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The sun has set. As I make my way home from soccer practice, step by step, I feel my confidence at its peak. As I approach my house, I notice that the windows are dark, meaning nobody is home. My aura begins to slowly sink as I am walking towards my front door. While I begin to grab the house keys under the rug, I start to snap back into reality and remember the life I have outside of soccer. I take a heavy breath, open the door, and walk into an empty home. My grandma left me a plate of food on the tiny kitchen counter to warm up for dinner. As I put it in the microwave, I stand there as the timer counts down, completely blank. The plug has been pulled, the happiness I had before walking into my house has shut down. I take the food out of the microwave, sit down at my tiny kitchen counter and just start staring at empty chairs. Wishing I had a family by my side, I ask myself, “Why me?” as I eat dinner alone once again.
This has been my daily routine for most of my life. There are many days I would come home from soccer and feel almost invincible, as if I am on top of the world, and then there's days where I would come home at my lowest. Whether it was my best or worst day, everyday, I would walk in through my front door and nobody would be there, I’d be alone. Although I live with my grandma, who immediately took me and my little brother in after my mom left, she had to start working full-time to take care of us. I watched her, a woman in her seventies with health complications, work so hard that whenever she came home from work she would be exhausted and limping, unable to enjoy a meal with us.
I remember having family dinners with my mom and little brother at the dining table when I was a kid, and I have spent so much time wishing I could feel that warmth again. However, due to complicated circumstances, my mother said she was too overwhelmed with everything in her life. She told us she needed to take “time off.” I, as a 12 year old, would have never imagined that five years later my mom is still taking her “time off.” Throughout the years, the only attention I received from my mom was through the phone–over 1,000 miles away in Florida. Moreover, I was abandoned by my father when I was two years old. I don’t remember him much, but I remember my mom having to work multiple jobs to meet our basic needs. I understand the stress she must have been under as a single mother of two young boys, but I could have never imagined that she would leave me too. I have been through five years of birthdays, Christmases, Thanksgivings, Easters, and more special days without either parent by my side.
I am determined to not allow the circumstances of my life to affect my dreams and goals, so every morning for the past five years, I made sure to wake up to the sight of a sheet of loose leaf paper taped to the ceiling right above my bed with a list of ten goals that I would love to accomplish in life. I make sure that whenever I wake up, I remember to accomplish as much as possible, to achieve each and every one of those goals on the sheet. Additionally, I have maintained a positive outlook on my life by reminding myself that I have been able to independently choose my own path in life, despite what has happened out of my control. I am not letting past events define me or determine my future. Events that could have brought me down darker paths actually showed me what it means to overcome adversity, and I chose soccer as a way to remain resilient. I never let my inability to afford new cleats or gear stop me from playing every day. I am the type of player that would duct tape the same pair of cleats over and over again until they finally gave out. In fact, I could not afford most things by myself, but I am blessed to have special, empathetic people in my life who care for me and help me to continue pursuing my passion. Overall, soccer and education not only helped me cope with the circumstances of my life, but also taught me the importance of perseverance, commitment, and community.
As I reflect on these experiences, I am extremely proud of myself for choosing the right path, for it has made me realize who I truly want to be in life and what I want to be remembered for. I was able to motivate myself to be a great player and student. My grades improved as I became more and more eager to be a first-generation, Latino college student. Growing up without any familial or financial stability has taught me the value of humility and resourcefulness. I believe I have all the building blocks to become a positive force in this world, and I want to use my experiences and the lessons I have learned to help others who have gone through similar struggles. Further, the self discipline I have developed through the past couple years will undoubtedly allow me to succeed at the next step in my life.
At the very bottom of the list on my ceiling in very small writing I have an 11th goal that I wish to accomplish. It is surprisingly not soccer related at all–it actually says, “Sit with my entire family for dinner someday.” I have so many great memories and stories that I would love to share, and I hope to share them with my family at the dining table…someday.