By Cesar Ayala – Collegiate Staff

February 28, 2014 was the beginning of hell for me.

There was a knock at the door. I opened it and saw three men in winter attire standing on the porch. They all had badges that were visible around their necks.

One of the men said they had a warrant for my mom’s arrest.

My brother joined me in the living room and we were very confused. My mom held herself together and told us not to worry. I remember feeling a lump in my throat, but I too kept it together. They did not let her leave the room or grab anything. I remember they gave me permission to grab her purse for her, but one of them had to accompany me.

I gave her one final hug as tears filled my eyes, then they placed her in handcuffs and walked her to a black SUV. She was then taken to the Kent County Jail.

As she left I felt a void form in my heart. At that moment I learned that you never appreciate the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory. My brother and I were left speechless and went back to our rooms to think about everything going on, on our own.

My brother was planning on moving out soon and had already signed the lease for an apartment with his roommates and could not abandon that plan. I was a 17-year-old high school senior, left with my grandfather with dementia. I kept my composure that first day and thought it would blow over soon enough. I received a call from my mom the first night, her voice was shaky as she explained the whole situation. She said she had writ – ten some bad checks when we lived in California, when we were younger and needed food and clothes. She couldn’t afford those things herself, as a housekeeper making minimum wage and had to provide for my brother and I. She barely had support from our father, who was never really involved in my life.

We were waiting on a decision from a California prosecutor to see if my mother would be extradited. If not, she would be released.

It broke my heart to hear how much emotional pain she was in.

I remember all the anxiety built up inside me. She’d tell me how much she loves me and how much it hurts to be away from us.

I continued going to school and taking care of my grandpa. My mom would call me every other day. The fees for the calls were ridiculously high, so we didn’t talk much. She told me to keep faith and to stay strong. These words stuck with me every night when my grandpa was asleep and I felt alone.

I was scared to tell anyone about my problems. Most days I did not know where I’d get my next meal or if I’d eat that day at all. Some days I wouldn’t eat. My mom told me she’d be released in three more weeks.

Looking back, I believe she kept me out of the loop to keep me strong. I did my best. I stopped running track and dropped out of the school musical, to care for my grandpa and continue to focus on my education.

Dealing with my grandfather was hard. I had to help give him a shower, change his clothes and other things a teenager should not have to worry about. It hurt me every morning when I’d wake him up and have to lift him out of bed, because he would give me a hard time. He didn’t recognize me anymore.

After the three weeks, I thought my mom was coming home and I was looking forward to her return, only to find out she wasn’t. My aunt was diagnosed with cancer around this time.

My mom called and explained how they were still debating whether to extradite her. My problems started to weigh heavily on me, as if an anchor was tied around my ankle and I was thrown into an ocean. I was sinking deeper and deeper into a dark depression.

A month later I was thinking about my future because I looked up the seriousness of writing fraudulent checks in California. I discovered that my mom was looking at up to three years in prison. I was scared and had no one to talk to. I didn’t want anyone to know for fear my mom would be judged. I was scared about what I’d do with my future.

The following day my anxiety was still high and I couldn’t keep my composure in Spanish class, so I left.

I wanted to talk to my counselor. I went to her and ended up breaking down and telling her everything. My biggest concern was we weren’t too sure about my mom’s residency status so if California officials did decide to extradite my mom she could also potentially be deported.

My counselor had known my mom since she taught my brother in elementary school. She loved her and always believed if she raised kids like my brother and I that she was a really great and genuine person. She gave me a gift card to buy groceries and anything else I needed. More importantly, she was just there for me. She was my first angel sent from God.

The next few days were a roller coaster of emotions. I’d wear a mask at school and try to make it seem like nothing was going on.

The next person who found out was my friend Davonte. I don’t recall how he found out. I only remember he was sad to hear about my suicidal thoughts. I remember him crying that night, which is unusual because he usually manages to remain strong through adversity.

He invited me to his grandparents’ for dinner that night. I talked to them about the whole situation and they gave me a card to put gas in my car. I remember that warm feeling I got as I sat down to dinner with them, it was a typical feeling that I used to take for granted.

Davonte slept over that night and saw me struggling to sleep. I had cold sweats and kept getting little anxiety attacks. I would constantly break down, thinking about all the pain I was dealing with and how my mom must have felt. He helped me through most of the nights without my mom. I started to realize that I had people who were there for me.

I went to Applebee’s shortly after that with my best friend, Jesus. We sat and talked about everything. He worked at Little Caesars then and would bring pizza back for me most nights. We’d hang out and play video games with our other friend, Marcus.

Those two, like everyone else who helped me through all of this will forever be in my heart.

Jesus helped me make it through the days, playing soccer sometimes, and just made me feel like I had a normal life again. I visited my mom at the Kent County Jail for the first time after about a month of her being in there. It was nice seeing her face, but in Kent County visits are more like a video call. Our conversation lasted about 20 or 30 minutes before they cut us off.

There was so much left unsaid. The pain I saw in her will forever be engraved in my memory. She tried to look calm, but I could see she was hurting a lot.

A month and a half later, I went over to my friend Brianna’s house for a movie night with two of my other friends. One of my best friends since first grade, Nestor, was beginning to wonder why I always looked down. So before we went over to Bri’s house I told him and he seemed so lost with what to say. He told me if I ever needed him at school to let him know and he’d leave class. He gave me a long hug and said he loved me very much and how he’d hate to see me end my life, taking the easy way out. Then we met Bri and our other friend Ritu.

We watched “Paranormal Activity,” and as the movie night progressed I received an unexpected and very tragic call. I walked outside, telling my friends I’d be back. The news my mom told me crushed my spirit and my hope. She said they decided to extradite her.

She then told me she loved me very much and to keep faith. As she hung up, a tear began dripping down my face, and I dropped my phone in the grass. I stayed outside for about 20 minutes, listening to the sound of the breeze and trying to figure out if this could just be a nightmare.

I remember the amount of pain I felt could not compare to any amount of physical pain I had ever faced.

When my friends came to check on me, they saw me at one of my lowest points. I was angry at the world, but at the same time very broken. I told them to leave me alone and started walking away from Bri’s house. I walked to a park. They continued following me so I told them about the whole situation. Bri and Ritu were shocked I covered up all of these problems so well. They approached me for a hug, although I told them to get away from me.

None of them wanted to leave my side, but I continued to push them away and told them I wasn’t going to harm myself. I told them I just needed space so they gave me space and they left me alone. I walked closer to a nearby creek and laid down. As I looked up, I thought, “Why is God doing this to me?”

The sound of crickets by the creek were somewhat calming, but I was still seriously contemplating suicide. I didn’t know whether or not my mom was coming back.

It was a cold night and I was getting closer to rock bottom. I was shivering when I heard a car pull up. It was Bri’s mom and she told me to get in. The car was warm and tears continued streaming down my face. She gave me the strength to keep fighting that day by telling me that my mom wouldn’t want me to think about ending my life.

After that night, Ritu and I developed a very strong bond in our friendship. She would check on me every night through FaceTime or calling. My mom called me when she got to California and we were impatiently waiting to see if she would be deported or not.

Thankfully a few days later we found out she would not be deported.

In the third month without my mom, my car broke down. I had no way to get around and my grandpa seemed to be getting worse under my care. I knew I couldn’t take care of him as well as my mom could. Plus, my aunt seemed to be getting worse too. This was the first night I didn’t talk to Ritu on the phone. I told her I needed to take a walk. That night I had planned on ending my life again.

I texted all my close friends that I loved them very much and I hoped for the best in their futures. I also made a suicide video, and did not reply to any of my friends’ calls or texts. At this point I had reached the lowest point of my life. The anchor had finally pulled me down so far into this dark abyss. I was ready to stop trying to swim back up for air.

I walked around on this very cold night. I stopped after walking for a couple of hours and decided it was time. Around 3 a.m. I marched down toward Division Avenue. It was so cold I could see my breath. A blue car was coming and my plan was to jump in front of it. I don’t know what came over me, but I began to run in front of it. My life paused for a moment as I thought about all my loved ones. I thought this was it, the headlights beamed closer and closer. One picture replaying over and over in my head as I was about to get hit was of my mom, brother and I riding an orca whale at Seaworld. I was rather envious of many people who were able to say they died happy. I guess in a way I felt like my life amounted to nothing and I didn’t matter to anyone. I thought after it was over everyone would forget about me after a few days. Suddenly, I tripped on a crack on the road and the tires barely missed my head. I’m sure the driver was worried, but continued driving. I remember there were no other cars around at that time, I laid on the cold snowy pavement. I took it as a sign from God to keep on pushing and went home that night and took my nightly dose of NyQuil. I had been drinking NyQuil for about three weeks straight to help me sleep. It was working, but I knew it was very bad for my health.

Eventually I opened up to another counselor, with Ms. Stevenson at the same time. His name was Mr. Orozco and both were extremely supportive and helped me with money, granted I used the money to help my grandpa and my cat more than myself. I used the money to focus on their needs as opposed to my own. I remember one night Davonte had stayed over and was pretty pissed to find out I was still drinking NyQuil every night, and at times I’d drink a lot of it. I coughed blood up once waking up and almost didn’t wake up another time. He had become very worried and had a long talk with me. I felt like I was hurting him a lot by doing so, so I promised to stop drinking it unless I was really sick and actually did need it.

I was at my breaking point. The anxiety had reached an all time high. Bills were piling up and just kept shoving them in a drawer.

I called Ritu around midnight and told her I needed someone bad because I was scared that I was going to hurt myself that night or do something very bad. She rushed over and I explained that I felt like a burden to everyone and I apologized for feeling like a burden to her. She told me that I shouldn’t be sorry and stayed with me that whole night, comforting me throughout the night. She really helped me forget about my problems as we joked around after a long talk, trying to get me to calm down. She eventually stayed a couple other nights, she really did help me keep my mind off of my problems.

My brother bought me a one-way ticket to California and my grandpa was going to stay with my aunt, who had cancer, and my cat would be taken care of by a friend of mine until I found out if I’d be back or not.

It was finally the time of my graduation and it was bittersweet to know I made it far enough to keep my grades up and graduate with all of this going on. What killed me the most was to not have my mom there at my graduation. I was proud to have kept my grades up but seeing everyone with their family was hard. That was the day I was sure I made the right decision to go to California.

After a long lonely, tiring and very hungry two and a half day trip on the road I arrived in California. I saw my aunt and uncle and gave them as big as a hug as possible. The next day I went to visit my mom at the Marin County Jail. When I finally saw her I was glad to see that it was a room separated by glass, and not a video call. I picked up the phone and heard her clearly. She teared up fairly quickly. After three months, finally seeing her in person, I was speechless. my aunt was there to talk to my mom and I just felt so hurt seeing her behind the glass. I was sad to only have about 15 minutes with her before we had to end the visit.

I hoped all the letters I collected from people, including my own, would help in the courtroom. During my time in California I felt like things were starting to look up just because I could see my mom again.

The time had come for the court to make a decision. I anxiously awaited the news. We found out that Ms. Stevenson’s letter was the one that impacted the decision the most and not only would she be released the next day, but all charges were dropped. They said that her character over time and the reasoning behind what she did combined with all the good she was doing was remarkable.

That night it was very hard to sleep, but for a good reason this time. I was so excited to do what I took for granted before all of this, to hug her and just be able to talk to her without barriers. The day she was released was the best day of my life. We were both very emotional as I ran, picked her up and gave her the longest hug I’ve ever given anyone. The day we picked her up I realized what Ms. Stevenson had told me about learning many lessons I wouldn’t be able to learn in a classroom.

I learned to not take anyone for granted and to cherish the time I have with them because I’ll never know the last day I’ll have with them and no matter what challenges people go through in life, things will get better. I had to grow up fast and gave up most of my senior year and although four months doesn’t seem that long, it felt like forever. I have faced much adversity in my life. To whoever is going through the darkest of times, just know there will always be people who will shed a little light in the room. God gives his greatest soldiers the strongest battles to go through. I believe there’s a reason for everything and after I came back to Michigan, I decided to give up going to Western Michigan University. To help get back on track with finances, I decided to do two years at Grand Rapids Community College. Honestly, it was a great decision because it’s almost been two years since this whole incident and things are great again. I’m almost done with my second year of college, I have a great car, I have my family back, and my aunt’s cancer is much better now. Most importantly I have my mom back.

One of the prayers that kept me going is one that my mom mailed me when she was gone. I hope it helps anyone facing problems in their life. Lord, may I always remember that no matter the day and whatever hardship I face, you are with me, extending your hand in love. Help me to be open to your guidance, knowing that you want what’s best for me, only asking in return sorrow for my sins and my willingness to do good. As you love me, help me to love myself and others. Despite challenges, help me focus on my blessings. Despite my fears, help me pray to you in hope. For, with you, ALL things are possible, and only positive choices will lead to true joy and peace. Thank you, Lord, for helping me to find the positive solutions I seek, and the strength I need to “grow” through my challenges for as long as necessary. Thank you for being my hope, my salvation and my constant companion. Amen.