My sisters and I were born in Illinois, and shortly after that, we moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The things we experienced in life would make us close, closer than before. Kimberly and I lived a fun, care- free life in Milwaukee. I remember going to the park in the fall, and going down the slides and falling into the leaves. Life was good. When I was eight, we moved back to Illinois and we had to move elementary schools. I was sad to move, but part of me was excited to move back to Illinois because I would be with my grandma, my cousin and my childhood friend. For the next four years, I enjoyed time with my friends and family. Then came middle school. The night before my first day of middle school, my sister Kimberly was nervous, but I was cool as a cucumber. Middle school started great, and I was enjoying being with my friends and meeting my new teachers. However, things started to fall apart after a few months. Kimberly and I began to experience something traumatic that would continue for the next year and a half. These events changed my family and me forever. There were so many times that I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs about all that was going on, but I knew that I needed to be strong for my family and my sister. I felt suffocated by this secret. I was worried that if they knew, our parents would see us in a different way. I didn’t want them to look at me with pity every time I walked into the room. I didn’t want them to judge me either. I was scared because the thing causing me so much pain was coming from my own family and it would tear the family apart. At times, I would think back to my life in Milwaukee, going down the slides and play- ing in the leaves, but I knew that carefree part of me was gone. Eventually the truth came out and we returned to school. The first time I was confronted with my new reality face-to-face in the hallway, I realized I wasn’t the little girl running at the park anymore, but a strong woman who had been freed from my secret. While during that terrible event I protected everyone I cared about -- I didn’t mind being the protective sister and friend -- sometimes I feel tired in a way, and lonely, because I feel I have no one there for me. No one gives back the way I do for them. But I don’t like feeling weak and vulnerable, and I don’t want anyone worrying about me. I can be independent and figure things out on my own. Now, standing here today, I feel way better than I was during the event. I have changed so much and grown for the better. In addition, I’m not the only one who has changed. My sister has grown and gotten so much better after what happened. She has gotten help, and I’d say we have grown even closer and are way more open as a family. Changes I noticed about my- self are: not being as quiet as I was before, and speaking up if I see or hear something wrong. I notice I’m more alert and even more protective with my friends and my surroundings. One thing about myself that I’ll never change is that I will always be one heck of a protective sister and friend. My advice to the people who might have experienced something similar is: You have a voice, use it. You are not alone.
© Naydelin Cruz. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person’s teacher.