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Explaining My Life
Writing makes sense of my losses
Shateek Palmer

By Shateek Palmer

The first time I ever wrote about my feelings was when my grandmother was placed in the hospital. I was 9 years old. I knew I had to be strong for her, so I wrote about how much I loved her. I wrote in a notebook because I didn’t want to show my feelings to other people.

I felt good when I was writing about my grandmother because I was expressing my feelings without anybody knowing about it. Otherwise I just kept the bad feelings inside, until they came out as anger at someone else.

A week after she went to the hospital, my grandmother died when her liver gave out. After that, all I did was go to school and come home and go to my room. Sometimes I wouldn’t eat because I was so hurt. I knew it wasn’t healthy how bad I felt.

One night during a thunderstorm, I thought I saw my grandmother in my dark room, and I started to cry. I turned on the light and looked at my notebook and read all the wonderful things I’d written about my grandmother. Then I picked up a pen and wrote like there was no tomorrow. I wrote about all the negative things that had happened in my life. By the time I was done writing, I realized that my grandmother was in a better place. When I wrote, I felt like I was doing something with my life because I wasn’t feeling mad or sad.

But two months later, I found out that ACS (New York City’s Children’s Services) was taking my three younger siblings and me away from my grandfather and my mother. My mother had always moved in and out of the house and made things stressful for my grandparents and for me. After I was moved to the ACS building, I didn’t care about life. I felt even worse than when my grandmother died. I didn’t talk to anyone, didn’t eat at times, and couldn’t sleep. I just stayed in the room that I was placed in.

I had so much anger in me, I started to take it out on people. I got into fights and I didn’t respect anybody. I just didn’t care about anything.

A Bad Surprise

I was placed in a foster home a month later. I remember that night like it was today. The ACS workers put my siblings and me in a dark blue van. I had in my head that I was going back to my grandfather’s house.

“I have a surprise for all of you,” said one of the ACS staff.

I was really happy because I thought that we were going home. The van took off like it was in a race, but then we stopped in front of a building I didn’t know.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Take the little kids upstairs; I want to talk to Shateek for a moment,” said one of the ACS workers.

I felt like this person was about to tell me something disappointing like everybody else had, and you best believe I was right. “Shateek, you can’t go back with your family now. We are placing you in a better home for now. I need you to be strong for your siblings and also for yourself. Please behave and listen to these people; they are really good people,” the worker said.

image by Patricia Battles

I began to cry as we walked out of the van. I was so upset with my family; I felt like I never wanted to talk to them again. We walked into the building and up the stairs to the third floor. The worker showed me my room and said, “Good luck with this family; I’ll be back to check up on you.”

That whole night I couldn’t sleep. I kept walking around the house. I was thinking about running away, but I didn’t want to leave my siblings. So I began to write my feelings. I realized again that it’s more healthy to write your feelings down on a piece of paper than to let your emotions affect you in a negative way.

But my anger and sadness were so strong that I began to fight again, disobey my foster parents, and do badly in school. I just didn’t want to listen to anybody because I felt alone in the world, like I was the only person going though problems.

A Stack of Notebooks

I stayed with the foster family for about a month and a half. Then I was placed into my Great Aunt Stacey’s home, where I still live. I was a little happier living with people I knew. Writing also continued to help make me less mad at the world. When I got mad at something or someone, I would walk away. The moment I got home, I would write about it. Like all teenage kids, I did get into a little trouble, but not as much trouble as I got into before.

To this day, I still write in a notebook, usually three pages every night before bed. It takes two to three weeks to fill up a notebook, and I have a stack of notebooks next to my dresser, starting from when I was 10.

I usually start by writing about the day, but often I go back in time to when I was 9 years old. I write about how my grandmother died, how I was taken away from my family, how I messed up in school, and how I got into a lot of fights. I describe the difference between what’s going on in my life now and what I went though when I was 9. When I was 9 I wouldn’t really talk directly about upsetting things like that.

Now I’m 15, and partly because of writing, I can control my emotions better. When I was 9 I didn’t understand where all that anger was coming from and why I got in so much trouble. But when I look back at it now I’m like, “Wow, that kid went through a lot!” By writing, I forgive the 9-year-old Shateek.


I also started to write poetry when I was 10 years old. I don’t use stanzas or make my poems rhyme; I just put how I feel about things. Unlike my notebook, I read over my poetry and look for mistakes and things I want to improve.

Here’s something from a poem I wrote when I was feeling lonely and didn’t have anyone to talk to. It’s called “Bad things, good things”:

“Losing a lot doesn’t make you a man or a woman, it’s just losing something. Anger inside want to release but how should I, in a lost world with no one to listen. Fight after fight in trouble all the time, I say to myself, What a life, I wish I can bring back time. It’s hard dealing with a pain that won’t go away, it’s like fighting something that’s a part of you. I feel tears coming down but I won’t let myself cry.”

Writing really helped me when I started counseling, too. At first, I didn’t really speak that much to my counselor, but one day I wanted to show off my writing talent to her. I also wanted to share my feelings with her, but I was afraid that she really didn’t care. I felt that she was only there because she was getting paid.

But writing got us communicating (we also played games). Then we started to talk more about how I was feeling and I began to trust her. She introduced me to Represent. I guess she noticed something in me that I didn’t notice—that my writing was good enough to share with other people in a magazine.

Getting picked for the Represent summer writing workshop made me really proud of myself. It took me six years to realize that I had something special in me and that I just had to believe in myself. Now I can share my feelings and experiences with other kids who may also be angry about losing their families.