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There is no cure
1st place $50

Author’s name withheld

I sat in the doctor’s office awaiting my test results for my AIDS test. My eyes wandered around the room at all the anti-AIDS posters. My heart started to race when I saw the girl ahead of me come out in tears. My first thought was, does she have AIDS? Did she pass it to me, because I was talking to her? We were sitting pretty close.* At that moment my hands started to sweat and my heart was pumping a hundred miles a minute. A tall pale woman walked out of a small door that looked like a tunnel to the land of sickness and death. The woman flipped through some pages and then called my name. “The doctor is ready for you. He’ll be waiting in room 203.” I was so scared. When I walked into room 203 my heart just stopped.

AIDS is my biggest fear. It’s a leading killer among African Americans old and young. African Americans make up 12 percent of the population in the United States, but 50 percent of new diagnoses of HIV/AIDS are African Americans. I try so hard to recognize the ones who have AIDS, but I can’t. AIDS is deadly because you can’t see the destruction and damage that it does until it’s too late. I dread going to the doctor, but I now go as often as every six months just to be on the safe side. I never thought AIDS would strike in my family. I thought AIDS was a make-believe thing that people say to scare you into not having sex. I thought that until my stepsister told me she was HIV positive.

She was my role model. I wanted to be just like her. She had all the boys and everyone loved her. She took me everywhere with her—shopping, movies and even to her older friends’ houses. When she first told me she had HIV it scared me. I didn’t want her around me. I called her all types of names because I didn’t know how to deal with it. I avoided her for about a year. She called and came by my house constantly, but I didn’t give her the time of day. I was hurt and it truly killed me. One day she caught me coming from a male friend’s house. She nearly knocked me down trying to pull me into her car. She went crazy and started telling me how dangerous it is to have sex and all the things that can happen to you if you have unprotected sex.

On the ride home she scared me straight with horror stories about what she has dealt with since she contracted HIV. I wish I hadn’t heard the stories. She scared me into not wanting to have sex. AIDS to me is not just a deadly disease. It’s my fear and what I dread most in life. So many lives have ended because of AIDS. Black youth and young adults have been affected by this. I just hope and pray that I won’t be the next victim.

One year at my school it was known that someone had AIDS. Everyone was so scared because my school is generally a Hispanic school, so all the African Americans know each other. Which is not a plus because there are more girls than boys, so all the girls want the same boys. This leads to fighting, and sex. The most popular boy among the girls was the one who was infected with the virus. He had been with mostly all the senior girls, some protected and some unprotected. When the rumor got out, it was a big deal and everyone wanted to get tested. A lot of people were crying and saying that if they had the chance, they would go back and do things differently, like use protection. Later in the year it was announced that the boy did not have AIDS–—it was just a rumor. He had a sexually transmitted disease that was curable. Every girl who was stressing was relieved and vowed to practice safer sex. Not all the girls did though, so we heard another person was infected, but the second time it was not a rumor.

AIDS is the deadliest thing in the world. You can’t see it; you may not have any warning signs until the final stages of the disease. I can’t bear the thought of having something like that. I think it scares me because it’s for life—there is no cure. Sure you can live with it, but who wants to take a lot of pills every day? Who wants people being scared of you because of the virus you have? Not me. I can’t live with the thought of having AIDS and knowing that I could die any day.

I will always practice safe sex because I don’t want my fear to come true. I will always choose the right partners and not just hop into bed with anyone. My fear will never come true if I have any say in it.

*(Editor’s Note: You cannot get AIDS from speaking with or sitting near an infected person.)

I never thought I’d be on the streets
2nd place $30

Author’s name withheld

One fear I had was living on the streets. Growing up, I never thought I would sell myself to survive. I thought I would have problems, but never that I would be homeless and have to survive by selling myself. I said I could never let myself prostitute or sell myself to get by. 

I lost all my friends to this even though friends are supposed to stick with you until the end. Being a prostitute changed my life completely. Instead of being a fear I ran from, it became a reality I lived in. Every day I try to overcome this fear that I might have my string of life cut short. It’s hard because my fear was something I ran from and said I would never do. Now that I’m doing something I feared, it makes it hard.

I’m currently detained from the fear I had of “prostituting.” I have chosen to overcome it by staying wherever I’m placed when I get out of juvenile hall. My problem with this was looking for love in all the wrong places. Sitting in juvenile hall showed me that not all love is good love, so as I get ready to be released, this won’t be a fear, but something that has changed me to be more than someone people can use and abuse to their own advantage. Try to stay loving myself.

Horse riding is now my passion
3rd place $20

Jamilah Jabali, Wilson MS (Glendale)

I remember once when I was very young, going on a pony ride at a carnival. I remember the man who carefully walked me in circles while my mom waited for me outside the railing. It was really fun and I decided that I liked horses!

About 10 years later, the police department in my city offered an after-school horse program that was on a big ranch in the country. When I asked to join the club, the officer asked me if I had any riding experience. “Of course! I used to ride when I was little!” It wasn’t a lie, just a mere stretch of the truth. On the first day, I was very confident as we drove in the van all the way to the countryside. I bragged to my friends that I had ridden in the past and was so excited.

When we arrived at the ranch, I was handed a brush, a hoof pick and a 40-pound saddle and told to “saddle up.” It wasn’t like my previous experience when I was lifted onto a pony without any effort.

I dragged the saddle over to a hitching post where the biggest horse I had ever seen was waiting for me. As I reached out to say hello, the horse jerked its head into the air and made a grunting noise while spitting green debris on my clothes. Absolute terror went through my bones. I really didn’t want to do this anymore. But I knew I couldn’t call my mom to come get me because we had driven nearly an hour to get to the ranch. The ranch hand reassured me that the horse was friendly and was only testing my confidence. I stood there completely surprised that I was afraid and in a position to either give up and face embarrassment or suck it up and keep trying.

I felt like the tiniest midget next to the horse. I carefully brushed its sides and neck without any fear. I knew I had accomplished the first step. As I remained determined to conquer my fear, I wrestled with the saddle and the bit but managed to get through it. At first I was so excited that I did it! I really did it! I saddled my horse! Then I remembered that I still had to get on and ride the monster.

The butterflies in my stomach returned immediately as I walked the horse into the arena. It didn’t seem like any of the other kids were having second thoughts. They all laughed and talked amongst themselves while I concentrated only on the horse. I certainly couldn’t let them know how afraid I was. I sucked in a deep breath, stuck my left foot in the stirrup and swung myself onto the horse. It felt like I was a million miles off the earth. At first I thought it was pretty cool until the horse started to move. My balance felt awkward and there were no handlebars to steady myself. I listened to every word of the instructor as she told us the basics of horsemanship. Unlike school, where I am usually a talkative distraction, I gave the instructor my undivided attention because my life depended on it. By the end of the session, I had the greatest sense of accomplishment because I didn’t give up. I paid attention and pushed myself to do something I really didn’t want to do. I am learning that these are the same qualities that are necessary in everything I do in life.

I have been riding for three years now in the Blue Shadows Mounted Drill Team and have earned the respectable position of Stable Sergeant Jabali. I have many horse show ribbons to show how I turned my fear into my greatest accomplishment and passion.

Alone and waiting for death
Honorable mention

Maritza Ocampo, Fremont HS

My biggest fear is being old. You’re in your 60s, 70s or 80s, your family members have lives of their own, your spouse might be in a bad condition or has passed away and you are just waiting. I’m not afraid of death, but knowing that I might die alone—well it’s not exciting. You seem hopeless. You can’t do much at that age. You have to see if your body can take a walk around the park or concentrate on a simple drive. Yes, not every senior is in bad condition; some people can be healthy at that age. But there is a certain point where you can’t take as much as you used to. It seems like you become a baby again, needing assistance. I don’t want to be lying in my bed, unable to do much. Is that how I’m going to die, is this how I’m going to leave this world?

I don’t understand why being old scares me. I even cry about it because it seems so sad. I see seniors in nursing homes, in wheelchairs or that have Alzheimer’s and I think, “Man, that could be me one day.” What really frightens me is that I don’t want to wait for death, I want my death to happen when it’s time.

The only thing I can do is just go along with my life. That’s how it is—life is given to you and then it’s taken away. As long as I have faith and support I’ll be OK.

What if I marry the wrong person?
Honorable mention

Moises Lainez, Jefferson HS

She had a knife in her hand. My oldest brother was pulling her back. She wanted to kill my dad for cheating on her. She couldn’t believe that after 25 years of marriage, her family was falling apart. Neither of them thought about it when they were young. They both let their feelings cloud their minds and married each other. That was their worst mistake.

Everybody in the family was affected by my parents’ breakup. My siblings and I were traumatized. For the youngest ones, it was a complicated matter, something impossible to understand. The older members of the family labeled the situation a “family problem.”

I have witnessed a lot of breakups in my family and neighborhood. I have been through suffering and have barely escaped the hands of death. However, I am told that this is something everyone goes through. Despite all the explanations I am given, there is only one fear that keeps me thinking day and night. That is: committing the mistake of marrying the wrong person. Going through what my own parents went through. Experiencing the same thing that my uncle, my brother, my sister and even my neighbor experienced. This is the fear that I want to overcome.

I don’t need to commit the same mistakes in order to learn. There are more than enough examples in my life already. Marriage is not something to play with. It is the most difficult and important decision an individual could make. Extra thinking must be taken when making such a decision. However, there’s no solution to my fear. I fear my future will be shattered apart simply because of a wrong decision.

The most common advice I receive when I ask what to do is a four-letter word. WAIT. I’m told to wait for the right person to come. To wait for the right moment to get married. Not to mess with my future for a moment of pleasure. Perhaps my fear can’t be overcome. Maybe I’ll have to take a risk in order to really overcome it. However, something inside me refuses to believe that there has to be another broken heart or another shattered family. I don’t accept that I have to go through what my family and I already went through. I cannot allow my old world to haunt me forever; my life must be different, but that is up to me.

Besides my own suffering and pain, there’s something else that concerns me more. Children are the ones who suffer the most with the decisions adults make.They are the ones who pay the unfair and painful consequences. I am afraid to make my own flesh and blood suffer the same way as I did. The last thing I would like is to see my kids crying over something they have no control over and is not their fault. Marrying the wrong person is like signing my own death certificate. Even though I know at the end I’ll die, I want to die the right way.