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Third place winner Marcus Toedt Colonie Central High School

A Second Chance at Happiness

It was the spring of 2004 in my fourth grade class, and life was good. As a matter of fact, life was great! School was always fun, there was baseball after school most days, and I had a great group of close friends. We played video games, had sleepovers and rode bikes together. For a 10-year-old boy this was bliss, it was my happiness. Then without any warning, without any knowledge my world as I had known it came to a close. The friends I had once known and shared funny stories and confidences with were no longer allowed to hang around with me. No one would talk about it. My Mom called and mailed letters to the parents wondering what had happened. We couldn't figure it out. It was like a death, I mourned it, my Mom mourned for my loss of friends, my soul felt empty and I stared for years at the "door of happiness" that had closed.

During this same time I began what would become a mountainous challenge to overcome, the ever continuing and increasing variety of tics and ADHD that accompanies Tourette's Syndrome. Whistling, barking, finger snapping, shoulder shrugging, verbal outbursts, foul language and inability to sleep consumed my world and though my parents were very supportive and listened, I yearned for those friends, someone my age to laugh with, to share my fears and aggravations with, to know I was wanted, despite my challenges. Those Tourette things were a part of me, but they weren't me. As I would find out many years later, an untrue rumor was started about me and when word got around and parents had seen me barking, yelling or cursing, they had kept their kids away. By that time the damage was done, those kids had moved on and solidified their friendships, other kids were skeptical about me because the others taunted me and some didn't understand the unique things I did and that they were beyond my control. No junior high school student wants to be around the kid that's barking.

A very special music teacher who worked at the summer music program I attended during the summer of 2007 saw something in my ability to play viola and encouraged me to try out for the Empire State Youth Orchestra. Excited, I told my Mom how I needed private lessons and special Suzuki music books and my Mom, always willing to help me however she can, obliged. The viola became my obsession because when I played my mind was calm. I began to devour classical music; both listening and playing relaxed my mind and body, I slept better and the cycle of tics and hyperactive behavior became less and less. It will always be a part of me but today it is hardly noticeable. I love my viola, it became my best friend and while occasionally I still mourn for a close group of friends- that door of happiness that had closed- I had failed until recently to see that the door that was opened for me was the door to the world of music that helped calm my mind and put at bay the Tourette's symptoms that so tormented my childhood.

Now that I am able to look through that door that opened nearly 5 years ago I am no longer looking back to the one that closed, but rather looking forward to the opportunities that new door will bring to me in college and all the new friendships that will be formed without prejudice.