Voices: No Impact

A car crash convinced me I need to change my ways—but I don't know how

It's 8:45 p.m., and I'm pretty sure my mom's already asleep. The house is quiet, except for the mix CD we're bumping. Outside, there's a cool breeze, but it's dead silent: no cars, no music, no shootings.

Guero, my homeboy since I was 12, is falling asleep on my cousin Joann's bed. One of my other homies is on the way with cocaine.

When Joann gets home, I let her know my supplier is on his way, so we are going to party here at the crib. We head back to her room and roll up a fat one. Finally, the house phone rings, and the caller ID says it's my homie with that cocaine I'd asked for.

If my mom knew what I was doing, she'd be upset. She wouldn't want anybody drug-dealing in front of her house. But I don't care. I pick up the phone, and my dealer tells me, "I'm outside—hurry up and bring some bud with you."

I walk out the front door, and his little red car is already there, the passenger-side window halfway down. Without much conversation, I get in, and he starts to roll up some weed in a Swisher Sweets Cigar. I crush up the rocks in the little white bag I just purchased and prepare to I sniff the coke I just bought.

Every day. Same routine. Seven days a week.

Joann and I have been hanging out at my house all night, talking on the phone and bumping music, and we finally run out of our last high. We have to get served up, so we grab the keys to my tia's car and leave to re-up on cocaine.

We've done about two 20 bags of coke—enough to get me really high. Coming down is making both of us fidgety, paranoid. I can feel the bass of Brotha Lynch Hung vibrating on my back. Joann hands me a cigarette to calm me down.

We're cruising like gangstas. No one can mess with us.

All of a sudden, a semi truck pulls up on the left side and swerves into our white Expedition. "Slow down!" I tell Joann. "Get behind it!"

The semi makes a move toward us, forcing us to slow down. I jerk forward as our tire hits the curb, and Joann can't regain control of the car. We swing toward the concrete wall that separates the frontage road from the freeway. Joann leans into me as we crash, and everything goes black. It is 3:58 a.m.

My mom is in a chair next to me, her head leaning onto my hospital bed, fast asleep. When the doctor comes, I get three layers of stitches on the left side of my face, including two layers under the skin. My cousin gets stitches on her left shoulder and her forehead, and 21 staples across the top of her head.

I finally see Joann at our house the day after our crash. We laugh at each other when we see what we look like. Her forehead is swollen, and where her hairline starts, little hairs stick straight up from where the doctors shaved her head. My mom keeps saying I look like Rocky Balboa, who supposedly had two black eyes, just like me. I don't even recognize myself.

Joann and I sit on the front porch and smoke a joint to ease the pain.

I'm at the AVA Amphitheater at Casino del Sol, and the silky material of my dress is whipping in the wind. My hair is pinned back on top of my head in spiral curls. There's just one thing bothering me: I'm sitting in the audience by myself, watching my friends walk across the stage to shake hands with our principal and graduate from the eighth-grade.

My eyes start to water. How could I let things get so messed up? Eighth-grade all over again.

After the ceremony, we take pictures, making posh faces at the camera. They were so excited to be graduating. I figure their excitement is a good enough reason to celebrate.

I'm not sure what time I got to my friend's house. We planned to blast music and get chill—it was just a "kick back." The last thing I remember is me and my homegirl crashed out on top of an electricity box outside the apartment complex, waiting to get picked up.

I still wear baggy clothes and slick my hair back tight sometimes, but I don't want my family or anybody else to get the wrong impression. I'm not some bum who doesn't want anything for herself. The decisions I've made in the past are bad, I know, but I have goals. I don't want to work 9-to-5 at a fast-food place to support myself, and I know the only way out of this is going to school.

When I got in the car crash, I immediately knew my behavior had to change. I'd like to say the crash taught me not to take things for granted. But sometimes, when wrong is pulling at you, certain situations will have you going back to your old ways.

I still go out cruising with my friends, and drugs are still everywhere I turn. My family wants me to change the way I act: to stop using slang, clean up the way I dress. They don't want me to be a thug, to run from the law or end up struggling in Section 8 housing.

I look at my mom, who has never had money to spend on herself, or to buy the clothes that she would like. My family wants more for me. I do, too.

I want to make the change, but I just don't know how.