A Stacked Deck

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Editor’s Note: The following article was written by a youth reporter who is a graduate of the Urban Youth International Journalism Program.

My life has been hectic from the start. I grew up on the East Side of Chicago and have seen things I shouldn’t have seen and gone through things I shouldn’t have had to face.

I am a 14-year-old female and I know life is hard, so dying should be easy.

I wake up every day with a smile on my face, not wanting to deal with the drama and headaches I face as a young woman. People don’t know what I go through. They wouldn’t even think I live the life I live, but I do.

I am a strong young woman and I do what I have to do to protect my family. I’m strong on the outside, but really, on the inside, I’m very scared.

When I was a baby, my father left my mom and I. He has three other children, other than me, and adores them so much. I used to hate my mom and always wondered what she did to him, for him to not want to be around me. The only time I would ever see him was when I was over at my siblings’ house, and that was rarely.

Every time I would see him, he would give me that same old speech about how much he loves me and said: “Daddy goin’ change. I’m goin’ build a relationship with you. I promise.” But it never happened.

I got tired of waiting on him to change his ways. He was always in jail and even when he wasn’t in jail, he still wasn’t in my life. He lied so much it was ridiculous. That’s why I hate—with a passion—people who lie.

Even though my father wasn’t in my life, I still had a tight bond with my siblings, especially my brother. He always promised me he would never leave me like my dad did. He said, no matter what, we would always be together.

When I was eight years old, I was molested by my uncle and my brother was there, trying to stop it and protect me. He was there through everything, thick and thin. I had his back and he had mine. My brother has different ways of handling things but both of us have the same heart.

Throughout my life, I have witnessed two men get shot right before my eyes and still, every time, I get this look on my face like I’ve never seen it before, even though I have. I guess that’s because I’m not used to it and, truthfully, I don’t think I ever will be.

I lost friends and family members to gun violence and it hurts so much. I’m tired of all this negativity in the world. You know what they say—if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.

So I think when my mom asks me for money for bills, it makes me stronger. When teachers put so much stress and work on me, it makes me stronger.

Recently, my brother was accused of criminal assault. If my brother is convicted and has to go to jail, I wonder what that will do to me—kill me or make me stronger? It would be shocking.

I really want to hope that things will be all right but deep down, I know that things are not going to be OK. I don’t want my brother to end up like my dad—another dead beat, poor excuse for a man. I have to believe and have faith in God and my brother too.

I used to question why I was dealt the cards that were dealt to me but now I just take the cards and play with them. The only thing is, if I lose this game, there are no re-dos or play-agains. It would be over.

I feel like I’m walking on eggshells. Everybody is putting pressure on me to know what to do and have the answer to everything. But I can’t. They want me to lead in the dark tunnel and make it out.

I think my brother wants me to be the best for him and for me. I can’t turn around and forget what’s going on. I have to be strong for him, for my mom, and for my family. I need to set an example, because if I don’t do it, who will?

I’m a strong young woman, not always because I choose to be, but just because I have to be. I’m just playing the cards I was dealt.

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