Age: 15, Grade: 10
School Name: Berkeley Carroll School, Brooklyn, NY
Educator: Erika Drezner
Category: Personal Essay & Memoir
9 and Under
On Sundays grandma taught me to watercolor and I made tiny swirls with tiny brushes on big pieces of bleached paper. The kitchen table was wide, and I had to move my butt to the edge of my chair to reach the cup of blue-tinted water. I leaned. My back got goosebumps as my turquoise shirt rode up to follow my stretching arm. Grandma held my hand in hers: brush, splatter, paint, stroke. Now my paper had leaves and grass and other blobs of green from the garden.
Grandma was painting a garden of her own. One touch, and her leaves would crumble. Hers was dainty and real.
I always forgot to add the sky until it was almost too late. Quickly, I made broad strokes of blue. I needed it lighter; I dipped my brush in water until my sky was soaked. Soon my paper’s edges would start to curl forward, like a three-dimensional frown. My clouds were like cartoons—symmetrical and round.
I added the sunshine so my flowers could grow. I held it up proudly. Grandma smiled, because gravity made my sun bleed down the page. Grandma added a few strokes of yellow and her page came to life!
Grandma and I made flowers in the same way. Not too careful, and not too quickly. We dipped our brushes in pink first. I smiled big, because she said we should paint the flowers with our eyes closed.
She practically whispered, “As long as no tulips end up in the sky, everything is all right with me.”
I peeked with one eye at the garden on my paper. I burst into laughter, because I caught grandma doing the same.
“That’s beautiful,” grandma said. We laid our masterpieces in the kitchen window to dry. Toenails
The smell of steamed veggies and soured yogurt hit me first. I was nine when I went to the hospital for the first time since I was born. As we walked through the automatic doors, I told my mom my head hurt, whispering so as not to disturb the white noise of North Shore’s waiting room.
Charlie headed straight for the fish tank. Only two fish were inside. Who has the special privilege of buying hospital-fish-tank fish? Probably not the neurosurgeon. Dad brought us our passes to get to Uncle Saul’s room.
I whispered in Charlie’s ear: “Do you think his eyes will be open when we get there?”
“I don’t know.”
Elevator doors opened to the left-wing of the fourth floor. Every light was fluorescent and the linoleum hallways squeaked where my orange crocs stepped. My mom handed me the muenster cheese and sugar-free pudding—Uncle Saul’s two diabetic-friendly favorites. Viv and Meg waited for us at the end of a long hallway. First long hugs, then quick kisses.
Inside room 412 was a small, thin, and slouched-over Aunt Sylvie on the edge of Uncle Saul’s bed. I wanted to hold her, but I didn’t want to break her. A thin bed sheet laid over Saul’s body. His eyes were crusted shut and his skin see through. I could see every hollow, crevice, bone, and dent. Slowly, I traced his limp body with my eyes. Bald, freckled, fragile.
Only the tops of Saul’s callused feet stuck out from under the covers. His toenails were thick, yellowed, and decayed. As his shallow breaths struggled to go on, I closed my eyes: signs of a sick, old man.
Saturday mornings meant fishing at 5am with grandpa and lunch from McDonald’s on the way home. The ride from the dock to the drive-thru at Jericho Turnpike wasn’t long, but Aunt Suzie liked to pretend yellow lights were red.
Abe, Jack, and Charlie played Punch Buggy as I sat in the booster seat of my aunt and uncle’s car, trying as fast as I could to spit out the color of the nearest Volkswagen Beetle.
“Punch buggy red!” Abe screamed. In the distance, a big yellow M. A minute later, Aunt Suzie pulled up to the “order here” sign.
Out of a large speaker box, a man’s voice asked, “Thank you for choosing McDonalds. Would you like to try our All Day Breakfast?”
Abe, Jack, and Charlie were up first. I thought hard about my perfect order as one by one they each rattled off their own into the bright red acrylic microphone. Obviously I want McNuggets, but do I want fries too? Or maybe a McFlurry?
I made up my mind: “Uncle Steve, can I please have a Happy Meal with six McNuggets and fries?”
Slowly, Aunt Suzie rolled the car up to the pick-up window. Bright, food-chain lights bounced off the foam-tiled ceilings and into the car. As we pulled away from the drive-thru window, I ripped open my red carton. I smiled big. Before I could dig in, I quickly pulled out my toy. I couldn’t believe my luck—I had won the ultimate prize: the Sully action figure from Monsters, Inc.! Charlie is going to be so jealous.
I looked around to see what everyone else got. Nobody else had ordered a Happy Meal. Nobody else had a toy. I turned back to face the window.
Slipping Sully into my pocket, I let my hand linger for just a moment on the cool, hard plastic.