below to see which team you’re on.
My heart skips a beat, and I feel a slow sense of joy rising, but I’m careful to check myself and not let my hopes get up too high. I could still be on the lower team. I scroll down a little further. JUNIOR TEAM reads a large heading. I pass by without stopping to read the names. Finally, I reach SENIOR TEAM. With bated breath, I begin to scan the names. Halfway through the list, my name still hasn’t shown up. Disappointment builds up slowly. Three quarters down. Still no name to be seen. Maybe I am on the junior team. Maybe I didn’t really make the senior team. My apprehension only grows as I continue down the list, fearing with each scroll that the list will come to an end. At last, I see my name, etched in black text. My heart swells as it dawns on me that I’m back on an elite team, with a chance to compete. Finally!
* * *
8 PM, Friday, October 14th, 2017
It’s been a long grueling season for me so far, with my injury and all. I started the season off pretty shabbily, finishing in seventh place out of eight places for my first two races as I was extremely rusty after having not raced for a while. Over time, however, I’ve improved back to my former strength, after persevering through a couple more races. The races got increasingly more competitive and grueling as the season went on, as I felt the pressure to succeed mounting.
Tonight, we’re having our annual pasta dinner, the last team bonding event of the year before the final race of the season. Not only is it a bonding opportunity for the team, it's also a chance for everyone to charge up before the last race. As my teammates and I circle around the table preparing to descend upon the delicious mounds of noodles and sauce, I realize I’ve never had a better group of friends in my life. These guys have supported me throughout a rough comeback season, and I grin broadly as I remember the many moments we’ve had together, from placing first in our third relay of the season, to having tons of members qualify for State. I smile even wider as another thought comes to my mind. Not only are these people a great group of friends, they’re my friends. I know they would never turn their backs on me. I wouldn’t want to run with anyone else.
* * *
10 A.M., Saturday, October 15th, 2017
It’s officially been one year since I was involved in the car crash, and oddly enough, I find myself in the same situation as I was a year ago. Twenty minutes late to the track. Except this time, I’m running in the championship 400m race for the State Competition, not watching it on a minuscule grainy television from a hospital bed. I smile as I fondly remember my miraculous recovery and journey back to success. The boys and the coach of Team Eagle took me under their wing, encouraging me when I was down and recovering, and preparing me for the moment when we’d all make it big, together. I’d quickly established myself as one of the strongest runners on the team. After four weeks, I was closer with these boys than I’d ever been with anyone on my former team. I felt like I was following a track that was predetermined for me; I was preparing for a race against the team that left me behind to prove them wrong, a classic comeback story. I became more motivated than I’d ever been in my life to show my old team I didn’t need them to be the best. What an amazing journey it’s been, I reminisce to myself.
As I snap back into reality, I find myself at the intersection of 12th and 3rd street again. I sigh to myself and think, Who would’ve thought that in just one year, my life could go from rock bottom to nearly the top? I take a deep breath as my thoughts turn to the race. I’ve got to win today. I feel a slight twinge in my heart as I remember just who’s going to be at the race. My old teammates who believed that I would let an injury hold me back. Rather than support me and help me get up, they left me behind to fall even further. I grit my teeth in determination. I need this race. I need to prove to myself, and to everyone else who believed I’d never be able to compete again, that I am strong enough and powerful enough to rise once again. It’s not enough to just compete again; I absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, have to win. My mind sharpens, my eyes narrow, and my full focus locks onto the race. I’m not going to try to win. I will win.
by Vida M. 8th
I am not a doll you can label with lies
I am person who has just a few words to say
Being born into a certain race
Does not make me dangerous
And it does not make me a criminal
Just because I am Salvadorian
Does not make me a gang member
Just because I am Mexican
Does not make me a drug dealer
Just because I am a woman
Does it make me irrelevant
I am what I say I am
I am a tree that is rooted to the ground
I am a Salvadorian
With an education
I am a Mexican
With a dream to become a doctor
I am a woman
With an option that matters
An opinion that will be voiced
I am who I say I am
I am Vida