Wildly Personal Essays

Each year Quintessential Barrington holds a summer internship program where area students can learn the ins and outs of journalism. This year, we were excited to welcome students to our program from four area high schools, Barrington High School, Carmel Catholic High School, Lake Zurich High School, and Saint Viator High School. Here is what they had to say.

produced by Lynn Tangorra

An Unspoken Bond

—by Marissa Di Silvestro—

In fourth grade, the school I attended had a wing for children with special needs. Although they were a part of our student body, they were separated from the “regular” students for a majority of the time. It seemed as if they lived in a completely different world than me, and on the rare occasion that I did interact with them, I did not know what to say or do. One Friday, a friend and I asked our teacher if we could drop by the special education classroom to ask the teacher if she would consider having us help her out every week. To our surprise, she graciously accepted.

Soon enough, I was part of a world that at first seemed foreign. I vividly remember the first time I walked into that classroom. The room was unlike anything I had ever seen before. There were bouncy balls, a mini trampoline, and piles of computer games, almost as if it was a game room. Each child was mesmerized by what they were doing, and very little interaction was occurring between the students. I found this strange. The people in my grade were constantly talking to one another, feeding off of each other’s comments. Because of this, I went up to one of the children and attempted to start a conversation with him, as I usually did when meeting people. I tapped him on the shoulder, but all he did was look at me, and then turn back to what he was doing. I knew that I had a long road ahead of me.

In the following months, I learned something unexpected — a new language. This language, however, was not composed of words and syllables, but eye contact, hand gestures, and body language. Although a few students in the class were able to carry conversations, I had to use this new language with many of the other students. One boy, in particular, played a special role in teaching it to me. His name was Max, and he had severe autism, which left him unable to talk. Because of this, the teacher wanted me to pay special attention to him. He struggled with conveying his emotions, which made it difficult at first to understand him. He was limited in his ability to portray his feelings, and I was limited in the way I could communicate with him. It took a few weeks, but eventually, the teacher taught me hand signals and he became more comfortable with me, which made things easier.

The bond that we created in those few months was unspoken, but strong. I would walk into the room and simply smile at him. His eyes would light up. To this day, that feeling was one of the best I’ve felt, because, like me, he is rarely understood, but I gave him a chance to be heard.

At the end of the year, when I made my way to the special education classroom for the last time, I was prepared to say a bittersweet goodbye to the kids I spent a year getting to know. Walking into the room, the teacher welcomed me with a strong embrace. As we talked, I felt a tug on my pant leg. Without even looking down, I knew it was Max.

Marissa Di Silvestro is a senior at Saint Viator High School. She is the entertainment editor of Viator Voice, and is planning to pursue journalism in college.

Behind Door H

—by joseph Longo—

As we performed our final number to “Good Time” by Carly Rae Jepsen in the last show, the seniors began crying as their Street Scenes experience was coming to a close. In fact, many underclassmen were shedding a tear or two, yet for some reason, I was not. A fellow cast mate said to me, “That’s okay, you’ll be bawling next year.” Little did I know, my Street Scenes experience as a part of the cast was coming to a close; I quite possibly was having my last “good time” with Street Scenes.

Street Scenes is Carmel Catholic High School’s premier fundraiser, which culminates in a weekend where the school turns into a pseudo-Las Vegas. The student show for that year was “The Spirit of Hope,” which is ironically what I needed after not making the cast the following year.

I woke up early that Sunday morning when the cast list came out. My phone was already buzzing with notifications of people tweeting about “getting ready for the best Street Scenes yet!” Being a worrier, I turned off my phone. No one was going to spoil the reveal of the cast list for me. Sure, my audition was not what I had hoped for, but there was no real need to be concerned. The program meant so much to me; I could not fathom being cut. Plus, the judges knew me from the previous year and had seen me at my best as a performer. Yet something was off. On what usually takes a 15-minute drive to school, it felt twice as long. Every song that played on the way there seemed to deal with disappointment or loss. But I shook it off; I chalked it up to nerves.

Arriving at Door H, I could see the list posted in the side window. Being the only one there at the time, I walked right up and looked for my name under the “Guys” tab. I couldn’t find it. I must have missed it. I proceeded to spend the next two minutes standing there hoping that every time I blinked, the words “Joe Longo” would magically appear on the page. They never did.

At the time it was ludicrous to me that I would not make the cast. I did not see myself as exceptionally talented, or a better performer than the others, but instead, because situations like this, where a returning cast member did not make it, were folklore. We had heard that it happened before, and could happen again, but nobody truly believed it. At least I didn’t.

Not knowing what to do, I walked back to my car and parked myself in the senior lot against the railing of the football field. I started bawling. It was not just crying, but the type where your nose gets all stuffy and everything becomes a blur. It was then that I convinced myself I was a failure. I had failed. Failed to make the cast, and failed my friends, my family, and myself.

Many other students auditioning failed to make the cast as well—in fact, two other returning cast members were also cut—but I stood alone. In a program that appreciates and rewards its seniors, I was the only rising senior and returning cast member to get axed. That was and always will be the hardest part for me to wrap my head around.

Now months later, I would be lying if I said that I have fully come to terms with not being a cast member. But I’m not the failure I once persuaded myself to believe. Sure, I have experienced loss before, but never with something that I loved as much as Street Scenes. It was the cruelest joke. They let me fall in love with the program only to rip it away. I could have easily closed myself off, yet I chose a more difficult route; embracing it as fully as I could. The director of the show allowed me to be a part of the crew—to which I am very grateful—so that I can still be included in the coveted “Street Scenes family.” Many would consider this to be a demotion, but I was not going to let my pride stop me from being a part of something I love.

Joseph Longo is a senior at Carmel Catholic High School. He is the editor-in-chief of Carmel’s student newspaper, Crossroads. He plans to major in journalism in college.

Door County Days

—by Marissa Plescia—

No cell phone service, no TV, no WiFi. It’s not most people’s ideal vacation. To me, nothing beats the dense trees, the smell of fresh, damp air, and the endless array of stars at night, especially when I get to share it every year with my grandparents, eight aunts and uncles, and my 26 cousins in Door County, Wis.

Camping in Door County is the one time of year where my entire family is within walking distance of each other, rather than scattered across the country. Every year there seems to be a new cousin, making it increasingly difficult to remember everyone’s names. Even so, each person is a piece to our family’s never-ending puzzle.

As a child, I have always been considered shy, always hesitant to talk to anyone in my extended family except for my cousin, and best friend, Shannon. I never loved them any less, I just didn’t know what to say. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more comfortable socializing with my family, and so much of that is due to this annual vacation. It’s easy to hide behind technology these days, and this trip gives me the opportunity to have real human contact without the distractions of social media.

While every moment of Door County is cherished, my favorite moments are the campfires at night, some referred to as “Plescia Palooza”. Most nights, my musically talented relatives (not including me) bring their guitars and play songs for the rest of us. Yet somehow every year, my dad is coerced into singing “Brown Eyed Girl” in possibly the most off-pitch voice I have ever heard. These nights always come to a close, usually after a park ranger makes an appearance and claims that “every hour is quiet hour”. But even quiet hour never seems to stop us from returning the next night.

There are some challenging parts of the vacation, like the abundant supply of poison ivy, and the unsanitary bathrooms. Or the time we decided to go on a long hike with several other family members of different generations. We soon realized that hiking in large groups is never a good idea as we quickly split up, and later noticed that not one of us had cell phone service. The hike ended an hour later than it should have. But even the most frustrating of moments are still remembered as good memories. They always provide us with another story to tell.

Every trip brings a nostalgic feeling of my childhood, such as taking dysfunctional family photos at sunset, going on strenuous bike rides for the sole purpose of getting a Wilson’s banana split, or playing mermaids at the beach with Shannon when we were little, and then getting soft serve ice cream afterwards. While these memories may seem miniscule, to me they are significant chapters of my unwritten book. I think a lot of people tend to look over these small memories in life without realizing their importance.

This camping trip would be nowhere near as special to me if not for my rapidly growing family. They are the people who make every moment count, who star in some of my fondest memories. But it’s not just this vacation that they have left a mark on. Without them, I would not be the person I am today. I would not have the same relationships, role models, experiences, or the same stories to tell. Because of Door County, I get to spend a week with them every summer. The vacation always has to end, bringing a wave of sadness with it, but also the excitement of returning next year.

Marissa Plescia is a junior at BHS, and the executive features editor for The RoundUp. She hopes to pursue writing in the future.

240 Seconds

—by Bridget Garner—

Most people get a sense of “fight or flight” at some point in their lives. Adrenaline kicks in and your body is telling you that you are in peril. Although some people are given this rush for a reason, a few of our bodies send off a false alarm. For instance, if you have an irrational fear that has been bottled up for a long period of time, and has now reached its peak, you may experience a sensation that can most closely be described as dying of a heart attack. This is known as a panic attack.

Although I know that many people have a fear of public speaking now, I did not in the summer going into my sophomore year of high school. I was giving a presentation and my body sent out a rush of adrenaline to protect me against what it thought was immediate danger. My “immediate danger” was public speaking. I could feel the eyes of my classmates on me; maybe the feeling of being judged is what triggered it. I know it also didn’t help that I knew no one in my class. I had no one to comfort me. So, my body told me I had to flee and run away from what I thought was going to harm me. It may have been irrational, but I was not alone. Surveys about fear show public speaking to be one of the most common.

A few months later, my fear was put to the test again when I was required to take a class focusing on public speaking, either debate or speech. I figured I should take debate, believing that having a partner to work with would make it easier. I found this to be the case. I also made sure I was well-prepared. My teacher was another key factor in the conquering of my fear. She was very supportive as I stood there speaking and trembling, agreeing with things that I was saying, and nodding her head in approval. Although she was not aware of what I was going through as I stood in front of her and my classmates, she helped me, even with small encouragements that she may not have thought made a difference. With each debate, I became less nervous, and more confident.

I believe part of my reaction to public speaking was because I did not put the experience into perspective. Looking back, I see that the short two or so minutes that I had to actually speak was miniscule compared to the length of my life. If I was speaking for a total of four minutes, that would be 240 seconds. If I’m alive for 100 years, that’s a lifespan of 3,155,695,200 seconds. To fret over 240 seconds seems unnecessary.

If this was going to be such a small part of my entire life, then why should I let it control me? I’ve learned to look around me and put everything into context when I’m presenting in front of a group. We will all be in different places in 10, or even five years. I’m sure that none of them will remember the speeches that I presented in school, and neither will I.

Everyone has some sort of fear, and when your life is controlled by it, it can be overwhelming. Putting life’s minutes and seconds into context can make a difference. It did for me.

Bridget Garner is an art editor for Nuance Literary-Arts Magazine, as well as managing editor for her high school yearbook, The Corral. She is currently a junior at BHS.

Father for A Day

—by Liam Warner—

When I was a student at St. Anne School, the kindergartners used to hold a “Doughnuts for Dads Day” on which the children’s fathers would come to school and eat the title baked goods with them. I thought it was great fun when I was in kindergarten. Years later, when I was in eighth grade, someone waylaid me on “Doughnuts for Dads Day” as I left my science class, and asked me if I would be willing to act as a substitute father for a boy whose own would be unable to attend. I assented, thinking that the boy would feel rather left out if he had no doughnut-eating partner, so off I went to the basement where the kindergarten classrooms were located. I was a little nervous, ridiculous as it sounds, if I would be a good cruller crony, but after I met the little boy and discovered that the most difficult of the day’s activities would be coloring in paper doughnuts, I realized I would be just fine.

The boy appeared shy to me, but I suppose that was natural, as I was a tall (relatively speaking) stranger from upstairs. We spent the hour-and-a-half doing the prescribed things like reading stories, playing doughnut-themed games, and answering questions about how a kindergartner could have a thirteen-year-old father. I received a few nods from the real fathers in the room for my backup performance. We entertained ourselves until it was time to leave, by which point I had consumed a considerable number of doughnut halves. We said goodbye, and I returned to class to questions of “Where were you?”

Although this happened only three years ago, the details are hazy in my memory. I don’t think I would recognize the boy if I saw him tomorrow, and I doubt that he would recognize me. That was not the point. I was not there to become his Uncle Liam. I was there to help him enjoy “Doughnuts for Dads Day,” even though his father could not be present for whatever reason.

It was only two hours of my life, but for those two hours I helped him feel like everyone else in his class. I was happy that I had saved the day. Perhaps I will be better prepared to eat doughnuts with my children. And maybe the boy won’t remember the tall stranger who ate all those doughnuts. But for that short time, I was his father, and he felt just like everyone else. In the grand scheme of the universe it was not terribly important. Or maybe, it was.

Liam Warner is a junior at Saint Viator High School. He is the co-editor of the World section of the school’s newspaper Viator Voice.

Losing a Grandpa

—by Stephanie Pavin—

I never really thought about what the pain of losing something or someone felt like because I had never experienced it. That is, until the day my grandpa died.

Growing up, my grandparents on my mom’s side were always with my family wherever we went. Being with my grandparents almost every waking moment of every day only made me feel that much closer to them. The kind of connection I had with my grandparents (mostly my grandpa) was not like most. It was not just loving, it was different, funny. Although a loving and humorous connection with anyone may seem confusing, it makes perfect sense to me. We all express love in different ways, and for my grandpa and I, humor was our way of showing it.

Being the youngest of four kids, I was constantly the one getting picked on not only by my siblings, but mostly by my grandpa. With my siblings, it was annoying, but with my grandpa, it was funny, only because I was never really the “sensitive one”, and I knew it was out of love. My grandpa was always there for me at my proudest moments and at my most disappointing moments. When I was sad, he would be the first to make me laugh. He was not only my grandfather, but my best friend, and definitely what I would call a fighter.

It was one day in the summer of 2012. I was with my friends at the mall when I got the “first-warning” call. My mom told me that my grandpa had been diagnosed with colon cancer, and he only had a number of months until it would spread throughout his body and kill him. There was not much the doctors could do to help him at this point. It was too late and he was too old.

I will always remember my grandpa’s constant back-and-forth hospital visits for check-ups or for different surgeries. As the years went on, his health became worse, and those hospital visits became longer as the years went on. Eventually, he began to go to dialysis three days a week for several hours. From there, everything took a turn for the worse.

At least three times a week my family and I would go to visit my grandpa. He had his good days and bad, but worst of all was when he would turn to my grandma and say, “I want to go home.” Listening to him say those five simple words broke my heart each time, because little did he know, there was no going home this time. We never told him he was dying. His mind was too sharp; he wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about it.

Seeing my grandpa unhappy made me want to break down in tears, but for the sake of his happiness, I would hold back and smile. How could I let him see me cry? I didn’t want him to think I wasn’t strong enough to see him like this. Plus, if he saw me cry, he could have suspected something tragic was going to happen to him. Seeing him and knowing he was dying tore me apart. It made me realize how I wish I had spent more time with him as I got older. At this point, all I could do was be there for him, to love him and care for him.

It was December 9, 2012 when my mom called me with a shaky voice saying my grandpa died. I was in shock. I had lost my best friend.

I am not one to cry, and I often do not express how I feel. I cover up my emotions by smiling or laughing. When it came to my grandfather’s death, I cried for weeks. He taught me what it was like to not only be a good granddaughter, but an even better friend. Not only did he teach me something, but God did as well. He taught me to be happy because, although my grandpa can’t be with me here on earth, He has an even better plan for him in Heaven.

The loss of my grandfather taught me several things, but the most important thing I learned is to cherish every moment you have with your loved ones.

Stephanie Pavin is a writer for Bear Facts at Lake Zurich High School. She is currently a senior.