Growing up in Eagle County
Being a teenager has always been hard, but lately, it seems a little harder. As if balancing homework with homecoming dances isn’t enough, today’s teens face pressures that range from drugs and sex to trying to help their families put food on the table. Eagle County’s teens aren’t immune, either. Three local high school students shared their stories with us.
Gustavo Bronfield’s calm face, and seemingly detached gaze might make you think that the things he’s talking about don’t really matter, that the things from his past don’t affect his everyday life. But sitting across from him at a picnic table overlooking Nottingham Lake, there’s a part of his body language that reveals something else. The constant movement of his foot shakes the table incessantly, telling more than his words do: it really does hurt.
When he was six months old, his real mother, whom he calls Lydia, left him in Honduras with her uncle, only taking her 2-year-old daughter with her to the United States. Gustavo never met his real father whom he thinks lives in New York City.
“We have the same name, but I’ve never met him,” Gustavo says. “I would like to meet him.”
Gustavo, a senior at Battle Mountain High School, has only been in this country for four years. He spent the majority of his childhood in Honduras, living with the two people he calls “mom and dad” – really his great-aunt and uncle.
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It was only four years ago, when he was 13, that Gustavo finally met his real mother, Lydia; she asked him to come live in the Vail Valley with her and his now 13-year-old half-sister, Marie. Encouraged by his mom and dad in Honduras, he came, but it’s been a struggle ever since. Years of built-up tension between him and his mother has left their relationship strained and fragile.
“I do have problems with her leaving me,” he admits.
He spent a year living with an aunt in Avon, but is back living with Lydia and her boyfriend, Martin, now. He says he tries not to be home very often.
Gustavo had a good childhood, he says. The father that raised him, Leonardo Rodriguez, is a wealthy man; he owns a fleet of large shipping trucks. As a child, Gustavo traveled around much of Central America with his family: Panama, Nicaragua and Costa Rica among others. He attended private schools; nearly every day of his young life, Gustavo would go to school from 7 in the morning until noon, and spend the rest of the day playing soccer, his true passion, with his friends.
“We would play soccer the whole night, in the streets,” he said. “We would even play soccer without soccer shoes, barefoot; we did it every single day.”
Gustavo says it was hard to leave Honduras, a place he speaks of with affection, despite the rampant drugs, gangs and crime he had to face there. He remembers a man holding a machete to his throat, robbing him of his bicycle when he was only seven years old. His neighbor’s only plants, he says, were marijuana plants. Harder than leaving his homeland, was saying goodbye to the only father and mother he’d ever known, two people whom he speaks of with love and respect.
When he first came to the valley, Gustavo was in the sixth grade and he didn’t speak any English. (“I don’t speak [English] really well yet, but I’m getting there.”) A boy named Daniel befriended him, translating for Gustavo when he didn’t understand, and sitting with him at lunch when no one else would. He quickly became an ally amid a sea of unfamiliar, sometimes threatening, faces.
“I was really sad because everybody spoke English and I didn’t, I always thought they were making fun of me. I didn’t even feel like going to school.”
That makes Gustavo’s enthusiastic, carefree manner and magnetic personality today somewhat misleading. You wouldn’t guess how hard life was for him when he first came to the valley. Now he is friends with everybody, he says.
He’s the forward for Battle Mountain’s soccer team, coached by David Cope, and he also plays outside of school, for a La Leagua team mostly composed of Honduran men. He plays basketball and this year, wants to be on the track team. Gustavo is on the student council, helping to organize pep rallies and other events for the school. And he has enough credits to graduate this year, even though this is only his third year at Battle Mountain. He’s anxious to attend college, anxious to move on. Lydia wants him to join the Army, he says, and follow in the footsteps of his older sister. Gustavo has other plans though, he wants to be either a pilot or an airplane mechanic. Either profession, he says, would make him happy. He also wants to go to a college where he can play soccer.
“Not going to college is my biggest fear,” he says. “I promised my dad, the one I call dad, that I would be somebody in life.”
Gustavo made another promise to his dad, a promise that he’s kept so far.
“My dad is 50 years old, in his whole life he never tasted one beer, never tasted a cigarette, never tasted marijuana. I promised him that in my whole life I wasn’t going to taste anything, and so far I’ve done it. I act the way I act,” he laughs, “but it’s natural.”
And despite unknown amounts of peer pressure (Gustavo says his friends drink every weekend), Gustavo has stayed strong.
“I tell them ‘I can have fun without those things, why can’t you?'”
Bianca Gordon started her junior year of high school at Vail Mountain School this week – same as she’s done every year since kindergarten. And like every year, she’s excited for the new school year to begin, and also a little bit scared. This year not only will she be sharing the halls with her father, Steve, who teaches Spanish, but also with her brother Miles, who will be a freshman.
“It’s going to be weird,” she admits with a reluctant smile.
Bianca, who was born at the Vail Valley Medical Center, is a true life-long local. And though she loves this valley and everything that it’s offered her, she is looking forward to venturing out into the world when it comes time for college.
“I spent some time at Cornell this summer taking classes and I think if I could get in there, I’d love to go there. If that didn’t work out, with tuition and everything, I’d probably go to a Colorado school.”
As far as what she wants to be when she “grows up,” Bianca says she wants to go to law school and eventually become a corporate lawyer, something she learned more about during her time at Cornell University.
Bianca just turned 16 in June. But she’s yet to get her license.
“This is a really horrible story,” Bianca says. “My parents won’t let me get my license yet because friends have been in crashes and then with the statistics … I’m almost there though.”
Bianca’s parents, Jill and Steve, wanted her to get more experience with both night and daytime driving before she made the memorable journey to the DMV to pick up what is probably the ultimate symbol of freedom to a 16-year-old.
“They’re going to let me get my license in September, when they’re sick of driving me around,” she says.
Bianca was diagnosed with diabetes when she was only 23 months old, and ever since she’s had to take insulin shots. She’s also had to accept some of the limitations that come with her disease. While experimenting with drugs and alcohol may be common among her peers, it could lead to dire consequences for Bianca.
“All my life it’s been one of these things, if you get into this, there are consequences for you, it’s your health. I want to experiment and not be naive to everything, but I definitely have to turn down certain things because some people might wake up with a headache and I might wake up in the hospital.”
Besides the characteristic struggle for freedom that every teenager goes through, Bianca says that school and being able to balance all the pieces of her life is what causes her the most stress.
“There is a lot of stress right now,” Bianca admits, “with AP classes, taking the SATs, and all this information on college and stuff like that. I think a lot of it is that we are a college prep school so there is a lot of emphasis on college.”
This year Bianca is tackling three Advanced Placement classes, English, history and Spanish. She’s excited about VMS’s new theater and wants to spend more time acting. Bianca also plays defense for the VMS soccer team, is involved in the school’s paper and is in the process of beginning an internship for The Vail Trail.
The bottom line: like most teenagers, life is pretty busy for Bianca. She says that she loves to read (this summer she’s been wrapped up in Ayn Rand novels) but it’s sometimes hard to find the time between all the homework she has, her soccer practices and trying to keep up with friends and maintain a social life.
“It’s a lot to balance,” she says.
Bianca’s junior class has only 25 students, most of whom she’s been in school with since she was five years old. It’s a given, then, that the class is a pretty close. As far as what else distinguishes the private Vail Mountain School, from the local public schools, Battle Mountain or Eagle Valley, Bianca says it comes down to the level of seriousness.
“The workload and the amount of seriousness is what’s different,” she says. “It’s a lot stricter at our school. I have met smart people from Battle Mountain, people who take their work seriously, but I think it’s a lot more like everyone takes their work seriously at VMS. You have to be accepted to a college to even graduate. And even though you don’t have to attend, most people do go to college.”
After meeting kids her age this summer in New York, Bianca came to a conclusion: she’s been a little sheltered.
“I feel like there’s good things and bad things about growing up in Vail,” she says. “In a sense we’re sheltered from so many bad things, which is great, but when I went to Cornell this summer I met other teenagers my age who had gone through some experiences which were really serious, it scared me in a way but they were still really fun and really cool people.”
Bianca says that some of the kids she met were from New York and had been assaulted on the subways, something that was a wake-up call for her, considering she’s never been afraid to ride the public bus here or to walk around with her friends at night.
“It’s shocking, the things they had in the back of their minds that I’ve never worried about,” Bianca said. “So I just hope I can go out in the real world and make it.
“New York City, and L.A. too, they really do hold that element of mystery for me, that great city energy, but at the same time there might be things there that I haven’t had to deal with yet and I might come back to the valley and be really thankful.”
The thing that stands out most about Catie Eaton, a sophomore at Eagle Valley High School, is her enthusiasm. She loves school, she loves her family and she loves life. And she’s not afraid to tell you.
“I just love this school,” Catie says. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I was excited to have school start, to get back with all of my friends.”
It’s not surprising that Catie was ready to jump into school this year, after all, her summer felt short, she says and it wasn’t all that much fun. Her little brother was in a traumatic accident; a trailer fell on him during Catie’s birthday celebration, cutting muscles and fracturing bones in his face. Though he’s recovering well, it was a stressful period of time for the whole family, she says. She’s also had to face two deaths in a period of a few months. Her great-grandmother died of skin cancer and close family friend, Jody Hern, passed away, leaving his wife and three children behind.
“It was really sad for me because when my grandma died, it was expected, so I didn’t feel as much pain, I was kind of prepared I guess.,” she says. “When Jody died, it was different. It was really hard for me.”
Despite all of the tragedy Catie has had to face, she keeps a positive outlook on life. She loves the drama program at EVHS – last year she was a villager and a spoon in the school’s “Beauty and the Beast” production. This year she has high hopes for a larger speaking role. Catie, who lives in Buckhorn Valley with her mom, Kelly, her stepdad ,David and her two half-brothers, Davey, 9, and Mario, 6, grew up in the valley. Her father, Michael, lives close to the school, something that Catie enjoys. Just over the past six months, Catie has begun to develop a relationship with her older half-sister, Kayla and her niece and nephew, Tatlilen and Trey.
“I don’t know what happened but (Kayla) was never around. I never saw her growing up,” Catie says. “We’d talk occasionally on the phone. Recently she’s started coming back into our lives. It’s really cool to have that extra family. There’s some things I don’t really want to tell my friends, that I want to talk about with someone else.”
Having divorced parents has been hard, Catie says, even though she was only two when they split and doesn’t remember much about the time they were married.
“I pretty much try to even (out) the time I spend with each parent,” Catie says. “I get to choose where I stay but sometimes it’s hard to choose where to stay and not get one parent mad at you.
“It’s hard to balance everything because I love doing drama and I have to balance friends and school and family on top of it. But I do it.”
Ask Catie what she thinks of growing up in the valley and like with many things, she’ll give you an eager response.
“I love it, it’s fun. I have an older cousin that has a truck and we go out with all of our friends bowling or to the movies.”
She’s happy that she’s gotten the chance to grow up here, but she’s also looking forward to new experiences when it comes time for college. Catie wants to attend Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. She has an aunt and uncle that live near the school and she’s close with both of them and their children. She thinks she’d like to be a teacher, but she’s also quick to point out that time could change those aspirations.
“I really want to be a teacher, but I don’t know,” she says. “I want to finish high school here and I want to go to ASU for college. I love the heat, I don’t like being cold, which is weird living here.”
Each summer Catie has traveled to Arizona to visit her family there, but this next summer she might be sacrificing that annual trip. She might be going to the British Isles, instead.
“I want to go to Europe this summer, with the high school,” she says. “I’m so excited, we’re either leaving for spring break or we’re going in June, which would mean we’re going on my birthday. I’ve been to Mexico once, but other than that, I’ve never been out of the country. I think it’d be exciting to go, and it’d be cool to go without your parents.”
Caramie Schnell can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.