“The Water is Cold,” a poem by Alyssa Smith is the winner in the Creative Writing category of  the “Tell Your Story” student contest conducted by UC Santa Barbara’s Division of Humanities and Fine Arts for Give Day 2018.

Life in Humanities and Fine Arts aims to tell a compelling story of Creativity, Imagination and Empathy - and Smith’s moving poem of the struggle of finding peace and stability helps to illustrate that story.   


“The Water Was Cold”

By Alyssa Smith

It’s 6AM in Ontario, California
The year is 2014

Picture this:
I’m back home, living with my family
My father, mother, sister, brother, two turtles, cat, & dog

I go to take a shower,
I turn on the water,
And the water is cold

Turns out, the bill that keeps our water heater going hasn’t been paid
Leading to months of boiling water, in a pot
Make sure the water’s not too hot, else you’ll burn yourself

It’s 8AM in Ontario, California
The year is 2015

I go outside, we’re on our way to school
The sun is shining but our van is gone

My mind jumps to the conclusion
That our van has been stolen
But no. The only thing that has been stolen is my pride

Our van’s repossession
Made me start to question
How can the sun be shining
When everything’s going wrong?

It’s 11PM in Ontario, California
The year is 2016

I’ve heard about the concept of a 9 to 5 job
But my dad leaves at 11, comes back at nine, works from 12 to 8, and leaves at 11 again
When will this end?

The year is 2010

And I used to think my family was perfect

And when your perfect little home starts to crumble
You wonder if the pieces will ever fit the same again
And I’ve learned that they don’t
But...maybe they don’t have to
It’s 3PM in Ontario, California
The year is 2015

I’m working now, and my grades in school are stable
At this point, I am able
To help provide for my family
And work towards my future

I campaigned to be ASB president, and the results are to be announced on a piece of paper
And when I go to check the results after school
My friends hug me, and while I am looking at the results on the paper
And I start to think maybe life will sometimes work to my favor

It’s 8AM in Ontario, California
The year is 2016

I go outside, we’re on our way to school
The sun is shining, and I get a letter in the mail
“You are cordially invited to the UCSB Chancellor’s Reception”

And it is there where I find out that not only am I accepted into a UC
But, the burden of the cost will not fall on my family

And I’ve realized that as much as life will kick. your. ass.
Life will also give you the icepack to heal yourself

I’ve had my share of struggles
But, I’ve also had my share of blessings

The year is 2017

And now when I go back home to Ontario, California
And I go to take a shower,
I turn on the water
And the water is warm

Alyssa Smith is a Sophomore at UCSB, majoring in Sociology.  

“‘The Water Was Cold' is a poem I wrote as a Theatrical Autobiography, where I reflect on the struggles many people can relate to coming from a low-income family. I've learned that every setback you face makes you stronger, and I am grateful to have this opportunity to get an education at UCSB so I can give back to my family after all they've done for me.”

                   — ALYSSA SMITH