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Names and schools have been removed from our winning essays to protect the authors’ identities.

He touched me

First-place winner $100

Illustration by David Tran, 16, Warren HS (Downey)

Dear Mom:
I have a secret that I have been holding in since I was in second grade. This all happened at the house of my old best friend, who I will refer to as N. I can’t remember the exact day, but I can surely remember what happened. I remember as if it was yesterday.

N and I were in her bedroom playing house and just letting our imaginations run wild like 7-year-old girls do. Everything was going well until her father came into her bedroom. At first, we didn’t pay much attention to his presence. All he was doing was sitting on the bed and watching us play.

We got bored and decided to Rollerblade outside. So I went up to our apartment to get my skates. As I walked out the door, I remember you told me to be careful with N’s father, but I didn’t listen. All I wanted to do was roller-blade. I took my roller blades downstairs and put them on at N’s house. We began to roller-blade and since I had more experience using the skates, I was quicker than N.

My quickness always made me first at N’s house. I still remember what used to happen when I got there before N. I would skate into her bedroom and lay down on her bed, because I was so tired.

One of those times, N’s father began to touch me. I wasn’t enjoying what he was doing to me at all, but for some reason, I didn’t try to stop him. I guess I was scared of what he’d do to me.

After that happened, I’d follow N wherever she went. I didn’t want to be alone with her dad again.

Then things got worse. One day N and I were watching TV. Her father asked if we wanted to rent a movie and watch it together. N and I agreed and went with her father to rent a movie. After we got to the movie rental place, N’s father disappeared. N and I looked for a cartoon movie to rent. Minutes later, N’s father appeared and was ready to leave, so we didn’t get a chance to pick a movie.

When we got home, we began to watch the movie. Now, we didn’t have a clue about what movie he picked. It turned out that he rented a porn. N and I didn’t know what we were watching and didn’t want to watch it anymore, but he forced us to. After the movie, he volunteered to do exactly what happened in the movie, but I said, "No."

Later, N and I wanted to play house. N’s father wanted to play, too. So he became the dad. I didn’t know what to do at this point, so I tried not to get close to him. I decided to be the daughter. They had two beds, so I thought that by being the daughter I could sleep in the other bed. Wrong! I suggested the daughter should sleep in the other bed, but N’s father disagreed with my idea. He suggested that the daughter sleep between the two parents.

Then I decided to become the mom, so N could sleep between us. This time he said that the daughter should sleep in the other bed. I didn’t want N to find out what had happened, so I came up with an idea. My idea was to take turns with the roles, and they both agreed.

I was the first one to lay next to him. He began to touch my leg and just went higher and higher up my thigh. I jumped and switched places with N. Her father was eager to get me next to him again and he kept touching me. I got scared and ran home.

I never told you, because I was scared of what you and my dad would do to me. So I decided to keep it to myself. But I can’t take it anymore! I hope you understand me and don’t blame me for what happened.

Love always, your daughter

I had a drug problem
Second-place winner $50

Illustration by Hassan Nicholas, 16, Hamilton HS (Los Angeles)

My dear friend:
Hello. I miss you and think about you every day. A lot has happened since you passed away. On Jan. 25, 1998, two months after you were gone, I woke up feeling weak and sad. I couldn’t get out of bed. So that day I went to the hospital and found out I have muscular dystrophy, a disease that makes me weaker and weaker every day until I die. I felt so bad and hurt. First the love of my life died and then I got sick with an incurable disease. A couple of months later, I was so sick that I needed to use a wheelchair. I got very depressed. I wanted to die.

By the time I was 14, I drank heavily every day. I got drunk and felt sorry for myself. I thought I had nobody to live for and that no one would love me or be my friend since I was in a wheelchair. You were my only friend and my love, but you are gone.

I started high school and hung out by myself. One day I met this guy and we started talking. After a few weeks, we started using heavy drugs like acid, ecstasy, crack, speed—anything we could get our hands on. He later got kicked out of school, so I was alone again and without drugs. So I went to look for some drugs by myself.

Drugs and alcohol had taken over my life and became everything to me. They were my friends and I would do anything for them.
I also felt better cutting on myself. I isolated myself in the bathroom for hours. I didn’t care about anything, not even my parents. I tried to forget about everything, especially being in a wheelchair.

I ended up in mental hospitals a few times, but it didn’t stop me from taking drugs. But I got tired of it. So in June 2000 after I got out of my third stay in the hospital, I tried my best to stay clean and sober. I even went to outpatient rehab, but it only worked for five months.

I started to use heavy drugs again and my life hit rock bottom. December of that year, I overdosed on cocaine and was in the hospital for a week. My disease was also making me weaker. I thought I was going to die that week. All I did was pray to God and hope I’d get better, but I didn’t.

After the week I got out of the hospital, I started using again. I used ecstasy every day until Jan. 20, 2001. I overdosed on ecstasy and slept for a week. My parents took me to a therapist who said I was going to die if I didn’t stop using.

So he put me in rehab. I stayed for seven months. At first it was hard, because I went through withdrawals. But then I got used to it. Rehab helped me stay clean and sober. It helped me have a better relationship with my family and with my depression. It also gave me self-esteem and taught me that it’s OK to be in a wheelchair. Going to meetings like Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous have helped me stay clean.

Jan. 20, 2002 marked my first year of being clean and sober. Aren’t you proud of me? Now I am healthy and clean. Although I still have my disease, I make sure to take care of myself. I have friends who care about me and don’t care if I’m in a wheelchair. Knowing that is the greatest feeling in the world. I still feel bad sometimes, but I don’t trip. I talk about it, or think of you, or write about it, and that helps a lot.

Now I spend my time going to school and to gigs every weekend. I’m having a good time and not doing drugs, which I never thought was possible. It’s not like I’m against drugs—I’m up for them! If my friends do them, I’m not going to lecture them. It’s their decision, just like it’s my decision not to do them.

I wish you were here to comfort me when I went though this. But I know your spirit was there to take care of me. I know you’re in a better place and you don’t have to suffer with the things you were going through. I will be with you forever. I love you and will never forget you. You said, "Sometimes we can choose the path we follow. Sometimes our choices are made for us. And sometimes we have no choice at all. So do what you’ve got to do to stay alive."

Your one and only, Name withheld

Dad, you scare me

Third-place winner $25

Dear Dad:
You and mom brought my brothers and me into this world. You also introduced us to violence and a world of no emotions when we were very young.

I remember one day when I was a little girl and came home from school. I was happy that day, because I had received an A+ on my paper. I ran into the house all excited and wanted to tell you about my grade.

But when I walked through the door, I saw you arguing with my mom. You both screamed and shouted at each other. You were also drunk that day. You looked at me and acted like I wasn’t there. Then you picked up a frying pan and walked toward my mom with it. My mom begged you not to hurt her. I fell silent at the shock of knowing what you were about to do.

You ignored her cries, then grabbed her by her hair and dragged her toward the bathroom. I heard her scream and shout for mercy. But you didn’t care what she had to say or that I was there watching and hearing you beat her with no mercy.

That day you made me feel so afraid of you. You made me think of what kind of person you really are.

I hope you know that you were the one who introduced us to violence. You never paid any attention to us, or ever told us that you cared or even expressed it in any way. In my heart, I will never forgive you for what you made me, my brothers and mom go through. And I hope you can forgive yourself for what you made us go through.

Sincerely, your daughter

Dad, why did you leave me?

Honorable mention

Dear Dad:
This may seem stupid because you’re not even alive, but I feel it is important to express the hatred, sadness and confusion that you have caused in my life. I always wonder why you would be so selfish as to commit suicide and leave me, when I was a 5-month-old baby, for my mom to raise on her own.
I am angry, because you prevented me from having a father—someone every girl should be able to confide in.

When I was younger and Father’s Day came around, I wished I could say, "My father is the best." But we know that I can’t say that, because you chose to rest.

I sometimes wonder if the reason you committed suicide was because of me. In a sense, you have made my mom and me stronger. But still, you have caused a lot of grief. I don’t understand why you would end your hopes and dreams.

What makes the whole situation worse is that I don’t remember you at all. By committing suicide, you didn’t solve your problems. You just passed them down to my mom and me. Why?

Your daughter

I lied about that boy

Honorable mention

Dearest friend:
There’s a secret that I’ve kept for a long time now. It started in 1999 when you called my house and my brother answered the phone. He pretended to be someone named Ronald.

The next day at school, you asked me who that boy was who answered the phone. I lied and said it was my brother’s best friend, Ronald. I also told you that he saw you before and wanted to go out with you. You believed everything I told you, because you thought I wouldn’t lie to you, especially about something like this.

I wanted to tell you that it was all a big joke, but never had the chance, because you were always talking about how much you loved him. I wanted to tell you for a long time, but as years went by, it was more difficult to tell you. All of the letters were fake. I made them all up.

I’m sorry for lying to you. I’m sorry for wasting your time. I’m sorry for playing games with your heart. I was scared to tell you because I thought if I did tell you, then you probably wouldn’t talk to me anymore.

But I pray every night and ask God if he could help me find a boy named Ronald with the same characteristics and personality. And then that boy could fall in your front yard one day and make all your dreams come true.

Sincerely, your friend

I’ve been suicidal

Honorable mention

Dear best friend:
I was afraid to tell you that months ago I had planned to kill myself. Those days were just so hard. Nobody would listen to what I had to say.

Everything began when my family and I had dinner. My dad started to talk about my mother. He said that she was a bitch. This is why he got divorced. It hurt to hear these mean things being said about my mom. I tried to keep him from saying anything else, because no matter what, she is my mom. He wouldn’t listen.

My uncles and their wives started to say that people like my mom shouldn’t be alive. That really hurt me. I didn’t know what to do. The only one who understood what I felt was my brother. I cried and everyone aside from my brother laughed and told me not to cry. They said I shouldn’t cry for that bitch, but that made me feel even worse.

I got up from the table and went to the kitchen. I got a knife and cut through my skin. You have seen the scar. I cut my veins. At that moment, it did not hurt. The only hurt was coming from inside my heart.

When my family realized what I had done to myself, they were worried. I couldn’t believe that they cared knowing that they had caused all the damage inside of me. A lot of blood came out of my wrist. I did not care if I was going to die. That is what I really wanted at that moment.

I did not want to tell you, because I know you care about me. Right now, I realize I was wrong. I’ve learned that no matter how big the pain is that we feel inside, we should never try to kill ourselves. Life is more important than anything someone says to hurt you. I decided to share this with you, because now I know that there is nothing and nobody that would make me want to kill myself. But this does not mean that I have forgotten.

It is still here. What I’m trying to tell you is that you will never forget what happened in the past, but don’t let whatever happened hurt you in the present. I feel so good to be alive. I thank God for not letting me die. That day was terrible.

From a friend who will never let you down.