We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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Photo ofSunnie Alvarado

Death is an ever-present reality. It lingers in the shadows waiting to unexpectedly cast a veil of darkness over us. In the past six years, I have lived in the shadows. Death after death after death. I lost my cousin when I was twelve. Then, on the day of my eighth-grade graduation, my mom received a phone call that changed our lives forever. She fell to the ground crying. The only words she mustered were, “Your brother.” My brother was murdered on June 6, 2018. I felt empty. Our family was incomplete. My confidant was taken away from me by the swing of a knife on a dark empty lot. He brought me laughter when I was down. He was my protector when I needed to feel safe. He was my big brother. 

It waits in the shadows, uninvited.  “Congratulations Class of 2020!” The warm summer night was the perfect backdrop for the joy our family shared with each other cheering on my cousin’s milestone. I left the celebration exhausted but fulfilled. As I lay in my bed that night, I could hear the distant sound of sirens blaring down the boulevard. It was a familiar sound in my neighborhood. The peace of that night was broken by the painful shrieks I heard coming from my mom’s phone. I could hear my aunt screaming, “He’s not breathing!” The chilling sound of her painful cries washed over me, striking fear down to my bones. I put on my sweater and shoes and ran as fast as I could to my tías house not knowing what I would find when I got there.

I could see the glow of the ambulance light up the once beautiful summer sky. Out of breath and crying, I was taken aback by the sight of my cousin being pulled out of my tías house on a stretcher. The once joyous night was now filled with screams of agony. In that confusion, I uttered, “What happened? Why is he purple?”  Through uncontrollable tears, I screamed and prayed. I did not want to feel the pain of losing another loved one. A family that had just gathered to celebrate graduation now stood outside of a hospital devastated by what had transpired. The last time I saw my cousin was when he was being taken away by the ambulance. After a few days in the hospital, he passed away.

Instead of coming together after his death, the thing I cherished the most in this world began to unravel. My family was not the same. In the past, we traditionally met every weekend to spend time with each other, but those family gatherings ceased to exist. I now felt alone and isolated. I no longer had people I could pour my heart out to or vent to when I needed people to listen to me. I bottled up my emotions to the point of mounting frustration and sadness. I missed my family. More importantly, I needed my family. Through all of this loss, I learned to cherish my family because I could lose them in the blink of an eye. I also learned that there is strength in sharing my emotions; it hurts more to shut those emotions in. As life goes on without my loved ones, I know that they are resting in love watching over me and my family.

© Sunnie Alvarado. 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.