One blustery snowy morning in December 2005, we awoke to find that our 15 year old daughter, Kristina Calco, had abrubtly ended her own life.
Kristina had been approaching her 16th birthday with an excitement which was barely containable. Yet, for some reason unbeknownst to us at the time, this beautiful young girl who on the surface seemed to have just about everything going for her, felt the need to check out of life for good.
We, like many parents in this tragic situation, were left to pick up the pieces. Fortunately for us, in addition to 2 suicide notes, Kristina left behind page after page of detailed journal entries, dozens of MYSPACE personal emails and numerous AOL Instant Messenger Conversation screen prints. We are now able to piece together a timeline for Kristina which begins with Bullying and Teasing from at least the 7th grade on.
This is the story of Kristina Arielle Calco.
She wrote about herself in the summer before 7th grade:
“Hi, I’m Kristina Calco and I’m 12 ½ yrs old going on 13 on Dec. 26 (the day after Christmas aren’t I lucky?) You are reading about my life in my preteen/teenage years. Let me tell you a few things about me. I have wavy/curly dark brown hair an inch or two longer than my shoulders and dark…and brown eyes. I wear glasses and am a little pale, not so much anymore because I got tan over the summer. I’m 4 ft 10 ½ (I know I’m short for my age, 20th percentile, but I’m growing.) I’m in 7th grade this year and am dying to be 13 (then I’ll finally be a teenager!). I have to get braces really soon & right now I’m wearing a twin block to move my jaw forward.I had an overbite but it’s almost gone because my treatment for that will be over soon. Although braces are no walk in the sun, they’ve got to be better than this! I’m not popular but I’m not a loser and I’m actually pretty shy around other kids, unless I know them well.”
In middle school, Kristina was a 4.0 honor student who always strived for perfection in everything that she did. She was extremely artistic and her work was chosen not only to be on the cover of the school yearbook but she was also selected to design the school t-shirts. In an effort to overcome her shyness, she joined the student broadcasting staff, the yearbook staff and the newspaper staff. And although she was admittedly not the best at sports, she joined the Swimming team, the Volleyball team, the Track team and even joined the Ski Club. She signed up for Forensics and earned a 3rd place trophy in the 2003 State Forensics Tournament. She later wrote that no one would ever know how hard that was for her. That was actually one of the proudest moments of her life. Kristina supported her school in every way imaginable and attended numerous sporting events, such as basketball and football. At the end of the 8th grade, Kristina tried out for and made the JV Cheerleading team for High School. She wrote in her journal:
“Me, Kristina Arielle Calco, I made the cheerleading squad for high school! JV too! I’m so proud of myself!”
Despite all of her accomplishments however, there were some who would choose to drag Kristina down.
Our first indication of what had happened was found in Kristina’s suicide note, which was written in the form of a poem. She wrote:
"I knew I was always the ugly one. Don't say that's a lie because you don't know what some kids have said and done. It hurts to think about how mean some people could be. Even when I started to look a little better, they still couldn't see.”
When we found that note, we were absolutely dumbfounded. Not only could we not make heads or tails of it, but we had absolutely no idea why she would write that. She had blossomed into a beautiful girl. And so our search for answers began.
Initially, we found 2 Instant Message Conversations in which Kristina said to a friend:
“You should have heard what they said to me in middle school. It was awful. I felt like crying. Everyday this boy would tell me I was ugly and nasty, and then he got other people to say it too. It was torture and a living hell.”
In another IM conversation, she tells another person:
“Everyone I've ever liked has always rejected me for reasons of ‘God, you are so ugly’ or ‘I’d never go out with you’.” When the other party questioned her about whether these words were actually spoken to her and what she did about it, Kristina replied "yes, they actually said those words to me and I cried a lot."
By this point, we began to question her group of friends, which included both her Middle school friends as well as her High School friends. Yes, it was all true. We were told that Kristina was teased and tormented and ridiculed throughout her middle school years and up to at least the 9th grade. Neither she nor any of her friends ever told a single adult about what was going on. We were told that there was a particular group of boys that did this to her and that every day the girls would have to console Kristina in the cafeteria. Her friends would reassure Kristina that she was not ugly and that she was beautiful. They thought they were doing the right thing. Unfortunately, the bullying never ended. Kristina, who was such a frail and sensitive girl, was made to feel ugly on a daily basis by a group of her own peers. By the time she was in the 9th grade, she had internalized the verbal assaults until she believed them with every grain of her soul.
To her friends and her classmates, Kristina, to quote a fellow classmate “was one of those rare gems that was as gorgeous on the inside as she was on the outside. She was incredibly multitalented, intelligent, and articulate, and she had a certain grace and class to her that many others her age lacked greatly. There was something about her that just made the entire room light up. She exuded radiance and had a sparkling personality that led others to feel better without warning.” She cared about everyone, to the detriment of even herself. She was kind and considerate and caring and always made people feel so good about themselves. Kristina worried about her friends, her bullies and the world around her. She wrote about her deep desire to help humanity in some way and that it was her hope to become a great scientist and find a cure for Cancer and for Aids.
At our home though, Kristina’s shy and quiet personality gradually changed during those crucial Middle school years. She never told on her bullies. She never would let us inside her own private world of suffering. So we began to see someone who was never happy, and nearly always angry about one thing or another. Her self image suffered terribly. She began to see herself as ugly and she outwardly expressed this to us on what now looking back seems to have been a daily basis. It never mattered what we or anyone, for that matter, said. She saw something else. We told ourselves that Kristina’s behavior was her ‘normal’ progression through teenage life. After all, she had always been so shy and had worried about things beyond her years from such a young age. We now realize that because of what was happening to Kristina at school, and since she did not have an outlet for her feelings, she expressed them openly without hesitation when amongst her family members. Unfortunately, we did not recognize Kristina’s behavior as Depression. When we look back at her journals, we can now see that she had been suffering from depression for a very, very long time.
This is the Eulogy that I wrote and read at Kristina’s visitation:
My daughter was a very sensitive young girl of 15 who sadly was just never meant to make it to her 16th birthday, which would have been 12/26/2005.
To us and everyone else, this Saturday, (December 3rd, 2005) seemed not much different from any other Saturday. Kristina slept in, ate breakfast, showered and dressed. She asked to go to the library to get books for a project she was working on about John F. Kennedy. I dropped her off at the library while I drove to pick up my other daughter from dance class. After that I drove Kristina to the mall to do some shopping. She helped her friend get ready for the dance and decided that she’d like to go after all. When she came home she went directly upstairs to fix her hair. When she was done with her hair and makeup, we drove to get a dress at Marshall Fields. She chose the dress she wanted, we paid and we just cut the tags so she could wear it out. We drove home to get the $10 entrance fee and my husband. Kristina asked me how she looked, to which I replied that she looked great, which of course wasn’t what she wanted to hear. She had wanted me to tell her that she looked beautiful, which of course she did. Kristina told us the dance was over at 11 pm, so my husband arrived shortly after that to pick her up. He called her cell at which time she told him she’d made an error and that it was really over at 11:30. She came out sometime around 11:40pm, came home, showed the other kids her dress, and proceeded to get on AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). I must have told her 6 times to take off her dress and get ready for bed. She asked me to take her picture first, which didn’t seem an unusual request as she did this for every dance she had. I took her picture and then went up to bed. That’s the last time I saw Kristina alive. We later found out that she had been on AIM and MY SPACE until at least 2 am, maybe longer.
In an effort to try to give you a perspective into Kristina’s inner turmoil, I’m going to skip to the last few years of Kristina’s life, which had become particularly trying.
Kristina was maturing and going through puberty, as well as dealing with the pressures of getting good grades at school, peer pressure, and of course dealing with boys. In addition to these typical pressures that every teenager has, Kristina placed a lot of additional pressure on herself. We found in her journal that she had a goal for herself...that before she was 16 "everything would be perfect....I would be gorgeous & have perfect hair & teeth & clothes & I’d have a boyfriend & I would have had my 1st kiss & I would be popular & have awesome shoes & be really thin & tall and all of the boys would wanna get with me & I'd be on Varsity Cheerleading & do Volleyball and have sweet abs & skinny thighs & fit into Abercrombie pants and be rich and ya know I'd be sooo happy & have a 4.0 still, and ya know if that doesn't happen I told myself I'd have to kill myself. I know how I'm gonna do it too...but nevermind for now...."
Kristina mentioned suicide in her journals many times dating back at least as far as Jan. 2005.
Outwardly, Kristina put on a happy face. She had the kindest, biggest heart, and in her journal expressed that she could never be cruel to anyone and could never understand in her sweet 15 year old mind, how people could be so mean to other people. She said it actually 'caused her pain' to see that. She told me about going to parties where everyone seemed so out of control. She told me about how she tried drinking and how she hated the feeling, and swore she'd never do it again. She told me that she felt guilty. I told her that nearly everyone tries it and that she didn’t have to participate in anything she didn’t feel was right. After all, everything in life is a choice. She so wanted to be the “good girl” that she thought she ought to be. She had such high expectations for herself. But on the other hand, she would never fault other people for the choices that they made. She would never judge anyone else. So she just simply chose to extract herself from those situations. She had standards for herself as well as standards that she imagined others had of her.
Paired with these high standards, was Kristina’s extremely low self esteem. She wrote in her journal about a girl that she admired. Some girl that was ‘really pretty and really nice, too’ and how every time that she saw her, the girl would smile at her. ‘Isn’t that nice, she wrote’. “Everyone likes her. I wish I was like that.” Kristina didn’t realize that to everyone else, she was that girl.
Kristina never saw the gorgeous, bright, brilliant, intelligent special person that she was. She couldn’t stand looking into mirrors because all she ever saw looking back at herself was “ugliness and fat”. “So I don’t look”. “I just pretend I look really good. Sometimes it’s really hard though, because I don’t like lying ….thinking..that I’m pretty when I’m not."
In addition to having feelings of being horribly unattractive, Kristina wrote too, that she was extremely sad and alone and hurt. But, Kristina would never want anyone to take on any of her pain. Even in her suicide note, she felt the need to constantly reiterate how sorry she was and that she didn’t want anyone to have to live with any sort of guilt. This was going to be her decision, her choice and her fault. She wanted everyone to know that they had all touched her life in ways that she would never ever forget. She wanted everyone to know that she loved them all so very much and that they were all such wonderful and amazing people. She wanted to let everyone know that she would always be with them and be in their hearts. She was thankful that everyone had been so good to her.
In the last few weeks, a lot had happened in Kristina’s life. Things that were on her ‘to-do’ list, just weren’t materializing the way that she had so hoped they would. In her eyes, everything wasn’t perfect....she wasn’t gorgeous, she didn’t have perfect hair & teeth & clothes & she didn’t have a boyfriend. She wasn’t popular & didn’t have awesome shoes & wasn’t really thin & tall and couldn’t see that all of the boys probably did wanna get with her & she hadn’t made the Varsity Cheerleading team & she hadn’t made the Volleyball team and she didn’t have sweet abs & skinny thighs & she didn’t fit into Abercrombie pants and she wasn’t rich and she definitely wasn’t happy. In her minds’ eye, about the only thing she did have was the 4.0. She didn’t see the treasure of Kristina that she really was.
For Kristina, typical teenage pressures, combined with her self imposed pressures eventually consumed her. If you can imagine trying to focus on reading a book and in the background you hear a lawn mower getting progressively louder and louder and louder until you couldn’t focus and even forgot that you were supposed to be reading a book at all.
For whatever reason, in the wee morning hours of Sunday December 4th, Kristina lost her focus. The stage had been set and with such a frail and sensitive soul, she just couldn’t bear the pain that had consumed her. In that one tiny infinitesimal instant, Kristina made the choice to kill herself. Suicide seemed her only escape…her only way out…her only way to end the pain.
You see, in Kristina’s mind….life was like a test, where there was supposed to be a perfect outcome. She was always looking for a certain set of steps to follow…a clear & precise beginning, middle and end, and life just doesn’t conform to those rules, despite all the wishful thinking in the world. For Kristina, it was like trying to solve a math equation for which she’d been given the wrong formula from the start. No matter what she did, she just couldn’t get the correct answer.
I wanted to be sure to stress to all of you that had Kristina truly known the devastation that her death would bring, she would never, ever have done it. And I’m just as certain that she couldn’t possibly have really wanted what ended up happening to have actually happened. This young, naïve 15 year old girl with a romantic image of what she had by this point trivialized ….Suicide….made a truly fateful decision in what seems to be the heat of a single solitary moment in time that will never be forgotten by anyone that she ever loved or that loved her. She wanted her pain to end and as she saw it this was her only way out. You see, Kristina was such a bright girl and she had set her goals so very, very high that they were simply unattainable by anyone including herself.
In closing I want you all to know that Kristina could never have understood the finality of what she did. She wrote about it so often as if she could have done it any day or time, just as you or I would take a breath. I know that in her mind that she imagined it would be like simply walking away down a long road and just not coming back. In my heart, I know that she couldn’t possibly have fully realized how one person’s life could touch so many, many other people’s lives. She didn’t understand that once you are gone, you can never, never ever come back.
Kristina wrote in a 7th grade journal entry:
“The only reason I even bother to tell my sad sob story is that someday the public might know what a teenage girl goes through. So as you know nice guys finish last…well it might as well be nice girls finish last, too”.
Tragic as our story is to tell and live each day….I feel that there are things to be learned from Kristina’s story.
--Written in the hopes that no one else might ever have to awaken to a such a blustery snowy morning as we did.
Signs of Potentional Suicide in Adolescents:
1. Change in eating / sleeping habits
2. Withdrawal from friends, family, regular activities
3. Violent actions, rebellious behavior, running away
4. Drug & alcohol use
5. Unusual neglect of personal appearance
6. Marked personality change
7. Perisitent boredom, difficulty concentrating, or a
decline in the quality of schoolwork
8. Frequent complaints of stomachaches, headaches,
9. Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
10. Not toleating praise or rewards
11. May complain of being a "bad" person or feeling
12. Give verbal hints such as "I won't be a problem
for you much longer".
13. Put his or her affairs in order..ie give away
possessions or clean up their room
14. Become suddenly cheerful after a period of
15. Actually verbalize the desire to kill themself
Remember that it's Crucial in Adolescents to pay attention to the small signs that may seem
Source: American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry BULLYING, DEPRESSION & TEEN SUICIDEhttp://www.jaredstory.com/
Signs of Possible Bullying....children may:
1. be frightened of walking to and from school change their usual route
2. not want you to go on the school bus beg you to drive them to school
3. be unwilling to go to school (or be 'school phobic')
4. feel ill in the mornings begin truanting begin doing poorly in their school work 5. come home regularly with clothes or books destroyed come home starving (bully taking dinner money)
6. become withdrawn, start stammering, lack confidence become distressed and anxious, stop eating attempt or threaten suicide cry themselves to sleep, have nightmares have 7. their possessions go missing ask for money or start stealing (to pay the bully)
8. continually 'lose' their pocket money
9. refuse to talk about what's wrong
10. have unexplained bruises, cuts, scratches
11. begin to bully other children, siblings become aggressive and unreasonable give improbable excuses for any of the above
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
PLEASE SUPPORT THE ANTI-BULLYING EFFORT AND THE DEPRESSION/SUICIDE AWARENESS EFFORT.
Please let the Michigan Education Committees know you support these bills and please ask them to work on them this legislative session. In your own words, please state your support and sign it with your full name and address.
Michigan Senate Education Committee
IN SUPPORT OF
Michigan House Education Committee
IN SUPPORT OF
http://www.foreverfamilyfoundation.org/ -To further the understanding of Afterlife Science through research and education while providing support and healing for people in grief.
The Rhine Research Center Society for Scientific Exploration
American Society for Psychical Research
The International Association for Near-Death Studies