Amairany Melo, 17, said her mother left an Oceanside home she shared with her children and other relatives when Melo's grandfather died in Mexico June 24, 2008.
It is a date the high school senior remembers because her mother never returned.
"It made me feel like, 'If you don't want me then who will?'" she said.
Melo, a graduating senior at Mira Monte High School, said school has been like a refuge for her over the years -- "a getaway."
She spent most of her high school years balancing schoolwork with caring for younger cousins and brother. On May 28 she will graduate and, having had her pick of 10 universities that accepted her, will attend UCLA.
She said when she graduates she'll be thinking, "I did it."
But it wasn't easy.
She didn't want a quinceanera because her mother would not be there to help her pick out a dress.
Two days before Melo's 15th birthday, she discovered her mother was pregnant. That same day, Melo made a video for her mother and posted it on Facebook crying in it, "What makes me unworthy?" and saying she was having suicidal thoughts.
"I just had to express myself to her," she said.
She ultimately decided not to commit suicide because she could not bear the thought of what it would do to her younger brother and father.
The three of them had moved from Oceanside to Bakersfield in August 2010. They shared a four-bedroom, two-bathroom house with six other relatives. Her father commutes from Bakersfield to Los Angeles for work.
Most school days she would come home, help her aunt cook and care for her disabledhusband, feed her brother and four cousins, wash dishes, sweep the floor and start her homework at about 7 p.m. She would finish around 1 a.m.
Her junior year, she added three advanced placement classes and two honors courses.
She said it was "too much," but adjusted to the bustling house and sounds of her infant cousin crying.
She and her father were driving home last May from a trip to Walmart when she noticed at least three police cars and a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement van parked outside their home.
Her dad kept driving.
When Melo and her father returned hours later and went inside, her cousins and grandma were crying -- her aunt and uncle had been picked up and would eventually be deported to Puebla, Mexico where they lived originally.
Melo's four cousins later joined them in Mexico. The house, once filled with sound, was quiet.
"Now it's like I wish the noise was back," she said.
Melo said through all the obstacles she's encountered she's learned that nothing will be handed to her. But she doesn't plan to run away from her problems like her mother.
"Something I'll be thinking when I'm walking across stage is that it's my mom who's missing out on everything," Melo said.