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Being raised by a single mother, I came to realize that I have to teach myself to become a man. I would watch cooking videos that would inspire my passion to cook. I would watch shows and movies that I could relate to my life. I would watch any and all types of sports to inspire me to be an athlete. Through these experiences I thought I found purpose and a meaning in which to live. I had this tunnel vision that if I was to do at least one thing in life, it would be that I would make those I cared for at least happy and always smiling whenever I was around. I never knew that such a narrow minded obligation would be such a burden. Moreover, I put others ahead of myself because, good or bad, I wanted them to be happy. I sacrificed my feelings as if I were locking them away, convinced that this made me happy as well.

I never knew that one person could make me so soft and weak. For this story her name will be Julia. Julia was my first love, the one I would give anything for. When she said yes to go out with me, I was the happiest man alive. Just having her in my presence was enough to boost my mood. However, that happiness soon led to blindness, but it was too late. It was just last year. We were juniors in high school, and the whole year was virtual for me. Julia and I hadn’t seen each other since 10th grade, when they told us we were going on a two week break from school. Every day I would text her. Just seeing her name pop up on my phone, I would smile. I knew I loved her. Until one day during class, I decided to talk about our relationship and how she felt. Julia responded by saying she didn’t know how she felt about our relationship and didn’t know what it meant for us.

That whole day I kept thinking and thinking; even when I kept myself occupied I would think constantly. A day later, with racing thoughts in my head, I texted her to get a response, and she told me she wanted to break up. In that moment it was like a defensive wall surrounded me and all I could say was, “Okay.” I still regret those words to this day. I wanted to fight for the love I had for her, but something in me decided that I couldn’t change her mind and that she probably had already moved on. Through the whole rest of the year I felt nothing but loneliness. I woke up every day in my cold dark room and logged into class just to be there because I had to. That feeling of heaviness to even get out of bed was depression. Now, in my senior year of high school, I have to walk by her like she never existed.

Even now I deal with depression - this ominous shadowy cloud that sneaks up on me from time to time. There are times when I suddenly get quiet. That’s when I deal with it on my own away from others so they don’t have to feel the pain I feel. However, not every day is a dark and sad day. That’s thanks to those I’ve known for so long: Jerry, Faisal, David, Kiya, Kayla, Reshona, Maddie, and my soccer and football teammates. To those I’ve just gotten to know: Miya, Shamaijah, and my indoor track team. You may not know who they are but you now know their names. They are the key to the chains that have locked those emotions away. With this family I break free from the shackles and experience a life where I am truly happy.

© Deric Washington. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team and we can put you in touch with the author’s teacher.