Choosing the Light, Part 2: Junior Erin Kalwa brightens her own path

“I remember actively making the choice to say, ‘Hey, I want to do better, I want to be happy, I don’t want to deal with this anymore,’” she says.

“I don’t want to deal with this anymore.’”

Erin shifts slightly and tucks her legs underneath herself as she clasps her hands together in her lap. Rays of sunlight are still permeating the room, making their way through the blinds and onto Erin’s cheeks to showcase the freckles that paint her skin. She tugs at the sleeves of her over-sized sweater once more before drawing in a sharp breath and breaking out into a small grin, brown eyes gleaming.

Progress. That’s what it is.

Bringing up dark memories of a troublesome past shed away so easily, signified by the previous drop of her shoulders and the soft sigh that had escaped her lips. Now, as she’s nodding her head gently, Erin tucks a strand of bleached, golden hair back with her mouth still curved in a gentle smile.

She’s proud to say the least. Proud to make her way out of the darkness on her own terms. Proud to have found the balance between pain and prosper.

Proud to choose the light.


Overcoming her past is something that Erin decides to do consciously, having convinced herself that change had to be made in order to truly move on and improve her own well being.

The teenager’s eyes shift up to the ceiling, momentarily widening. She notes why it was so hard to come to terms with herself and move away from such dark issues like self harm and struggles with body issues — maternal absence.

Ryon Kalwa is much more logical and analytical, taking things as they come as opposed to being more emotional, as was Erin’s mother. Her absence led to Erin attempting to deal with her own struggles alone, as Ryon did not have that same emotional support that naturally comes from maternal figures.

“He’s definitely more logical. If something’s wrong, ‘Do something about it’ and not wallow in self-pity,” Erin imitates with her hands coming up her face. “But sometimes that’s what you need and that’s the importance of having a mom.”

Photo of Erin’s mother Tamika Kalwa from the 80’s.

Ryon’s quick to note his flaws and how they have had an effect on his daughter, something that he admits to be attempting to fix. However, feelings are things that come at once and cannot be forced or faked. He recalls how Erin has become more closed off as  a result of his own lack of emotional support, suppressing her own emotions due to the lack of an outlet.

“She doesn’t have her mother to talk to for those things and I’m just …, ” Ryon’s trails off into a softer whisper, eyes training on the wooden table with his chin resting in the palm of his hand. “I’m inadequate at best. Downright inept at worst.”

Erin didn’t have a choice but to look inside herself and take matters into her own hands. What resulted was sessions of late-night Google searches and consciously surrounding herself with positive things, whether that meant teaching herself how to play the guitar and ukulele or engulfing herself in Borderlines 2.

Erin sits on her bed playing a video game while connected with other players. Her dog, Cedar, lies below her at the end of the bed. “I’ve been kind of engulfing myself in video games for years just to kind of zone out and that’s what I still do now,” she says. Photo by Jayna Dias.

Personal Growth

Erin gets up to set her now empty Ramen cup on the side table that houses two minimalistic plants where her guitar and ukulele also reside nearby. She makes her way back to the bed, pushing aside the comforter and taking a seat. Chloe responds with a soft stretch and makes himself comfortable against her once again.

She pushes the computer back and squints her eyes slightly before perking up and recalling exactly when it was time to get better. This past summer, coming into her junior year contained a lot of self-reflection and self-discovery. Therapists weren’t doing the job, only minimizing her struggles or tip toeing over them completely. The only person that knows her the best is herself.

The summer also served to ground Erin, as she had finally finished off her sophomore year and managed to stay in the same place for the first time in the last four years. Deliberate self reflection resulted in personality identification as well as mental growth.

The biggest realization that Erin came about was how her personality seemed to split between the emotional influence of her mother and the logical precision of her father. The two sides grappled with one another, oftentimes resulting in one overtaking the other rather than a healthy balance of the two.

Erin adjusts her beanie and cocks her head to the side gently as she describes the self-hatred that emerged from the instability with her feelings.

“[This summer] has been a lot of me trying to figure out how to balance the two … I guess I just realized that I do have these issues and I can manage both of them,” she says with another smile.

Turns out, managing both sides to her parents influence consisted of allowing herself to release tensions from the ongoing tug of war inside, the battle against dark and light. With no one to turn to, no prominent female figure to rest her head on and hear that everything was going to be okay — even Chloe and the two Siberian huskies, Cedar and Timber are males — Erin found her own forms of release.

One of the most prominent being through crying.

Even through the death of her mother, the overnight transition that forced Erin to mature and assume more of an adult-like persona, suppressed her ability to grieve properly through tears. Instead, numbness took over, getting things done simply just because they had to.

Erin draws in a sharp breath and down casts her eyes to the mattress as she explains the times in the past when she would literally stop herself from allowing tears to fall. “Getting over it” always took precedence over actually reflecting and addressing her own issues, which she admits also stemmed from her father’s influence.

But now, Erin promises herself to let those feelings inside. Crying has become a release of pent up negativity and a form of self acceptance that allows her to feel more human. She had to make the decision on her own that have feelings is okay on its own, as well as letting oneself feel them.

In fact, just last week she cried in front of one her teachers over missing assignments and absences. She cries over politics too, allowing herself to be touched and make connections with what she hears and sees.

“When I say that I’m crying now, I mean, I genuinely let myself cry. I know people hear that and they think, ‘You’re depressed’ but that’s such a rejuvenating thing for me, to be able to finally let that out,” she says while letting her head fall back slightly, golden hair swaying past her shoulders. “I haven’t for so long … it was nice to be able to actually let myself feel things.”


Erin’s attention snaps down as Chloe has begun to paw at her backpack. She hastily cuts herself off to explain that the cat doesn’t have claws and laughs lightly, running her hand along Chloe’s back with amusement. She turns slightly and her eyebrows raise up as she continues, explaining all the indulgences and fantasies that now cloud her mind.

The liberation and self-acceptance that came from the summer allow Erin to do what she’s doing right now — dreaming. She laments how she sees herself in the future, golden locks swaying at each sudden movement that come from her expressive arm movements.

Hopes for the future include creating a YouTube channel in which she can express her love for fashion whilst at the same time connecting with an audience that has undergone her same struggles. She hopes to serve as the big sister she never had to her subscribers, helping in a way that she never received herself.

“I want to be an outgoing, warm-hearted, easy-to-talk-to person. I want to be that person that’s like easily excited and, I just — ” Erin shakes her head a bit and takes a breath before dropping her shoulders. “I want people to be comfortable around me but I also want to be comfortable with myself. And I’ve definitely done that.”

Erin desires to continue touching people and helping others in similar situations as her by studying psychology in college. After all, she spent a good deal of the last few years helping her father and friends, continuing to discover why people act the way they do and how to help them soon developed into a career goal.

She swings her legs off of the bed and grabs her camera from off of the wooden side table, along with a few Polaroid pictures of her friends from Senn. Erin grins as her fingers grace the images she had snapped, spreading them out across the sheets.

Photography is another passion that she has, snapping images of her friends, her pets, and scenery. She crosses her legs and looks into the lens, pausing to get it set up. The camera was a 15th birthday present which had been purchased for $500 instead of the $1,000 original price. Erin brings the camera up to her eyes as she adjusts the lens, talking about how clear the quality is.

She sets the camera back down picks up the ukulele that lights against the side table. It, along with the guitar, serve as a personal pastime, something Erin decided to pick up for her own pleasure.

“I really just play for myself, but my nails are long now because I haven’t been able to play recently since I’ve been focusing on school work,” Erin rambles, bringing the ukulele up her abdomen.

“This is — ” she interrupts herself to strum the instrument before immediately furrowing her brows “– sadly out of tune. But if I really wanted to, I’m sure I could give like a — ” Erin suddenly strums the ukulele again and plays a tune, swaying her head and hips from side to side with a wide grin. She stops to complain about the length of her nails again before stopping abruptly with a laugh.

Erin mentions that indulging in hobbies always feels good, especially with things that she teaches herself on her own time.

Coming out

The sun is beginning to set a bit and Chloe has managed to get Erin’s necklace in his mouth. Cedar has also made himself comfortable at the edge of the bed, and Erin is currently seated with her legs stretched out. There’s a calm resolve, an air of serenity and tranquility within the bedroom. She rubs her finger along her chin momentarily before smiling again.

“I finally came out to my dad — and myself,” she says while playing with the bracelets along her wrist. Her friends from Chicago helped her come to terms with her sexuality, since they were all a part of the LGBT community themselves. The group consisted of an Indian gay guy, a theater bisexual girls with four parents (two moms and two dads), a Jewish, ginger bisexual and a trans guy. “Only in Chicago,” Erin laughs. “I feel like being around them really helped me be okay with it and finally accept it and I came out as pan-sexual. Yeah, that was nice.”

Erin sits on top of her bed with her cat Chloe, accompanied by a pride flag to her left. “I struggled with internalized homophobia for so long … I had dated a trans guy for awhile and that’s when I really started questioning my sexuality,” she says. Photo by Jayna Dias.

Ryon found it quite simple to accept, knowing how feelings are something that cannot be faked. He presses his index finger against the table and slightly raises his eyebrows brows. “If I smash my finger I’m going to feel pain … we don’t control it, they can’t just stop.”

“There’s not much to it. You like whoever you like. I like somebody that’s not even walking,” Ryon says softly, dark brows still raised with his long hair framing his face.

He stands up and opens the door to the patio, briefly stating that he’s still listening as he lights up a cigarette. A train goes off in the distance as the stick is drawn up to enter Ryon’s lips. The cool night air whisks away the smoke once he exhales.

His own hopes for Erin’s future reside in her getting into a good school and getting into a master’s program. So long as his daughter has the ability to choose what she wants to do with her life without someone choosing for her, then he would consider that a success.

Ryon’s only concern resides in how suffocating Oswego is for someone like Erin, someone who doesn’t follow crowds and has the ability to do her own things freely. Chicago developed applications for her passions, while Oswego doesn’t have that same diversity.

Erin couldn’t agree more, describing that East feels like a “stereotypical high school” with students divided into groups based on popularity and interest.

“I had come from Chicago and it is absurdly diverse there. And not like a weird diverse that we have here where it’s like ‘Hey there’s a … There’s a singular brown kid in this classroom and that’s diverse,” she mocks with a roll of her eyes.

Even so, Erin can brave the formulaic nature of the school and the town, having already overcome dark demons and past struggles. While things have not changed overnight and she still feels the weight of responsibility in her life, an equilibrium is finally beginning to balance out.

Emotional and logical. Past struggles and perseverance. Dark and light.

It’s just like love, as Ryon puts it. Something he hopes Erin can find in her own life, one as true as his.

“If you ever really think about the yin yang symbol and how they connect to make the two circles, and the line that’s in between them, with the two dots of inverse colors,” Ryon begins, making circles with his knuckles on the table. “You complete them and they complete you. You do everything you can to with that in mind. That person becomes more important than you, and you become more important than themselves which still completes that circle … That — that’s truly symbolic about love. A real emotional bond. And I hope she finds that.”

Jayna Dias is the Personality Editor for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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