I awake to a rumble. I squint to see the time on the faint digital clock by the bed, but my vision is blurred by sleep and confusion. "We don’t get earthquakes like this is Maryland", I think with a clouded mind caused by lack of sleep after a long shift at work. Dazed, I reach across the mattress, through the heavy comforter and damp sheets, trying to wake my mother. I grab her shoulder, but she doesn’t respond. I stumble through the dark, bang my leg against the nightstand, and curse out into the dark. I hope against hope that my mother didn’t hear that, and reach around in the dark room for the light switch. As I adjust to the sharp light piercing my eyes, a dreadful scene comes into focus: SHE is shaking the bed, in the grip of a seizure so severe that she has bitten off the sides of her tongue. Panic causes my senses to sharpen, and everything in the room is amplified: the smell of urine, the color of the deep red blood, and the heart-stopping choking sound emitting from her mouth.
The date is March 8, 2006. That day, a day that to most was just an ordinary Wednesday, one of many to easily be forgotten, proved to be the turning point for entire life. On that day, I was called upon to be the breadwinner, the decision-maker, and the legally responsible party of my household. On that day my mother went from overworked single mother of two to cancer patient. On that day my mother nearly died.
I had always been expected to attend college. I am first generation American on my mother’s side, and as my grandmother always reminded me, she “didn’t come to America so I could get pregnant at 19 and sign up for welfare.” I had worked hard for years; I was accepted to any and every accelerated program public school could offer me. When the time came to apply for college, I sent off a grand total of 2 applications, gladly accepted my full-ride to the University of Virginia, and simply waited for my high school diploma. I was more interested in planning for prom than in sweating the application process. Education was, and is, the key to everything; it was the tool I would use to dig myself out of a life of poverty and despair. This daughter of an immigrant mother and an incarcerated father was going to become more than just a heartbreaking statistic on the next Department of Health and Human Services annual report.
But now, things were different. How could I possibly go off to school when I was needed most at home? What kind of selfish, self-serving, ungrateful child would abandon their only parent in their time of need? “The kind of child who refuses to let adversity derail their dreams,” was the answer my mother gave. To her, missing out on college was simply not an option. There were things in life that I had not yet accomplished, things I was destined to achieve, and a setback like this was not enough to deny me that destiny. Her firm faith in God, a faith that I unfortunately never shared, was enough to keep her optimistic. I hoped her faith would be enough to sustain me as well.
Most people do not know what it is to deal with the sudden and unexpected decline in a parent’s health. Even fewer know what that’s like when they are subsequently forced to take the place of an absent father and assume responsibility for the ailing parent and a younger sibling. Needless to say, it made my undergraduate academic career a tough one. Working to support a family during the summers and trying to focus on schoolwork during the academic year was a unique challenge, one my fellow students could not comprehend. But I emerged determined to succeed no matter which challenges lie before me. I was reminded that my success was directly tied to the success of my entire family, and I did not have the luxury of wallowing in my own problems and crumbling under the pressure. As I now turn my attention to the next step in my academic career, law school, I am more determined than ever to be a success. I had been reminded that I carried not only my own goals and aspirations, but those of my mother and grandmother as well, who sacrificed everything from home and country to health and well-being to see me this far. To fail now would be unpardonable.
And PLEASE, be harsh. As this is just the beginning, I have plenty of time to gut and rework it as needed.