‘Just a Statistic’
by Malaeauga Tiliaia
NOTE: Malaeauga Tiliaia is the winner of the Journalists for Diversity essay competition in Utah. Malaeuga will be a senior at West Jordan High School this coming fall.
Most people would probably consider me just another statistic. They may see me as nothing more than a 16-year-old homeless orphan being passed from one member of her family to another until they, too, grew tired of caring for her. I might have believed that I was nothing more than that myself, at least until the circumstances of my life changed dramatically in the past two months. My nightmares of yesterday are starting to slowly and quietly fade into the past. Those yesterdays when I was alone and afraid, trapped by poverty and abuse. It seemed as if angry voices would swirl around me like a cold, thick fog until I just wanted to fade away into a sea of hopelessness. I had nowhere to run, nowhere to escape and nowhere to call a home of my own. I had an empty heart, empty stomach, and, too often, an empty soul.
In school I would usually fall under the radar until I got into some type of trouble. No one seemed to notice how tired I was in class – tired from sleeping on benches in Burger King because I was afraid to go home at night. Failure was all that was expected of me. I had also been in minor scrapes with the law, enough to acquaint me with community service and a full paycheck going to fines.
I was born in American Samoa to a mother who was no older than I am myself. My father is listed as “not recognized” on the faded copy of my birth certificate. I was raised by my grandmother until she passed away a few years ago at the age of 47 from cancer. My mother, who also had health problems that no one would ever explain because I was so young, died of a seizure during the night no more than a year before my grandmother. I remember my grandmother working at night cleaning buildings to try to support us but drinking, playing cards and bingo took up much of the money she earned. After she died, I was sure I would never be happy again and I set out to prove it. More by default than desire, my cousin and his wife took me into their home in Orem.
Looking back, I now realize how angry I was because my mom and grandma had died. I began to miss more and more school and find ways to sneak out of their house whenever possible. It was then that things started going from bad to worse. After an encounter with the police and a brief stay in foster care, I was sent to live with another relative in the Salt Lake area. She kept me out of school to help baby-sit for almost a full quarter and I got a ticket for trying to go to school when I was not enrolled. I figure that will be a story to share with my kids someday – how their mother got sent to the Detention Center for trying to go to school. I always wondered why no one seemed to care when I would show up at school with marks on my face from being beaten. Hair pulling and slapping were part of a daily routine. Finally I ran away and when I came back I was told I was no longer welcome.
For a time, I lived off and on with any family member or their friends who would take me in for a short time. I remember one time being left in a home and having nothing to eat but a sandwich once a day. I would cry every night out of hunger and fear and dream of a home to someday call my own. There are still more blanks to fill in that bring me to today. No heat, no furniture, working to have my check taken away from me each payday by another relative, no food, no car, then homelessness and despair. It seemed that my life was in ruins. That is until I ended up on a porch of some strangers.
It seemed that a ray of hope began rising within me like the morning sun behind clouds. They offered me a life I had only hoped for where I could someday finish school, go to college and lead a normal life. Every room I entered was full of love, laughter and caring. Before this time I had never truly felt protection, shelter, safety or peace. For the first time in years I could sleep. At last I had a heart full of happiness, a stomach full of food, and a soul full of gratitude. Now I’m much more than just another statistic of failure. I am an individual of worth who overcame the odds and found a better life. I have a home, a family, and a future . . . at last.
Content sourced from Pacific EYE.
Journalists for Diversity essay contest
She wrote about losing her mother and later her grandmother, sleeping on benches at Burger King; and being sent to a deten-
tion center for trying to go to school.
For her work, Malaeauga Tiiiaia, a West Jordan High School student/received first place in Utah Journalists for Diversity’s “Tell
Us Your Story Essay Contest.”
Malaeauga, who will be a senior in the fall, won a $1,000 grant to help her pay for college-related expenses. She was one of nearly
100 students statewide who entered the contest.