“Snapshots: Stories from the Wildcats Class of 2021” explores how formative events shape our lives | 826LA

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“Snapshots: Stories from the Wildcats Class of 2021” explores how formative events shape our lives

Drawing inspiration from Amy Tan or David James Duncan, Ms Liaw’s five classes of ninth grade students from University High School were asked to write a personal narrative about a formative event from their life and how it has shaped their view of self or the world. With the guidance and help of 826LA In-Schools volunteers, the awe-inspiring collection of short stories in “Snapshots: Stories from the Wildcats Class of 2021” range from discovering self to overcoming fear.


Pelo Corto
Emma G.

For almost my entire life, I had long hair. Nearly everyone I was surrounded by growing up had long, silky hair. My Latino family are strong believers that women should have long hair, and should only cut it when it needed to be trimmed. It was considered more “feminine” and that boys would like you more if you had hair as long as Rapunzel’s. Up until I was 13, I was fine with that.

In 8th grade, I saw all these girls with hair colors as colorful as melting popsicle sticks on a hot August afternoon; their hairstyles varying from waterfalls of silk to sleek, short bob cuts straight out of The Devil Wears Prada. It broadened my perspective a little and I wanted to change up my style. My mother, of course, approved, as she was the only female figure in my family who had short hair. My father, however, didn’t comply as easily.

“Dad, I wanna cut my hair.” I stated one evening when we were having a meal with my grandparents. He responded with a solid “no” before resuming his conversation. My grandmother remarked in Spanish, “No, don’t cut your hair. Boys like it better when it’s long.” I felt myself boil with anger. Why were they telling me what to do with my hair? I let out one final puff of anger before slumping in my seat for the rest of the meal.

About a week later, I FaceTimed my cousin, who lives in Arizona with the rest of my dad’s family. When the topic of hair came up I told her I was considering cutting my hair. She let out a curt “oh”, and asked if her mom knew. I responded by shaking my head. She passed the phone to my family, and I announced the news to them. An echo of “no’s” reverberated through my phone like a loud yell in an empty cave. I felt like a rabbit cornered by a pack of wolves, attacked and vulnerable. I quickly told them goodbye and clicked off the app.

“In 8th grade, I saw all these girls with hair colors as colorful as melting popsicle sticks on a hot August afternoon; their hairstyles varying from waterfalls of silk to sleek, short bob cuts straight out of The Devil Wears Prada.”

I felt confused, unhappy and doubtful of myself for the rest of the night. From that point on, I was so conflicted about what to do; should I do what makes everyone else happy, or do what makes me happy? I had a talk with my mother, and she told me that I shouldn’t listen to them and do what made me happy. After all the confusion and debating, I had to make a choice.

The following morning I told my mom that I wanted to cut my hair for sure this time. She called her hairdresser and we headed for the salon. When we got there my palms were damp and shaking. My legs were wobbly as we walked up to the door. As I opened the door, the fragrant, rich fumes of hair product entered my nostrils. My mom greeted Isabelle, the hairdresser, and we sat down in the waiting chairs. I wobbled towards the chair in disquietness. Isabelle smiled at me and the blue streaks in her hair bounced. As I sat down my heart began to race. I shut my eyes and let silence take over. After she dampened my hair and prepped it I heard the ‘snip snip snip’ of the scissors dancing across my hair. Soon after, she finished. I felt for my hair but it was cut up to my the nape of my neck. I looked in the mirror and saw a more mature, nicer looking me. I thanked Isabelle and my mom paid her for her work.

“Since rejecting my family’s feminine double standards I feel a lot more free to express my views and opinions.”

I felt happy but nervous because I didn’t know what my dad would say. My mom told me to call my dad. I took a deep breath and went to his contact in my phone. My finger hovered above the button for a second. I pressed it and held it to my ear. The phone rang a few times and he greeted me like usual. I told him what I had just done. He was a bit angry that I had done it without his consent or knowledge. I told him I really liked the way it turned out and felt really happy. He demanded me to send photos so he could see just how short it was. When I sent him photos he actually complimented my decisions for the first time. He told me he liked it, and that it was nice. I could tell he was a bit fraught with how short it was, but he didn’t say anything, presumably because he saw how happy I was.

Today, my (now) shoulder length hair wisps around my face, sometimes bothering me and forcing me to push it back. Since cutting my hair, it’s gotten a lot healthier. Its color seems lighter, and more vibrant, like sunbeams shining through a glass window. It’s a lot softer and feels like a smooth silk blanket.

Since rejecting my family’s feminine double standards I feel a lot more free to express my views and opinions. Having matching haircuts with my mom is actually pretty fun. I feel as if I am more true to myself, and a lot happier. Looking back, I realize that only I knew what I wanted and I shouldn’t have let anyone tell me what to do with my life. If you live by playing by someone else’s rules, you’ll only end up miserable in the end.


Days Leading Up to Us
Oscar G.

It was the first week of school. I was going to my 6th period. When I got there I just sat where I was placed that week. One of the guys that sat in my group asked me if knew anyone from class and I said no. We kept the talking until he said he was best friends with a girl in our class. I asked, “Who?”. He pointed towards her and when I saw her my jaw dropped. You don’t understand how amazed I was when I first saw her. I had felt like an outlier compared to her. At first, I told myself I knew her and then it hit me, she was in my third period.

“That day I got a giggle out of her. Her laugh was like a soothing lullaby that made me fly in the clouds.”

As time passed, I still didn’t have the courage to talk to her. Then the day came. When I saw her talking to her friend I knew that would be my only chance. I didn’t know what to talk about so I acted clueless and messed around with our friend. I did what any other guy would do to impress a girl: act tough, horseplay, and then act as if we were a girl. That day I got a giggle out of her. Her laugh was like a soothing lullaby that made me fly in the clouds.

As days passed, I would have so much fun with her that days felt shorter. You know what they say, “Time flies when you’re having fun”. Something in her just brought my mood up. She was the light whenever there was darkness. We began talking more and we exchanged Snapchats and numbers. Whenever she smiled the sun would come out. Our friendship grew as we became closer. When we would take the bus I would sit with her. We began sitting next to each other around the middle of November. For the rest of the weeks of that semester we sat on the school bus together. At times I would lean my head against her shoulder. Her shoulder was a pillow I could fall asleep on. Whenever she was bored we would play I-Spy and that’s when I knew I began to fall more and more for her. Whenever she laughed or smiled, that would make my days. Winter break came and I didn’t want to leave because I didn’t want to leave her side. The great part about winter break is that time went by fast. Throughout winter break she ran across my mind and all I thought about was how she was doing. We didn’t keep much in touch but whenever we did text it made my day.

“At times I would lean my head against her shoulder. Her shoulder was a pillow I could fall asleep on. Whenever she was bored we would play I-Spy and that’s when I knew I began to fall more and more for her.”

Winter break finally came to an end and who knew our lives would change from that day. The day we came back it had been raining really hard. Who knew a rainy day, that usually brings sadness, would bring joy at least to me. Once we got out of school that day we sat next to each other like we had done before. It rained through most of that bus ride. Half way through the bus ride we held hands. I had not felt good that day so I put my head on her shoulder and for the rest of the time it was quiet. When we had gotten off the bus I had the courage to ask her out. She had told me, “I’m sorry but I’m not ready,” and that broke my heart. I understood her and I knew you can’t force anyone to like you. The day after, which was Tuesday, I couldn’t stop smiling because I had finally gotten everything off my chest. The more I noticed the more I fell more and more for her. It kept raining that whole week and so did my feelings towards her.

Then something unexpected happened that same week on Wednesday, we had gotten on the bus and we cuddled for a while until, we kissed. That had changed my world completely. The same day I asked her out she said yes. We got off the bus and she told me,“Yes I want to go out with you”. That’s when I realized I was right to wait for her because now we are happy together. At the end everything I had done was worth it. Ever since then I began to like the rain because it had brought joy into my life. This taught me that patience is key in succeeding in whatever you put your mind into. Having courage is also a key point in succeeding with everything. Ever since then I have felt blessed with her by my side. I had truly been hit by Cupid’s arrow.


Confronting Bullies
Juanita S.

I would have never imagined that at my Martial Arts Class, somewhere where I had already made close friends and felt safe, I would see my elementary school bully. This person had made me feel like I was being swallowed whole and made my life into a roller coaster of emotions. She had caused me so much trouble and made me feel cold and empty, the way you feel after you lose a good friend. At times it felt like I was the Brutus to her Julius Caesar. I thought she was my friend but there was betrayal after another. This girl that caused me so much trouble ended up in my self defense class. One of the reasons I had joined was because of the events in life I didn’t want repeated again and the events she had caused me were definitely one. I had joined my self-defense class and been a member for three years. In that short time. I had grown in confidence like leaves grow on trees after rain.

“At times it felt like I was the Brutus to her Julius Caesar.”

It was a gloomy, dark and cloudy Tuesday evening. I was heading out to take my 7-8 pm class. Something had felt odd that day. I could feel it in my bones. I didn’t bother paying much attention to it as I knew my friends would make me as happy as a child.  As my mom was opening the car I could hear the “beep” of my car telling me to not go to class. I got to my martial arts class and once I got into the Dojo it felt like the bright orange gate had opened its mouth and swallowed me whole. Class was going great and when I checked the clock there was three minutes left of class. I looked at the bright glass mirror and I see my coach greeting a new member at the entrance. Once all of us were exiting the dojo into the changing rooms I could smell the tension in the air.  

All of a sudden I see a familiar face. My heart was pounding as quickly as light. I couldn’t believe my eyes. They had to be lying to me. Something had to be wrong. I took a quick glance once more and noticed it was she! My elementary school bully was standing in front of me! I didn’t know what to feel. Should I scream “AGHH’’ at the top of my lungs or should I introduce myself? I felt so many emotions rushing through my mind. It felt like the ceilings were screaming and the ground laughing. I mean I haven’t seen her in four years for crying out loud.

“I felt so many emotions rushing through my mind. It felt like the ceilings were screaming and the ground laughing.”

I quickly left the door and got into my mom’s car. The evening breeze was running into my car and I got shivers up my spine. My mom noticed I wasn’t feeling well and asked me if I was okay. She told me I looked shocked, like a lightning bolt had struck me. I didn’t want her to know what was going on so I told her it was something silly I was worried about and that she shouldn’t be worried about me. I went to sleep that night knowing I had to see her on Thursday. I was a little scared knowing that I had seen her once more.

Thursday evening came along and the trees were whistling when I saw the time and it was time to go to class. I was stretching at the dojo before class begun when I feel a tap. It was her. I didn’t want to have a conflict and fight like cats and dogs. She quickly asked if I could help her stretch because our coach had told her I would help her with stretching. When she saw me, she looked startled, and quickly said, “ Jenny it’s you.”  I felt so mad not knowing how to respond. I could feel my blood boiling. My body was heating up. I was sweating a river!  Has she forgotten what she did to me? I smiled and told her it was too late and we had to lineup for class. I didn’t have to talk to her until after practice. She made conversation with me and said it’s been a long time. I remember asking her if she remembered what she did to me. She was a little embarrassed and started laughing, saying it was very funny how I remember these things and she doesn’t.  

“I went home that weekend and thought to myself, she doesn’t even remember what she did to me. Is it worth holding this eternal grudge?”

I went home that weekend and thought to myself, she doesn’t even remember what she did to me. Is it worth holding this eternal grudge? I was still worried sick and had the expression on my face like I’ve seen a ghost. Then I remember thinking that people couldn’t be so bad after three years. I mean she looked different and wasn’t bullying me obviously.

One of the things that had been taught to me at the dojo was respect yourself and others, and always be happy with everyone around you. The magic grand masters lines were, “BE happy. No one will do it for you. Surround yourself with good people. They will bring the good in you.” I thought about this when I got home and convinced myself I was exaggerating so when I saw her the week after I asked her, “It’s in the past right?” She laughed a little saying, “You’re still worked up about that.” But she asked me, “friends?” Then I responded, “Okay. I was over exaggerating.” That day I learned to forgive and forget because you can’t hold grudges for so long. I took it way too seriously and now we’re more like ketchup and fries.


Orange Chicken
Jake P.

It was a warm day last year in April and I had been recently told by my orthodontist that the next month when I returned to the clinic I would finally be able to get my braces off. Once I heard the news I was extremely excited. I felt like jumping around like a Kangaroo. Of course I didn’t because it would look very weird in public. Just as always my mom and I would go to the Chinese takeout place. I always adored the place because of the sweet aroma that all the food created such as the fried rice, Egg rolls, Kung Pao Chicken, orange chicken, and the freshly baked fortune cookies. My mom and I bought our usual dish: fried rice, chow mein, some fortune cookies, and last but definitely not least, orange chicken. This is what I call little tidbits of heaven because they just taste so good. This is my usual meal since, I’m allergic to most of the other ingredients.

“The chair felt like sitting on a sheet of a cold slab of metal. Sadly nothing in my mind would have prepared me for what happened next.”

That month passed by so quickly that I thought my brain was tricking me. I remember sitting in that frosty cold waiting room with a few other patients. I’ve always hated that room for some reason. It’s always super cold and has a very strong smell of an armband that they use to draw your blood out with. As I waited for the tall lady dressed in all white to call my name, I started to reflect that these three and a half years have gone by so quickly. Three and a half years where I  avoided all sorts of gum, hard candy, soda, tortilla chips and gummies. I was just so glad that today would be the day that I could pig out on all my favorite sweets. Unfortunately my thoughts scattered as the Dental technician yells out my name. I guess she had been calling my name for a while. I don’t keep her waiting any longer. I get off the hard chair that’s in the waiting room. The chair felt like sitting on a sheet of a cold slab of metal. Sadly nothing in my mind would have prepared me for what happened next.

Once I was inside the lady told me which way to go but to me it really wasn’t necessary since all the ortho patients are tended in the same room. I walked down the seemingly endless hallway until I reached the three comfy looking but very intimidating chairs. Another assistant comes in and gets the supplies ready. Then she turns on the blinding light. At that point I start to worry because I can’t see what’s going on around me. Luckily I have my mom there as moral support and I start to calm myself down little by little. Then all of a sudden through a mere glimpse of the blinding light I see a little frightening looking machine that looks kind of like a miniature ray gun. I try my best to not make a scene. I try to hold in my fear. I wish it could just be over already.

“All of a sudden that small little ray gun is burning my teeth like crazy. It feels like someone just opened my mouth and dumped a big bucket of lava inside.”

The orthodontist tells me to calm down and if I let him he’ll do it without a struggle; then I will be out of here sooner. So I listen. All of a sudden that small little ray gun is burning my teeth like crazy. It feels like someone just opened my mouth and dumped a big bucket of lava inside. I feel like I’m melting from the inside out. I can feel sweat coming down my forehead and I’m thinking to myself that I might faint or this might be how I go out. To make matters worse, they have stuffed a big pacifier looking ring down my mouth so that I can’t close it while they do this “delicate’ procedure. Luckily I survive and I have not melted and I think it’s all over…

But now they still have to take off the brackets. So I braced myself for more incoming pain but it didn’t hurt at all. I felt like a chicken getting his feathers plucked right off of him or in this case my brackets. Then the dental assistant comes in and puts a sort of clay-like object on my mouth which is supposed to create the form in which my retainers will match my teeth perfectly. I go outside with my mom. Just as promised, she brought my favorite flavor of soda and candy. I believe this experience will stay with me forever because it taught me a lesson: to get what you want you might have to go through some difficult times.


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