Friends' tribute to Calyx Schenecker will play out in how they live their lives

TAMPA

The four should've watched The Office together that Thursday night, teenage girls giggling on webcams, alone at their computers but connected by things only they understood.

They were always together.

But that night, only three faces appeared on screen: Sara Wortman, Jena Young and Tatiana Henry.

They thought maybe their friend was asleep or out to dinner with family. They had no idea everything had already changed; that they were no longer the Inseparable Four.

They would soon learn what happened to Calyx Schenecker.

Jena sent Calyx a text message the next day, when she didn't show up at lunch.

WHERE ARE YOU?

No response.

But after school, Sara's friend said he learned something he needed to tell her. Jena heard from someone in a carpool that crime scene tape encircled Calyx's home in Tampa Palms North.

Tatiana, out sick that day, was sitting on her mom's bed when the phone rang and her mom began to cry.

"It can't be," she said.

"Mom, what?"

She pulled Tatiana close. "I don't know how to tell you this … "

Eventually, everyone knew, even the news.

There was Calyx's mom in the arms of police, shaking, chained, labeled a murderer.

There was Calyx beside her brother, Beau, smiling in photos as others told of how they died. She was 16. He, 13.

Jena, who had Facebook-chatted with Calyx until 5:30 or 6 p.m. Thursday, kept asking herself if this was all real. Her mind lingered on absolutes of forever and never as she chewed on one thought:

No more Calyx.

• • •

Jena, 16, is the artsy one, with an affinity for sci-fi, striped hoodies and plaid pants.

Sara, 15, is the always-punctual one, who likes math, physics, architecture and Googling stuff.

And Tatiana, 15, is the mom of the group, with the big purse they all put their wallets in.

Before enrolling in the International Baccalaureate program at King High School, they came from different middle schools with similar feelings about their place in teen society. Sara had no girlfriends. Jena didn't feel like she fit in. Tatiana hid her love for Harry Potter books, worried what others would think.

Then, freshman year, their paths crossed that of a girl who came to them from all over the world, a military daughter who had attended more schools than she could recall.

She had an unusual name and an exotic fashion sense — a dress with a zipper that went all the way down her arm and a jacket from Korea. She was tall and thin, with scattered freckles and long hair twisted in an effortless bun. She ran track and dazzled teachers with her art.

And she wasn't quiet about her big, geeky obsession with the magical world of a boy wizard.

It came up in study hall with Tatiana, and in Spanish with Sara, who had homeroom with Jena. Calyx thought the three should hang out, and they did.

They got to know a girl who would quickly get embarrassed when someone complimented her, crumpling up a sketch or covering up a funky outfit or shooting a big-eyed, freaked-out look when a boy asked her to dance. "I'm-sorry-I'm-sorry-I'm-sorry!" she would say if she thought people were going out of their way for her. "Just-kidding-just-kidding-just-kidding!"

But she felt no shame painting a lightning bolt scar on her forehead and inspired her friends to do the same.

By the end of that year, they had recruited a group of 14 kids to meet in a soccer field and re-create an earthbound game of Quidditch, which in books requires flying brooms, but in real life, involves duct tape, Hula Hoops, water balloons and a human substitute for the golden snitch, an elusive ball with wings that brings victory to the team that captures it.

It was high-tech hide-and-seek, and Calyx was the snitch.

With a one minute head-start, she took off. No one could catch her.

• • •

Friendship is never again like it is at 16, before partners and jobs and kids, before grownup concepts of boundaries, before the freedom to drive on one's own. Best friends meet moms and dads and little brothers, crammed in family vans between sleepovers, because that's the only way they can get to see other best friends.

For Calyx's friends, that meant meeting her cute little brother, Beau, who always played video games in the back of her chat screen. "Hi Beau!" they would yell. He would get embarrassed and walk away. They knew Calyx was protective of him, because once, when he was home and she thought she had left the door unlocked, she called from school to make sure he was okay.

And they knew Calyx's dad, an Army colonel who would serve overseas for a couple of weeks at a time but who was the parent they saw the most.

When Calyx's class had a field trip downtown, and she asked her teacher if her three friends could tag along, the girls marveled at the architecture of the Sacred Heart church and the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, setting the timer on a camera so all four could be in photos. They hung off each other as they ice-skated under a tent set up for the winter, and when it rained, they didn't care about getting wet.

By day's end, Tatiana's mom and Calyx's dad arrived for pick-up duty. They both lamented their failed attempts at getting the girls to use umbrellas. Latanya Henry watched Parker Schenecker wrap his arms around Calyx to keep her warm.

It was Parker who showed up for an early morning fundraising yard sale to unload tables.

Parker who drove the girls home from Jena's place on the beach.

Parker who before homecoming, dropped off Calyx at the Cheesecake Factory, then shared dinner with Beau at the California Pizza Kitchen.

The one family member they didn't know was Calyx's mom, Julie. Calyx didn't like talking about her, and they didn't push it. But they knew Calyx got in trouble when she sprang last-minute plans on her mom; that she had applied to a boarding school after getting a C her freshman year; that when her dad was out of town, Calyx would tend to get grounded.

"My dad told me we could invite her over a couple days during the school week, just to get her out of the house," Sara said.

Jena doesn't think that could have changed what happened.

"There's no way this can make any sense," she said.

They've read what has been written, what people have said — that Julie Schenecker killed her kids because they were "mouthy." That makes them mad. They all have argued with their moms. Calyx did nothing to deserve this.

"They have to stop justifying this," Jena said.

Even so, Sara still checks the news every five minutes. Tatiana, too, feels the need to know more.

"Should we be angry? Should we be sad?" Tatiana asks. "I just want to know how to feel."

• • •

The quiet, solitary moments are the worst. So they stay busy, stay together.

The Friday they all found out, their moms got them together at Sara's house, and they made a poster for a vigil that night. It included a quote by Harry Potter's wise headmaster Albus Dumbledore: To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.

They work full time on ways to honor their friend. They made ribbons, gave speeches, remembered Calyx's desire to leave a lasting mark on the school: a tree like the one at Harry's school, a "whomping," not weeping, willow.

On a recent morning, a group of kids gathered in King High's courtyard by a newly planted willow tree encircled by newly engraved bricks. They held daisies that Tatiana's mom had bought, and they stood in line, to drop flowers at the base of the tree.

Jena, Sara and Tatiana were the first to walk up.

And they were among the last to leave, Sara tying a ribbon around the tree trunk, Tatiana telling her the bow wasn't perky enough.

More memorials will follow — a charity fundraiser, T-shirts, Livestrong-style bracelets, a college scholarship.

But the final tribute, the girls say, will unfold in the decades ahead.

They will leave high school, go to college, grow into women — mindful of the girl who wanted to go to three colleges at once, live in New York City and see the elephants of Thailand.

They will push themselves to try things that scare them. Taste strange foods. Explore the world. Lead lives worthy of the one Calyx wanted.

In the end, they will hold themselves accountable.

"I hope I did something with my life," said Sara, "because she wanted to do everything."

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

How to make a difference

Col. Parker Schenecker has vowed to stay involved in activities and causes that mattered to his kids. Donate to the Calyx and Beau Schenecker Memorial Fund by contacting the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay at 550 N Reo St., Suite 301, Tampa, FL 33609, or by calling (813) 282-1975.

Friends' tribute to Calyx Schenecker will play out in how they live their lives 02/18/11 [Last modified: Saturday, February 19, 2011 10:32pm]

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