Marching Band by James G.

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Waiting for the runner up band to be called at Nationals can be the best and worst feeling in the world. Your fate is decided in that instant when the announcer either does or does not say your name. This announcement of runner up and first place had serious implications in my freshman and senior year of marching band. This announcement was followed by tears both times. In between these two years were two seasons of the band declining.

My freshman year I was completely new to the idea of being in a competition band. My freshman year was my first year playing Tuba and I was introduced to a whole new world and intense level of music. This new thing was called high school marching band. During the summer before my freshman year rehearsals began and they seemed very similar to any other band I had been in until about the third rehearsal when the marching part was introduced. After that rehearsal the reality behind the concept of marching band hit me. I thought to myself. I have to march, and play? Those two tasks are hard enough to do by themselves. Not being a person that quits often I accepted the challenge and decided to stick with it. My section leader Adam was a wonderful leader and was a great teacher. He kept me in line throughout the summer rehearsals and band camp. As the year went on I progressed fairly well. Soon enough competitions started rolling around. The first seven competitions we won first place and then it was time for us to get first at Nationals. Nationals isn’t just a walk in the park by any means. Our school had never won at Nationals and I believed with all my heart that this was the year it was going to happen. Nationals were held at the Naval Academy football field in Annapolis Maryland. All I really remember from the show is the very beginning feeling the cold wind whip around freezing my body and seeing my breath slowly rise above my head as we were introduced and given the thumbs up from the judges to begin. I also remember this same feeling of the wind blowing throughout the stadium like a wind tunnel and my breath rising at the end of our show, but the only difference was that I was drenched in sweat. The band as a whole had a very good show, and it was by far the best of the year. After the show a few hours passed by and it was time for awards. There were about twenty teams in our division and they started calling the names of the bands in their respective place starting with twentieth all the way down to sixth and the name Susquehanna Township had not yet been called. With our hopes rising higher and higher with every band announced three more names were called “Annapolis Area Christian HS, Morris Knolls HS, and Shepherd Hill HS”. This left Susquehanna Township and Timber Creek HS. I looked at my good friend David and said “Yo I think we’re gonna to do it”. He responded with a simple affirmative head nod and said “Yessir”! The next high school called earned second place and was Susquehanna Township HS. This was the most devastating moment of my freshman year of marching band. As hard as this was to accept I had to muscle up a fake smile and clap/cheer as if I was happy with the second place finish. When we got on the bus to go home tears streamed down my face and I kept saying to myself “I am not letting this happen again”.

Nearing the end of freshman year we started rehearsals before school even let out for summer break. The band rehearsing way ahead of schedule was a great sign for the upcoming year. I now was experienced in the field of marching band and I honestly believed that I knew all there was to know concerning marching band. During my sophomore year my main focus was ME.  The only thing I worried about was having a perfect show every week. The position of a sophomore in this band is very gray because you are no longer a rookie, but at the same time sophomores aren’t really in a leadership position. This was great for me, but in the end I think it hurt me that I only focused on myself. What needed to be done for the good of the band and helping others wasn’t on my agenda. I was very selfish and it was all about me. I should have been more of a leader to the freshman even though that wasn’t my position, but I knew most accurately what they were going through since I was just a freshman the previous year. The senior class my sophomore year was talented but their main focus wasn’t winning at Nationals. This angered me very deeply and it was so blatant that all they worried about was having a good time and looking out for themselves. I realized this and began to feel bad because I was a reflection of the leadership in the band and we could not win with this mindset and lack of dedication to being one band united trying to attain the goal of getting a gold at Nationals. Then the competitions started approaching and we started to somewhat get our acts together. We began collecting our first place trophies at all of the minor competitions, and again it was time for Nationals. During Nationals weekend of my sophomore year I came to practice with a completely different mindset than I had at any previous competition. I basically had my blinders on and didn’t let anything distract me and I had a very productive practice that Saturday. Then Sunday I kept this mindset throughout the whole day, including the performance. This again was our best performance of the year, but I saw some if the other bands before and after our band and I saw the writing on the wall, but I stayed positive and figured that we would still pull it out. I definitely wasn’t as optimistic as my freshman year, but I still thought we would win. Just as the names were announced the previous year, the same occurred my sophomore year. As we got down to the top five I began to get filled with that same excitement I had freshman year, but that all went away as we hear Susquehanna Township’s name called for third place. This definitely was not satisfying by any means, but I couldn’t say I didn’t see it coming. On the bus ride home I didn’t cry but I just started thinking what has to be done next year so that we can get a National Championship. Not having the first place trophy from Nationals gave me an empty feeling at the end of the season. I did not want to have this feeling again.

Next it was my junior year and I could finally start somewhat of a leadership role in the band. I just helped out the freshman somewhat, but the seniors still had the most leadership responsibilities over the band. The only problem with this senior class is that they were very petty and immature. They fought over things that were very minute and they always wanted to horse around and just have fun. This affected not only the band, but the band instructors. Mr. P, my band director had to spend entirely too much time telling students to act right and stop horsing around. Many times he would say “This is the kind of stupid stuff that’s holding us back”. That statement couldn’t have been more true. We held ourselves back from greatness that season and the result of Nationals really made it evident. I entered Nationals weekend my junior year with that same intensity as I did the previous year. I was ready and had my head on straight when it was time for us to perform but evidently everybody else wasn’t in that same place mentally. We laid an egg at Nationals that year and got a fourth place finish. This show was far away from our best performance of the year. People were making simple mistakes that we hadn’t made in months. I knew that we had no chance of winning that year after that horrible excuse for a show that we performed. On the bus ride home no tears came, but instead I was just mad at the seniors. Their leadership, or lack thereof seemingly made us regress for our Nationals performance. On the way home I realized that now it was my turn to be a senior section leader and I promised to myself I would not disappoint. I knew that if we didn’t get a National Championship my senior year, my whole marching band career would be a bust. Nearing the end of my junior year we started rehearsals and I knew it was now all on me. It was now my turn to lead…

Finally it arrived, senior year was here. It was my turn to lead my band to a first place finish. Now that I was a senior I had a large number of responsibilities. These responsibilities ranged from keeping the underclassmen in line, to reporting progress to my instructor, to creating and teaching choreography for the band. I sat down with my band instructor Mr. P during school one day, and I asked him “What’s the band gonna do this year?” he responded with a calm “That’s up to you guys, especially you seniors”. This was just another sign that the fate of the band was basically in our (the seniors) hands. I took this conversation we had to heart and made one very large change. That change was my attitude and seriousness about marching band. The same intensity and mentality I had going into the Nationals my performance during my sophomore and junior years, I had that all year during my senior year. Every single marching practice, every music rehearsal, and every single run through of the show from the beginning of the season to the end was at full intensity and one hundred percent effort. This mindset was something missing from the band leaders in previous years. One hundred percent wasn’t given at all times and the intensity wasn’t there.

So the season started differently than every other season of my marching band career. Our first competition we finished in second place. This was definitely a setback for the band because we have never experienced a loss this early in the season. Even though this harped at my mind and thoughts I kept the same attitude and told everybody not to worry about it, but instead to work harder and harder to make sure this never happens again. After this first competition we got back on track and won first place at all of the following competitions and finally it was time for my last Nationals weekend as a part of the Susquehanna Township Marching Band. During the Saturday practice I gave a speech on how important the Saturday practice was and how it would affect our performance Sunday. The band took heed to the wise words I gave them and we had a great pre-Nationals practice. Then Sunday rolled around and it was almost time to go onto the field and I looked at my friend David who was now also a senior and section leader and said “Last chance bro, we gotta do it”. He responded with a simple look into my eyes and we both understood how serious this was and we simultaneously nodded our heads. No ore words needed to be said. We marched onto the field and again it was cold and the lights at Met Life Stadium in Meadowlands New Jersey bounced off of the metal instruments giving our band somewhat of a glow. We performed and the show was nearly perfect. It was the best show of my four years of high school. After the show all that was left was the wait. This year I was on the field to receive the award for my school since I was a senior section leader. So the announcer started at twentieth place and got all the way down to second place and our school still had not been announced. The announcer then said “In second place, we have” this seemed to be the longest pause of my life and he finished with “Lenape HS”. That only meant one thing that Susquehanna Township Marching Band won first at Nationals. The announcer then went on to say “And the winner of the 2012 Group 2 National Championship is Susquehanna Township.” In that moment my life seemed so complete. My bandmates in the stands cheered and screamed their heads off, but I couldn’t because I was on the field and wanted to be respectful. I looked over to my friend David and said “We did it.” Standing in the parking lot waiting to meet up with the rest of my bandmates tears began to form in my eyes and stream down my face. I looked up into the sky and said “Thank you.”

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Megabus Mayhem by Ross C.

Wal-Mart parking lot

            Don’t get off the bus in New York, I remembered my dad telling me as I sat next to my best friend Luke as the Megabus sped away from the Walmart bus stop in State College, PA. I had no idea what I was going to do. Should I go up to the bus driver? Maybe I should just go back to sleep and then I’ll just deal with the situation when I wake up. I had some money, but I was not sure if it would be enough to get through a night in the Big Apple. As I was having my mini panic attack inside, Luke was panicking too and yelled, “Just freaking do something!” as he pushed me out into the bus aisle. Immediately I got up and started to make my way toward the front of the bus.

It was a few days before Halloween Weekend 2012 and I was going to visit my brother at Penn State for the first time to see the Penn State-Ohio State football game as well as enjoy all that PSU had to offer. I asked my brother if I could bring a friend; more specifically, Luke because he was my best friend and we were both considering Penn State as a future school for next year. My brother said sure and Luke and I decided we were going to go up Saturday morning and come home Sunday afternoon. We got our Megabus tickets on Thursday for 8:00 am Saturday, and my mom was going to drive both of us to the Megabus stop in the morning. The bus goes from Pittsburgh to New York and passes through the Penn State area, then loops around and passes back through Sunday afternoon.

It was Friday night and I was packing at home when both of my parents gave me the “Be Careful” talk. My mom starts off the conversation by saying, “Now Ross, we know you don’t want to hear this, but just be careful when you are up there. Your brother can be a real idiot and I would not put it past him if he just left you and Luke to fend for yourselves in State College because he couldn’t remember what stop to pick you guys up from, or what time to get up and get you guys”. I replied, “Okay mom, I’ll be careful,” when really I thought, Seriously?! I’m almost eighteen I would think I could handle myself by this point. My dad then chimes in: “Now I know you don’t have hardly any common sense and when you and Luke are together I try not to even think about what you fools are doing, but can you please promise me that whatever you do, do not end up in New York”. This time I actually said, “C’mon dad, you are talking to a kid who has like a 3.8 GPA, I think I can accomplish the task of getting off at the right bus stop”. “I’m just telling you” he responded. I was actually stunned that my parents thought that I was incapable of completing daily tasks. It turns out that they would be right about what they thought, but that’s beside the point. I finished packing and I went to bed eager to get up in the morning and head to Penn State.

At about 7:30 am, my mom and I picked up Luke and we were then dropped off at the bus stop about ten minutes before the bus arrived. I had with me my backpack which had a couple school books in it for the illusion to my mother that I was going to do homework, my phone charger, a change of clothes, and a shave kit. Luke had his backpack with similar items in it, and he also brought a sleeping bag because he did not know where he would be sleeping at my brother’s apartment. He had to put that in the cargo hold of the bus before we got on because it was too big to bring with him to his seat. My mom waved goodbye to both of us and yelled before we got on the bus, “Have fun! But be Safe!” We both laughed and yelled back, “Okay!” and we were on our way to The Pennsylvania State University all on our own. As soon as the bus ride got underway, we did what any sensible teenager would do that early in the morning: we slept. We basically slept the whole way until we arrived at the Walmart that is in State College. We got off and Pete, our African-American bus driver who I could tell was not particularly happy with his life choices that led him to be a Megabus driver, told us we were going to take a fifteen minute break, but he did not specifically say that this was the stop for Penn State. We left our stuff on the bus, got off, and stood around until Pete was ready for everyone to get back on. We got back on the bus and sat down. Now we knew we were close to where we had to be because it was 11:00 am and we knew it took about three hours one-way, but we did not think that a Walmart was the bus stop for State College. We thought we would be dropped off right in the middle of campus. The bus started up again and off we went again. About ten or fifteen minutes later, Pete gets on the loudspeaker. He says, “Alright everyone, next stop New York!” At that same moment, Luke and I look at each other and have the same expression: “Oh Shit”. I could not help but think about what my dad said the night before, “Do not get off the bus in New York”.

When Luke pushed me into the aisle, I had to make my way down from the upper portion of the bus to the lower front of the bus where Pete was. I think that he was a little bit surprised that someone had gone up to the front to say something to him because that was obviously not the norm. Stumbling over my words I managed to say, “Uh yeah, we need to get off the bus”.  He just looked at me and said, “Well if you have anything in the cargo hold, I can’t get it for you”. Without even thinking I shouted, “Okay that’s fine!” I motioned for Luke to come up to the front of the bus and Pete let us off about a mile and a half away from the Walmart stop. When Pete let us off, everyone on the bus was just laughing hysterically at our expense so that was nice. I called my brother to tell him what happened and of course, I woke him up so he could not have even picked us up because he was not even there. He laughed about the situation, and told me he would be there in a few minutes. While Luke and I were walking back to the Walmart, Luke said, “Hey wait, I forgot my sleeping bag!” I answered, “Yeah, um the bus driver said that he could not get anything from the cargo hold so it’s basically gone”. “That was my favorite sleeping bag, dude,” he said. I said that I would buy him another if he cared so much for it, which I could not believe. We made it back to the bus stop, where my brother greeted us with laughter, but we made it to State College. I really wished I had known that the bus stop was actually at a Walmart rather than right in front of Old Main like I had imagined.

We chilled at my brother’s apartment for a short time after which we went to the football game. It was my first Penn State football game, and it was awesome. PSU ended up losing, but it was still sweet. Then we chilled at the apartment and got the “real” tour of Penn State from my brother and his roommate. My brother also had his buddies from high school up for the weekend, so it was an all-star lineup of about eight people in a 350 square foot apartment. To sum up the Saturday after the bus ride, I couldn’t really say because I do not remember much past 8:00 pm.

Then came Sunday morning. I somehow managed to get up at 10:00 am because the bus was scheduled to arrive to pick us up at 11:15 am. We had to get on a bus in State College that would take us over to the Walmart where the Megabus was. Even with the grogginess, we were actually good on time on getting to the bus stop, but naturally, the bus did not show up until 11. I’m thinking to myself on the bus ride over to Walmart, It would only make this trip perfect if we had to sprint to the stop just to get on the bus. And my second thought was, “Please do not let it be Pete driving”. Well, we got off the stop and across the parking lot sits the bus with Pete just closing the doors getting ready to go. Luke and I leapt off the first bus into an all-out sprint to catch Pete and the Megabus. I heard over my shoulder from my brother, “See ya!” but we kept running. We flagged down the bus and got on with Pete chuckling a little to himself. Yeah, it’s real freakin’ funny buddy, I thought as we climbed onto the bus. Again, Luke and I both slept the whole way on the bus ride back to Pittsburgh. This time though, we actually recognized the bus stop in Pittsburgh and we able to get off at the appropriate time. My mom picked us back up and she asked how the weekend was and I just said to wait until I get at least three more hours of sleep. Later, I told her and my dad the whole debacle, and of course they laughed and gloated about how they were right. I could not say anything because they were right; I am not as smart as I thought I was. Luke and I almost managed to go to New York City. Unreal. I do not have the slightest idea about what we would have done if we ended up in New York. I wish I had actually listened to my parents about how to be careful and conscientious of my surroundings rather than waiting until the bus is already moving to New York before I ask to get off.

 

An Ode To Gum

cigs      It was paradise.  It was a Sunday morning after church, and we were in a store in Plainfield, New Jersey.  I guess you could call it a stationery store cause they sold stuff in there like newspapers and magazines.  But I didn’t give a flying crap about any of that.  I was there for the candy.  The wall of candy – more specifically, the gum.   More specifically, the Bazooka.  Not the Bazooka of today – the Bazooka of the mid -1970s.

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Wacky Packs were another one of my favorites.

This Bazooka was huge. Humongous.  It was the size of my hand. Each piece had a baseball card-sized comic and it came in flavors, like grape.  Standing in front of that wall of candy and gum was sensory overload.  It was like standing in Willy Wonka’s candy garden trying to figure out where to fall face first, first.   For some reason I always had a thing for gum.  I knew there had to be a God because gum existed.  This place had Bazooka, and hot dog gum, and that long stick of bubble gum that was as long as a ruler, and gum cigars, and wax lips, and gum cigarettes!  Candy was for wussies.  I wanted something that would rot my teeth with gusto.  I kept thinking that if Willy Wonka could come up with an Everlasting Gobstopper made of gum, we’d really be making progress.

God Bless the inventor of gum.  It’s glorious.  I remember the white Good Humor truck coming down the street in Plainfield – the man in it sold a cellophane pack of Double Bubble gum.  Why waste my taste buds on ice cream?  Those squares of Double Bubble were frickin’ blissful. You can’t buy that flavor anymore.  They sell boxes that say “original flavor” but it’s a big, fat, Madison Avenue lie.

ice cream gumSpeaking of ice cream, another wonderment is a flavor no longer available.  I remember getting it at the Acme in Plainfield.  It was Adam’s gum flavored like vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream.  Why bother with eating ice cream when you can just cram eight sticks of gum in your mouth and make it neopolitan all by yourself?

And then I moved to Maryland.  We went from an older New Jersey city that had department stores and corner stores to a new suburb.  They had this odd place called a convenience store.  It was called 7-Eleven.  And it happened – I was exposed to a new era of gum:  Bubble Yum.  I had never had a soft loaf of gum.  I still managed to fit two pieces into my big mouth at once.  It was great.  Soft wads of sugary mess frothing gooey splooge out of my mouth.  Wow, I thought, this move to Maryland was gonna work out just fine. 

(I have 12 crowns and I’ve had 6 root canals.  Dentists dig me.)

bubble yum

A Loss of Innocence by Kerry D.

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            “Stop!” I screamed as I ran up the stairs, “You don’t understand, just shut up”. My older sister Lizz had just walked in the door yelling at my parents because they didn’t pick her up from Youth Group that night. My outburst hardly surprised her; we were constantly fighting and bickering with each other. She didn’t know it wasn’t my typical whining until my mom walked over and sat my sister down. I watched from the top of the staircase as my mom broke the news. My sister’s eyes widen, the tears forming immediately. I wanted to comfort my sister; I wanted her to comfort me. But I was stuck, frozen on that staircase and clutching on to the banister, because in that moment it was the only stability I had left.

Two hours earlier I was sitting in my parents bedroom playing The Sims computer game when our home phone rang. I sprinted to get it, even though being the youngest I was the only one whoever answered the phone. Ten year old me loved talking on the phone; I would keep a conversation going with a random sales guy just because. It fascinated me how someone could be somewhere else, anywhere else in the world, but their voice was right next to my ear. The Caller ID showed it was my grandparent’s number, so I ecstatically answered “Hey Nana!!!! Whatsup?!” I was shocked when my normally jubilant Nana flatly requested to talk to my mom.

“Mooooooommy,” I called as I ran into her bathroom, “Nana’s on the phone and she sounds angry soo…be nice!” I sat next to my mom as she talked, being the curious kid I was, until my mom’s faced turned as serious as Nana’s voice, and she ushered for me to leave. I was offended, my mom always let me listen in, especially when it was Nana calling to talk about something crazy the neighbor’s kid had done, or the new shoes she found at TJ Maxx. My mom half closed the door, and as I peered in through the cracks, I saw her sit on the closed toilet seat and begin to cry. My mom is not a crier. I had never seen my mother cry before, and it terrified me.

My feet lead me down the staircase in a furry to find my dad. He was reclining in his chair, watching the football game with my older brother Mike, as per usual on a Sunday evening. “Mom’s crying,” I blurted, which immediately got his attention. He went up the staircase to see what was going on, and my brother and I crept behind and waited next to the stairs to listen in. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, my mom was breathing heavily and couldn’t speak clearly enough for me to grasp what she was saying, but Mike knew. He told me to walk away, that it was “too sad” for me to handle. “I can handle it Mikey,” I pleaded “I’m almost ten I’m not a little kid anymore”.

My brother and I went down into our basement to play a game of ping-pong, his way of distracting me from what was really going on. But the curious kid I was demanded an answer, “Just tell me! I won’t tell mom you told, promise.”

And then the words I never saw coming, came next. “It’s Kaitlyn” he started. Kaitlyn? I thought, our cousin? Kaitlyn was our 17-year-old cousin, and my role model in life. I idolized her; she was the embodiment of what I wanted to be when I grew up. Kaitlyn was smart, and Kaitlyn was pretty. Kaitlyn played sports and Kaitlyn sang in choir. But above all Kaitlyn was the most kind-hearted individual I have ever met, even up until present day. I remembered a time at their West Virginia home the winter before, where Lizz was annoyed at me for following them around all day, but Kaitlyn let me stay, because I was “one of the girls” and she said she wanted to be with me just as much. I snapped back to the moment, my brother and I at the ping-pong table, and he continued to tell me, “There was a real bad accident with her and Aunt Rhonda, and Aunt Rhonda’s in the hospital she’s in a coma Ker, they don’t know what’s gonna happen to her, but Kaitlyn…” and he trailed off. He couldn’t finish it and we both knew what was next. I started hyperventilating.

“I have to pee” was all I could manage as I ran up the basement stairs to the bathroom. I locked the door and fell to my knees. It couldn’t be true. He must have heard wrong. Bad things don’t happen to good people, and Kaitlyn was the best person I knew. A knock came on the door so I knew I had to come out. I wiped my eyes and tried to look normal, because if I could get back to normal, maybe we all could. Maybe I could walk outside this bathroom door, and everyone would be smiling. We could go back to normal, and I could play my computer game and go back to being a kid.

But as I opened the bathroom door, my mom waited outside with arms stretched open, and I fell into them immediately. “I’m so sorry honey,” my mom cooed as she caressed my hair. “She’s in a better place, and she loved you. Kaitlyn loved you so much sweetie, you know that.” We all kinda stood there in the kitchen for a while, fumbling on words and “I just can’t believe its”. What do you say in that situation? Everything’s gonna be okay? Because it wasn’t. And I wasn’t. I wouldn’t be for a long time after.

My sister Lizz was at youth group, so my mom arranged for her to get a ride from a friend. She walked in annoyed and called out to my parents “Why couldn’t you get me? You know I hate driving with Rachel Benenson she’s so annoying you were supposed to pick me up!” Even the slightest outburst upset me, as I was still trying to decipher what was going on. I went to run to my bedroom, being dramatic as always and yelling at my sister for yelling. And when my mom told my sister what had happened, another thought hit me. My sister walked in the door, and the first thing I did was yell at her. 5 hours away in West Virginia my cousin Ryan sat in a home where his sister would never walk in again. Where something as normal as saying goodbye to your mom and sister as they leave for church, ends up being your last memory of your only sibling. And somehow I still couldn’t even get along with my own sister the first five seconds that she walks into the house.

I spent the next week praying. Really praying hard, to a God I wasn’t really familiar with. I was raised Catholic and I had my Baptism and Communion, but we rarely went to Church and my parents didn’t really talk about religion much. But for the next week every time my mind wandered, I prayed to God that it wasn’t real. That Kaitlyn would wake up, and we’d realize the first responders and doctors were wrong, she wasn’t dead. Every 11:11, and every eyelash I wiped away I wished that she wasn’t gone.

We drove down to West Virginia for the viewing and the funeral, and I brought my favorite American Girl Doll. It was one of the custom ones that you can choose how they look, and I had special ordered her the year before with long brown hair and brown eyes, and named her after my best friend, Kaitlyn. I clutched that doll the entire car ride there. I wasn’t the only one who had trouble accepting this tragedy. My Poppop drove from South Jersey all the way to West Virginia and forgot his suit for the funeral, and instead of renting one there, he drove all the way back home to get his suit. I was so confused at the time by this, but now it makes sense. At a time when he was about to burry his seventeen-year-old granddaughter, he needed his own suit to resemble a sense of normalcy.

I wore a pink skirt to the viewing. Everyone was dressed in black and I couldn’t handle it. Kaitlyn was the happiest girl, why she would want me to wear all black? It was my first funeral so the concept was foreign to me, but my mom liked my reasoning, and let me wear my happy skirt. Once we got there, everyone was hugging each other and couldn’t stop crying, but for the first time I couldn’t start. I saw my other cousins and relatives bawling, and I took it upon myself to try and comfort them. I’ve never been one to deal with my own problems, so I focused on helping my other cousins get through the night.

As everyone was leaving, I sat with my Uncle Pat, Kaitlyn’s father. We talked about the agenda for the next day, the details of which I can’t really remember. But I was certain it started at one time, and he thought another. He called over Ryan, his son, and Ryan agreed with me about whatever time. I laughed and was proud of myself for remembering the funeral information I had read over and over again on the car ride here. Then Uncle Pat looked at me and rubbed my back, laughing a little and said, “You’re a smart one Kerry, just like Kaitlyn was. You remind me a lot of her, you know that?” And that’s when the tears came. I excused myself to the bathroom, because if Uncle Pat could hold it together, I really couldn’t lose it in front of him. I was really impressed by him and Ryan that weekend. Aunt Rhonda was still in the hospital recovering so she couldn’t be there, but Uncle Pat and Ryan stayed strong the whole time, comforting relatives and practically the entire county that came out to remember Kaitlyn. I’m not exaggerating, literally it was packed with people from all over, and all of them told me how wonderful of a person Kaitlyn was. Whether it was classmates she sat with when no one else would, or a teammate who needed moral support, Kaitlyn was always the one helping everyone else out.

I left West Virginia with a heavy heart, but a new outlook on life. I realized it doesn’t matter how good you are, or how hard you try, because life is a fragile thing. It can be gone in an instant, everything you thought you knew can change with the blink of an eye, but you have to be ready for that. You can’t waste your time on petty matters and materialistic desires, because when you die none of that matters. I decided I wanted to live a life the way that Kaitlyn lived hers. I want people to have stories about me, and I want someone to miss me as much as I still miss her.

Regrets by O.R.

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We walked into my church and hoards of men and women occupied the seats, talking in hushed tones to the people around them. My dad and I took a seat near the back and waited until Pastor Rick started speaking. Even he struggled to get out what he wanted to say, although he was usually composed when conveying bad news. This news was different though, it was worse. Then he directed us to a video that had just started playing, and there she was.

Two years previously, I met Marly at a youth function at church. My parents were leading the lesson that week, and after the lesson we traditionally had the snack. No group of teenagers could go more than two hours without eating, at least as far as I knew. We sat down to eat, my parents always brought powdered donuts and water, and I noticed Marly’s food rolling around in her mouth, some crumbling out onto the table and her plate. Why was she eating like that? I was disgusted, and it became apparent in my face. We were fifteen, and this girl was chewing with her mouth just gaping open so everyone could see the powdered donuts being crunched and mixed with saliva and then swallowed down. I turned away and grimaced at my mom and dad. They returned my grimace with a distraught look.

After our snack, we went to play hide and seek in the church, a favorite pastime of ours because the church was so large and had so many rooms and hiding spots. Amanda was it, and as she counted to one hundred I went off to hide with Zoe. We snuck into a room that we knew we weren’t allowed in and hid under a table. Once we were settled, I turned to Zoe, confidentially whispering, “Is there something the matter with Marly? Did you notice how she eats?”

I expected for Zoe to also remark on Marly’s strange eating. I thought she’d join in and we’d banter about how disgusting it was until we waited to be found. Instead, Zoe met my eyes with the same distraught look that my parents had given me previously, and at this point I was confused. Zoe looked down at the floor, and then at me and said, “Marly has a brain tumor.”

I felt terrible. I thought back to our snack and knew how disgusted I was with her eating was completely given away by the look on my face. Had Marly noticed? She definitely had. She had limited power to control how her mouth moved and I judged her for it.

Yet my lousy facial expressions and actions didn’t stop there. We went to Impact a few months later, a weekend long event where teenagers from churches go to sing worship songs and do fun activities, and still I could not look at Marly like she was a normal human being. Instead, I acted as if she was an alien, and I completely avoided her. Her talking was garbled, so I disliked talking to her. Her eating was uncontrolled, and it was still difficult for me not to wear the same look of disgust on my face. I didn’t even want to sleep in the same bed as her.

Months passed, and Marly gradually stopped coming to youth. I later found out from Zoe that her condition had gotten worse. As time passed, I forgot about Marly’s once frequent presence around the snack table.

Until the last Sunday in January, when Pastor Rick stood at the podium in front of the church and announced that on the previous Tuesday Marly had passed away. A video memorial was to be held that night, he said into the microphone, his voice quavering. My dad looked at me and told me he’d take me that night.

The video documenting Marly’s last few months of life was made by a team of Penn State researchers who followed children’s lives through and after their time at Hershey Medical Center. This particular video featured interviews from her mom and her dad. Also present in the video was Marly.

Marly’s dad spoke first, explaining the breakdown of her disease. The initial fear, the progression of the disease, and then the acceptance of what were to come. As he spoke, I broke down. Silently sobbing, my actions toward Marly flooded back into memory. Our first encounter, the knowledge of her disease, and then how I continued to avoid her. I made thoughtless, heartless actions, yet nevertheless the actions were made and could never be taken back.

Then Marly was on the screen, completely unrecognizable. Her head was larger and covered by only a peach fuzz of hair, her eyes could barely open, and she was completely incapable of moving. Her mother stroked her hair and disclosed to the camera how she was coping with Marly’s inevitable passing away. When Marly was in incredible pain one day, she looked at her mom in the bathroom and said, “It’s okay mom. I’m ready whenever God’s ready to take me.” Mrs. Watson found comfort in the fact that she knew where Marly was going, and she’d soon see her again.

A few months ago, I was at my first THON committee meeting with my OPP group, and our captain wanted to know why we decided to participate in THON. People started to raise their hands and share their stories; heart-wrenching stories that made the whole committee choke up. I decided not to share mine because although it happened three years ago, I still felt guilty.

My memoir is about a girl who I avoided until it was too late; it involves regret, and chances lost. Now Marly can’t ever forgive me, nor should she. It’s even hard for me to forgive myself. Although the pain is still raw, and it’s hard to view my time with Marly as a learning experience, I have gained more compassion for sick people because of Marly. She taught me not to fear illness, and instead to give my time to those who are ill so that in a small way I can in ease their discomfort and troubles. The exact opposite of what I did for Marly.

Wilkommen in Deutschland by Brian B.

UnknownThe medics were speaking to me in German, a language completely foreign to me. I just stared at them with my mouth open practically drooling with confusion. I had no idea what was being said. Everything sounded Chinese to me so I just nodded in agreement.

Junior year became one of the most exciting school years of my life. Each summer, the history department at my high school hosted a trip to European countries so students could experience the history they had learned about all year. The trip my junior year was ran by EF Tours and was scheduled to visit Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, and France, the place I wanted to go to more than ever.

My parents knew that it was always my dream to travel to Europe since I was in eighth grade. I begged every year. I offered to go on my own. I looked up the price of flights and hotels on a daily basis. My number one on my Christmas list to “Santa” was always “A trip to Europe.” But, every Christmas I woke up to no surprise trip. However, things changed this Christmas.  Christmas day I woke up at 7am because I still get as excited as a four year old on Christmas morning, even if I am just going to open boxes upon boxes of new clothing. As I finished opening my final “gift,” a new pair of American Eagle boxers to be exact, all I could think was Woo…boxers. But suddenly, my mom said “We have one more surprise for Brian.” I became so anxious that my four-year-old instincts kicked in. My dad then brought out a giant wrapped box with a huge red bow on top of it. I ripped that gift apart so fast you would not have even believed it was wrapped in the first place. I threw the shiny wrapping paper covered in snowflakes and the big red bow to find a silver suitcase. “A suitcase,” I said in a disappointed tone. “Why don’t you look inside of it,” my mom said. I opened it up to find a smaller suitcase that contained an even smaller bag. Inside that small bag was the best news of my life. I opened the bag to find a note inside. I slowly opened the note crease-by-crease getting more excited than ever. I flipped open the last fold and read in capital letters, “I HOPE THIS COMES IN HANDY IN EUROPE!” I went berserk. I screamed. I ran around like a dog chasing its tail. I hugged my parents. I hugged my sisters, which never happens. I hugged my new luggage. I felt on top of the world.

My parents explained that I was able to go under one condition: I had to come up with half of the money for the trip, which was roughly one thousand five hundred dollars. Luckily I have been saving money for this trip since my freshman year. I dumped my entire bank account out of my Penn State piggy bank: a mix of coins and checks saved up from working at Panera Bread. I then lived the typical high school student life for the rest of the school year, bankrupt.

Each week my teacher, Mr. Smith, had weekly meetings to prepare us for our trip.  Luckily, my four best friends, RJ, Chris, Nick, and Chris were going on this trip with me along with three sophomores, Frankie, Mike, and Rob and two seniors, Shane and Tom. My teacherinformed us that we were paired with three other American groups for our trip: a girls group from Florida, another high school from Colorado, and a family from Minnesota. We were most intrigued by the Florida group. At these meetings, we would talk about our agenda and the various cities we would visit like Berlin, Prague, Lucerne, and most importantly Paris. Every time someone even mentioned the word France I smiled. I was so obsessed with a place I had never even been to before. It was only a few months away until I would see the Eiffel Tower, until the bad news came.

Flash forward to our last meeting before the trip. I was sitting there talking to my friends like usual until my teacher walked into the classroom. “So everyone has their passport correct,” Mr. Smith said in his sarcastic but stern voice. “We leave in less than twenty days.”  “Umm…maybe not all of us,” Nick says. No surprise there. Mr. Fisher screamed, “Are you serious? You had all year to prepare for this! I reminded you every single week to get your passport, and yet you fail to do this one simple task.” “Uhh…yeah,” Nick answers. He could barely get out words. “Just yeah? That’s all you have to say,” Mr. Smith says glaring at him. Nick went silent. “For everyone who will be ‘definitely’ going on the trip I have some news for you,” while still staring directly at Nick. “Unfortunately, due to other planned family vacations for the summer, we will not be going to Paris.” My heart sunk. I was pissed. The one place I always wanted to see was ripped away from me. How could I go on this trip knowing I will never step foot in France when I know I am so close to it? I tried to stay positive.

The day was finally here. I was going to Europe for the first time ever. My parents drove me to the Philadelphia National Airport early that morning. I was probably the only person who was excited to be dropped of at British Airways rather than the common Southwest Airlines. I was not even there for five minutes before I was reminded that I never converted my American currency to euros. Great. Problem number one. I will just worry about it later. I said my “See you later” to my parents because according to my mom, “Goodbye is forever.” I checked in my bags, and made my way to the plane with the group.

The plane ride to London was the longest drag of my entire life. I was never so bored, and the worst part was that I could not sleep at all. Eight long hours of fun awaited me. I tried entertaining myself watching a horror movie. Why a horror movie I do not know. Bad choice. Nothing is worse than waking up the strangers next to you every few minutes from jumping in fight. I tried to sleep. It did not work again. I tried to force myself to eat the disgusting chicken curry British Airways offered us. Nothing could entertain me. I felt trapped in my two-foot wide seat with these two strangers on both sides of me. I finally found something to entertain me. By the time that happened, morning came, and we were only twenty minutes away from London. I could barely contain my excitement.

We landed safely in London, but then realized we only had twenty-five minutes until our connecting flight left for Berlin, Germany. A man in a neon-orange vest met us as we got off of our plane. We went into a sketchy, underground tunnel like we were celebrities hiding from the paparazzi at the London Heathrow Airport. Our next flight was on the complete opposite side of the airport so we sprinted the entire time. Here comes problem number two. We arrive at security breathing heavily. I pour my bag into a bin, send it through the conveyor belt, and get through security successfully. My teacher is screaming, “HURRY UP,” at me. I dump the bin filled with my charger, EOS Chap Stick, wallet, camera, and schoolbag onto the ground and scramble to pick everything up without putting it in my bag. I tried to wait for RJ but he screamed, “Go without me!” like we were in some drama film. I looked like Kevin McAllister from Home Alone sprinting alone through this foreign airport bound to get lost. I somehow made it to my flight with two and a half minutes to spare with the other chaperone, Mr. Smith’s brother, Chris, behind me. I took a seat on the plane sweating profusely, tried to stop panting for air, and then we began to pull away from the terminal. Problem three: we are missing half of the students and Mr. Smith. Only Tom, Shane, Frankie, Mike, Mr. Smith’s brother and I made it onto the plane. Nick and Chris were stopped by security and received “the pat down.” RJ missed the plane by a minute, and Mr. Smith was just left behind. Just when we thought nothing else could go wrong the unthinkable happened. Ten minutes in I was sitting there happily drinking my orange juice when I suddenly noticed a scent I smelled before. I knew exactly what was coming next.

Forty thousand feet in the air my nose instantly started gushing blood. Are you kidding me right now? I tried stopping it with my hand, but that only made it worse. I got up and ran to the bathroom at the back of the plane. I was in there for at least half an hour when a flight attendant finally knocked and asked if I was ok. Do I look ok? I have blood all over my shoes and shirt, and mynose has been bleeding for forty minutes now. I hope that answers your question. “Yes, it’s just a nose bleed,” I said in a sweet voice. The two women tried to explain a technique that would stop the bleeding, but it made no sense to me. I was more fixated on their British accents than the blood gushing from my nose. A British man took my information like I was checking into a hospital, but he could not understand my American accent. I would say “1-0-8-1-8,” and he would interpret it as “1-0-A-1-A.” We went through the numbered address at least ten times before we made any progress. Our plane finally landed, and my nose was finally beginning to stop.

I was getting up from my seat when an announcement was made in three languages that no one could leave the plane. All of a sudden I heard sirens followed by an ambulance and fire truck arriving at the plane. No way. This cannot be for me. In the next minute two German medics entered the plane and rushed to my safety. All heads whipped around and gave me their direct attention. I kept saying, “It’s just a nose bleed! It’s just a nose bleed!” but no one cared what I had to say. The medics were speaking to me in German, a language completely foreign to me. I just stared at them with my mouth open practically drooling out of confusion. I had no ideawhat was being said. Everything sounded Chinese to me so I just nodded in agreement. After digging through their kit, the medic pulled out an ice pack, and he put it on my neck. An ice pack…we stopped the entire plane and called an ambulance for an ice pack! My face turned beat red out of embarrassment as the entire plane still stared directly at me. I wish I never got on this plane. I was never so embarrassed in my entire life. Because of this, Shane and Tom officially crowned me with the nickname “Gush” for the rest of the trip.

I was finally allowed to leave the plane and go through customs, which was entertaining itself. It was my turn to up to go through check in. I hand my passport to the customs worker, he looks at my photo, and then looks up at me. He entire facial expression changed. There is blood all over me, and I look like I just caused blood shed on the plane. I gave an awkward smile because I did not know what else to do. He stamped my passport and said “Willkommen in Deutschland.”