2017 Winner

Ariana Fernando

Rancho Santa Margarita, CA

Feeling anxious, displaced, and lonely, would anything be normal again?  It was the summer before my sophomore year of high school.  My father had taken several pay cuts and one day he came home looking sullen and dejected, and said, “I'm sorry.”  My mother asked, “for what?! Are you alright?!”  He said, “They dissolved my position at work. I lost my job.” His words cut through my heart like a knife. A myriad of emotions came over me at once. I wanted to cry not just for myself, but for him. The breadwinner, the pillar, the strength of our family, suffering the ultimate financial blow, lost his job. Leaving the company after 18 years, without his dignity and only two weeks severance pay. I wondered what this meant for our family, as our home had already been on the market for about a year.  My parents pushed forward dropping the price of our home, both taking on multiple jobs to keep the household running.  One day I came home from school and my mom told me that the beautiful home that I lived in for the past 9 years was sold. Of course it sold for far less than what my parents paid, but it sold; one less burden off the shoulders of my father, whose health was rapidly declining. Little did we know, soon we would find out he had stage 3 cancer. I went to my room and cried partly for myself and partly for my parents.  I thought of the parties and sleepovers and family gatherings I had throughout the years since I was 6.; how I played tag on the street of our neighborhood and other games and my cry turned to sobs. In July I left to an arts summer camp that was paid for long before my father lost his job. In the weeks I was gone, my parents packed up, sold, and gave away our belongings from our 3,200 square foot home and moved us into a 1,458 square foot condo.  During those two weeks I remember calling home and hearing my mother’s voice sounding strained; different. As I talked to her over the phone the night before the final move, I asked her what she was doing. She told me she had dragged my twin sized mattress from my room laid it on the floor in the empty master bedroom, opened the French doors and was lying on it, watching the sunset while taking in the beautiful view of the glimmering, serene lake; listening to the familiar sounds of our neighborhood and thinking of the contentment, fulfillment, security and memories she was leaving behind for the last time. My brother in-law said he hugged my mother, after dropping off the final load of our belongings to our new place. He described how she sobbed and wailed in his arms like someone had passed. I suspect in some ways it was like a death. A death of everything that made her feel secure and protected. I returned from camp in August and embraced her tightly. Although this move was hard on everyone, including my father, I could see it took the hardest toll on my mother. As I embraced her, I felt a weakness, a sense of defeat. She seemed tired, not physically, but emotionally. I looked into her eyes, and in them I could vividly see an anxious fear; fear of starting over. Fear of a rebuilding that she didn't think she or my father had the strength for at their age. I had never seen my mother anywhere close to scared before; she was the strongest person I knew. I returned to a new house. This was not yet my home, nor did I think it could ever be. I desperately missed my childhood home with all the wonderful, carefree memories, and my friends, immediately I felt lonely.

The breadwinner, the pillar, the strength of our family, suffering the ultimate financial blow, lost his job. Leaving the company after 18 years, without his dignity and only two weeks severance pay. I wondered what this meant for our family…

Things were very different. The luxuries and space of our old home were gone.  I had no friends, no yard, and as I looked around, there was a sea of brown boxes to unpack. The walls were paper-thin. I could now hear my neighbors showering, walking up their stairs, their obnoxious laughter and dinner conversations. I could see passer-bys peeking through our windows.  Privacy was compromised to say the least. I just wanted things to be normal. I hated it and so did my mom, although she never said it. She continued to be depressed, refusing to unpack all of our belongings, stating this was only a resting place, a mere stepping-stone for us that we would soon be out of. It stayed this way through the following summer. I am now in my senior year of high school. We have made new memories here but they are not good ones.  This is where the traumatic experience of my father’s cancer started: him falling to the floor, his eyes rolling back into his head, and him vomiting bile uncontrollably. Seeing him being whisked away by the paramedics and us, his shocked family discovering that the tumor inside his stomach was so large that the doctors were unable to complete a colonoscopy. This cancer had ravaged him so that he weighed just over one hundred pounds. Here, in this new home, we created new memories of us nursing him back to health. Memories that we did not truly want to remember, but that were forever etched into the tablets of our memories. My mother has now hung pictures, put dishes in the cupboards, and placed flowers in a vase to grace our small dining room table. I am sure she is grateful for a roof over her head, but she refuses visitors. We have a new "normal" and still, she will not call it home, and honestly neither do I. It is a house, not yet a home.

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