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Contest Winners #213
Have you ever had a dream that you considered especially significant?
Writing Contest Winners



1st Prize
Struggling for Acceptance in a Hearing World

Melissa Benjamin, 14
Brooklyn, NY

When I was 2, I got really sick with blisters and a high fever. My mom noticed I’d lost my hearing because I was always asking what she’d said, or she had to talk loud to get my attention. I wouldn’t say a complete sentence, I would say just a few words. Since then, I’ve been hard-of-hearing, growing up in a hearing world.

My family, friends, and neighborhood accepted me, but no one knew ASL (American Sign Language). I thought I was the only one in the world like me. I believed that only older people became deaf, not a kid!

When I was 9, I changed schools. My new school was for the deaf, the hard-of-hearing, and children of deaf parents. I wanted so badly to fit in. I didn’t know sign language yet, so I felt like I never would. As I learned, my teachers were telling me to be honest and admit when I could not understand something they said or signed.

Shortly after changing schools, I dreamed that I was on a job interview to become a nurse at a hospital. I was telling the interviewer that I was hard-of-hearing and he looked suspiciously at me because I was not using sign language when I said this. He didn’t realize that I’d grown up listening very carefully and trying to read lips (which I’m very good at). I was anxious that he would not hire me because he believed I was lying. Or maybe he thought I couldn’t be good for this job, that I wouldn’t understand my work or the people around me.

I started to get worried, but I tried to be honest and straightforward. “Please hire me,” I told him. “I know you may think that a deaf person may not understand the work, or the world. But I live in both worlds. I can prove I could be a good and independent nurse. My deafness is not a problem.” I was almost begging him for a chance.

His face didn’t change, so I told him I could be a good role model for other people. The hospital could add ASL to their translation services (like Spanish or Russian) and help deaf people get better services there, if he hired me. I said that I could show the staff and patients that being hard-of-hearing is not an obstacle.

His face changed! He said, “Fine, but if you mess up, you can’t stay. So don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand what someone is telling you. OK, you’re hired.”

That dream was so vivid that I still remember it clearly. I think my dream was telling me to be brave enough to reveal my hearing loss, and to be honest. Today, I really am a role model, and I feel confident about that.


2nd Prize
Perfect American Girl

Emily Yeh, 15
Plano, TX

Last year, I dreamed I was back at the private school I used to attend in my elementary years. In the dream, I was in high school, as if I had never left that school. I appeared different than my normal self. Less Asian, and more Caucasian. Brownish-blonde hair draped over my shoulders, and my skin glowed a few shades whiter.

Alyssa D. stood waiting for me. Against school rules, she was texting on her cell phone, giggling mindlessly in a flirtatious conversation with a teenage boy. She greeted me, and we strode down the hallway together, our skirts rolled, polo shirts unbuttoned, hair blowing, emulating the corny high school movies where everything moved in slow-motion. Exulting in our superiority, we met the glares of envious classmates and exited the school doors into the blistering Texas heat.

That was the entire dream. In reality, Alyssa and I had been best friends in 1st grade, along with Rachel, an endearing Hispanic girl. We spent our days jumping rope and playing hopscotch together. A few months into the school year, Alyssa arrogantly informed Rachel and me that she needed to end our friendship. She blamed her mom, who insisted that she instead befriend Jessica, an athletic white girl.

I didn’t think at first that she was abandoning the Hispanic and Asian girls for the Caucasian girl. I didn’t think that a mother could be so immature and bigoted as to choose her daughter’s friends based on race. No 6-year-old girls think like that. I just felt jealous when I realized I could no longer be friends with Alyssa.

One day in 3rd grade, when I thought I had healed from our separation, Alyssa’s mom arrived to pick her up from school. My teacher, Mrs. Lawrence, called out Alyssa’s name, and when she jumped up from her seat, I remember being so riveted by the way her Goldilocks curls bounced. I remember wrapping my own dark hair around my tiny fingers. When Mrs. Lawrence guided Alyssa to her car, she stopped at the window to chat with Alyssa’s mom. As they were speaking, my mom drove up behind Alyssa’s car. Mrs. Lawrence accompanied me to my car but only waved briefly to my mom, who spoke poor English. Half of me was disappointed; half of me was relieved I didn’t have to act as translator. Above all, I was embarrassed.

I could not help but yearn for everything Alyssa had that I did not. I wanted my mom to speak English fluently so she could mingle with my teacher. I longed to impress Alyssa by being more “American.” Fortunately, my parents did not let that happen. Instead, they helped me understand what it meant to bear such a rich cultural background.

image by YC-Art Dept

The dream represented an alternate reality—the way everything might have turned out if I had changed myself for Alyssa, for her mother, for Mrs. Lawrence, and for all the people who I viewed as obstacles to the embrace of my Taiwanese heritage. When I woke up, I realized that I would never have been good enough for Alyssa. And I was pleased to find myself very much OK with that.


3rd Prize
Perilous Path to Independence

Lena Felton, 17
Larkspur, CA

I am climbing up a blistering hiking trail, the sun pouring down my back. I am not pleased to be walking; there is something in the looming trees on the sides of the overgrown trail that is unfamiliar. My mother, father, and brother are with me, yet I feel oddly alone. Now the narrow path has a scraggly cliff on each side. Suddenly, my feet take me to the edge of the path and I almost fall off the side.

My heartbeat quickens, and I quickly steer my body away from the edge. But before I know it, I’m at the opposite edge and, again, I almost fall to barren trees in a valley below. I realize I have little control over what my body is doing. Anxiety overcomes me. Now my parents and brother are nowhere in sight.

My body swerves again and I tumble off the ledge. I scream for my life, and I manage to grab onto some of the rough grass growing on the side of the cliff. I hear my parents calling my name, but the grass is ripping quickly from its hold. I peer down; the piercing trees are waiting below. I am paralyzed with fear. At the moment the grass rips fully from the cliff, my parents appear and hold, steadfast, onto my arms. I am saved.

I have experienced this dream repeatedly since I was 7. Now, the Dr. Seuss-esque cliff is incredibly familiar. I know that I will be unable to control my body, and this is what startles me the most. I have always been confident in my ability to save myself; I’ve always been incredibly independent.

This dream reminds me that I can’t be my own savior all the time. I find it interesting that at the beginning of the dream I feel uneasy because I sense I am alone. Although my parents and brother are walking nearby, the unfamiliarity of my surroundings makes me feel all the more isolated and anxious. As I begin to lose control of my body, I realize I am sometimes not strong enough to be completely independent. I still have so much to learn, I still must take more control of myself. I am not fully an adult. I will always crave the reassurance and support of my family. All of the anxiety and fear that comes with living independently becomes clear to me on the cliff. And, right before I fall, my family appears and saves me.

I realize that my family will always protect me and love me unconditionally. I have drawn so much strength from them, and they continue to give support and guidance. Although frightening, my cliff dream has become an important reminder that sometimes I need outside help. I am so glad to know that my help comes in the form of a set of loving parents and brother.


Runner-Up
Anchors Away

Gabriel Rafael Rosado, 17
HS of Fashion Industries

I’m on a beach shore and the tide is coming in. I fall and get pulled out to sea. I’m swimming, drowning, and trying to reach for air. But the more I struggle, the stronger the current pulling me down. To my dismay I realize I have an anchor latched to my ankle. I want to swim but I can’t. I’m drowning.

I’m not a very stressed-out person, I tend to go with the flow. But when I do get stressed, it’s like that tide coming under my feet and knocking me back. I flail and fight to find air. I don’t ever look to see the anchor that’s making it so difficult for me to breathe. The anchor might be family, friends, or school. I wish I could tell my dream self that I just need to pick the lock and swim up toward the surface. I think that’s one of my biggest problems—when the going gets tough I panic instead of going with the flow. I know that I’m a master lock picker and I can free myself from most problems. But it’s those moments when I’m pressed for time and feeling overwhelmed that I forget to free myself. My recurring nightmare is trying to tell me to unlock my anchor so I will be able to swim to shore and breathe again.


Runner-Up
Out of the Ruins

Hannah D. Kassab, 17
Indianapolis, IN

I was running through a thick forest, trying to escape the flames of a fire that ravaged everything around me. Suddenly, I came upon a clearing and beheld a petite woman seated and surrounded by a cloud of brilliantly colored monarch butterflies. I recognized her slight frame and kind eyes as those of a woman that I had only seen in pictures: my grandmother, my angel, who died before I was born. I watched, enraptured as hundreds of butterflies flittered about her, and her face broke into a smile that conveyed her love. I awoke feeling peaceful and protected.

Less than a month before, my life had been forever changed when tragedy struck and a chimney fire drove my family of seven out of our house. Ever since, I had been haunted by the fear of “what if.” What if we had gone to bed that night? What if we hadn’t made it out alive? What if we had had no place else to go?

Because of my dream, I visited our house the following afternoon. I stood stock-still as I took in what had formerly been our living area, stripped to concrete floors and littered with pieces of the stone chimney. My anxieties were quelled by an inexplicable peace welling from my soul. I had a conversation with God, and realized in that very moment that the house I was standing in was merely a shell, that it wasn’t really my home.

I felt most loved and secure when I was with my family, regardless of where we slept at night. As we forged new bonds of hope and healing in God together, the flame of faith was rekindled in our love for each other. I sensed my grandma’s presence, and felt at peace for the first time in weeks. I stepped outside, staring in awe at the sight in front of me. A big, beautiful monarch butterfly fluttered across my path, ready to lead me home.

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(NYC-2012-09-18)

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