Vanessa Felix

2017-2018 Live Deliberately Essay Contest

Vanessa Felix, 18
Honorable Mention, 17-18 Age Group
Inglewood, CA

I cannot remember the last time I was not looking after someone. When I was five, I was in the playground, not playing on swings or slides, but running after my brother. This has been my path; being the youngest, yet having the responsibility of being the oldest. Piercing through my high stacked legos and well groomed barbies was the constant refrain: “Where’s your brother?”.

Growing up in a home with immigrant parents and an older brother with severe autism forced me into a path of responsibilities at a young age. The responsibilities grew exponentially the older I became. From brushing my brother’s teeth to translating paperwork about my brother’s care to my mom—all was done to ensure we did what was best for him. I followed a steep path of rough terrain that was too much of a challenge for a child. My strength to stagger through this path is the best asset of my identity. The already rugged path narrowed and darkened on my 16th birthday.

On that day, we were on our way to Mexico in our cramped car. We had made the trip before, but this one was different. It was not for a vacation or to celebrate my birthday. It was to visit my 82 year-old grandfather who was diagnosed with pneumonia.

As we arrived to my grandfather’s ranch, we were met by the suffocating aroma of dirt and tamales, neither of which were stronger than the disharmony that pervaded our car. The situation was tense between my parents, on the threshold of divorce. Things worsened by nightfall. My parents had a massive argument that night. The deafening screams transformed into violence. My dad furiously charged towards the car after being punched in the face by my mom, and he swore to leave us and drive all the way back home. My brother was in the car, and I knew that a five-hour drive during midnight was nowhere near safe, especially in a state of fury. I ran as fast as I could to the car and clung to the handle, begging my dad to stay.

As soon as he turned off the car, I anxiously opened the door for my brother and took him somewhere safe. Somewhere away from the screaming and violence that his delicate ears could not withstand. Somewhere where I did not see our little family fall apart. Somewhere where I could recuperate and gain the strength needed to pull myself and my brother through. The inner turmoil was so immense my heart ached. My legs shook and my grip was weak on my brother’s hand as we searched the ranch for refuge. As we walked into my bedroom, I could no longer hold back. The walls around me enclosed my sick grandfather, my panic stricken mom, and my pained dad—my whole world was collapsing. My body collapsed as I cried. I cried to a point where I could no longer cry. I was faltering through the path that demanded me to balance the responsibility of being a supportive daughter and sister. I looked over at my brother, and his presence reminded me that I had the strength, endurance, and maturity to overcome many obstacles in my path before.

I tried to comfort my brother. We tried to rest and waited for the next day—for a better beginning. That night held many firsts. I took the crooked path of challenging my dad’s unquestionable authority to stay which was something a young Latina should never do. However, this was the right path for me because my brother’s safety called for it.

Sometimes you need to prowl through a distressing and obscure path in order to conquer your fears; that’s what I learned from my “sweet” sixteenth birthday. Regardless, I walked through the path still standing on my own two feet. After withstanding turmoil, I became more responsible and empathetic. I’m willing to take the risk and follow a path I believe is the right path—no matter how crooked it may seem.