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It hurt that you chose your new family over us
1st place $50

* editor’s note: the students’ full names have been withheld by L.A. Youth to protect their  families’ privacy.

By Vivian

Dear Dad,
It’s 5:16 p.m. in the United States, which means it’s 8:16 a.m. in Vietnam right now and I wonder what you’re doing as I write this to you. How is your business going? How is your life now that it’s been almost 11 years since you left us? I bet you’re basking in relaxation and luxury in your four-story house right now. Do you miss me? I didn’t think so.

You know, sometimes I find it funny that people tell me I look like you rather than Mom—that I have your eyes or your nose. But I don’t even know what your eyes or your nose look like and as I try to remember, I only get a vague blur of images—images of a stranger. And it scares me to think that every day, as I look into the mirror, you’re there within me. And it hurts. What if one day I turn into you? What if one day I leave my family—forgetting everything I left behind?

I wonder if your new son resembles you, too, because that would mean he resembles me. And I wonder when you were planning to tell us that you had a new son and a new wife, or rather, a whole new family, if we were ever considered your family in the first place.

You didn’t think I knew about them did you? But I do. And when I overheard Mom speak to a friend about it, in her sweet but broken voice, there was a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I was there when she bought that calling card that she used to call you that day. I should have stopped her. I’ve told her so many times that it was futile calling you, whether it was to ask for money because you don’t send child support or if it was your own daughter’s birthday and you didn’t remember.

But what she doesn’t understand is that I don’t want your money and I don’t want your help. Because I’m proud of how we are able to go through life without you. Because I didn’t need you when I started school the first day. Because I didn’t need you when I blew out the candles on my 10th birthday cake. Because I didn’t need you to catch me when I fell and I don’t need you now.

And those are the unspoken words that I’ve longed to tell you during our awkward conversations on the phone, which last, at most, two minutes. Because even though we seem perfectly compatible on the surface, I would honestly just like an excuse to hang up and for once let you feel the resounding loneliness of the dial tone. And although you’ll probably never receive this letter, I am writing this just to tell you how much pain you’ve put us through. But I am also writing this to you because I want to thank you; thank you for making every single member of this family stronger.

Because I remember when I was little, I used to wonder what life would be like if you were still here. Would it be better or worse? For years, I’ve been running on an empty gas tank, pretending that you’re just gone on a long business trip. But I have been running for so long that I don’t know where I’m running to, or what I’m running from anymore. Was I really running from the past that I couldn’t face? Or was I running away from the present—the reflection of you that I saw every day in the mirror—the person who I didn’t want to become?

But one day I stopped running. I not only acknowledged you, but I also acknowledged the fact that you were gone. I was done feeling guilty for your actions and what you’ve done to us and I was done punishing myself for it. I knew that I couldn’t stop you from leaving. I knew that I could be anyone that I wanted to be and I knew I wasn’t you—even if our eyes and nose were identical—I was just me. Thus, I finally stopped stalling the inevitable and eventually accepted the fact that you were never coming back because sometimes, that’s all we’re capable of doing—moving forward.    

I just hope that you treat your new wife better than you’ve treated Mom, and my new stepbrother better than you’ve treated Larry and me. Maybe someday our paths will cross again, but as I laid there, in the unnerving silence, listening to Mom whisper about your new family, I knew this would be the last $10 calling card we would spend on you. I knew this was our final goodbye. And I opened and closed my eyes over and over again, like taking a picture—burning these memories into my heart somewhere—every tick of the clock, every droning sound of bitterness and every last teardrop.

Do you love me Mom?

2nd place $30

By Nicole

Dear Mom,
I wish that you understood how I felt without me having to say anything. But I know that you don’t. I always pay for you to eat with me, and fill up your gas tank when you take me back home because sometimes I feel like if I don’t, you won’t ever come to see me. Like, if I don’t have the money it will be a problem. I know that if it wasn’t absolutely necessary for you to take anything from me, you wouldn’t. I understand that you’re struggling financially, and I don’t mind helping you out. But when I’m broke will you spend your last dime on me?

I guess I really just wish that you’d pick up your phone once in a while, and not just call me when you feel like it. I wish that you would call me just to say hi. What if I was in trouble and you didn’t answer the phone like you usually do, what would happen then? I know you don’t like talking on the phone, but don’t you miss me? Don’t you worry, or want to know where I am and what I’m doing?

When I see your face I know it brightens up my day. When I see you I know I don’t ever want you to leave. Do you feel the same? I don’t think you do, Mom. That’s why I cry occasionally when I’m lying in bed at night. Although it’s nice being able to live with friends who care about me, I’m only 16; I’m not ready to let you go.

I want to tell you how I feel, and how worried I am about you day in and day out. But if I told you face to face, would you listen? Mom, please tell me that you would at least care. I love you so much; your not being there is hurting me. I’m not asking you to stop having fun and spend every second with me, I just want it to be like it used to be, not perfect. I just want us to be together, like a family’s supposed to.

If things keep going the way they’re going with us, I will still love you, Mom. I will love you even if you took a knife and killed me yourself. But I’m going to stick my head up and stop crying, because there’s no use in making myself feel worse. I just wish you’d take the time to understand. But one thing you can’t force on anybody is unconditional love. That is a decision made only by one’s heart.

Stop pushing me so hard

3rd place $20

By Troy

Dear Mom and Dad,
Have you ever wished you could tell someone something, such as how you feel about one’s decision, but you just didn’t have the courage to confront them? Well, let’s just say I have a bag full of them, ranging from stealing my little sister’s candy to getting kicked out of the Northridge Mall.
There are many things that I kept secret from you because of my lack of courage and I regret doing so, but I just don’t want to leave my comfort zone. However, there is one thing that I have kept in my heart from the first day of school, and I have never had the guts to tell you until now: I hate the way that you force me to study.

In school everyone calls me by the name "Asian" because I excel in all of my classes. Whenever they do, I try to laugh it off because they think that I was born smart, but they have no idea how hard I have to study at home. "Troy, stop playing your guitar and study for your test for next Wednesday!" is what you tell me practically every day. Every time I tell my friends how hard you push me to study, they laugh and stand there in disbelief, wondering what would happen if their parents did that to them. I tell them how you took away my TV from my room because I had a B in Algebra 2, how you never let me watch TV during the weekdays, and how I can play my guitar only until 8. My friends usually tell me that I’m practically living in jail, since my parents never, ever, ever, ever let me go out and hang out with my friends during the semester.

If this was all that happened to me I would be OK, but there’s more, a lot more. You always choose my courses for me in school and leave me no slack whatsoever. For example, in my junior year all my classes—except for PE and Spanish—will be AP classes. You guys never let me say what I want, it’s only what you want me to do. I know that you want me to succeed in life, but you’re not giving me any room to breathe. It’s only what you say. It’s not like I had a decision when I was born, I didn’t choose to be smart. But treating me as if studying is everything, I don’t have any time to have fun now!

Another thing I hate is when you force me to join certain clubs. I was never able to choose the clubs I wanted to. I wanted to join the fashion, anime and film clubs, but you rejected what I wanted in a heartbeat. When I go to all the clubs that you want me to, I have no more time during lunch to hang out with my friends in the hall. I know that your best interest for me is to get accepted into a prestigious university, but now I have to give up my social life just to do so! It’s as if I am a social outcast at school!

Don’t take this the wrong way though. I do want to succeed in life and go to a prestigious university, but I want to learn to make my own decisions and do what I want to do, since you can’t be there with me every step that I take on the road of life. I want to learn to be more independent and make my own decisions. I know that your intentions for me are good; you want me to have a better life than you had and you want a son who can make you proud. Don’t worry, I promise that I will do these both. I will go to college, get a job and make you proud. All I want you to do is to realize that I am no longer a baby. I wasn’t trying to offend you in this letter, but instead tell you how I feel. I just want you to learn to let go! I love you Mom and Dad!

For this special essay contest, instead of writing an essay, L.A. Youth is asking you to submit a poem—a sonnet, haiku, free verse or other form. It must not have been previously published. Keep in mind that writing poetry takes work and if you want to win our contest, you will have to spend time on your poem, revising it until it’s just right. We encourage you to draw inspiration from such poets as Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsberg.  Your poem should be emotionally honest, but avoid cliches. Use your own words and original phrases to express yourself. Use vivid imagery to describe places, sounds and smells. And most importantly, your poem should be understandable. There is no point expressing yourself if others can’t understand what you’re saying. Only one entry per person.

Include your name, school and telephone number with your poem. The staff of L.A. Youth will read the entries and pick three winners. Your name will be withheld if you request it. The first-place winner will receive $50. The second-place winner will get $30 and the third-place winner $20. Winning poems will be printed in our May-June issue and put on our Web site at
Mail your Poems to:
L.A. Youth
5967 W. 3rd St. Ste. 301
Los Angeles CA 90036

DEADLINE IS FRIDAY, April 21, 2006