Friday, August 7, 2015

The Runner-up Essay: "Why We Fall Down"

On Monday, I posted the essay that won the first My Life as 3D College Essay Scholarship Contest. I think you'd all agree that Ryan Gruchala's essay--"Will We Be Able to Move on from This?"--was pretty amazing.

But Luke Moran's runner-up essay is amazing, too. And thanks to actress Kristen Johnston and her SLAM charity, Luke will be receiving $500.00 to help pay his tuition at the University of Delaware in the fall. (Note: I will be posting the other eight essays that were chosen as finalists by the judges in the days ahead.)

Why We Fall Down

By Luke Moran

Every little kid has a hero. There was, of course, Superman, and naturally various animated characters from shows like Pokemon and Dragonball Z. But the most important role model for me was my only sibling, my older brother Jake. Even without a cape and x-ray vision, Jake could do no wrong in my eyes. He was everything I wanted to be. He was tall, I wasn't. He was a natural athlete. I wasn't. He always had a girlfriend. I didn't. Life seemed to come so easily for him. But the best part was he always made time for his little brother. This is why my most devastating memory was the day my brother Jake was arrested.

My brother was an addict and it had finally caught up with him. I guess I knew on some level that he was on a downward spiral, but my young mind had not yet stopped to really judge him. He was all that I had, my only sibling, and I loved him no matter what.

There is something to be said about the loss of innocence. That day three years ago my personal Superman had succumbed to his own Kryptonite.

When I first got the call that Jake had been arrested, I remember exactly where I was. I was working as a busser at a restaurant. My heart immediately stopped and time seemed to stand still. I went into autopilot mode. Nothing made sense. I wasn't really thinking about my brother, and I wasn't exactly doing my job either. I was somewhere in between. Until then, the worst news I’d ever received was when my 93-year-old great grandfather died. But when Jake was arrested, the only way I can explain it is that it felt like it actually somehow happened to me. Like some part of me got lost.

I still remember the first time I visited Jake in jail. After months of my parents nagging me, I finally agreed to tag along one Sunday morning for a visit to see my brother. Looking back on it now, I think dreading that early morning wake up call was really just cover for dreading what that day would really be about. My mom drove and I sat in the passenger seat, anxious, distracting myself by trying to find appropriate music to play through the car stereo. (Looking back on it, I don't even think a live performance from the King himself would have eased the tension.) I tried to keep our conversation light, but Mom was in no mood for idle chitchat. Instead, she gripped the steering wheel with both hands and stared straight ahead the whole way.

When we pulled into the prison parking lot, I immediately felt uneasy. Just the environment felt tense. The big electric fence encircling the facility taunted me: "There’s no getting out of here anytime soon." My brother, my hero, was not getting out of this one. This was real. That hit me hard. Because he had always been so confident that his actions were incapable of coming back to haunt him, and that he could get into any mess he wanted to without facing repercussions. Of course, I was aware that he was wrong and that his overconfident attitude was probably more of a coping mechanism than anything else, but still it hurt me to think of him in such a helpless situation.

The visit itself was underwhelming. My mother talked to him about his upcoming trial while my dad kept it light with stories about his two weird cats. When it came time for me to talk to Jake, he just asked me about movies that had come out recently and what video games I had been playing.

It wasn't until the lights flickered, indicating our time was up, that I felt the uneasiness again. And I realized why: I had just visited my brother in prison. I saw my brother from behind prison glass and I was somehow okay with it. How is this remotely okay? The other visitors that day visiting other inmates seemed fine, like everything was normal. There should not be anything normal about visiting your brother in jail. He didn't belong there and neither did I. That fear of normalcy was sickening. If my brother being incarcerated was normal then that meant everything was real. Surely, this wasn't my life. Surely, the brother I grew up with, who I idolized, who played tag with me and shot hoops with me, wasn't behind bars.

I didn't know how to deal with those confusing thoughts so, at first, I slipped back out of reality for a while. Instead of focusing in school, I would waste time on my phone or social media. For the longest time, I left the room while my parents talked about Jake's trial. I never answered his letters and I didn’t talk to him over the phone for months. It wasn't that I didn't want to talk to him; I just didn’t want to face reality. I was just trying to be a normal kid and pretend nothing happened.

To quote a favorite movie:

"Why do we fall down, Master Wayne?"

"So we can get back up."

Even Bruce Wayne tried and failed. Batman isn't perfect and neither is my brother. I've since realized that there is a reason for everything. There was no point in wallowing in sadness or avoiding reality. This was an opportunity for me to learn from my brother's mistakes. I had to assume responsibility for my own future because if I didn't, no one else would. I joined cross-country, I studied religiously and I began to use my computer productively to teach myself CSS and HTML instead of just scrolling through Twitter. I even got a better-paying job to cover my own car insurance and gas. My grades improved dramatically because I realized that the next few years of my life were crucial. My hard work paid off. I was recently accepted to the University of Delaware as a computer science major.

Witnessing my older brother's addiction and incarceration has helped me become a better person. I learned that no matter how miserable your world is, all it takes is a little motivation and self-discipline to get yourself through it. This tragic event in my family has had rippling effects on us all. None of us will ever be the same. But we have all grown from it. Jake is healthier now. He’s being released soon and he’s ready to get his life back on track. And watching him go through this sparked the otherwise idle switch in my head from a carefree teenager into an independent, young adult who knows how to deal with tragedy and put himself to work when everything around him seems to be crashing down. I refuse to let the prison of addiction and incarceration my brother faced lock me out of a positive future. Jake will always be my hero, but today, I want to be his.

Luke's older brother, Jake (c. 1993)


  1. Clearly portrays the lost feeling we all have when a loved one is behind bars! Much success with your bright future.

  2. Excellent essay! I remember visiting my sister in jail more times than I want to remember and feeling that disassociated feeling as well. Good luck to you Luke, you have a very bright future ahead of you :)

    Thanks to you Dean, and Kristen Johnson for allowing this young man's voice to be heard!

  3. What amazingly positive essays from both your winners. Congratulations to them and to you for running the competition.

  4. This is really wonderful and truly deserved an award. I believe that having a loved one in jail is really difficult, particularly when he's someone really important to you. Luke really let the readers feel his emotions through his writing and showed how much love he has for his brother. Thanks for sharing this inspiring essay! :-)

    Eliseo Weinstein @ JRs Bail Bond

  5. Wow - such a powerful essay. On so many levels. So many levels.