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I lost my friend
First place $50

By Molly Rabinowitz, 14, Venice High

Essay contest winner Molly Rabinowitz
Photo by Jennifer Gottesfeld, 16, Beverly Hills HS

It is the end. It is his last frozen breath leaving his purple lips. It is my heart pulling away from me and up through my throat and into the sky with his life as it leaves me. My friend “Joey.” My best friend Joey. The blurry room. The moist air. The brown leaves drowning in the mud at our summer camp. It is all too real. It is all too fast.

We started the summer, just me and my friend, Joey, with all of our plans laid out. We knew how it went. Our parents would worry and say we couldn’t go, but then we would beg and pull out our secret weapon.

“I never get to see Joey!” I would tell my mom, with a pitiful look of despair on my face. “He goes to the boys school, remember?”

She said it was all right after that, just like all the summers before, because there was no getting away from the fact that Joey was still a boy and I was still a girl at the all-girls branch of our old-fashioned school.

So it all came together. Joey and I were heading to the lake on the camp bus that summer, just like we had wanted. We talked about all the cool stuff we loved to do and all of the cool stuff we had loved before. Our Legos, our tree house, our second tree house after the first one fell down and made us break our arms together. Those were the good old days. Joey and I loved adventure. That’s what brought us together when we were babies. That’s what kept us together when we had to separate at school. That’s what finally dragged us apart when we were 11 years old.

It was just one time, one storm, one pond. We were just like all of the other kids. It was just like all of the other days. But Joey wasn’t ready and neither was I. The day that we went swimming in the pond at summer camp, the sky was as clear as a new pair of glasses. Joey had on his new blue bathing suit, and I had on my new blue one from the same store to match. We dived in like we always did—arms straight, feet together—just like we had learned in diving class the previous summer. We splashed and kicked and raced across the deep, muddy pond. And even though I was dirtier in the water than I had been when I was out of it, I loved every second of it. The place, the time, the feeling of wide-open hopes and young wishes and dreams. We wanted to start the world again, slower and simpler, so we could wander its great forests and oceans and plains and see everything together. Our world was an adventure, a game for us to play and win.

But suddenly I was lost. I was screaming. I can’t remember when I started, but I know I didn’t stop until I was so out of breath that my knees gave out and I fell to the dirt. It was wet. It was raining now. I reached down, down into myself and felt around to look for what had happened. I had come out of the pond. I had gone to my cabin. I had gotten dressed. I had come back to the pond to get Joey and go have lunch and found no one there. No one. It was empty. I was alone. But where was Joey? I had gone to the Eating Circle, as it was called, and found my cabinmates already there. My counselor was already there. The lifeguards were already there. But where was Joey? My thoughts got fast and angry and heavy. Joey! Joey! Joey!

I asked the man with the red life preserver if he had seen Joey anywhere.

“Isn’t he with his cabin group?” the lifeguard asked.

“No, he is not.”

“Isn’t he in the lunch lines?” the lifeguard asked.

“No, he is not.”

“Is he still in the lake?”

I didn’t know. Nobody knew. I was afraid. I was stunned. Now I was alone. All of the counselors were running to the pond. All of them diving in. All of them yelling.

“Joey!” they screamed.

Their panic was setting in now. Their eyes were getting red now. The police were there then. The paramedics, too.

I was there. That is when I must have screamed. When I must have fallen down. When it must have begun to rain from the fat, hazy sky. The men and women in the water took each other’s cold hands and swam across the pond together, like a huge fishnet looking for a lost fish under the murky waters.

Finally, there he was. Grabbed from the deep and brought to the surface. Pulled up from the bottom into the rain. But it wasn’t really him. He wasn’t my Joey. He was a blue face, tiny purple lips, little white fingernails. He was in the ambulance then. He was driving away. He was in the back of the ambulance at 70 miles an hour going to a hospital that was two towns away.

And then it was still. It was not that people were not running and moving and pointing their big, worried eyes at one another, but it was that the air was quiet now, and my body was hot and frozen at the same time. My feet were stuck in place. My hair was stuck in front of my eyes and bonded to my face by big, salty tears.

It was not until later that night, some time between the hours of guilt, worry, sorrow and pain that we got a call from the hospital. The whole camp was congregated in their nightgowns and Lion King pajamas in the Eating Circle. Little runny noses and pink cheeks were everywhere. I was small.

They said it slow and strong, eyes down, not wanting to look at any of us–the children, the victims, the friends, the people. They said it like it was a thing of great simplicity, or like something that we could move away from. He is dead. Joey is dead. My friend Joey is dead.

Now it is three years, two months and two days later. I am 14 years old. I am without my best friend, my companion, my adventurer. I am at the all-girls school. They got rid of the boys school. I can walk through the misty forests or the sandy beaches sometimes and I can think of nothing but vast land and generous air. I can clear my mind of my work and my school and I can just feel life. I can feel it flowing from my fingertips. I can feel it in huge waves as it runs through me. It is like a river full of fish. But then, I see the fish in my mind. I see them in a net. I see them caught, taken. I see them dragged up out of the water away from their friends who love them.

I am thankful for my life. I am thankful for my school. But what I am most thankful for, I think, is Joey. He was my best friend. He gave me my gratitude. He made me appreciate. My friend, Joey.

Editor’s note: Joey’s name has been changed to protect his family’s privacy.

She’s annoying, but I like her
Second Place $30

By Nicki Speckart

As far as I can remember I’ve always been one of those rebellious, I-hate-preps people. In junior high I hung around with the goths, metal heads, punks, drama people and a lot of people who were too good for a title. I was totally carefree and genuinely happy.

We hated preppy people and we’d use our spare time antagonizing the hell out of them. The funniest instance I can remember is when my best friend pushed this chick into the biggest prep in school and they started yelling at each other and of course the prep backed off first because to us they were just #%^#& like that. At the time, stuff like that was hilarious but this year things are different. So different in fact, that if I was the old me, I’d kick the new me’s ass.

Even in my freshman year I avoided the trendy scene. Of course I’d kind of be friends with some semi-preppy people but that didn’t leave our honors class. I wouldn’t be caught dead with them outside of class. My friends would berate me to death. Somehow this year is different. Possibly it’s transformed me for the better, maybe for the worse. I’ll just have to wait it out and see.

I was introduced to some EXTREMELY trendy people this year in my Advanced Placement and English class. As usual, my first thought was, "I swear if this freak says ‘oh my God’ one more time I will slam my binder into her skull." I always saw people like her in a negative light. I had to deal with her more when she joined our study group. I was pissed that my friend had asked her to join our after-school group but I was forced to deal.

As I spent more time with this chick I came to the realization that she’s not that bad after all. Yeah, we like different music, her fashion sense is horrid and she can be annoying at times, but she’s become one of my closest friends. There are things that I can tell her that I could never tell my old judgmental friends. Another big plus for her is that she has a positive attitude and usually makes me feel better about myself than any of my other friends could. They were always full of ridicule and very critical of what I did, wore and said. A lot of times they would verbally hurt me but I’d shake it off and take it as some kind of joke.

Nowadays I still hang with my old friends occasionally but I have shrugged off my old closed-minded coat and I have a new group of friends that I adore and who, I finally feel, adore me, too.

My sister has always stood by me

Third Place $20

Author’s name withheld

No matter what, when times have changed, I have changed, friendships have changed, but there has always been that one person, that special friend. The one that has always been there, through thick and thin, the good and bad, the happy and sad.

Although we’ve had our share of fights growing up, my older sister and I have always been pretty close and have gotten along fairly well. I remember we used to have slapping contests when we were kids. We would run around the house slapping each other on the leg or arm to see who would make the other more red. Since she was older and bigger she won the majority of the time, but I had my glory as well.

We’ve gone through a lot together. The day my mother told us she was going to get remarried, my sister and I were in the kitchen doing dishes together. She was washing and I was rinsing and stacking, the usual routine. When my mother asked us how we felt, we both immediately looked at each other; I don’t think either of us knew what to say. I was only 8 and she was 12. We both sort of shrugged it off, quietly said “all right” and that was it. We both knew what it was like growing up without dads; we had never seen ours and we weren’t allowed to even mention them. So when my mother got married it was a little weird, but we went through it together.

Around eighth and ninth grade problems arose from the marriage and kids that came from it. I was dealing with my own mental and emotional struggles as well as my mother and stepdad. I felt horrible about myself. I had no self-esteem, tried to commit suicide twice and attempted to run away. Not a day went by that I didn’t fight with my mom and there was not one moment I didn’t cry. My sister was there for me through the whole ordeal. She let me come over and stay with her and gave me a shoulder to cry on. She understood what I was going through; she had had her own problems, too. She was the only person that I could talk to about what was happening and she was always there ready and willing to listen. She always put me ahead of herself.

When I felt like I had no other friends, she was the one I could find one in. When she was in high school she would always let me go to the movies and other places with her and her friends. There was not one occasion where she didn’t at least invite me along. She still invites me places. This past August she asked and finally convinced me to go to Catalina, even though she had to pay for it. That was another thing she would always do, try and give me money.

She’ll take me shopping and offer to help with expenses, such as yearbook camp. During the summer I had no money for yearbook camp, which I had to attend. She sent me money in the mail for it. I wouldn’t have had the money otherwise.

She loves sending cards and letters in the mail. I’ll sporadically receive things from her with no return address, like she doesn’t want me to know it’s from her, but I still know. In them she’ll write how much she loves me, what a great and special person I am and to just hold on, I’ll make it through. She just does little things like that. She even gave me a little card that said, “My Best Friend” on it and it had a poem about friends. I still have it up in my room, along with pictures of us at concerts or on vacation.

She’s gone to some concerts with me as well, even though she doesn’t enjoy them all that much. She takes me anyway because she knows how much I like them.

When I became a freshman in high school, she was a senior. She allowed me to hang out with her and when she chose to go bowling or to breakfast instead of school, she would drag me along as well, Then, I cared that I was missing school, but now I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything. I had a dream that she died of pneumonia once. She is always getting sick from the preschool kids she teaches. Just the thought of losing her is unbearable. If I did, I would lose my best friend not just a sister. My confidence, my reason for being what and who I am would go, too. If there were one person responsible for me being here, it would be her. I just hope that one day I can do the same for her and return all the favors.

Honorable Mention Essays:

By Isabel Gutierrez, Jefferson HS

Have you ever had a friend that is suffering a terminal illness? I have had the privilege through my volunteer service to meet many amazing people, people who have been my idols and my inspirations. But the greatest honor came last summer when I had the chance to meet a 13-year-old girl named Angela.

I have been a volunteer in Los Angeles County hospital for more than three months. I am part of an organization that tries to help young people suffering from potentially terminal illnesses by making their dreams come true. Angela had been fighting lung cancer for more than a year. She asked if she could meet me, because I had written a letter to her but had never met her. When I received her letter, it said she wanted to meet me. While I was reading the letter I felt confused and wondered if I really wanted to meet her. I was wondering whether I was going to be a good friend for her. I always thought to myself that friendship is caring, treating others equally, protecting and showing concern no matter what your friends are going through.

Finally, I met her. The foundation arranged for us to spend a whole week together. The first day we went to Disneyland. I had a great time with her, and I am sure she had fun with me, because she was laughing the whole time we were there. It was impossible not to like Angela from the very first moment I met her. With her outgoing personality and incredible energy, it didn’t seem she was sick. She looked so beautiful and healthy from the outside that you wouldn’t think she was sick. When the day was over I mentioned that I was sorry that she should have to go through something so difficult. She thanked me, but replied that she wasn’t looking for anyone to feel sorry for her.

As our day went on, I realized how true that was. She did not want sympathy; she just wanted to hang out and do things that best friends do. Things that she couldn’t do, because she didn’t have any friends at all. People always see her as a monster. We ate junk food and talked about guys. The more our friendship grew I began to realize that I was just as lucky as she was to have this opportunity to meet her. She is a person that is brave, encouraging, and extraordinary, not like my other friends.

With her everything was fun, even when we went to the movies to see a favorite one. Whenever I had problems I would tell her what was wrong with me. She was helpful with my problems and my homework. Since that day we met, she told me that a friendship was very important to her and that a friend was forever.

I think that friendship is the best thing that a person has. Angela taught me the meaning of friendship. A friend is a person that respects you and helps you in good and bad situations. Friends are part of you always, no matter what you are going through. They are always going to be by your side when you need them. Friends are the ones that encourage you to be successful in life.

Author’s name withheld

Well who said your best friend can’t be a sister or a brother, because my best friend is my older sister. She is my best friend for many reasons. She was the one that said everything is going to be OK. She was my shoulder to cry on.

My sister is my best friend because she is the only one that knows what I am going through. She knows because she is a lot like me and I’m a lot like her. She is the only one that knows my biggest, deepest secret. It’s a secret that could destroy my life, because people might not accept me.

But my sister did accept me and I know I can always be myself around her. And she accepts me, one, because she is my sister and two, because she is gay like me. When I told her she was really happy, especially because I told her first and because I didn’t tell my mom. See, my mom is really prejudiced and totally against homosexuality. So when my sister told my mom that she was gay, my mom freaked out and told my sister that she was dead to her. Then my mom kicked my sister out of the house. My sister needed to sleep in the street and in the Dumpster.

So she told me not to tell my mom. And I never ever will tell my mom, because I don’t want to go through what my sister went through. And I don’t want my mom hating me because I’m gay. I don’t want her to hate me for something as stupid as being gay. I really love my mom, but I also hate her for hating homosexuals. I know I can never trust my mom, but I know I can trust my sister.

A best friend is someone you can trust, which means you can tell them your biggest secret and they won’t run and go tell someone else. And a best friend is someone you can count on when you need them the most. Of course they’re your best friends if you get in fights once in a while. My sister and I do, but I know that she will not go off telling my secret.

I love my sister for making me feel like it’s OK to be me and that it’s someone else’s problem if they don’t like who I am. I am proud of who I am and my best friend let’s me see that.

By Gina (last name withheld)

My dad had just passed away. He was a part of my existence and without him I felt so alone. Being in a pitch-black room or a crowded classroom made no difference. However, when I went to school, I managed to keep my mind focused on learning, because that’s what he would have wanted. Often times, even now, however, my mind drifts into vicarious daydreams and desperate longings to be with him again.

I learned so much from him. And whenever I wanted to know something —whether as profound as heritage or as trivial as baseball statistics—he knew the answers and shared them with me. Every morning he would take me to school and we would talk about sports, school or family matters or sometimes nothing at all. But I knew I could tell him anything anytime. I could trust him and he trusted me. That’s the kind of bond we had.

He was my best friend. He wasn’t pretentious or superficial, like some “friends” are. He didn’t care if I was the homecoming queen or the chess queen. He wasn’t there to judge, only to help and guide like an angel. My best friend was an angel.

One day, shortly before his ascension, he went to the hospital to see if the doctors could help him with the pain he had in his body. There was no school that day and I told him that I was going with him. He said that I didn’t have to. He told me to stay home and relax on my day off. I wouldn’t hear of it.

While we were waiting for the test results, we went to the deli and shared a tuna sandwich. He read the paper and we talked about the current issues and events and of course, sports.

And as we were leaving the hospital, we took each other’s hand and he told me that he was glad I came. I never thought twice about coming. I told him that I just wanted to be with him anytime anywhere. I cared about him and he cared about me. That’s the way it was between him and me.