For the past semester I had the sincere pleasure to work with students from Appleton Central, a school program for at-risk teens, on writing personal narratives. I've got to tell you. I love everyone's story. I really do. But these students? They dug in deep to share heartfelt, heartbreaking, and hopeful stories of their lives. To work along side writers and humans like this was truly an honor. We recorded some of the pieces for you to hear their stories in their own voices, and we've shared those pieces and more with you below. We all have a story to tell. Settle in and listen to the stories of these amazing group of teens.
LISTEN TO THEIR STORIES HERE
The first three writers completed a course led by Storycatchers director, Tara Pohlkotte, on personal narrative writing.
Kaya Lueck is a writer of both music, novels, and poetry. Born in Shawano, Wisconsin, she was inspired by her family filled with published authors themselves. As a member of the Menominee Native American Tribe, she has begun to write and participate in many public speaking events in order to achieve her personal goal of disproving the stereotypes surrounding Native American Teens. Although she has not yet been published formally, she continues to write and publish stories to excite, enchant, and satisfy her readers on Wattpad.
“Where I’m From”
Inspired by George Ella Lyon
I am from fabric
From LazYboy and Tempur-Pedic
I am from the cozy, soft, apple pie filled atmosphere.
I am from the roses,
The rushing waters
Whose gifts never cease to amaze.
I am from politics
And loving hearts
From finding love and giving love.
I’m from storytellers, history makers,
And political endeavors.
I’m from Shawano and the Menominee Nation,
Bread and Pie.
I am from you.
“Write About Anything…”
Write about anything or write about nothing…
Anything or nothing…
The sound of the water running down the building after melting from the sun’s rays or the silent “nothingness” that can never be put on paper…
The sound of the clock ticking every bitter second that goes by or the words that mean nothing coming out of the living’s mouth…
The girl moving awkwardly behind me or the lost messages from “them” that now mean nothing…
The white irritating light or the aggression no one sees which results in nothingness…
The sounds and sights of today or the means of today that will mean nothing tomorrow…
I can’t sleep.
The demons won’t stop whispering in my ears.
They tell me to run, but I don’t.
They tell me to jump, but I don’t.
I hear him breathing next to me and it causes the voices to fade just a little.
Finally, I open my eyes only to realize there’s no one there.
I can feel their eyes on me.
It’s hard to fall asleep without it being permanent.
“Letter to the Glassblower”
I feel as though my heart is one crafted of glass.
It has been cracked so many times.
You wouldn’t break it… Would you?
Your pieces are beautiful.
I can tell you make each and every one with love.
You fix them as well if any of them seem to be in need of it.
You breathe life into your creations.
Never have I seen one’s eyes shine like yours.
It really is what you love.
I always wondered if perhaps the reason you fix your pieces and tend to them as much as possible is because you are broken yourself.
It’s impossible for a piece to fix itself.
Can I fix you?
I hope you can understand that I may not be the best choice.
I am sorry I seem to be more fragile than the glass you work with.
Can you still love me with all my cracks and broken parts?
Tegan Kerr is a thoughtful, resilient and thriving 16-year-old from Appleton, Wisconsin. She hopes her future includes meeting Oprah, and feeling the thrill of singing on a sold out stage. Writing, for her, brings a sense of relief--in addition to writing her thoughts down, she occasionally puts them in an order she can sing and/or rap.
Poem Suite on Addiction
“Never be the Same”
She left without warning
She had nothing to say.
Wherever she was going- she was going to stay.
If this is how she dies,
She will succeed in yet another thing since she’s been alive
Only this time; we will not be proud of her.
We’d be terrified, broken and lost.
Filled with grief, and pain, and sadness and I can go on for days but telling you how I would feel will never bring my sister back.
If she walks out of this alive, she’ll still never be the same.
“Things I wish I told you”
I wish I had told you that you were doing great.
I wish I had told you that it’s not your fault he’s this way, you’ve done what you can; we all have.
I wish I had I told you that you’re beautiful the way you are. No need for a change.
I wish I had told you that I truly enjoyed your company, and I miss you when you’re not around.
I wish I had thanked you, and apologized when crucial.
I wish I had told you how much I loved you.
I wish I had shown you your worth.
I wish I had shown you what happiness and healthiness really looked like.
I wish I did.
Please understand this; you were actually beautiful. You were.
Before the drugs filled your body and turned you into someone you’re not.
Now you look like a lost cause.
When people see you they must drop their jaws;
I know I do.
And Mother too.
She searches for answers, but she receives none.
While we’re stuck inside with little hope,
You’re off somewhere smoking dope.
You don’t come around anymore- maybe it’s better that way.
‘Cause even if you did I wouldn’t know what to say.
This isn’t us scolding you, or a manipulation game as you would say.
It’s truth, and it’s reality, we just want to know if you’re okay.
I know someday I will fill with regret.
Because I never ask if you’re okay- I never take that extra step.
I want to say i’m sorry, and yes, I still care, yes I still worry.
I want to call you up- say hey, how’re you doing?
But i’m terrified, what if the drugs are still brewing?
They’ll speak for you- say something you don’t mean,
I’ll have to refrain from begging you just to get clean.
The drugs, they make you angry.
It’s like you’re not my sister, you’re just someone scary.
When I hear your name, my heart fills with doom.
I hate to admit it, and I hate that it’s the truth.
I saw you the other day,
I didn’t say a word.
It’s hard letting you see your own child,
That’s not easy to say.
Every morning I see you, and hug you, and tell you I love you, through your son.
Cause he’s the closest to you i’ve got.
The boy you once claimed you loved-
The boy you claimed was your world,
If that was the case, then how do you do it?
How did you leave?
How do you kiss him goodbye,
and disappear for three weeks at a time?
It’s almost been five months- he’s grown into someone new.
This boy deserves better- better than you.
When I look at you, I feel sick
This is the life you wanted, right?
That’s what you told me.
You’ve drown so many times, and each time we have been there.
We’re not lifeguards, Angel.
We can’t be there to save you every time you slip under.
You need to learn how to catch yourself.
You know how to swim,
You know how to tread.
Don’t just sit there, expecting to float to the top,
You will drown again, you will never come back up if you don’t get out now.
Hailey Matthews is a young writer with a big heart. Hailey wants others to know her story. She also loves traveling, pigs, and dying her hair.
March 31st, 2001. A little girl would be born. A C-section baby she was because she weighed 9 pounds and 11 ounces. She was her mother’s 3rd and her father’s 2nd. The baby girl looked so different, she had skin tags on her face and ear, but also she was changing color. Rushed to the ICU where she’d be hooked up to loud machines. The poor mother and father were in so much distraught until a man came in and pointed out the baby. His name was Doctor Raymond Fedderly, he specialized in hearts. He saw that the baby girl had Tricuspid Atresia, she went into surgery to get fixed up. That little girl is me.
Promises are meant to be kept. So why did I break my promises to my mother? I promised her that once she was released from the hospital we would celebrate her birthday. We never got to celebrate it, she died 8 days later. I promised her that I wouldn’t cry every night I’d miss her. I promised I wouldn’t starve myself when I’d miss her cooking. I promised I wouldn’t sing the song she used to sing to me. I promised I would take better care of myself. I promised I would be brave and strong. I made a promise to myself months before she died. I said to myself looking into the mirror: “Hailey, if momma dies...you’ll die too. I promise.” I broke that promise too, because well, I’m still here. I don’t like making promises anymore. I still think to myself; “Is it too late to fulfill that promise”? I made a promise to my friend, that if I ever felt like dying. That I would tell him so that he could maybe talk me out of it, or to make me promise again. I hate making promises, but I don’t want to break them anymore. Are promises really meant to be kept?
The next set of pieces are by writers who are Central students—some of what they have written was “for” a class, some is written because they needed it written, proving one doesn’t need to be part of a course to be a writer.
Na Lee Lee
I am stable.
I wonder if I’ll ever be able to feel loved and know what love is.
I hear ocean tides.
I see me being happy in the future.
I want to be loved.
I am waiting.
I pretend I don’t want to be loved.
I feel anxious.
I touch sand.
I worry if I’ll be able to graduate.
I cry when I have a reason to cry.
I am beautiful.
I want to understand the meaning of life.
I say things sometimes without thinking.
I dream mysteriously.
I hope I’ll succeed at life.
I am waiting.
"Na Lee’s Story"
If I was in the same shoes I was last year, you wouldn't see me on the first day of school, you wouldn't have talked to me about what books you have gotten me. When I was in the same shoes I was last year I lost friends, my mind, my innocence. Started off on my first heartbreak, he had lied,and cheated. It really impacted me I would stay home all day and cry. I started going out with the wrong crew and I thought it made me happy but that time I was only looking for happiness but of course happiness is only temporarily but that time I thought that me, going out was making me happy but sooner or later I found out that it didn't, I was just trying to escape from that dark hole I was in.
But I continued going out, then I lost my three “best friends” who all backstabbed me. That has also affected me a lot. After that I choose to be alone. I've struggled alone, gone through shit alone. This makes me ask, What is life? I would question myself that every single day: what is the point of me living? I was struggling to live and struggling to die. At that time I didn't care what happened to me, what anybody said. I was just a lost soul.
I finally thought to myself, the only thing that I will feel what I accomplish in life is to get my high school diploma and I decided to go to Central for my own good. I still have to deal with truancy court and everytime I go meet my social worker, I try my hardest not to ball out, because every single time I go meet her she talks about my past and it weakens me-- as I’m writing this I'm already tearing up.
Towards the end of last summer I finally realized that I don't need friends, because right now I am independent. I don't give a shit what anybody has to say about me because I do I. Why care what others think about you or say? They are irrelevant to me. Also I found out that I've been happier lately, but the happiness is where life is going smoothly. The part of my life and self that feels the most positive is becoming a shaman* in the future. This isn’t “all of me” yet, but knowing it can be part of me brings more happiness than only struggling to live.
*Shamanism is a core component of Hmong spiritual culture; the shaman seeks to restore balance and wholeness to the body and souls spiritually and ritually.
Poem Suite on Young Adulthood
Seeing the baby’s small hands and toes
on the ultrasound,
made my stomach turn and
my heart move.
That's when reality hit, not all the way yet
but I realized…
There was another human
growing inside of me.
I kind of felt like I was there but
at the same time somewhere else.
You would think my mind was going crazy
with so many thoughts,
but really it wasn't.
My head was empty,
like a pool that just had all the water drained out.
besides the tears rolling down my face.
I knew that was a feeling my mom would
have towards me.
deep down I knew she looked at me
and maybe even felt different about me,
as her daughter.
she had the same look on her face as me when we found out
shock, like defibrillators going into contact
with a cold cadaver
except only, she was the one that seemed to
need the reviving.
her soul left her
body for a few minutes.
As I looked at her
I felt a tingle through my body
a tingle of guilt.
the next couple of days
or maybe even weeks
I felt like my stomach was eating
I couldn't grasp the thought that
I was a mother.
I am a mother.
and remembering me and the father were not on
a guy I was once so
deeply In love with
wasn't visible in my life anymore.
Just an old memory
finding out something that would
I didn’t know how to feel; was I going to have to raise this baby
all on my own?
would he be around or would my baby be
without a father
like I was my whole life?
so many thoughts
sped through my mind, like a
Nightmare be true
when we think the worst, we always
hope it’s just all in our heads.
But sadly.. this wasn’t all in my head.
the father of the baby
didn’t seem to care as much as I thought he would.
I felt alone.
I felt trapped.
In a small box, not even with any breathing holes.
I asked myself the same question
over and over again.
Why like this?
The answers didn't come, but I kept asking.
It’s like hoping Santa is real
but you know that old guy in a red suit is really
I knew the answers would never come.
is always the hardest thing.
Eventually I had to take part in
realizing reality and
Taking this obstacle with me, instead of avoiding it
and trying to leave it in the past
like an old bad memory that wants to be
I had to accept it and take responsibility.
There was no running or
Overtime I thought of this baby
as a gift.
not a mistake.
not something that would drag me down
but only bring me up.
I had to remind myself everyday.
I was a mother now.
even if people judged me
this was something god gave to me and brought into my life.
It had to be for a reason.
so many sacrifices and
were made In my life
everywhere I went, I was looked at
Whispers filled the air and
thoughts of judgment went through peoples heads,
as they looked at me.
I stayed home mostly all the time
because if I was out
“I was a bad mother”
If I dressed a certain way, I was
If I went with friends for the night, I was a hoe.
All these negative things
but they never stopped me once
I knew I was going to give my baby
No matter what anyone said about me.
It was crazy, things would never be the same
I would never have my
old life back.
I would never be
looked at the same, by friends or even family.
I would never be able to do the same things as before.
but that was okay to me.
It was just reality
no one could
I had another life to take care of
A human I had to
The way their life turned out was
all on me.
this right here
was all me.
peace was finally found
Many other things came with it.
The questions I had, were never quite
But the holes they created soon became
full, on their own.
Everything began to fall in place
The father of the child
became more than an old
which was something I always hoped for
that when you want the answers,
they won't always come.
when you want things to be okay,
that won't always happen.
Everything comes on its own.
is the key.
It was my key.
the monsters that corrupted me
didnt sneak up on me, they werent waiting for the lights to go out
they were the ones turning the lights off
the ones who greeted me with “good morning sunshine”
the ones who walked me to school on my first day
the ones who tucked me in
the ones who braided my hair
—the ones who made me.
they taught me about the snakes
all from the outside
—but they never taught me about the ones who break your heart before you even knew it could,
the ones who stole my adolescence
the snakes who slithered through my garden of innocence and purity.
you can either be the snake
or the garden.