THE BLOG
08/29/2014 12:14 pm ET Updated Oct 29, 2014

Saving a Piece of a Family Portrait

By Alyssa Morgan

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It's raining when I go into the subway station, but snowing when I exit. When I see the flakes I immediately reach for my camera, snapping as many pictures as I can. The flurries make the air smell crisp and my breathing loud, since the snow quiets the noisy streets in New York. I shoot it all--pictures of the snow falling through the air. The snow on my jacket. The snow on cars. The snow up against tires. I'm documenting it for my younger brothers because they live in Florida and have never experienced snow.

My brothers, Justin, 11, and Joaquin, 6, live with my mother in Fort Lauderdale year-round. I spend the school year with my father and stepmother in Brooklyn, and summers with my brothers and biological mother. My biological parents do not speak to one another. Their distance and divide inspires me to work tirelessly to protect my strong bond with my brothers.

My devotion to my brothers can create challenges. I fear heights, but climbed an ancient tall wooden tower at our favorite beach two summers ago because I wanted to protect my brothers. From a distance the tower seems to stand still but up close it sways the tiniest bit on wooden legs that have weathered many hurricanes. My brothers were excited to be up high in the tower since most buildings in Florida are very close to the ground. They insist I go up with them. I feel I must since the tower is dangerous.

They race up the steps, but I tell them to go slowly with me. The first step isn't so bad, the ground is right there, I'm safe. The next few steps have me gripping the railing as the ground falls away and the breeze picks up. I'm terrified once I feel the tower moving and I want to go back down, but I don't want my brothers to get scared because I am. They urge me to hurry up because they want to see the view at the top. I try to go a little faster but the ground is infinitely far away and I'm terrified. The tower sways sharply and my stomach drops.

I finally reach the top and the view is breathtaking, but I'm too scared to breathe. I can feel the vibrations of my brothers running around looking from all sides. The beauty makes me thankful that my brothers inspired me to conquer my fear.

"It's time to go back down," I tell them.

With every step down I feel more relaxed. When we are back on the ground, all my worries have disappeared.

My brothers are motivators even when they are not around. I am always carrying that camera to document memories I want to share with them. However, there was one story I couldn't tell until I figured out the ending. In my sophomore year, I failed my first math test ever. I was devastated. I threw myself into trigonometry to set an example for my brothers. One day I could tell them how I fell off the tower in math, but climbed back to the top.

I don't like the divide between my biological parents, but I love what the discord has inadvertently given me--my strong commitment to my relationship with my brothers. My brothers have helped develop my sense of responsibility in many ways. For example, my grades were back up in Precalculus junior year and one project required planning lives as young adults. We had to get jobs, pay taxes and bills, including student loans for college. I found a high-paying job, but my bills were high, so I decided to live in a studio to have a little extra money. My teacher loved my project. It was the most organized and responsible he'd seen: "You considered every detail."

That's what a big sister does, I thought.

Alyssa is a graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School and began her freshman year at Cornell last week.