#830: Light and the Rocket

August 16th, 2017

A child I knew just killed a man.

I had planned on writing today’s story about being in line at the library to pay a fee. It was a light, fun story about being surrounded by patrons searching desperately for eclipse glasses, waiting in line to check on availability even though every desk had a hastily printed sign declaring the library was out.

A light, fun feature.

In 2005, I wrote another light, fun feature. It was for the first newspaper I ever worked at, and it was about a 10-year-old boy from St. Charles they called Rocket. They called him Rocket because he zoomed.

His preferred method for zooming was speedskating. His mother had started him on skating because she thought the weight of the roller skates might simulate the deep-touch pressure that helped him with his mild to moderate autism. The weight would swaddle him, act as thundershirt and protector.

Instead, it acted as release. The gift meant to weigh him down set him free.

After a few rough starts — meltdowns — he took to skating, spending zooming hours at Funway in Batavia or the skate center in Aurora. While at the latter, a wheel flew off one of his skates and he kept going and going, faster and faster. A kindly onlooker tried to help, but could barely catch up. This impressed the hell out of the Samaritan, who happened to be the coach of Team Cyclones.

Rocket joined the Cyclones. He won races. He made friends. I talked to some of them for the story, little children so proud of a boy they knew was different. One convinced him not to quit the team after an opposing skater knocked him out of the toeline by mistake.

“Well, I told him that who cares if you win or lose. In your heart you’re a winner, so who cares,” the 10-year-old girl told me.

Rocket repeated that lesson later that meet when he saw his coach duct taping his leg after pulling a hamstring.

“You get so close to giving up on something, and you look up and you see him,” Coach Dave said of Rocket Shenko.

I had a friend who still works at the paper email me the story this afternoon. I can’t claim to remember every detail of a light, fun feature I wrote as a fledgling. I remember the interview. I remember his house. I remember talking to Rocket’s parents. I remember how they smiled at him and how much they loved this endless boy they couldn’t reach. I remember his lost, wandering eyes.

That was in 2005. In 2017, about an hour and a half ago, I received an anonymous comment on my portfolio site telling me John Shenko, 22, stands accused of stabbing his father to death. He had allegedly gone off his medication for bipolar affective disorder and stabbed Kevin Shenko more than 100 times in their St. Charles home. The Daily Herald reported John showed up for his bond hearing dressed in a fluorescent green jumpsuit, an indicator he is on suicide watch.

Kevin Shenko would cheer at his son’s skate meets. He wasn’t supposed to — John would shut down when attention was on him — but Kevin would forget and cheer loudly for the boy he loved.

And those lost, wandering eyes I remember are staring at me from online mugshots.

We write the world, reporters do. We write the world and we move on to the next light, fun feature. But never think I forgot you, John Shenko. Never think a man who had the privilege to speak to you 12 years ago forgot your endless eyes and your parents’ endless love. I have no balm to offer, and forgiveness is not mine to give or receive. But I remember you, John Shenko, and I always will.

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You are currently reading #830: Light and the Rocket by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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