Leeah Michael, 16
Leeah Michael lives in Shoreline, Washington, and was introduced to writing as a device for storytelling at an after-school program at The Bureau of Fearless Ideas, a nonprofit writing and tutoring center in Seattle. It was not until Michael’s sophomore year in high school that she realized writing was a way to reflect on her past experiences and push herself creatively. Writing is a therapeutic practice for Michael, and from journaling daily or creating a narrative, it is a method to translate the way she thinks, reflects, and speaks.
Michael is passionate about the need for equal education and believes each person deserves this powerful tool in their life because education is a possession that no one can ever take from you. She believes in the importance of equal education no matter one’s age, gender, environment, or circumstance.
AN UNCONVENTIONAL THANK YOU
by Leeah Michael
Overcome with joy, I anxiously awaited as the bus jerked to a stop. I wobbled out of my seat, unbalanced from the weight of my backpack. Unwilling to wait another second, I hopped from the bus onto the gravel and tackled my mother’s thighs, looking up at her grin as my eyes, lips, and spirit uplifted in harmony. Hand in hand, we strolled into our apartment, where the lingering scent of ramen noodles and freshly-sliced onions instantly greeted us at first step. Each floor of the apartment enfolded its own aura. The first floor was cold and empty; you could rarely see a neighbor passing by. The second floor was a mixing pot of dozens of cultures and families, who graciously invited each other to dinner. The third floor was the most lavish of the three, with high ceilings and hallways decorated in modern art. Us second-floorers always resented their boisterous footsteps.
We stepped into our unit, “212,” without bothering to slip off our shoes: the years of built up juice and maple syrup spilled on the carpet stuck to the bottom of our socks otherwise. My mother filled my plate with warm spaghetti and a side of Pediasure then hustled straight to her desk, where a cornucopia of textbooks lie toppled against one another. Through the office’s open doorway, I watched her take a deep breath, deflate, then release a long sigh. She prepared herself for an endless night of studying.
Prior to the start of the school year, my dad urged my mother to find work, so I tagged along in her job hunt. Most of our mornings were spent at the library where she typed and printed her resume. Together, we walked to mini marts, gas stations, and restaurants, asking for job openings. There were none. Although I knew little about the workplace, I knew it was my mother’s poor English that limited her opportunities. After months of job searching, my mother took a hiatus and prepared me for the approaching school year, when it finally clicked. My mother realized that if she went to school, she would improve her chances of employment, so she enrolled at Shoreline Community College just as I enrolled into kindergarten. Before my mother began her studies, I would hold the Dr. Seuss book that I grabbed from the book shelf, and beg her to read just a few pages. Her despairing expression seemed to tell me: “You know I have to do my studies Leeah.” My mother’s constant devotion and stress from school made me jealous—it seemed like there was never enough time for me. I hauled a dining room chair beside my mother and nestled my head into her chest, letting the fierce rhythm of her pulse guide me through each syllable as I read in silence: “one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish." Her pencil pressed into the notebook relentlessly. Every half an hour or so, she paused in silence, where I could almost see the thoughts bolting through her mind. She squinted back and forth: from textbook to notebook, and notebook to computer screen. In a trance, I watched as she danced her fingers along the keyboard, without glancing down once. She made hard work and grit look elegant.
Inspired by my mother’s focus, I reached for a pencil and a sheet of paper and went to work, glancing from textbook to notebook, and notebook to computer screen, occasionally peeking at my mother to check if my technique was correct. For hours, I copied down the symbols and numbers I saw her jot down without understanding their meaning until it was time for bed. As I tucked myself into bed, I felt remorse for leaving my mother alone at her desk, but a long day of kindergarten awaited. In the middle of the night, I made my way to the restroom, but became lured by a dim light and the hum of a running desktop. I tiptoed towards the brightness to find my mother fast asleep in the tiny room, laying her cheeks against a pile of books with a pair of furrowed brows; she was stressed even in her sleep. I scurried back to bed, unsure of what to do except hope that her dreams were sweet. Hours later, I woke to my mother’s soft and composed voice, telling me to get ready for school.
To this day, my mother and I praise education—it was the hope that glimmered when we were lost and vulnerable. Growing up, I studied out of inspiration from my mother, and I still do.
I took pride in mastering my studies so I could be more like her. Education resolved my mother’s twelve years of unemployment and relocated us from our apartment to a home. My mother and I reminisce on the long nights where we sacrificed sleep for our future. We laugh about the memorable day I could finally read Cat in the Hat from start to finish. In the end of our conversation, my mother always brings up her guilt of sacrificing her presence in my childhood for her education. In my eyes, my mother gave me the perfect balance of support and independence. She raised me in an environment focalized on education, but left me to find my way through it. My mother made me self-sufficient and thoughtful, hardworking and curious: a reflection of herself. So, I thank my mother for her absence. I thank her every day.