I have never had a friend like Jimmy O’Rourke. I have never had someone care about every aspect of my day, about every thought in my head, every word I spoke. Our time together was short; Jimmy moved to Comsewogue in 6th grade, we met the first day of 7th when he handed back a work sheet and was amazed with how enthusiastic my “thank you so much” was. He chuckled and responded “it’s just a hand out. You really don’t need to be that polite.” From that day on, we were best friends. He loved to talk on the phone with me. We would spend hours on the phone, chatting away about nothing and everything. I learned a lot about him that others did not know; how often he moved from family member to family member, how many schools he had attended throughout the years (12 schools in 7 states). I learned about his poor relationship with his mother and his okay relationship with his dad, whom he was currently residing with. I remember him getting into a lot of trouble with his dad about his phone bill and how many minutes he had used talking to me. One night he called me after having dinner out with his dad, I could hear him in the background screaming at him to turn the phone off, but when he said “it’s Steph, dad”, he allowed him 5 more minutes. I was always very mature for my age, I saw the world as it was and tried to be as realistic as possible. I knew Jimmy was a troubled kid, but I also knew he was young enough to turn that around- that he didn’t have to end up with a bad life. I worked really hard to help him stay on track. I pushed him to do his homework, I tried to make sure he didn’t get into the wrong crowd. He really was good kid, he just needed guidance. He needed someone to believe in him, and I did. Jimmy absolutely adored me. It was clear that he was completely in love. It never got in the way of our friendship, I liked being liked that way. He was there for me in ways that no one else was. I trusted him with everything, he kept my darkest secrets and never judged me. When Jimmy told me he was moving and wouldn’t be going to Comsewogue anymore, I was heart broken. It was towards the end of eighth grade, probably around April or so. I remember we had art class last period and on his last day, he painted me this sloppy picture on manilla colored paper that read “I’ll miss you..-Jimmy”. He handed it to me as the bell rang, kissed me on the check and walked out of the building. I cried for a week. We stayed in touch for a long time. He visited Long Island a few times, and he always called me on my birthday. Always. As my first year of high school began to dwindle, I heard from my friend less and less. Then my birthday came around, and no call. That was when I began to worry. I called and called for weeks until one time I heard “We’re sorry, the number you are trying to reach has been disconnected.” I had no idea what happened to him. I was terrified; what if something bad had happened? What if he had died somehow? About 4 months later, I received a call from an unknown number, when I answered the first thing I heard was “I am so so so sorry that I missed your birthday, Stephanie”. I couldn’t believe it, I was so happy to hear his voice. Apparently, Jimmy had been staying with his mom until she framed him with some drugs and he got sent to Juvy. I never really asked any questions, he never really wanted to talk about it. He let me know that he was still living in upstate New York and that he would be moving into the foster care system because none of his relatives wanted to care for him. I knew then as I do now, all of Jimmy’s misfortune was out of my control- but even so, I couldn’t help but feel as though I failed him. We kept in touch quite frequently from then on. I was having a huge sweet 16 party, as most Long Island girls did, and was overjoyed when I found out that Jimmy was going to make it. He told his foster mother that he was going to spend the weekend with his real mom. His mom spoke to my mom and said it would be fine if he instead spent the weekend with us so he could attend my party. I was so happy! I had not seen him in over 2 years! I began to think that the reason I had tried so hard to stay in touch with him for so long was because I had feelings for him. I hadn’t always realized the full extent of those feelings, but they were there and they were strong. I couldn’t wait to tell him. It was such an amazing feeling to see him the day of my party. He looked healthy and happy and it just warmed my heart. We spent a lot of time talking that weekend, among other things. It was so great to have him with me, the person who truly understood me, who never judged or mocked me. I wanted him to stay in Port Jeff Station forever. As promised, he contacted his mother throughout the weekend to check in, and before I knew it, it was time for him to leave. I was devastated as I watched his train pull away from the station, leaving me standing there alone and empty. That night as I lay in bed sulking, my mother got a phone call and called me down stairs. As I turned the corner and saw her face, my heart sank into my gut. I knew that face- I was either in trouble, or she was about to give me horrible news. She said she had just spoke to Jimmy’s mom, who told her that he had never made it home that night. His mom was furious and knew that he had made a run for it. I was confused, why would he run away? What is going on? My mom asked me to sit down and she asked me if I knew why Jimmy went to Juvy a little while back. I told her that I knew it had something to do with drugs but I wasn’t aware of the full story. The look in her eyes was haunting as she said “sweetie, I’m sorry but that was a lie. Jimmy’s mother told me why he went to Juvy and I need you to know.” Sweat began to build along my forehead, my hands shook. “What are you talking about? What is going on?!” I said. “I’m sorry Stephanie. Jimmy went to Juvy because he molested his 8 year old sister. That is also why he is in foster care right now. Everything he told you, was a lie.” I can’t even begin to describe to you the flood of emotions that washed over me in that moment, drowning my reality, crushing my heart and slapping me in the face. I collapsed to the ground, screaming. I wasn’t even saying words, I was just screaming and screaming. How? How is this even possible? How could this be? I’m a smart girl, I wouldn’t have made friends with someone that would ever do something so sick and disturbing. It can’t be true. It just can’t, I knew him. I really, really felt like I knew him. I only stopped screaming for long enough to physically be sick. I could not believe the words falling from her mouth. I was horrified that I had not known, had been blind to the darkness inside of him. And then I thought, for months I have been under the impression that I was falling in love with him. For God’s sake, I almost gave this person my virginity. Again, I screamed and was violently sick. In my entire twenty one years, I have never felt as broken as I felt that night. How could I have possibly been so ridiculously wrong about someone I knew so well? And what did it say about me that I loved someone so twisted and dark? I was almost as disgusted with myself as I was with him. I knew that people didn’t understand mind and Jimmy’s relationship, I knew most of his friends had given up on him along the way- but I was always there. I never left and I had such high hopes, such deep faith in him. Although I was devastated about what he had done, I was just as upset that he had not told me. As fucked up as it sounds, I would have helped him still. He obviously needed help, there was so much that was wrong and he needed someone. I would have done all I could to see to it that he got the help he needed. I was the one person who never turned their back on him, and still he kept all of this from me. He must have learned that I found out, because he never contacted me again after that. He just disappeared. That was surprisingly hard on me as well. I don’t know where he is or what he is doing now. From that night on, it is incredibly hard for me to trust people, for me to believe that their intentions are true and genuine. Getting close to people is something I have extreme difficulty doing. It has almost been 5 years since I found out about Jimmy, and yet, for some reason I can not understand, his painting on the manilla paper still hangs in my room at my mother’s house. I don’t know why, but I can’t take it down. I know that I was wrong about Jimmy, that I made a mistake and that he broke my heart. I know that he was not the good person I hoped he was. I do not forgive him for what he has done to me or to that poor little girl, but I can’t take that painting down. And I know it doesn’t make sense, but I still wait for a call on my birthday that never comes.
From the front lines to behind the scenes, from Morocco to Columbia to Israel, Steven Balestrieri has absolutely seen it all. As most of the men in his family did, Balestrieri signed up for the Army Special Forces after a few years in college studying Political Science. To become a green beret, Balestrieri had to complete one year of intensive training. He began the year with about 200 men; by graduation he was standing among only 42.
In just 34 years, Balestrieri has been to over 43 different countries, traveling away from home for 6 to 8 month durations. In 2001, Balestrieri left the Special Forces and was hired by the Army as a contractor training Iraqi soldiers. As a contractor, he was only employed by the military, not exactly protected by them. In a number of ways, contracting came with a lot more risks. Balestrieri explains that “you’re being a diplomat and a soldier… we’d be in Columbia in the middle of no where alone just 10 of us, we’d have to deal with civilians, government and military…every place is different you really have to find your way.” After seven years of contracting, multiple injuries and not one, but two helicopter accidents, Steve Balestrieri retired from his military career.
He had applied for a job in Afghanistan in 2007, but was instead flown to LA where he was offered a job as head of security for a number of foreign films. Immediately, Balestrieri was positioned from the front lines to behind the scenes. He was thrown from war territory to war film; the adjustment was rather difficult as he watched Matt Damon playing a Special Forces officer. Unfortunately, Balestrieri did not leave his life of action and suspenseful danger behind when he left the military. His job had him traveling to extremely dangerous parts of the world. While filming in Middle Eastern countries, the citizens that lived there were never pleased to see a camera crew. Some people went as far as to attack the set by throwing rocks and yelling; it was clear they were not welcome.
When asked, Balestrieri explains that Mexico was by far the most dangerous country he had ever been to. During the filming of Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of Dawn Treader in Tijuana, several drug lords infiltrated a police station in the town over. Six police officers as well as the chief of police were murdered, their heads removed and placed on spikes outside of the station. If that wasn’t terrifying enough, the area was known for it’s kidnapping, and with all of the children actors, production actually had to be shut down and moved to Australia. After the incident in Mexico, Balestrieri decided that his career in security had certainly come to an end.
Interestingly enough, Steve Balestrieri is now a journalist. He lives in his native land of Massachusetts with his family and writes for the New England Patriots. He is most definitely a man of many hats, but when asked if he had to do one thing for the rest of his life, he smirked and said “Special Forces… I could not believe that they paid me to get up and do that every day.”
Hi! Thanks for stopping by my blog! I am rather new to this but I feel like I definitely need an organized spot for all of my writing pieces. I also definitely need some motivation to do a ton more writing, and what is more motivational than the guilt of a sad, empty blog?
My ‘I love my city’ smile spread wide across my face as I began my walk down this beautiful path, with miles of plush grass surrounded tall, green leaf covered arches and me lined the walkway above me. What a comforting feeling, I thought as the morning chill whipped past me, to be hugged by such lovely greenery in the middle of the city. I am always reminded of why I chose Boston when I walk down Commonwealth Ave. It was the selling point for me the first time I came to Boston five years ago. I was invited to participate in an investigative journalism program at Boston University. I had some time to kill before orientation, so my dad and I parked the car and went for a walk down this exact path. It was incredibly hot – even for August, but the arches blocked most of the sun and there was this warm breeze that seemed to just kiss my skin, singing words of welcome. I could not even fathom the beauty in front of me. The brownstones that towered alongside the walkway were breathtaking, standing strong with worn cobblestones and copper that had faded to green. What were even more baffling to me, in fact, were the people. I had never, having grown up in New York, seen strangers act so kindly toward one another. Dog owners stopping to chat amongst themselves about breeds and regimens and couples on park benches asking each other how they met. I was amazed. Everyone was so happy, so comfortable and interested in speaking to the other people sprinkled along the path. I had trouble understanding this, but it made me immensely happy, I wanted to be one of them! Thinking back on it now, having lived in this city for three years, I understand this now. I have come to the conclusion that there is this unspoken union between Bostonians. We take pride in our city more than any other in the country; there is just so much love here that it needs to be shared. Now as I continued my walk, I found myself instinctively going out of my way to say “good morning” first. I greet the joggers that pass by, I smile at the children in their strollers, I don’t even get mad when the golden retriever, whose name I will later learn was Ginger, jumps up to greet me with a tongue to the face.
I had always loved writing, but I suffer terribly from creative insecurity. I didn’t know if I lacked talent or just confidence, either way it kept me from really feeling comfortable with my writing. When I was asked to join the program at BU, I was terrified. Worried my abilities would fall short of my peers; I almost dreaded the amazing opportunity I was given, especially since I would be 500 miles from home in a city I had never even visited. I’m still not sure what gave me the confidence to push myself, whether it was fear or competition or what have you, but I like to think it was the security I felt on that first day I came to Boston. I just knew I was where I belonged, which might sound corny to someone that has never experienced that overwhelming feeling. It’s a lot like love, actually. Explaining to someone who has never been in love what it feels like to be in love is incredibly difficult to do without sounding cheesy and cliché. Anyway, that’s how I felt, like I was home.
I have one of those voices that people don’t like to necessarily listen to. I’m not complaining, really, it’s just true. I don’t know what it is about my voice that makes people seem to want to talk over me at all times, but there’s definitely something. One of the reasons I love writing is because you don’t have to fight to be heard. Of course you have to work to get what you write noticed, but once someone sits down and decides to read what I have to say, that’s it, I’ve got ‘em. Nothing is more exciting to me than to watch people get lost in my work. It is such an amazing feeling to see someone not want to stop reading what I have to say; especially when my sarcastic wit is picked up exactly the way I intended it to. I love how with writing, you can put down anything you want, and if in five minutes you deicide you hate it, that’s it, its erased, deleted, and there’s room for something sharper. Writing is organization, it is total control, and that is so beautiful. To be able to control the chaotic mess that is language, to be able to form it to captures people’s attention the way my voice alone never could, is so invigorating.
I picked up my things from the bench I had been typing away on for the passed hour when I hear some music. It seemed to be coming from the public garden. I passed bicyclists and women pushing strollers, I faintly heard a saxophone, growing louder as I stepped passed the gates. I didn’t recognize the song, but I still felt compelled to find him- jazz always reminds me of my dad. I picked up my pace, slurping down the last inch or so of my pumpkin iced coffee before discarding it. I briefly contemplated my strategy for the few winding paths before me, eventually choosing the one towards the left, as per usual. I only had to walk about a minute before I found the saxophone man. I sat, then, on a cold black metal bench and watched him play beneath the willow tree. There was no hat or box or case for tips in front of him. He was just playing – maybe for him, maybe for all of us. I love this city, I love these people and I am so thankful that I actually got out of the car on that hot August day to take that walk down Commonwealth Avenue five years ago.