Amber Owens

Hallways are meant for little, excited feet to run down. I visited every day yet it seems like eons since mom and I had our playdate at the ICU. I remember the turquoise chairs and the magazines I was constantly being told to look at while I sat quietly. However, when left alone, I would sing and jump from chair to chair. The waiting room was always empty and cold. I remember the elevators, they seemed so foreign and scary then. I remember the pink antique trinkets sold in the gift shop, a place where I was similarly told to visit with my sister, so as not to disturb the patients. Little did I know that every year from then I would spend in the hospital or in the middle of some kind of family trauma. Everything and anything was used to distract me: things as simple as brightly colored chairs.

At six years old I was positively unaware of the possible terrors in the world. As my mother lay unresponsive in a mechanical bed, doctors bore the bad news. She was supposed to die then. She didn't. She was a much stronger opponent. However, my mother would suffer long-term effects that would force her to work part time, give up parts of the life she loved, and later lean on the help of her younger daughter to help her do the simplest things like putting on her shoes. 

My grandfather, although very involved in the beginning of my life, seems to become more of a forgotten memory the older I get. What I do remember is what he wore and how he died. I remember his outfits. What possessed that man to wear checkered golf pants with stripped leisure suit jackets I will never understand. I remember when he died, after months of being transferred from hospital to hospital. There was talk of him being killed, responsibility pointed at the hospital, and trials that followed, but I did not understand. I was so confused when Grandpa left, still unaware of the world around me. 
Grandma was magical, she had a laugh that was contagious and a strange need to watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy every day, and every day I would watch with her. She was one of my first best friends. The last few years of my grandmother's life were full of ambulances. The woman who lived in the room down the hall, the woman who I looked up to. I remember the first time I looked into her eyes and realized she didn't recognize her granddaughter staring back at her. I remember when she forgot how to walk and feed herself. I remember years of being home alone during nights when she would wake up screaming, afraid of a world that wasn't there. 

The local hospital became my second home, and this time the rooms were not my playpen and the chairs weren't there for jumping. And when the doctors pulled us aside to deliver the bad news I was there. 4-5 hours, the time she was expected to stay on this earth. Of course, grandma made it at least 7.  She was a fighter and she fought to stay with us. "4-5 hours: It'll happen tonight," kept ringing in my head. I always wondered what you would say to someone if you knew those words would be the last, some kind of apology form a long-term feud or crazy confession? But the only thing I had to say was, "I love you." I said it so much within those few hours that at one point the woman came out of her unresponsive state to shake her head and nudge me, as if to say, “Okay I get it.”

We watched Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune together for the last time in her hospital room, me repeating everything the host said in her ear, in case she couldn't hear, grandma never had great hearing. Her heart stopped at least 11 times that day and when it happened again I was there, my mother too distraught to stay and my family outside the room. I held her hand and squeezed tighter as it fell limp in my own. 

The thing that I was scared of the most when I lost my grandmother was the thought of forgetting her. About a month or so later, we were given the news that everything in her house was stolen and destroyed. I was devastated, what did I have left of her?

We understand each other on a level and friendship beyond worlds, she makes me a better person. Her inspiration makes me see things in different ways. I used to be frustrated. As I got older I had more responsibility to take care of my older special needs sister and sick mother, a responsibility other people didn’t understand and made fun of. Why is it up to me to make sure, everyone eats? Takes their medicine? Make sure my sister goes to bed and does her homework? In reality my family takes care of each other. My mother, my rock and my sister protective and compassionate as she is being always there for me and sacrifice for me every day. I am thankful to learn selflessness from my family. 

Above all else when I was at my worse the woman who helped raise me, my godmother left. My grandparents, my home, all the mementoes of my life had left. I felt lonely and lost.  I spiraled into a hole of anxiety and depression. Waking up in the morning was painful. I hated myself and I was frustrated and sacred of the world around me. 

I remember the multiple police visits and restraining orders. I remember the drives to government offices, all surrounding my abusive father. And I remembered how none of it mattered. It was yet another time in my life where I had seen firsthand that sometimes the system fails and no matter the heartache and pain you experience, sometimes justice does not prevail, and that in itself hurts the most.

I remember when my father took our life in the divorce, when my college fund went missing, the many times our electricity went out, and worse of all I remember when he refused to fix the pipes causing mold in our house which would latter poison our family and cause constant illness. I remember sitting in court, watching when he took the house. I remember having to leave our belongings and go. I remember the months when I would go to school like all was good and, when 3:30 hit, not know where we would sleep that night. I remember how hard my mom worked herself into exhaustion to keep me at this school and do her best to keep a constant in her children's life. I realized how easy it is to take that moment after a long day, when you plop into your own bed for granted. 

I don’t know why hard things happen, but I do know that when they do it's easy to feel helpless and feel bad for yourself. I realize that everyone is going through their own struggles and there is always someone in more need of help than yourself, it is important to keep that in mind when we think about how we treat people. But, what got me through all this was realizing that pain is only temporary. You might be in the middle of the storm now, and it might be hard to see your way out but something I learned is that no matter what life brings I have the strength and courage to get through it, and so do all of you. 

Rolling Hills Preparatory School

One Rolling Hills Prep Way
1500 Palos Verdes Drive North
San Pedro, CA 90732

T: (310) 791-1101 | F: (323) 310-9973 
Rolling Hills Prep School prides itself on being a forward-looking, academically rigorous college-prep school with a soul. Every day we provide our diverse student body a high-powered traditional curriculum combined with stimulating and innovative teaching techniques both inside and outside the classroom because we believe that success in college and life is best attained by equipping our students with disciplined minds, sound character, healthy bodies and creative spirits. RHP is a private, coeducational day school for grades 6-12, located on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Los Angeles, CA.

Renaissance, our sister school, believes that bright students who learn differently can rise to great heights when they become empowered and confident. Visit the Renaissance website.