Hitting the road: Marlen’s 30

Marlen Avila

I never really expected to graduate high school.

It all seemed like some sort of fever dream back in 7th grade when my older sister was still living at home. I saw how much my older sisters struggled in college with no one to guide them into adulthood and seeing how much they hated themselves, my 12 year-old self was scared for the future. They had to put more work than the rest of their peers and because of that, they succumbed to their own demons. I witnessed them cry, break down, struggle with paying for their next meal in college and eventually admitting themselves to the hospital.

At the young age of 12 years, I really hoped that my life would never resemble theirs.

Did I feel embarrassment for myself? Yes. I knew that mental illness was passed maternally in my family, but I couldn’t help myself but to play dumb when my sisters confronted me about it. I didn’t want them to know that I saw them at their worst. I loved pleasing them and my parents so I pretended to only care about various things like music and clubs. Eventually, my lies became more daring. I used my job as an excuse to go out with friends. I wanted to spend as much time as I could with them before we left for college. I began investing time into clubs with my friends and even opted to leave with them on trips without telling my parents.

As the years went by, I spent more and more time at their houses. I loved being greeted by their parents and I loved being asked to join them at their family outings. It was like I had recreated my own 12 year-old dream of having a happy life. And I was happy. At school, I enjoyed my clubs and friend groups. I chose classes I wanted to take. I was taking my own steps for a better life.

My parents had never finished high school, nor did they have the incentive to do well in school. Consequently, they never hounded down on me to strive towards perfect A’s or pressure me to go to SAT prep classes. I decided to do all on my own. I didn’t want to be left behind by my friends and classmates. I struggled with this throughout school. I cared too much about being compared to my peers. I was pushing myself to improve myself in academics, but I knew that this life was nothing like the ones that my parents had. I lived in luxury compared to the poverty they struggled with.

Deep down, I knew I was still expected to support my family no matter what. I work 20 plus hours a week to help my mom; I teach them English when I have time; and I started paying for groceries. I’m still committed to them and I could never leave them. But as graduation day is slowly creeping closer, they are one step closer to losing their daughter to a university far away. Despite enduring the hardships for the past six years since I saw my oldest sister graduating from her own high school, I’m glad to be done with this chapter of my life. Graduating high school is my first step to showing them what I am capable of doing. Luego, mamá y papá, no se preocupen. I’ll be fine.