A place to call home

Junior gets engaged after mental health and financial struggles
 Junior Alissa Petty holds the necklace with her engagement ring and “R” charm, the initial of her fiance, junior at the Colony Ruby Rodriguez. The ring was Ruby’s grandmothers; Alissa plans to wear it on her necklace until she can get it resized. “People use the word ‘tied down’ when they talk about marriage, but that’s not what this is,” Alissa said. “I’m tied to [Ruby]. She’s my safety net — instead of falling in love, I’m being held there.”
Junior Alissa Petty holds the necklace with her engagement ring and “R” charm, the initial of her fiance, junior at the Colony Ruby Rodriguez. The ring was Ruby’s grandmothers; Alissa plans to wear it on her necklace until she can get it resized. “People use the word ‘tied down’ when they talk about marriage, but that’s not what this is,” Alissa said. “I’m tied to [Ruby]. She’s my safety net — instead of falling in love, I’m being held there.”
Krista Fleming

Editor’s note: This article discusses self-harm and suicide attempts. If you or someone you know is struggling with similar things, call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.


It hurt. 

The phrase applied to everything she felt — her muscles ached, her head pounded, her throat burned. Then-sophomore Alissa Petty sat up slowly, piecing together hazy details as she tried to remember what happened. 

Hours before, she sat at the bottom of the pool and watched her limbs turn purple and blue. Months before, she stood on the roof of her house, in the one place she had ever felt safe, and forced herself not to jump. Years before, she watched her parents separate and lost her childhood home. 

Hours later, she would beg her mom to send her to counseling. Months later, she would return to school and push through financial issues worsened by her dad’s heart attack. Years later, she would walk into her fiancé’s house, smile at the family she always wished she had, and finally feel at home. 

Right then, Alissa made a vow to the pitch-black sky: she was going to live.

Early Life

When she started elementary school, Alissa still had baby fat; her peers called her “Wrecking Ball.” She got into fights with other students. It wasn’t until fourth grade that she lost the weight, but the arguments continued. She was diagnosed with anger issues in fifth grade. 

“I had built up such hatred for almost everyone there,” Alissa said. “I hated school, and I’d spend all day wishing I was home.” 

One night, she came home to find her mom had bought her a dog. The same day, her mom told her she was going to divorce her father. She brought Alissa and her brother to the master bedroom, then told her husband her plans. 

The next day, she went on like normal — she went to school, came home and looked for her dad. That was when she learned that he was staying at a hotel and she wouldn’t be allowed to see him for the foreseeable future. 

That was the worst thing I’ve ever been through,” Alissa’s dad, Brian Petty, said. “The kids mean more to me than anything.”

That was the worst thing I’ve ever been through. The kids mean more to me than anything.

— Brian Petty, Alissa's dad

Two months later, her mother got engaged to a man Alissa had only met a few times. She moved away from her school and into a bigger house, where she spent the summer staring out the window yet again. The entire time, all Alissa said she wanted was for her mother to ask her how she felt. 

“I didn’t need anything to change,” Alissa said. “I knew nothing would, I just wanted there to be a moment where someone asked me how I was — if I was OK. I wanted to know someone cared.” 

In sixth grade, Alissa went to Killian Middle School, where she said things began to get better. She made friends in every class, many of whom she keeps in touch with today. 

“No one cared about any of the old stuff,” Alissa said. “They just cared about me.”


The COVID-19 pandemic began when Alissa was in seventh grade. Being at-risk due to her asthma, her mom made sure to keep Alissa inside at all times. She became a virtual student in eighth grade, occasionally going to school for orchestra, but was forced to stay home on weekends when her friends hung out. 

Her depression and anger issues got worse. She snapped at people more, getting in arguments with her step-father and mother. During it all, Alissa said her relationship with God turned from rocky to angry. 

How can God let all this happen? How can he watch me hurt and not do anything to help me? How can he just throw me to the side?

The rage only ever festered below the surface to anyone outside of her home. She would only share details about the arguments with two friends, opting to talk to everyone else about the latest show she watched or things she did. 

“I [became] more closed off,” Alissa said. “I would still talk everyone’s ear off, but I wouldn’t share anything going on at home. It was like a rule: nothing serious — nothing real.”

FaceTime became one of her few escapes — a way to cling onto social interaction with anyone outside of her house. She would call people as often as she could, rambling about random things and giving advice on any personal issues. 

One night, Alissa was on the phone with her friend. He vented to her about the arguments his parents were having. 

“It was like I was 10-years-old again,” Alissa said. “I was right back to sitting outside that door. Every bad thought I ever had about myself, every bad thing that ever happened to me, every bad name I was ever called — it took over.”

It was like I was 10-years-old again. I was right back to sitting outside that door. Every bad thought I ever had about myself, every bad thing that ever happened to me, every bad name I was ever called — it took over.

— Alissa Petty, junior

When the phone call ended, Alissa grabbed the scissors by her bed. It was the first time she self-harmed, which eventually became routine.

“It wasn’t suicide back then,” Alissa said. “I didn’t want to die, I just couldn’t think straight.”

She continued self-harming for months, until her cousin told her she had been there and that it doesn’t work. Before she left, she asked Alissa to promise not to do it again.

“[Self-harm] makes you hate yourself even more,” Alissa said. “Knowing you could hurt someone else just by them finding out what you’re doing is one of the worst feelings in the world. It doesn’t work; it just makes everything worse.”

The roof

Though she relapsed every few months, Alissa stuck as true to her promise as she felt she could. Instead of self-harming at night, she would sneak through the guest bedroom’s window and sit on the roof for hours. 

She’d spend every night sitting in the small alcove on the roof, a place where wind couldn’t hit her and nothing else could bother her. If it was cold, she’d bring a jacket. If it was raining, she’d get an umbrella. Nothing deterred her from sitting, knees tucked to her chest, in the one space she deemed as hers — the one place she thought of as “home.” 

“I didn’t think I had anywhere else to go,” Alissa said. “I would’ve left back then if I could, but I never had that choice. Up on the roof, though, I could escape it all.”

I didn’t think I had anywhere else to go. I would’ve left back then if I could, but I never had that choice. Up on the roof, though, I could escape it all.

— Alissa Petty, junior

One night, she got into an argument with her stepfather. His comments made Alissa uncomfortable, and she told her mom she wanted to leave. 

“I needed out,” Alissa said. “To go to my dad’s or stay with a friend. I needed to be anywhere but there.”

She pulled out her phone to call her dad, whom she was allowed to visit for a night or two on certain weekends, but her stepfather blocked her and her mom stood by the door. Alissa planned to go to the roof, back to her safe place, and escape it all. Her mom followed every move. As she got up the stairs, Alissa’s intentions changed.

“I felt like I had been chased into my safe place, like they ripped that away from me,” Alissa said. “I was angry and I was hurting; those two feelings don’t mix well. I walked onto that roof with no intention of ever walking back into that house.”

Her mom followed her out, trying to talk her away from the edge. She was about to move forward, but then she looked over at her still-pleading mother, and she stepped away from the ledge. 

“I could see that it was hurting her, and that’s what made me stop,” Alissa said. “I knew I couldn’t hurt anyone else, even if I wanted to hurt myself.”

She went to her dad’s for a night, then returned to the house, where she acted like nothing ever happened.

The pool

A few months later, she made a second attempt at taking her life. 

That night is still blurry in her mind, full of half-memories and foggy details, but Alissa said she will always remember the cold. It was dark when she slipped out the back door and walked down the steps, careful not to make a splash. 

She let the cold creep up her body as she walked to the deep end of the pool — first to her waist, then her arms, then her shoulders and her head until she was fully submerged. She swam to the bottom and waited. 

Time felt slow and fast as she sat there. Her head started pounding, her lungs burned, then instinct kicked in. 

“It’s easier to want to die than it is to go through with it,” Alissa said. “It’s terrifying. I knew the moment my vision blurred that I couldn’t do it — I couldn’t die like that.” 

Alissa swam up and threw herself over the edge of the pool, shivering in the dead of night. Her limbs and lips were purple and blue, and her skin was covered with red bumps. 


She passed out on the still-damp stone.

“I thought I was going to die,” Alissa said. “I thought I reacted too late, that the cold would kill me because the water didn’t.” 

I thought I was going to die. I thought I reacted too late, that the cold would kill me because the water didn’t.

— Alissa Petty, junior

The air was just warm enough to keep her from freezing, and Alissa woke up a few hours later. Things were still hazy, but all she knew was that everything hurt — every muscle and every limb. She walked back inside the house, found medicine and took a hot shower. 

That morning, she sobbed. 

“I hated myself for it — for being hurt,” Alissa said. “I didn’t think I deserved to hurt because other people had it so much worse than me. It took me a long time to learn that hurting is OK, that someone else’s pain doesn’t disqualify your own.”

Getting help

The next day, Alissa and her mom talked and enrolled her in counseling. 

“I need help,” she told her mom. “Maybe therapy. I don’t know — I just need something.

She had sessions every Tuesday, and was put on ADHD meds to help her grades. They went from barely-passing to average and she began to get better. Eventually, her mom made the appointments less frequent. By the start of summer, she wasn’t going to therapy at all. 

Alissa began to work at Hawaiian Waters, piling hours of work until she reached an average of 40 hours a week. It was a place she didn’t have to think about everything else, an escape she so desperately wanted — a home

“I was trying to get out of my house as much as I could,” Alissa said. “Work was the only place I could go, so I made it my outlet.”


Things continued that way through the summer and into Alissa’s sophomore year. Near the end of the school year, Alissa met her now-fiancé, Ruby Rodriguez. The two were paired together for a lifeguard training. 

“We just clicked,” Ruby said. “From the very beginning, it felt like we could talk about anything and everything — like I had known her my whole life.”

We just clicked. From the very beginning, it felt like we could talk about anything and everything — like I had known her my whole life.

— Ruby Rodriguez, Alissa's fiance

The two started dating shortly after meeting. They spent shifts working together and off-days on dates or FaceTime. Alissa was still getting into arguments with her mom and stepfather, but she pushed through it. 

One day, the argument was worse. Alissa asked to go over to Ruby’s house and her mom said no. Alissa argued back, the fight escalating until her mom mentioned Ruby.

Alissa clenched her fist and told her mom she was moving out. 

“I just knew that I couldn’t stay in that house anymore,” Alissa said. “They could disrespect me, they could call me names, but the moment [my] mom mentioned Ruby, I couldn’t take it anymore. That was the line — she was the line.”

She called her dad crying and asked him if she could move in with him. 

“[That call] was like having a heart attack,” Brian said. “I felt helpless. I wanted to take away her pain, but all I could do was get in a car and pick her up, so that’s what I did.”

Leaving school

Her dad, still recovering from past medical issues, was just beginning to work again. Brian, Alissa and her grandpa were living paycheck-to-paycheck, spending what little they had on enough gas to get her to and from school and work. 

They began to fall behind on bills and rent, and they were rationing trips to the grocery store. Alissa switched to online school a quarter into her junior year.

“I was harming us,” Alissa said. “I felt awful about it, and my dad just kept saying ‘it’s OK,’ but it wasn’t. It was an expense my dad could barely afford.”

The hospital

Brian’s legs started to swell. Alissa asked him about it, but he kept dismissing her with an “I’m fine.” He’d constantly have a pain in his chest — heart racing “a million beats a minute.” He thought he was having panic attacks. 

On Dec. 21, at 4 a.m., Alissa woke up to her grandpa screaming, “It’s your dad!”

His blood pressure was horrible. Alissa drove him to the ER, where they took one look at his vitals and put him in the trauma section. Every artery around his heart was blocked. The doctors put him on fluids that his body couldn’t process, but would keep his kidneys from failing. 

“They were basically drowning him from the inside out,” Alissa said. “You could hear it when he talked. You could hear the fluid in his vocal chords.”

Alissa hadn’t slept since she got to the hospital. Her dad told her to leave and she tried to listen, but she left her phone in the room. She went back to get it when she saw doctors swarming over her father’s bed. A nurse ushered her back to the lobby when she heard the PA system.

“We need a rapid response to room 213. I repeat: Rapid response to room 213.”

Alissa broke down. 

“That’s his room.” She sobbed into Ruby. “That’s his room.

She later learned what happened: he regurgitated up fluids and blood, then coded — full cardiac arrest. Brian underwent open-heart surgery, and Alissa began to withdraw from her surroundings like she did five years before. 

“[Alissa] didn’t talk a lot about it,” Ruby said. “She was quiet — it was very unlike her. She’d space out [and] be in her own world. I knew I couldn’t do anything to help though, so I was just there for her.” 

Getting engaged
Junior Alissa Petty and her fiance, junior at the Colony High School Ruby Rodriguez, pose on Christmas eve. This was hours before the pair got engaged. (Photo provided by Alissa Petty.)

Though Alissa had spent nights at Ruby’s house, it was while her dad was in the hospital that she truly began living there. She kept clothes, toiletries and her hamster, Chia, with Ruby, and joined them for their family outings. The couple began to get into arguments over small details, which Ruby said comes with living with someone.

“We stretch each other out sometimes,” Ruby said. “We had to learn how to share a space all over again. It’s like sharing with a sibling, but much more intense [because we share] a bed, socks, hoodies — everything.”

As their relationship got more serious, their plans after high school began to come up. Currently, Alissa and Ruby plan to move in together on their own after they both graduate. When their plans got solidified, Ruby knew she wanted to ask Alissa to marry her. 

She discussed it with her mom, was given her grandmother’s ring, then asked Brian for his blessing. 

“I kind of already knew that’s what Ruby wanted [when she asked me for my blessing],” Brian said. “You could just see it on her face. I said ‘yes’ immediately [because] Alissa’s happy, [and] that’s my ultimate want in life.”

Dec. 24, after her dad had been discharged, Alissa was looking at Christmas lights with Ruby and her family. The entire time, Ruby kept hinting about the “surprise” waiting for Alissa when they got home. Alissa rolled her eyes and kept asking what it was, but Ruby and her family kept their lips sealed. 

When they got home, Ruby’s siblings opened presents, but the couple made their way to their room. There, Alissa was instructed to close her eyes and turn around. Ruby dug the ring out from where it had been hidden, and got on one knee. 

Alissa turned around, and, quietly, Ruby asked, “Will you marry me?” 

“It was funny, hilarious and cute,” Alissa said. “She didn’t know what to do, and her face was flushed red. I knew my answer before she opened her mouth.”


Eventually, once her dad had recovered enough, Alissa decided she wanted to go back to school. When she told her dad, Brian said the choice was up to her, and he’d stand by her. She came back to Hebron a week into this spring semester. 

“I’ve always had to take care of so many people,” Alissa said. “School’s the one thing I wanted to do to take care of myself. I need it; I need something normal.” 

I’ve always had to take care of so many people. School’s the one thing I wanted to do to take care of myself. I need it; I need something normal.

— Alissa Petty, junior

She splits her time between living with Ruby and Brian, which makes paying for gas more manageable. 

“She takes on life boldly, and she does a good job at it,” Brian said. “She’s on the cusp of being an adult, but I know she’s ready. She can take whatever life throws at her.”

Alissa and Ruby do not have any plans for what their wedding will be — a small ceremony, getting eloped or getting married legally and waiting for the ceremony. What they do know is the date: May 24, 2025 — their two-year anniversary. 

“[Being engaged means] I have more responsibility now,” Ruby said. “It keeps me out of trouble. If I want to do something, it’s not just a choice that I think about. It can affect her, too.”

Though she still doesn’t know when or how she’ll get there, Alissa plans to eventually pursue a career in child psychology to help children who went through similar things. Right now, she plans on catching up on the weeks of school she’s missed and “just being.”

“I’ve always felt like there was nowhere for me [and] no one that wanted me,” Alissa said. “I could never let my brain turn off. Now, I have a place I can go — a place to call home.”

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    BrodyMar 1, 2024 at 8:34 AM

    good story omg