Grade 7-8 Winners


I woke up in the middle of the night, tears streaming down my face. I struggled to take a breath. I looked around my bedroom, needing to find something familiar, something I could hold onto in order to calm myself down. My heart pumped in my chest. The only thing I wanted was for the dreams to be erased from my memory.
That was over a year ago. I still can’t forget them.

My Nana died in September of my grade six year. Cancer was what took her. She had been fighting for a long time before we even found out; she died only two weeks after the doctors told her. In some ways though, I think she knew all along. For me, while the news that she had died was painful, it wasn’t as bad as finding out that she was dying.
I will never forget that day. My aunt and I were on our way back from Vaughan Mills, where she had taken me shopping to buy my first-day-of-school outfit. The trip was a special tradition for us; we did it every year. This year, my aunt decided to take me to Canada’s Wonderland when we had finished shopping. “It’s just so close!” she had said. I was surprised but I didn’t object; what eleven-year-old would say no to that? We had a wonderful time which, in some ways, made what came after even harder.

After rides and funnel cake, we headed back home. As soon as I came through the front door, I knew something was wrong. My whole family was gathered in the living room. My mom sat on the couch next to my dad, crying. My sister was with them, sitting on the edge of the couch, her eyes red and her face blotchy. I asked them over and over, what was wrong but they wouldn’t tell me, they just said my dad had to speak with me for a second. My dad and I went down to the screened-in porch. The lake spread out in front of us, shimmering in the glow of the moon. My dad asked me to sit down and then told me the news, that my Nana had cancer and didn’t have long to live. As I stared out over the water, all I could think about was how fitting it was for my Nana to be called “lady of the lake” and how right it was that I found out she was dying while sitting in front of the place where she felt most at home.

I think I cried harder that night than any night before. I couldn’t accept the fact that my Nana, the woman I saw almost every day, that I could walk down the street at any given moment and see, would soon be taken away. How is this fair? Why was this happening to me? I couldn’t think of any answers then and I can’t think of any now. All I knew was that I had to make the most of the time I had with her, and man, am I glad I did. When I look back on those last couple of weeks we had, I can smile because I know that everything that needed to be said was said, and that when she let go, it was time.

The night she died was very similar to the night I found out she had cancer. I had a great day, followed by a horrific evening. My aunt picked me up from school after I had spent the day climbing high ropes and spending time with friends. I knew my Nana had passed, just by looking at her. We cried all the way home, and sadly, the tears just kept coming afterwards.

After that came condolences, the funeral and a memorial service, with me holding onto every memory I had of my Nana. I didn’t want to accept her death; whenever I thought about it too hard, I broke into sobs. Then came the nightmares. My nana would pop up in lots of dreams. One in particular, I can’t seem to forget.

I was in a grocery store with my mom. We were at the checkout line and I saw my Nana come through the sliding doors with two plane tickets in her hand. She walked up to my mom and said that she had just gotten back from her trip and how happy she was. She said that the next time my mom should go with her. I’m a worrier and I tend to read between the lines. At the time, it felt like it would be my mom’s turn next, like maybe the next person I lost would be her. That idea kept me up at night. I couldn’t even come to peace with the fact that my nana was dead; the thought that I might lose someone so close to me again was enough to break me into pieces.

Then two things happened that finally got me to stop grieving and accept her death. I was cleaning out my closet and organizing my room when I pulled out this box from underneath my bed. It was full of lots of my old things. As I went through it, I found a postcard my Nana had sent me. In her familiar handwriting, she said, “I am having so much fun here, I love you, Nana Black.” That made me cry, but I knew I was meant to find that letter. Maybe somewhere, out there in the universe, she’s looking down and smiling at me. That thought brought me hope, something I really needed.

The second thing happened quite recently. I had another dream, but this time, although my Nana was in it, the dream wasn’t a nightmare. We were sitting in a car of some sort, having a discussion. She told me that she had to go for good and couldn’t visit anymore. I asked her why, but the words only came out as a whisper. She started to go, and just before she disappeared, she told me she loved me. I don’t think I will ever forget that dream, and this time I don’t want to.

When my Nana passed away, it changed my whole life. She was a huge part of me and there’s never a day that goes by that I don’t think of her. I’ve come to realize something, though. I can’t change the past. No matter what I do, I can’t go back in time and undo what happened to her. I do have amazing memories and I know that she is with me. She means so much to me and nothing will ever make her death okay, but I know that I am okay. Sometimes when we are going through the hardest times in our life, it’s hard to think that things will get better, but they do. Once we make it through that time, we get to see the beautiful things in life, and I think that’s what is most important.


Sometimes a broken heart hurts so much more than physical pain ever could.

The messages are all different; some convey agony and destruction. By now it hurts so much that I can’t feel the hurt anymore. And then there are the ones with some twisted kind of determination. They laugh at me and taunt me and shove me and break me but I am who I am and someday I’ll be the one breaking them to pieces.

From the outside, we all look perfect. Smiling students in preppy school uniforms, running across the meticulously manicured lawns, laughing as we gaze through the spotless windows, beaming as we walk down the newly painted hallways and into the recently refurbished classrooms. Radiant. Even the high schoolers who study here often fall victim to the charm boasted by the most prestigious private school in town.

Unbeknownst to them, there are students who feel they never truly belong amid the sea of cheerful and studious teens clad in pleated skirts and sweater vests. The basement of the school is a sanctuary for these few, a place where they go when they feel accepted nowhere else. It is the hiding place for the girl who wears long sleeves every day to cover the scars that she inflicted upon herself. It is the refuge for the boy who is shoved up against lockers just because he likes other boys instead of girls. It is the shelter for the girl who starves herself while hiding beneath hoodies and hair dye. It is the safe haven for the boy who is scared of other people because he was abused and abandoned by his own father.

But for me, it is the place I go when I feel alone and unloved, even though my life seems ideal from the outside. It is the place with walls covered in messages from other teenagers like me, who have experienced my plight and gotten through it. Their words are gruesome and inspiring, appalling and passionate, but despite the hatred and love covering the walls, they make me feel like someone is there for me.

I was always too afraid to leave my own mark on those walls. Maybe I was too scared to show the real me, or just anxious about confronting my feelings and putting them into words. I was too afraid, until I wasn’t.

The words I added to the collection of pain and hope were simple, though I stressed over them for weeks before finally pressing that black Sharpie up against the wall: I hear the voices too loudly sometimes. They remind me of my flaws and failures, always contradicting the few compliments I receive. I try to stop them but they’re always there, in my head, taunting me. They are a part of me.

Now, as I enter into that quiet, dark room, long-forgotten by teachers, principals and custodians, the musty scent is overpowering and the dust in the air makes it hard to breathe. I yank on the chain hanging beside the old-fashioned lightbulb and it casts an eerie yellow glow over the space. The walls are so marked-up that it’s hard to read some of the messages. There is one message, however, that is written in red, and it stands out among the sea of words inscribed in black.

Directly below what I wrote, four words are displayed in blood-red ink: I hear them too.

I am frozen in place, too shocked to move. Someone answered. Someone saw what I wrote and understood. Someone else in the world feels the way I do.

It makes me feel like possibly, there is somewhere I belong. I just have to find it.

I write, Maybe we’re not alone after all.

I haven’t graced the school basement with my presence in a week, until I finally choose to visit the quiet space that has become my home. In all of the months I’ve spent wasting away the hours, hidden among the messages written by people like me, I have never come across another person there. Until today.

She throws open the door just as I’m about to enter, catching me off guard. I know her name immediately. Everyone does; she’s one of the most popular girls in the whole school. She’s the golden girl; she’s the one who makes the grades and wins the awards, but still manages to attend every party and social event. She’s the Student Council president, the head of the cheerleading squad, and the kind, accepting, smart and funny girl who everyone wants to befriend.

Time stands still. She looks up at me with wide, terrified eyes, then glances around the skinny hall that suddenly makes me feel closed-in and trapped. It could be that she thinks I’ll ruin her perfect image and tell on her for being just as messed up as the rest of us, when she’s supposed to be untroubled and flawless, inside and out.

She moves her lips, trying to speak but not finding the words. “Sorry!” she finally manages to squeak out. She rushes away, but not quickly enough to stop me from seeing the red Sharpie clutched tightly in her fist.

I enter the room, my heart beating much too quickly. Deep breath. I look around. It seems as though nothing on the walls has changed; no obvious red markings have been added. Still, I walk over to where I first left my mark on this place. I trace my fingers over the words and notice that a tiny message has been added underneath the last one that I wrote. Recorded in bright red is a single word that somehow holds so much hope and potential among the words of the broken.


The lawns are still immaculately trimmed and the windows still sparkle in the sunlight as I exit the school that day, but everything has changed. I see her walking out of the school, a red Sharpie tucked into the back pocket of her dark grey jeans. She throws her head back laughing, but I know she wears her smile as a shield.

Just like I do.