• Student U

Charlene Lopez Herrera

My life began with a simple breath. I was born on July 2, 2004 in Durham, NC. Everyone around me was filled with joy to see a new life come into Earth. I was welcomed by a mother, father, sister and other relatives. Day after day, month after month, and year after year my mother got to see her little girl grow up. 

I was four years old when I entered pre-school. I was an outgoing girl who made people around me smile and laugh. With a simple look, I could make friends with everyone, even with the man in the elevator (who I was told not to talk to). I was a jubilant girl who lived to make others happy. Eventually, it was time to graduate from preschool, say goodbye and make new friends. 

I ended up going to R.N. Harris Elementary school. There, they randomly selected students to be in a violin class, even Kindergarteners. I was excited to learn something new and it became my hobby. My academics in elementary were okay, which means that I wasn't completely failing. The only good thing I was able to do was play the violin. I started going on trips and events for my violin class, which I loved for two reasons: I could go to new places and I could miss my other classes. 

During my elementary school years, I started to slowly isolate myself from others. I became quieter, though I wouldn't have started to notice just yet. At the start of fourth grade, my teachers noticed there was a drop in my grades, so I was put in an “extra help” class for literacy. I had a hard time whenever they took me out of class. Every day, a group of five would go into another room and read and answer questions (which doesn't seem possible). We dreaded going in. Even other teachers would look our literacy teacher in her eye and her quick temper would flare. Aside from the reading, it was too much to deal with. One day she even made a boy cry right in front of our eyes. Still today, I remember her bright red lipstick and the strong odor of coffee flooding her classroom.

Finally, it was time to graduate from elementary school. I wasn't scared of going to a new school, but excited for a “change”. Summer was going to be different this year because this was the first year I would attend a summer camp called Student U. This program was like school but I guess more fun. I dreaded every single second of it, though, because I didn’t know anyone.

Summer finally came to an end and it was time to enter middle school. I attended Carrington Middle School. The first day was filled with both excitement and nervousness. When I walked into my first class (Social Studies), I recognized that not a single person from my elementary school had come to my middle school. Since I had come from a magnet school that was far away from my base school, I knew that I would be a complete loner, but I would at least make small talk with others. 

It was March 24, 2016. My family and I were on our way to the mall when we received a call from my uncle Joselius. He had said that my uncle Juan was ill and in the hospital. We weren't told what happened to my uncle but my dad wasn't surprised by the news. My uncle had struggled with alcohol addiction and would be in the streets for several days, knocked out cold. Though lately he had been sober, my dad just knew that had to be the reason why he was hospitalized, so we took our time getting to the hospital. When we got there my uncle Joselius was in tears. My aunt and my uncle Juan’s newly wedded wife were there as well. That's when we knew something was wrong. My uncle had just suffered a stroke, and it wasn't because of drinking but because drinking so many years had already taken a toll on him. 

We prayed and prayed for his recovery. After a few minutes, the doctors asked if they could speak to my uncle’s wife and other family members in a private room. My dad went, but my mother stayed with me so I wouldn't be alone. Tears filled my eyes. I was hoping for the best, even though I already knew what had happened. I heard a loud scream from the room they had entered and my heart dropped to my stomach. I told my mother to leave me to be with my dad and I just held on to my tears so she would. Everything around me was spinning and before I knew it, it was time for my uncle's funeral. I felt as if I hadn't done enough for my uncle. My parents would tell me not to get close to him since he was always drinking, but now I regret every single time I wasn't with him. After that, the year went by pretty fast, for the most part, and surprisingly I was getting all A’s. The only thing on my mind after what happened, was focusing on my academics. I pulled through and passed all my classes, which had satisfied me. 

Now, back to my summer camp. I went this summer and it was different for sure. I made my first few friends who I would eventually do everything with. This was the first year I was truly able to enjoy my summer. The weeks went by fast and it was time for seventh grade. This year was the year when I was truly terrified to meet new people. The year started like any other. I was focused on my work, which was all that was on my mind until one day, out of nowhere, I started to talk to this girl in my English class. From that day on, we talked all the time. I would consider her my first true friend. Throughout the school year, I would soon meet my “friend group”. We would always hang out and act like fools. Through the last year of middle school, I was excited to see my friends and make new ones. I had at least one friend in all my classes, so it was easy for me to be more open.   

This past school year also went by fast and before I knew it, I had followed my closest friend in submitting an application for Early College High School. As we waited for the results, we said that if one of us didn't enter the other wouldn't accept the seat for the school. We had grown so close that not only would I give up my dream school, but she would also give up an opportunity to challenge her strengths. Everyone around us would tell us that we were smart kids but this was a dumb decision. 

It was March 1, 2018, the day we were going to get our notification about Early College. We were both very excited about the possibility of entering a school that would challenge our academics and give us a way of “freedom”. So, we opened the email and to our surprise we had both been accepted. I had tears in my eyes for two reasons: I was going to my dream school and I was going to my dream school with my best friend. 

It was August 2, 2018, the first day of high school. My friend and I had stayed up to help each other with what outfit to wear. We walked in, waited in a long line for our schedules and to our surprise we had not a single class together. We were devastated, but we didn't let that get to us. The school year was a different year. I was able to open up a little more and was able to make a friend group pretty quickly. I would stay close to this friend group, but my friendship with my best friend remained intact. She and I would talk after school and just complain about our school work and teachers. The school year went by very fast and I finished my first year of high school. I had passed all my classes and was ready for a break. 

When I finished school there was one question I had in mind: “What was so different from this school year than any other?” And also, “How was I able to open up to people I had never met before?” To this day, I ask myself, “Will I be able to change as the years go by? Will I be able to open up and talk to others?” 

I wonder if I brought the loneliness I experienced in sixth grade upon myself, having family members in trouble and deaths around me. Maybe because I had healed, I was able to finally able to open up or was it just me who had ignored people during that time? As the days pass an ‘ongoing investigation’ of these questions linger in my mind. Maybe one day I'll be able to find the answer. 

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