The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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My Family’s Loss
Cassandra Charles

January 15, 2010. It’s 7 a.m. and the phone rings. My heart begins pounding. Since the earthquake hit Haiti three days earlier we haven’t heard anything from our relatives, so each call poses a threat. I race to the phone and upon seeing the caller ID—it’s my cousin in Haiti—I feel tears well up in my eyes. All I can think is, “She shouldn’t be calling this early.”

“Hello, Cassan, eske mammi la? Mwen bezouin pale ak li.” My cousin’s voice sounds cold and broken as she asks, in Creole, to speak to my mother. I hand my mom the phone and without a single word uttered between us, my mother’s eyes and mine connect; a mutual transfer of fear and anguish is made.

A few seconds later, I hear my mom gasp and look down. My worst fears roar to life as she cries, “Baby mouri! Baby has died!” Rocks of saliva form and make it impossible for me to breathe or scream. I can’t even move.

Too Young, Too Beautiful

I don’t know why, but I believed that my family would experience this tragedy with no real loss. When I heard my mother’s words I found myself thinking: “This can’t be true; my cousin is too young, too beautiful, too smart, too every good thing that exists; please, God, don’t let it be true. She’s only 20, her graduation is coming up, she has a beautiful nephew to meet, she has so much more living to do.” I sat shaking my head, trying to make this whole thing a lie.

I met Alexandra, whom everyone called “Baby,” for the first time when I traveled to Haiti eight years ago. I was 11 and she was 12. “Allo, mwen se kouzin ou,” she said, meaning, “Hello, I’m your cousin.” We immediately hit it off and for the rest of my visit, we were inseparable.

We talked about how different life in America was and how life in Haiti was such an adventure every day. One day you could see a carnival right outside your window, and the next day a full brawl between street merchants. We teased her little brother who was always bothering us, and drank “cola lakay,” a Haitian drink that locals consider the official beverage of the nation, like it was nobody’s business.

“Baby” was such an open and caring person, a humble and beautiful soul. Her smile could light up an entire town, and it did: Everyone in her small town of Delmas 19 loved her and predicted she would go far in life.

My Family United

When my mom hung up the phone, she explained that Baby had been at her college at the time of the earthquake. As my mom continued speaking, it was as if I became deaf; all I could picture was Baby under rubble, in pain, scared out of her mind. I felt every ounce of strength and hope drain from my body.

Then my mom jumped to her feet screaming, “Serge!! Serge!!” as it hit her that her brother had lost his daughter. “We have to go to him now! Get ready!”

My uncle and two of his children live here in New York, while his wife and the other children live in Haiti. Like my mom, I was suddenly hit by the realization that my other cousin had lost her only sister, who was without a doubt her best friend. If I was in so much pain, I knew, she must be losing her mind. As it did in my mom, a sudden desperate urge to be with them arose in me, and I couldn’t shower and dress quickly enough.

Radiating Pain

This is how the earthquake hit my family, and I found strength in comforting family members who were in more pain than I was. I’d heard it said that a person can be in so much pain that you feel it coming off their body, but experiencing it was like nothing I had ever felt. When I embraced my cousin at my uncle’s house, her body felt so limp and hot that I was afraid she would get sick from crying so hard.

I felt myself close to losing it, but I knew that I had to be strong for her, for her little brother, and for my uncle. I walked away and gathered myself, and then I came back in and sat holding her little brother’s hand in silence.

Now that it’s been a few days, I can actually sit and write about what’s happened, but getting to this point has been an uphill battle. It’s hard to accept I’ll never see my cousin again. I found myself asking God if he had to take someone from my family, why not an old person, someone who had lived their life?

This earthquake taught me that tomorrow is promised to no one, so we should all live our lives to the fullest and try to make sure they are worthwhile. It’s reminded me to be kind to people and loving to family, friends, and even myself.

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