Winter 2018: “Less Stuff, More Heart” High School Winner Alejandra Wagnon

Read Alejandra’s essay, “Broken Mirror,” about the challenge of living up to people's expectations and wanting to be true to one’s self.

Alejandra Wagnon, an eleventh-grade student of Maricella Barrera at William J. Brennan High School in San Antonio, Texas, read and responded to the online YES! Magazine article, “Less Stuff, More Heart: 5 Gifts On a New Dad’s Christmas List,” by Christopher Zumski Finke.

Writing Prompt: Imagine you’re about to celebrate a special holiday, milestone, or birthday.  If you could ask for any non-material gift, what would you ask for? What would make this gift so special to you?

Broken Mirror

The holiday season is a time for family and friends. It’s a time for giving gifts and sharing stories. However, with the holiday season fast approaching, the only gift I am given is time to think. With two weeks off from school, coupled with my mother’s hectic work schedule, family time is limited to none. I spend my time alone, always thinking, thinking, thinking.

One thing I found myself thinking about quite often was Finke’s essay on the more heartfelt gifts he wanted to receive this holiday season. The question resonated in my mind: What do I want? As an emotionally compromised teenager, coming up with a decent answer was much harder than I had anticipated. What about wisdom? No, too cliché. Family? Memories? Love? Every possible answer I thought of seemed “too this” or “not enough that,” causing me endless frustration. I continued to comb through every inch of my mind, drawing up blank thoughts and empty ideas. I realized that I didn’t know what I wanted and I didn’t know how to find out.

With my hopes shattered, I put in my earbuds, trying to drown in rippling chords and drifting words, when I found the idea in front of me.

“Have you ever felt like nobody was there?” Yes.

“Have you ever felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere?” Always.

The chords washed over me and the words crashed into me like waves on the shore. I felt exposed and vulnerable as every verse, every line, grabbed me by my very core. I sat quietly as the song crescendoed, finally ending its journey at the chorus: “You will be found.”

My chest contracted and collapsed as I felt my heart travel up between my ears to soak in these words and this moment, the moment when I finally realized what I wanted.

I decided that I wanted to be found. Not only that, I wanted a mirror.

For my entire life, I have stared at myself in a broken mirror. When I reflect on my life and on the person I used to be, I don’t think about how I prided myself on getting the highest behavior mark in class, or how I loved to explore every corner of the library (especially the ones I wasn’t allowed in), or even how I grew to love going to school to learn. Instead, I think about how much I cried when my mark got moved down for talking too much—and how I wouldn’t speak the next day. I think about how my parents, teachers, and I met to discuss my love for reading—and how they completely disregarded me and only talked about the “smart young lady” I would grow up to be. I think about how no matter how sick I felt I would force myself to go to school because getting anything less than perfect attendance and a perfect score would rupture the perfect vision of my perfect future, shattering my parent’s perfect picture of the daughter I was, of the “young lady” I would grow up to be.

Throughout my life I have looked at myself through the eyes of other people. I have painted myself white and stretched myself thin, becoming a screen for others to project their visions. For as long as I can remember, I have prioritized satisfying others over satisfying myself, prioritized polishing my perfect image over actually liking what I saw in the mirror.

This year, I would like the gift of finding that young, hopeful girl in my reflection. I want to recognize her eyes, the ones that constantly looked for beauty in this big, bad world. I want to recognize her mouth, the one that always had words catapulting into the air and onto paper. I want to recognize her in her totality, in her strength and her weakness, in her love and her hate. Just her— not the person that became what everyone thought she was. I want to see her, in all her light and all her darkness.

In that reflection, I want to see me.

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