by Erin M., Age 12 , Grade 7, Ware County Middle School, Waycross, GEORGIA USA
Teacher: Crystal Mercier
My name is Brit, short for Britney. I am a senior at Glenwood High School in Illinois where I used to play basketball. I have two younger siblings, my sister Paige is a junior, and my baby brother Payton is one year old. I take care of my two younger siblings because of the unfortunate situation I am in with my family. My mom died giving birth to my younger brother last year. The doctors said a lot of medical junk, but when they saw the look of confusion on my tear-stained face, they simply said “her body couldn’t take it.” Of course I would never blame my brother for the horrific event, but sometimes I wonder how different things would be if she never gave birth to him. My dad is a truck driver that drives from coast to coast every week. He gives us a couple calls a week to make sure we’re okay, and he stops by about once a month to check in, pay bills, and give us money for groceries.
This pretty much leaves me running the family. Every morning at 4:45, I wake up, get ready for school, get my brother ready for school, make sure my sister is ready, drop my brother off at daycare, and take my sister and me to school. A lot of students at the huge high school think that Payton is actually my child because I am always taking him with me everywhere we go. I mean, who could blame the students? I take him to all of Paige’s basketball games, I can never hang out, and I take him everywhere he needs to go. I had a couple good friends last year, but they drifted away when mom died last spring because I could never hang out. I honestly didn’t take it as a surprise because those two always tried to stay with the popular crowd, and they wouldn’t want to be talking to “the girl with the baby”. I used to be popular when I played basketball the past three years, but ever since I put down my love for the game to fulfill my duties as a big sister, that popularity faded.
The last call I had from my father was 3 months ago. I’m sure he’s just very busy, but I’d like it if he would just check in like usual. It’s been pretty rough this last couple of months, and I’ve tried my hardest to keep a brave face. Payton and I have been to all of Paige’s basketball games this season, but my dad hasn’t been to any. I don’t know if he stays away from home to try to forget about mom or if it’s just work, but I really think he could give better effort to be there for the family. Although I would never tell this to my siblings, I think he might not be back for a while. Mom’s death affected him greatly, and it’s hard for him, I know. I think he just needs a break for a while.
I had to get a job last month because my dad didn’t come home to give us grocery money. It was hard to get a good paying job because I didn’t have a high school diploma, couldn’t work full-time, and was only 17. When I finally did get a job, it was at Chick-fil-A taking orders inside. This actually worked out very well because the employees were always very friendly and understood why I was late to work sometimes. They also let me take home food for my siblings, and I really appreciate the generosity they gave me. Ever since I got a job, I had a strict schedule going: I woke up, got everyone ready, dropped off Payton at daycare, dropped Paige off at the gym, went to work from 6:30 to 8, went to school from 8:15 to 3, picked up Payton from daycare, pick up Paige from practice or go watch her game, drive them home, go back to work from 5:30 to 9, and went back home. Paige is a good help at home because she babysits Payton while I’m at work. I try to give her a couple days a week off so that she can still hang out with her friends, but she understands that I need to work to keep things running around here. We’ve definitely had to make some sacrifices for the family, but we’ve all worked hard to have a good life.
Paige plays a 2-guard on the basketball team at the high school. We played together the past two years, but I decided to step down to suffice the needs of my family. Paige plays great defense, has good handles with the ball, and has a great jump shot. When I played last year, I played point guard, and we always would work well together because we both knew that
Mom always used to come watch us play together, and she would be the loudest person cheering at every game. I try to fulfill my mom’s role of being Paige’s #1 fan while she’s playing, but it comes with consequences. I miss playing basketball very much; I miss the winning shots and the crowd screaming. I miss looking into the stands and seeing my mom with a grin on her face. I miss going around the school and having people congratulate me on the game. I miss all of these things, but I have to make sacrifices for the sake of my family.
About 3 months into the basketball season and 5 months since my dad had been home, we started to lose grasp on our lives. Paige had late games, so that threw our schedule off and made us late for everything. I had to take a couple days off of work because Payton was at home sick. Everything was starting to fall apart, and I didn’t know what to do about it.
“Mum-mah,” mumbled Payton on a Saturday afternoon after we’d eaten lunch. I started to freak out because he thought I was his mother, and there’s no way he could understand that I’m not. I tried to explain, but he said it about once a day. I knew that even though he wasn’t in the best environment at the time, he was going to be a brilliant child.
“No, Payton. I’m not mama; I’m sister. Got it? Sister… Sister.” I tried to explain to him, but his big, beautiful blue eyes were just filled with excitement because he had learned to communicate through words. Eventually I just let him say it and just prayed that the conversation we would have one day wouldn’t be too bad.
“Oh, so he’s calling you Mama now? And you’re just going to let him. Yeah, nice going, Brit. I’m going to let you tell him that story one day.” screamed Paige one day after losing one of her basketball games. She always got extremely mad when they lost, especially when it’s to their main rivals. I told her to quit it with the attitude and that I couldn’t control what his mind tells him. She mumbled what sounded like a word she shouldn’t say under her breath and stormed off to her room. I left her dinner at her door and just decided to leave her alone. I needed some quiet time anyways; I had to think of another lie to tell the bank so that they could loan some money for the bills. I had told two successful lies with no problem, but this one would be tricky since it would be the third straight month. I did some thinking and decided to say that my money got lost in the mail, but it would be back soon. After a couple hesitant minutes, the lady at the bank agreed to give me a small loan for the bills that needed to be paid this week. I really didn’t want to lie; she seemed like a very nice lady, but I had to do what I had to do.
As I was picking up Payton one day from the daycare, one of the ladies at the front office called me over to discuss a house inspection to make sure that we were in good living conditions and had a guardian over 18 to supervise us. I asked her if this was mandatory since my dad was always on the road, and she said yes, it was mandatory. I thanked her for the information and left in a swift manner. I didn’t know what I was going to do. Did I try to look for my dad? Did I make an excuse that his flight got cancelled? Did I tell the truth. I sat in the kitchen for what felt like years to try and figure out what would benefit my family most.
The inspection came 3 days later, and they sent a somewhat nice, professional inspector to the house. He analyzed the living quarters and didn’t have any negativity towards that section of the inspection. I cleaned every week so that the house was kid-safe for the 1 year old. When he asked about my dad, I explained that he was coming from Oregon, but his plane flight had technical difficulties. I told him that he would be driving home instead, so it would be a two day trip. After asking a few follow up questions that I was quick to answer, he seemed convinced. I had fully prepared for this inspection because the last thing I wanted was for my siblings and me to be split up. I had worked too hard to keep my family together to let one mishap cause us to lose each other.
After inspecting the house for a few minutes more, he packed his things to leave. On the inside, I was so excited that he had actually bought my story, but on the outside, I acted like this is what I had expected to happen. The last thing he asked me to do was sign a form proving that my house was inspected. As I was signing the form, I noticed that he was reading a sheet of notebook paper on the dining room table.
I saw the expression on his face change to a deep frown; he figured out that I had been lying this whole time.
“I can explain, sir. You see, when my dad’s plane got cancelled—“
“You don’t need to, Miss Britney. I know that your dad hasn’t been here in a long time. As much as I’d like to, I simply cannot let you run a house without the supervision of an adult, especially with a 1 year old involved. I’m very sorry to say this, but unless you can find a good home with an adult to stay with, I’m going to have to schedule court two weeks from now.” He had a solemn expression on his face, and I knew he was in deep thought about the situation. A small tear ran down my saddened face, and I replied with “okay.” He said his farewells, and he got into his blue Chevy Cruze and left.
The following day I didn’t know what to feel. Was I anxious for court? Was I angry at myself for being so careless with the paper? Was I disheartened because my family might be split apart? I didn’t know, and the only place that I knew would help me figure it out was the basketball court.
Payton was at daycare for a little longer than usual that day because of the situation that had caught word around the county. Everyone was extra nice, but of course I saw the first glances that showed their sorrow for the situation. Paige still had practice for another 30 minutes, so I went to the old gym that I played in my freshman year. The wrestlers usually practiced in there, but their season ended the weekend before when they lost by 3 points in the state championship. I grabbed an old ball in the corner and started with some lay ups. I went up right handed, left handed, floaters (right down the middle), and backwards on both sides. Then I started backing up and shooting from the corners and elbows. I shot pretty accurate on these; I missed the first few because I was weak and was coming up short. I made the adjustment, and after that, they all swooshed threw the net. I backed up behind the three point line, and it was the same story. I was making shot after shot after shot, and it helped me think. I was going to fight like heck to get my family to stay together, and nothing was going to get in my way.
“Are my old eyes playing tricks on me, or am I actually seeing Britney Hayes with a basketball in her hands?” screamed a raspy voice across the court. Oh, how could I forget that voice; he was my favorite coach in the world, old Assistant Coach Jones. I gave him a shy smile and told him I was just trying to get some things sorted out.
“Yeah, I heard about that unfortunate situation. That sucks, kid.” he replied with a frown on his face.
“It’ll be okay. I’m going to fight like heck. There’s no way in the world I’m going to let them split my family apart.” I responded with a sudden urge of confidence.
“And how you figure you gone do that?” he asked with an inquisitive look on his face.
“I don’t know yet, Coach.” I answered.
“Well…” Coach Jones started, “I need a point guard. Bad. And you need a home. Bad. So how ‘bout you and Paige and ole’ Payton come stay with me for a long while, and you play basketball for me. And you know my wife and I aren’t able to have kids, so this’ll be a good experience for us.” I sat there staring at him for what felt like hours. I was completely, utterly flabbergasted. Here I was, wishing upon a shooting star that Heaven would bless me with an opportunity to keep my family together, and here’s Coach Jones, not only giving me a roof above my head but a chance to also play basketball again. But would my family be as convinced as I was? Is this selfish? Would my family get the life I wanted them to? I’d most definitely have to talk to Paige about it, but I’m sure she’d completely agree. She loved Coach Jones almost as much as I did. It would be a good environment for Payton; Mrs. Jones loved babies. She kept the children at church and never complained of changing diapers or stopping the crying.
“Are you being for real, Coach?” I asked, still in shock.
“Of course, kid. I need ya. Ya need me. Let’s make a deal.” he replied and extended his right arm for me to shake. I shook it back and gave him a huge bear hug. I thanked him several times and assured I’d get back to him. I left the old gym with a huge smile on my face and victory in my heart.
I talked it over with Paige that night, and she instantly agreed. She was always very fond of Mrs. Jones, and I knew she would like to live with her. I assured her that we would have perfect manners and help around the house. We wouldn’t be out at parties (not that we did at all), and we would absolutely make up for the amazing gift Coach had offered. Paige was especially thrilled when I told her about my playing basketball again. She jumped up and down, and her face lit up like I hadn’t seen in so long. She gave me the tightest hug I had ever received, and asked when we were ready to move. We were on top of the world.
The next couple of days, my family and the Jones couple sat in the court house signing foster papers. Our contract stated that since there was no contact to our father, we had the right to be fostered or adopted. After what seemed like 1,000 signatures later, we were legally the foster children of Mr. and Mrs. Jones. My siblings and I were exhilarated that we could begin a new chapter of our life without suffering.
After a month of living with Coach, my sister and I had developed a deep hatred for our father. Not only was he a bad dad when he checked in on us, he now has nothing to do with us. He left a 17, 16, and 1 year old to fend for themselves in this cruel, ruthless world.
Ever since our dad left us, my sister and I became closer than we ever had. We went through the death of our mom, the leaving of our dad, suffering, and bad living conditions together. All of that negativity made the good moments, the basketball games, working together, etc, even more precious. When we played basketball together, it’s like we had the same mind. When I wanted to drive to the basket, Paige set a screen. When I picked up my dribble, Paige had a wide open cut. All of the coaches asked where this “dynamic duo” came from, and my coaches just simply replied with a “just the kid from last year, Coach”. The word is that we’re going to be starters for the all-star team for our region. We never take it to heart, though; there are many good players in our region. We just try to win every game for the sake of our team.
We had one particular game where we had a combination of 53 points, 27 rebounds, 18 steals, and 15 assists. They interviewed us for the newspaper article they were writing about the “sister-sister combination”. After having our huge game, we all went out to eat at a local restaurant called “Joe’s Barbeque” beside a fancy sushi restaurant. The place smelled like a backyard cook-out although I wouldn’t first-hand know what that smelt like. We ordered our food, and I brought along Payton’s crackers so that he could eat his dinner. I was in the middle of eating my barbeque sandwich when I saw a middle-aged woman dressed in a short, tight dress and wearing a pound of makeup come out of the sushi restaurant. I saw a man about 6 even put his hand around her hip and walk down the street towards our direction. That’s when I saw the face of the man who was walking with the woman. It was a face that I hadn’t seen many times in the past year. It was a face that made me raged just thinking about it. It was a face I didn’t want to see, and the face was my dad’s.
“Coach, I’ll be right back,” I told Coach Jones. The bathroom was right beside the exit, so I walked over and quickly ran outside. I hesitantly walked over to the couple, and the girl gave me a confused look. The look on the other was completely different. My dad was completely and utterly shocked that I had found him. I stared at him for one long minute before he finally broke the silence.
“Um, Britney. Hello. Um, Selina, this is Britney. Um, she’s my, um, daughter.” he explained. I gave him a hard glare filled with hatred before I responded.
“No. No, I’m not.” I started walking swiftly back to the restaurant. My dad sprinted after me and asked for me to just listen to him for a minute and what he had to say. I agreed to let him talk, but I still gave him that death glare that would scare anyone out of their wits.
“Look, Britney. I’m sorry. I really am. I couldn’t look at you kids because all I saw was your mother, and I couldn’t take it. I had to get away for a while. But I’m fine now. I’m with this lovely lady, Selina, and we have a house by the river. I would like to offer you kids a chance to come live with us. It’ll be fun! Okay, just think about it… Here’s my number. Just let me know.” he finished. I was completely shocked. He acted like there was nothing wrong, like I didn’t hate him with everything I had.
“I will let you know.” I answered for the sake of my siblings. I nodded my head and went back to the restaurant.
I talked over the conversation with Mr. and Mrs. Jones and Paige. I told them the whole story, from beginning to end. By the time I got done with the story, Paige was raging with fury. She was angry because my dad acted like he did nothing wrong. She demanded that she never speak to him ever again.
“Paige, we can’t just think of ourselves here. We now have another option, and we don’t know if Coach wants to keep us here.” I explained to her. She had forgotten to think of other opinions.
“Girls, you listen to me real good. It was an evil thing your dad did to y’all. Me and Mrs. Jones are happy to offer you guys a home for however long you need it. If you’d like to go, that’s fine too. Whatever y’all wanna do, we’ll support your decision.” Coach Jones offered. I was so glad that he was such a supportive man.
“Coach, if it’s okay with you, I think we’re going to stay right here.” I replied to him with a smile on my face.
“Alrighty, then. You two get to bed; we’ve got school tomorrow.” We all said our good nights and went to bed with satisfaction.
We were playing in the state championship 2 weeks later against a team out of the town of Harlow. We had channeled our anger from the conversation from our father, and we were having an amazing game. We both had more than 30 points before the 4th quarter was over. Our rebounds combined was 29, and together, we had 21 assists. We were losing by one point in the 4th quarter with 15 seconds left on the clock. We had no time outs left, so we had to do this by ourselves. I took the ball down the court, and I saw Paige coming to set a screen on my right side. I ran my man into Paige and drove to the basket. I looked up at the clock, and there were 7 seconds left. Two defenders stopped me in front of the basket, and I picked up my dribble.
I pump faked and passed the ball right where I knew Paige would be cutting. She caught the ball and hit the top of the square. The ball went right into the hoop, and we won the state championship.
After all of the cheering and congratulations, Coach, his wife, Payton, Paige, and I headed to the car to go home. While discussing that winning play in the parking lot, my dad faced us, looking like he had something to say. Paige and I gave him that death glare while he spoke.
“Look at my girls! Stars of the show!” he started. “So, Selina and I are moving to Oregon where her family lives. We have this huge house where it always snows and there’s so much to do! How ‘bout y’all come with me? I’m sure Coach and his wife don’t want y’all up here with them.” he explained with a toothy grin on his face. Mrs. Jones, who hardly ever speaks a word, spoke up and pulled papers out of her purse.
“Actually, I’ve been holding these for a couple weeks. They’re adoption papers. All you have to do is sign, and you can be on your way.” She smiled graciously and handed him a pen.
“Is this really what you guys want?” asked my dad without expression. Paige and I looked at each other and simultaneously shook our heads yes. He signed the papers and just stood there for the longest time.
“Come on, Coach. Let’s go home.” I answered. Coach Jones smiled wide and clicked the horn button on his keys for effect. We all smiled as hard as we could,and continued our conversation about the game. My family and I all headed to the car without ever looking back.