Editor’s Note: Below you will find the winning entry “A Single Fallen Leaf”, written by Edison High student Chue Vue as a part of the inaugural Sherley Anne Williams & Lawson Fusao Inada Writing Contest. Find out more about the contest here

The first wave of despair came in grey slashes. I barely saw it coming as the white slip was passed through grimy and sweaty palms. My hair, tied into two pigtails on either side of my head, shivered along with the shaking of my body. It dangled on top of my tanned shoulders, showing where I was from. Sitting in the classroom, I always felt cold, though the place I came from was always sunny. I felt alone, but never left alone.

A giggle sounds behind me as the little girl with blond locks laughed, her blue eyes shining up at me and her tiny red starred freckles bounced along with her juggling cheeks. I stared at her for a moment, wondering what she was laughing at.

Then, the ivory colored paper was passed through and through to everyone in the room. Everyone, but me.

I picked up the end of one of my pigtails and twirled it within my fingers, staring down at the desk. I suddenly felt self-conscious, like all eyes were on me. I fidgeted with my skirt, messing up the plaque design, pulling loose strings out of my skirt. My lips curved down into a frown as I fumbled around with myself.

The teacher turned her back towards us and in that instant, something is thrown at my head. The first slash. I reach my hand up to the side of my head, touching it softly, looking around, to find the culprit, to… To what? To confront them? No… Instead, I just smiled, laughing awkwardly.

The teacher glanced at us out of the corner of her eyes and her bottomless brown ones met with my own rust colored ones. I gulped, turning away, looking down at the ground. Even the abandoned bugs in the corner skittered silently away, sensing the traitorous air in the room. They sought out a way to escape from the foreboding silence.

Walking through the hallways with the thick binder clutched tightly in my chest, I scrambled through the halls, quickly and quietly, but no one fails to notice the girl walking through with trash on her head. A girl smelling like the trash she thought she was.

Hiding away in the locker room, I wrapped my arms around myself, tears straining in the corner of my eyes, trying to escape me. Even my own tears won’t stay. Like layers, the water builds up around my eyes, until I can’t hold it in anymore and one by one, they slip out of the corner. I immediately cover my mouth, muffling the ugly noise I was making, sobbing into my own, empty palm.

Written on the back of the white shirt she wore, “You ugly pig!” in big, black, bold letters. That was the last of the grey cuts she would accept.

Now, walking through the hallways of a new school, her phone keeps popping. Her once shagged brown hair was now curved and lengthy. Her past identity, now thrown away, clings to her shadow, hiding and waiting for a chance to strike at her. It eventually does claim vengeance.

Once again, the notifications rise on my phone. Over 50 new notifications. I flip through them all, feeling the searing heat of pain burning holes in my chest. Messages of betrayal, of lying, of faking everything I was. Messages of past memories and mistakes gnawing and creeping up my back. It felt heavy, like a soft blanket all at once, but underneath, a nest of spiders weaving threads into the ground to hold me captive and trapped.

Slipping away, I stood alone underneath the shaded leaves of a tree that will never fall. But unlike the leaves that fall in Autumn and scatter, my past self is starting to recollect itself, unravelling the threads I wrapped around it.

No! No! Don’t come out.. Never again!

Running home in the rain after having her umbrella stolen, the girl with the curved hair runs through it, cursing no one, but herself.

No one was home when she got there, no one to tell her “Welcome back,” no one to embrace her and shield her from the pain of the world. She drops her bag, her once wavy hair, now a twisted mess. She stumbles about, grabbing a forbidden metal lying on the kitchen counter and wanders into the bathroom.

I looked at my arm, marks of previous ravings scarred over it, the pain as relaxing and haunting as yesterday. Looking at the unforgiving scrap of metal in my hand, I clenched my fist around it, biting my tongue as I brought it up to my arm. The first scorching slash, a red one, one that I gifted myself. Never grey anymore. Never again.

The muddy red trail of comfort slides down my arm and once again, I am reminded that I am still alive. This pain is what proves to me that I control myself and only I can hurt myself. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be? No one is supposed to hurt me.

Cleaning off the knife and my bleeding arm, I dash off to my room. The phone keeps ringing and it doesn’t stop! I feel like I’m losing myself, like I can’t escape! All because of one mistake, all because of something I slipped up on, every voice haunts me! I grip my phone, looking at it as my tears slide out, in anger, sadness, frustration, I don’t even know which one anymore! I just… Want it all to stop.. I just want it all to disappear. Just as the girl’s smile fades, so does the world she once saw.

The girl with crooked hair, lost in a world of blackness where only the red cuts remind her she is still suffering. The door opens and the mom of the broken girl comes in, knowing that something was wrong with her daughter, but choosing the glass of wine over the paranoia. The shaggy haired girl’s father comes through the door, knowing his daughter is broke in tears, but choosing to cross his fingers over the butt of a white cigarette smoke. They turn on the TV and blare the volume up high to combat the wailing cries of their daughter of a banshee. Truly alone and as the legends foretold, hearing a banshee means death is near.

The red slashes build up on the girl’s arms and eventually, she slices one too deep.

Too much blood, there’s too much blood.

Instead of panicking, the girl relishes the feeling of pain, dulling the torment her phone gives her, numbing the stares of passing classmates and strangers alike. Until one day, even the slivers of red can’t satisfy her growing pain and loneliness from the world. Until one day, even the red crusted blood on her arms aren’t enough to dull and numb the loud and torturing voices of those who wish to rip her apart.

The girl with the once curved and lengthy hair stood alone in the living room of her house, now with a messy cut; hair out of proportion and locks of hair unevenly lined. Her once beautiful brown eyes, now covered behind the purple lining of a bruise and broken blood vessels. Her plaque skirt, covered in the blood she once loved to see flow within her, was now not her own doing. She lost control.

I stared at the silk covering my window, most innocent and pure, unlike the lava burning within me. I could barely see out through the dark lining of my swollen eye, as big as the fist that pounded on it. I clenched my eyes shut, grimacing in pain as I opened them once again. The silk whispered empty, sweet promises to me and I couldn’t turn away. I remove the silken layer from the window, tugging the whole pole down with me. I stumble onto the ground and I stare at the long silk in my hands. I can control my own destiny.. And right now, all I see is blackness. Loneliness… And no end to my suffering.

The girl picks up the white threaded cloth and spins it, pulling it on the high hook that once held the bar of the window curtains she pulled down. She grabs the small stool and climbs on top of it and she laces the silken cord through the hooked edge, around and around until it is raised to her neck.

Just one step… Just one breath… Just one moment and I will be free…

The blue sky, roaming with birds outside, contrasted the seething hopelessness reflected through the window. The song of the crickets brought to the room a deathly rhythm and the buzzing flies brought the silent goading of the grim reaper. Just as the legend foretold, the banshee warned, but no one would listen.

The stool topples to the floor as the white socked feet of the exhausted girl dangles, straining and rising with each escaping breath she lets loose. Clutching at the white silken lace around her neck, the girl groans out, hot, searing tears leave her eyes, burning her skin, leaving ashes behind.

Everything that she’s done, has it been a mistake? Is she a mistake?

Images flash through her mind, still pictures of memories with her mother and father, then to memories of her deceased sister. Her grandma’s mouth moving with words, but no sound. A dog barking at her, but only silence and the white glistening of the canines. A boy’s dangerous grin and her gossipping friends. The toilet of pearl white, like a throne of itself, but delivering the worst of news in vomits of last night’s dinner. Her face in the mirror, a her that the girl so misses, one that reflects her sister. Oh, what she would give to be that bright girl again, the girl with sunny eyes, without worry, without conflict, and without the rumors stalking her. But, it all fades to white and only the slow thudding of her heart contrasted the blank page. A loud monotonic beep rings through her ears as her final breath is released and her hands go limp.

In that one single moment, that one instant, the hook holding the silk executioner up, breaks from the wall and the girl tumbles down. The transparent white silk bends her background, giving the illusion of an angel falling from the sky.

The girl lands on the floor, the last ounce of her energy forcing air into her lungs, forcing her to breathe, forcing her… To live…. Even the gods reject her desire to die. The girl whimpers on the ground, sobbing soft and quiet whispers of desolate hope. Just as the banshees’ ear shattering shrieks continue, so does she, for the legends never give an everlasting peace to those associated with banshees.

Having felt the pain of knocking on Death’s door, she was afraid to knock it once more since he didn’t open the door for her. Wrapping up the silken cord, she runs away from the broken hook and the world she rejected that was watching her from the outside.

Rushing to her room with the silk, she collapsed on the bed, the once near death experience leaving a scarring purple crescent around her neck, throbbing with the memory of the ordeal.

The morning birds sang out a tune as the girl slowly rises, still a mess from the crisis she barely managed to survive. Looking in the mirror, her engagement ring with Death was shown around her neck, but she was refused. The swollen eye was even more purple with crusted blood around it and just today, she notices a cut on her lips. Her hair clung to her head with every single movement and she wasn’t like before. She wasn’t heavenly. She wasn’t anything at all. She felt like nothing. But… Something had changed.

The girl staring back at me from within the mirror lets a smile loose and though she was a disaster, her eyes, longing for peace, acceptance, and grasping for hope, seemed to shine even more than I remembered. I felt something in my heart start to churn at the thought of the hope arising again. So many times, it has peeked out at me, but as always, I locked it back up. It wouldn’t work. It won’t work, I kept telling myself. Maybe… It wasn’t my time yet.. I could do better.. I need to do better. My life is worth so much more than this.. My life needs more.. My life… Still has so many adventures ahead. There’s no promises that it won’t hurt me, that it won’t try to rip me apart, but even if it’s just my head, I have to make it to the end… To the end.. For the seed in me that I need to nurture.

The once broken girl strokes a loving hand over her stomach, for the child she has yet to meet. A child whose eyes and face will reflect those of its mother.

By Chue Vue

The kNOw Youth Media
The kNOw works to support and equip young people with the journalism and advocacy skills they need to tell their stories and the stories of their communities.

In 2006, over 25 youth began participating in weekly after-school writing workshops where they congregated in the hallway of a two-story building in West Fresno and learned the essentials of creating media and telling their stories. The group evolved over the next five years and is now proudly recognized as The kNOw Youth Media.

Through our program, we create opportunities for our youth participants, who in turn create long-term positive change in their communities. Our approach weaves youth development and youth media innovation to produce our biannual youth publication, multimedia projects, and community forums.

The kNOw began as a project of New America Media, which was the country’s first and largest national collaboration and advocate of 2000 ethnic news organizations. In 2018 The kNOw became a project of Youth Leadership Institute.

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