3rd Place

“The Promise”

by Julia Fong, age 14

 

I remember the good times,

feeling safe in my father’s

strong hands,

as he lifts me

to the sky

and back

over

and over

and over

again

 

He is tired now,

a little sweaty,

as he sits in his favorite lawn chair

holding a cold beer

and making

a face at me

with one eye closed

and the corner

of his mouth

turned down

like Popeye’s

 

He doesn’t have

a tattoo of an anchor

on his arm

but he could

and it would fit

right in

 

He met my mother

on a bus

and they laughed

and laughed

for ten miles

past his stop

until he got out at hers

 

He smiled and it was all over for her

He’s a good dad,

when he feels right,

but sometimes

the dark places

in his heart

ooze to the surface

and make his

eyes seem distant

and a little scared,

like a small child

left alone

in the dark

 

He keeps it together

for what I know now

is eternity

for someone like him

who meets the devil

every day

even though he’s

done nothing wrong

except be himself

 

I am away when it happens,

at the beach as it turns out,

enjoying time in the sun kissed water

and frolicking with my teenage friends

 

He takes the slim black revolver

he keeps hidden in his closet

and places it on the bed

 

I am running along a stretch of sand

leaping to catch a Frisbee that spins inches

away from my outstretched fingers

and falls onto the highest spot

to which the tide has crept

 

He takes out a notepad

and in his perfect handwriting

tells us that he loves us

and that it’s not our fault

and that there is nothing

Any of us could have said or done

and that it’s just a hole

inside of him

that can never be filled

and that grows larger

every day

 

until today

when it is

bigger than him

 

I sit with my friends

around a beach camp fire

holding my hands out

to feel the warm air

flow through my whole body

as my friends toast

marshmallows and hotdogs

on improvised skewers

made from hangers

 

His note finished,

he picks up the gun

and almost daintily

holds it up to his temple

 

There is no one else

in the house

and the cool air

from the wall unit

moves the curtains ever so slightly

as his finger caresses

the trigger

 

And

 

Then

 

Nothing

 

For a long time afterwards

I am numb

and even now

years later

I meet people

who tell me what

a nice guy my father was

and I always focus on

the past tense, the “was”,

because it highlights

so much

the fact

that he really is gone

 

I try in my own way

to tell his story

to keep him alive

to stop some other kids

from having their own life torn away

 

I am no preacher

but if the story I tell

can help someone

I don’t know

get help in time

well then

maybe he didn’t die in vain

and maybe there is some odd kind of purpose

to the universe

 

I meet experts

who tell me

that suicide

can happen

to any family

in any town

at any time

 

And that

early recognition

is the best way

To fight back

the scourge

and that

by simply

sharing

my family’s story

I am keeping

the promise

I made to my Dad

after he died

that I would

do everything

I could

to help

save a life

and a child’s heart

 

I speak one-on-one

and in auditoriums

filled to the rafters

and in every venue

I do my best

to plainly

explain that

there are always signs,

little things,

that let us know

that something

is off kilter

and that if we

don’t ignore them

we do

have a fighting chance

to stop

the darkness

from winning

 

The promise I made

can never be

completely kept

until, I too, am dust

and when that happens,

and I join my father,

I know that

he will finally

be at peace

 

So thank you

for listening

 

I learn as much

from you

as you can possibly

learn from me

 

So remember

to kiss and hug

your loved ones

like it will be

the last time you see them

because, well,

you never know

 

I’ll hang around

for a few minutes

to chat with any

of you

who wants

to come up

 

Goodnight

and be safe

 


We’re very pleased to announce the results of our special Teen Zine Writing Contest! The theme was TEEN ADVOCACY. We received some amazing submissions, and we have here our top three winners. Thank you very much to everyone who participated!

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