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Losing a Friend and Learning

by Chloe Mondesir

She was more than a best friend. As an only child, she was the sibling I never had. I lost her on my third day of high school. I wasn’t ready for her death but at 99 she moved on anyway. I found myself alone and against the world in the foreign place called high school. But in the years since, I reminisce on the unique influence of my great grandmother’s presence in my life then and even now. Her death devastated me but the experience of pulling myself up from my grief prepares me for my future more than anything else.

Her name is Mildred and I can still see her in my present. Her smile, slowly opening up leading the way to the rest of her golden face; her plump, petite body relied on her wooden cane but her impact on our family for generations was larger than life. I would walk into a room: “Chloe darling,” she’d say. No one ever made me feel so special just by saying my name.

We played every game together: dolls, and dominoes. We went many places together, from grandma’s backyard to Atlantic City. Today most of my high school friends see me as an older, wiser soul. I need not wonder why. It grows out of the experience of having a close companion, or really a girlfriend, so many years and three generations apart from me. Mildred’s influence touches the lives of so many people I interact with today. My friend, Brittany, came to me last year more stressed than ever. Her father died as she was juggling junior year academic pressure with comforting her mom who, after the death of her husband, didn’t want to be left in the house alone. “Brittany darling, we’ll work it out.” The Mildred in me spoke loudly as I helped Brittany face her own grief while brainstorming hobbies and activities that would help her mother get beyond the pain.

Yet I was trying to grow beyond my own pain without Mildred. I felt like I was starting life over. In my sophomore year, I was still numb. Where was my passion? I was a dancer since three, yet I was not moving in the same way anymore. Always on honor roll since elementary school, I suddenly found myself at rock bottom upon receiving a letter for summer school registration to retake trigonometry. Clearly things decayed to their worst. “Chloe darling,” I thought to myself. I refocused my life and decided to join the school’s bereavement group and I became a new person. If summer school was an opportunity to get back on track with my work, I wanted to give myself the opportunity to address my grieving. I didn’t want to hit rock bottom again. I know the roots of a great part of this wisdom flows from my best friend.

In the beginning of my junior year, I sat in a room full of strangers. “So everybody go around the room and introduce yourself and share who you’ve lost.” I felt like everyone stared at me. Again, even amongst a group of people in similar circumstances I felt different and alone. I uttered something. I can’t remember those nervous words to this day. I just wanted to get through the moment.

The first few sessions were slow. By mid year, I was comfortable and the question became “So how do you feel about your loss now?” Finally after some time, something seemed to change for me. “I feel like this has helped me. I no longer feel as burdened being able to just talk about her as before. I feel better about the loss now.” I could see everyone was taken aback, as was I. In that moment, I suddenly saw the value of time and therapy. I knew then that the entire time I struggled to be comfortable in this group of strangers was necessary for me to reach this fluid stage in my life. I found my future, ambition, and passion in that room. I want to be a psychologist.

Shortly after the confidence boost set in, I found myself dancing again, expressing emotions that were sometimes just unexplainable. I tried out for the dance team. However, this dance team wasn’t in my comfort zone. I grew up with powerful art forms like ethnic dance. Now I needed to master the refined technique of Ballet in weeks. It was overwhelming but I quickly realized the fight inside of me for so long. I would be the only push I would need to get through the audition. First in my beginning stance, and suddenly in my last, I knew I had done what I needed to make the team. Sure enough I found my name in the last spot of the new dance team’s roster. This was the finish line of all my experiences thus far, from loss to struggle, and from struggle to success.

Every source of pain and resentment that I once felt, I learned to fuel for my growth indefinitely. I understand the importance of sharing with people, being honest with myself, and the significance of commitment in everything I do. I am better, stronger, more able and willing to grow. Now here I am, ready to share it all with you.

Chloe Mondesir began her freshman year at Spelman College in September. She is a 2012 graduate of St Francis Preparatory School in Queens.

Losing a Friend and Learning

by Chloe Mondesir

She was more than a best friend. As an only child, she was the sibling I never had. I lost her on my third day of high school. I wasn’t ready for her death but at 99 she moved on anyway. I found myself alone and against the world in the foreign place called high school. But in the years since, I reminisce on the unique influence of my great grandmother’s presence in my life then and even now. Her death devastated me but the experience of pulling myself up from my grief prepares me for my future more than anything else.

Her name is Mildred and I can still see her in my present. Her smile, slowly opening up leading the way to the rest of her golden face; her plump, petite body relied on her wooden cane but her impact on our family for generations was larger than life. I would walk into a room: “Chloe darling,” she’d say. No one ever made me feel so special just by saying my name.

We played every game together: dolls, and dominoes. We went many places together, from grandma’s backyard to Atlantic City. Today most of my high school friends see me as an older, wiser soul. I need not wonder why. It grows out of the experience of having a close companion, or really a girlfriend, so many years and three generations apart from me. Mildred’s influence touches the lives of so many people I interact with today. My friend, Brittany, came to me last year more stressed than ever. Her father died as she was juggling junior year academic pressure with comforting her mom who, after the death of her husband, didn’t want to be left in the house alone. “Brittany darling, we’ll work it out.” The Mildred in me spoke loudly as I helped Brittany face her own grief while brainstorming hobbies and activities that would help her mother get beyond the pain.

Yet I was trying to grow beyond my own pain without Mildred. I felt like I was starting life over. In my sophomore year, I was still numb. Where was my passion? I was a dancer since three, yet I was not moving in the same way anymore. Always on honor roll since elementary school, I suddenly found myself at rock bottom upon receiving a letter for summer school registration to retake trigonometry. Clearly things decayed to their worst. “Chloe darling,” I thought to myself. I refocused my life and decided to join the school’s bereavement group and I became a new person. If summer school was an opportunity to get back on track with my work, I wanted to give myself the opportunity to address my grieving. I didn’t want to hit rock bottom again. I know the roots of a great part of this wisdom flows from my best friend.

In the beginning of my junior year, I sat in a room full of strangers. “So everybody go around the room and introduce yourself and share who you’ve lost.” I felt like everyone stared at me. Again, even amongst a group of people in similar circumstances I felt different and alone. I uttered something. I can’t remember those nervous words to this day. I just wanted to get through the moment.

The first few sessions were slow. By mid year, I was comfortable and the question became “So how do you feel about your loss now?” Finally after some time, something seemed to change for me. “I feel like this has helped me. I no longer feel as burdened being able to just talk about her as before. I feel better about the loss now.” I could see everyone was taken aback, as was I. In that moment, I suddenly saw the value of time and therapy. I knew then that the entire time I struggled to be comfortable in this group of strangers was necessary for me to reach this fluid stage in my life. I found my future, ambition, and passion in that room. I want to be a psychologist.

Shortly after the confidence boost set in, I found myself dancing again, expressing emotions that were sometimes just unexplainable. I tried out for the dance team. However, this dance team wasn’t in my comfort zone. I grew up with powerful art forms like ethnic dance. Now I needed to master the refined technique of Ballet in weeks. It was overwhelming but I quickly realized the fight inside of me for so long. I would be the only push I would need to get through the audition. First in my beginning stance, and suddenly in my last, I knew I had done what I needed to make the team. Sure enough I found my name in the last spot of the new dance team’s roster. This was the finish line of all my experiences thus far, from loss to struggle, and from struggle to success.

Every source of pain and resentment that I once felt, I learned to fuel for my growth indefinitely. I understand the importance of sharing with people, being honest with myself, and the significance of commitment in everything I do. I am better, stronger, more able and willing to grow. Now here I am, ready to share it all with you.

Chloe Mondesir began her freshman year at Spelman College in September. She is a 2012 graduate of St Francis Preparatory School in Queens.

Journey to a Strong Back

Journey to a Strong Back

by Kyle Borden

kylebordenHappy birthday, Kyle! Really? Two days after I turn 16, I feel like an old man. I am lying in a hospital bed. A nurse shorter than my younger sister injects the IV into my vein. What if I can never walk again? What happens to basketball?

“Are you ready to go night-night?” The nurse’s tone is fit to entice a two-year-old to go to bed. Her voice freaks me out, but only for a few seconds. My eyelids begin to feel like sand bags– three, two, one, out! Back surgery begins.

Ten hours later, I wake up and my body feels like a lead block. I cannot move and have no idea where I am. I look over my right shoulder and see my family.

A day later, another nurse stands where I saw my family when I woke up.

“Time to get out of bed!”  she says with excitement in her voice. Sounding like a nursery school teacher trying to move a class of kindergartners, she pushes a grandma walker towards me. “On three, you’re going to have to sit up and turn your body.” She counts to three and I try sitting up. It feels like I have a bullet lodged into my spine.

“We‘re going to take some steps today!” I can barely sit up by myself. How am I supposed to get out of bed, let alone walk? I struggle to sit up and slowly edge my way out of bed. What used to take seconds turns into a five minute process. I grab the walker and grimace as I stand. My legs are so weak that they feel like two pieces of uncooked spaghetti. One inch at a time; that’s how big my steps are. First stop is the bathroom. I turn and looked in the mirror. I haven’t seen my reflection in two days. The man in the mirror is skinny and famished. I feel like less of a person. Over the next year, I would learn a lot about myself and discover ways to conquer my flaws.

The pain started Christmas Eve of my freshman year. After a game, cramps tore through my back as if something were pulling it to the floor. The agitation continued after games; I began seeing doctors who all had different ideas. One said it was a nerve problem. No, it was a joint problem. How about a nerve and joint problem? These diagnoses went on for over a year. Not knowing what was wrong killed me. I thought I was going to have to give up basketball.

Finally, my parents took me to a surgeon. “Lift your leg.” I lifted two inches off the ground and winced. “You need surgery.” I was fifteen at the time; that was the last thing I wanted to hear.

Overcoming spondylolysis, a spine defect, changed my life. Doctors placed titanium rods into my back. After three days in the hospital, I spent the remainder of the summer indoors. Each morning started with three different painkillers– none of them worked. Steps were my worst enemy– I faced fifteen of them daily.

The only rehab for me was walking. While it was dangerous for me to walk on inclines, go up steps, or sit down too fast, being able to walk flickered some hope into my heart. I would never take another step for granted.

The words, “You need surgery,” reframed my entire life. I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason in this world. This was the very beginning of a stormy rain cloud with that silver lining. My recovery process allowed me to see the world through a new lens. I would not take back what happened for the world, because then I would cease to exist. I would be someone else. Every high and every low made…me.

Kyle Borden, a 2015 graduate of The Hun School of Princeton, just began his freshman year at Franklin and Marshall College.

The Giant Deception of a First Impression

The Giant Deception of a First Impression

by Brandon Scotland

brandon2I sat there silently, swinging my legs, watching them bounce back and forth off of the couch. I was only 5 and my lack of words and eye contact produced an eerie awkwardness as I met my first babysitter. I shocked my dad with a question: “Daddy, is she a monster?”

A monster is defined as a creature that is typically large, ugly, and frightening. A five-year old doesn’t need a dictionary to know that meaning. But what must one do to be seen as a monster? Spur genocide? Ruin a life or two, perhaps?

My Mrs. Bessie did none of that. She was around 70 years old that day when I first met her. She was about 5’4″, caramel complexion, long black hair, but had only one finger on her right hand—the middle finger.

I regret those first impressions and the first moments of embarrassment when she picked up from my private school. It took only a week for her to become my best friend. She was also a loyal advocate, and a large foundation of my morality. I recall being upset one day because I knew I couldn’t finish reading a science book I enjoyed by its due date; Mrs. Bessie used the one finger she had on her right hand and re-wrote the book with pictures while I was gone that afternoon.

After four years of steady babysitting, she developed a minor, but persistent cough. My mother suggested that she see a doctor but she always politely declined with the same rationale. “If I go to the doctor, who is going to take care of Brandon?” Ironically, I would soon feel like the monster when my mother shared the news. 
“Brandon, I want you to know that Mrs. Bessie has lung cancer and she may be fine, but she might not be as well.“

I watched my life disintegrate in front of my eyes. Dumbfounded, I sat there and reminisced on past memories and the peculiar cough she wouldn’t get checked out specifically because of me. I prayed for her to be healthy again. For the first time in my privileged world of caring people, tragedy ensued and I experienced my first taste of the real world. She was hospitalized and wouldn’t eat any food at all unless I fed it to her. I came to the hospital to feed her everyday. It was hard seeing her weak while living by her motto, “don’t worry, be happy.”

My final moments with her were powerful and indomitable. I felt all the strength of her character flowing through me as I was called up to the podium to deliver my words at her funeral. At 10 years old, I read my poem titled “don’t worry, be happy” to a crowd of hundreds at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

She died nine years ago yet her influence is still alive. Her tenacity was my model when I started a clothing line two years ago. Her legacy accompanied me throughout the years I attended a summer enrichment program held by the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth Program. In the summer between my sophomore and junior years in high school, I went to Lancaster, PA to take an accelerated Physics class through the program. In three weeks, we explored and completed the syllabus covered in the typical high school A.P. Physics class.

As my father drove close to the school on the first day of the program, I wondered if we were traveling in the right direction because of the barren surroundings. Yet I approached Lancaster like I approach all new experiences: with an open mind and the intent of meeting new people and learning something new. I owe that perspective to the influence of Mrs. Bessie.

As we arrived and began unpacking, I was stunned by the looks of some students. Had they ever seen anyone with dreadlocks before? Some had seen few African-Americans in their lifetime; others just marveled at the sneakers I was wearing. Either way, I was judged. It was awkward at first. But I maintained an open mind and would meet some of my closest friends to date. Many of these new friends shared their shock that I was such a nice and fun guy who did not view them as lame or limited because they were white with rural backgrounds.

Her legacy accompanied me to high school with one of my toughest decisions ever: to leave a private school in 11th grade for a public school. As the recession hit in 2008, my family decided the public school experience was a better option.  I remember walking into school on the first day, and being amazed at the diversity in the hallways. Initially hesitant to participate through pure shyness, I soon became more engaged than ever. I met people of all shapes, sizes, religions, and ethnicities and I wanted to meet them all; I even wanted to meet those labeled weird or odd simply because I saw their differences as distinctions and not as flaws. Leaving an overly nurturing environment was a challenge, but lessons from Mrs. Bessie gave me the ability to view the new world of public school with optimism. I expect to face many more transitions in life and, without a doubt, Mrs. Bessie will be with me through them all.

Brandon Scotland graduates from Penn State University tomorrow.

Meeting the Angel of Death

by Monet Thibou

I was hit with the biggest tragedy of my life on Columbus Day of 2010. My mother died. I entered a new home and was thrown into a new, independent school in the middle of my sophomore year. However, the school no longer felt new when I was elected student body president two years later.

It still feels like yesterday when my mother said to me, four months before her death, “I have cancer,” she managed to say with a shaking voice. “Don’t tell anyone, Mo.”

I honored her wish and went on with each day as if her hair weren’t falling out more and more with each doctor’s visit. I went on as if her skin wasn’t changing to a lighter shade of brown. But we did everything that summer, my mother, little sister and I. We took trips to Coney Island, ate fried frog legs on the boardwalk, photographed silly moments by the Cyclone, barked with ecstatic sea lions, high-fived underwater polar bears through the glass, and as if it were fate’s design, wore the same outfit to each event. Smiles and happiness swirled in the air above our heads as I pretended my mother wasn’t diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney cancer and not a soul knew.

It was arduous and draining, pretending, but it felt like the right thing to do. People would always ask: “Hey, how’s your mom?”

I’d simply respond, “She’s fine…” without any description of her “fine” condition.

She died physically and I mentally. All of her friends swayed with my family and me in different pews at the funeral as we tried to rock ourselves into a state of stability. After the funeral, I was dragged out of my familiar life, separated from my little sister, who now lives with her dad, and pushed into my second home with my aunt, uncle, grandma and cousin.

After my impromptu move from Queens to Brooklyn, my life began to pick up speed as my aunt enrolled me at Elisabeth Irwin High School. Stepping through the glass doors of Elisabeth Irwin felt like stepping out of the chaos from public school and through the gates of heaven; showing me a world I was never able to see before. Immediately, you could sense the change of dynamics in the air. The size of my grade dropped from 200 to 40 and for the first time ever in school, I was in the minority as a black female. On my first day, I followed the small, bustling crowds while keeping my head down as I walked through the halls. But, with time, I acquired a close group of friends.  Then in May of my junior year, I was nominated for student body president and won.

My new life was exciting! The saying goes: “Success happens with a jump start.” But for me, it was a kick in the face by the angel of death. I would have never imagined living this life two years ago. But a child never wants his or her mother to go. I’m aware that I wouldn’t be where I am now without the tragedy of my mother’s death. But I’m glad that I’m succeeding instead of crashing. Through my mother’s death, I was forced to grow up, forced to be strong, forced to move on. In moving on, I, for once in my life, reached for stars and actually caught one.

Monet Thibou, a 2013 graduate of the Little Red Schoolhouse and Elisabeth Irwin High School, will be a freshman at Sarah Lawrence College in the fall. More of her writing can also be found on her blog: insertsomethingdeep.wordpress.com