Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Real Tear Jerker

If you're looking for a boring writer that only covers one form of writing or one topic of discussion, then you're on the wrong page. Here's a sample of what separates me from the blah-de-blah blogs out there. This was a memoir I wrote for my COM 201 class last semester. It's a little lengthy compared to my previous posts, but I like to think my intelligent readers can handle it. It's a nice change of pace from my sarcasm and sports talk.

"Uncle Nick"

I grew up in Winchester, Massachusetts. It is a rich town in a rich state in one of the richest countries in the world. I was brought up having a summer house, and I never had to worry about having enough food or money. I knew that life was hard for billions of people, but could not truly comprehend the hardship so many people had to go through. The biggest struggle in my life was doing well in school, and that was not much of a struggle at all. I was immature and ignorant, and didn’t necessarily care to be informed of what life was really like. If somebody had explained to me what I was about to experience, I would not believe them.

All forty high schoolers cram into the tiny bus, feeling like sardines. The bus is almost full now, with all of us “ready” to take the journey across the city of Washington, D.C. From the difference in the environment, it will seem like it’s across the world. Being uncomfortable is unfamiliar to most of us. We are used to spacious cars with air conditioning, not cramped buses. The stale, humid air makes the ride unpleasant, to say the least. The temperature is unbearable, especially when the bus is stopped. The sun pierces through the roof and walls like a spear through a whale’s blubber. Nothing can distract us from these conditions. The bus starts moving, driving away from Georgetown University, our home for the week. The ivy covered buildings seem like a mirage as we leave the school and head closer to the center of the city. The area is now more commercialized, with a Starbucks at every corner. I could certainly go for a nice cold frappuccino right now. Those five dollar money sinks are the official drink of the people on our trip. The bus ride goes on and on, and time passes slowly, if at all; we cannot get there soon enough. This city is only ten square miles, but it feels like it never actually ends. We turn onto Maryland Avenue, and there’s an abrupt change in the city’s appearance. It’s so hot that I don’t really care or even notice the changes. Not that I would have anyway. I was oblivious and immature. There are no more rich neighborhoods, no businesses in sight. Large, elegant homes have been replaced by cold brick buildings. Nice shops have turned into crummy convenience stores and run down restaurants. We eventually reach a collection of blocks with bars over the windows and triple locks on the doors. It’s still so hot! The street lights are broken, and the sewers are filled with litter. The sidewalk is lumpy and crooked, and the lawns have only patches of green grass. We finally turn onto Carver Terrace, after what seemed like hours in the bus. Our physical voyage is complete, but our emotional one is just beginning. Had I been paying attention during the drive, I would have been intimidated by my surroundings. Instead, I just walk casually off the bus like everyone else, unaffected by the harsh environment. Little do I know that I am walking away from all that is familiar to me; my experience will hit me like a brick wall.

“Welcome to Carver Terrace Day Camp,” one of the leaders says formally. “There aren’t too many rules here, other than no fighting and no swearing. Sharing is a must. Have fun with the kids. That’s why we’re all here”. Coach Cliff coughs as he finishes his statement. He may have meant what he said, but not too many people believe him. The kids are here to have fun. We are here to make sure they have fun, and don’t hurt each other. Who said that would be fun for us? They’re so different from us. They’re a bunch of whiny little poor kids who argue and get hurt. They won’t even want us around. Luckily, I am very wrong, and I am about to find that out.

Most of us visitors are standing around, waiting for something to happen. The kids are running amok, screaming and yelling with delight. I don’t really know what to do. I’m not the most mature person. Apparently, this is easier than I thought. A few kids grab my hands and ask me to play as if they had known me since they were born. They pull me over to the street and start to play tag. All the running around is hard, but the children move like cheetahs on the prowl. They smile all the while, and a small feeling of happiness enters me.

I have been playing tag for a while now, running and screaming and yelling with the kids. After a long game, I decide to take a break. One boy, Maurice, decides to sit down with me. I had talked with him briefly during the game, and found out a little bit about him. He is nine, and his favorite baseball team is the Baltimore Orioles. He grabs a piece of chalk and starts drawing on the street. The object he is drawing looks eerily like a tombstone. He starts to write letters in pairs inside the shape. He’s done drawing, and I’m almost afraid to ask what it is.

“This is a tombstone,” he says nonchalantly. “It’s for all the people that died in my family”. I look down at the sets of initials, and count eight of them. He tells me about all his relatives that died: his grandmother, who died of a heart attack, and his uncle, who died from cancer. He tells me about his cousin, who got caught in crossfire. When he is finished, he whispers a prayer for them under his breath. I put my hand on his shoulder and say I’m sorry for his losses. “That’s very nice of you to say a prayer for them,” I tell him. He smiles at me, and asks a question. “Ki ride on yo neck?” He asks. I am confused, but he speaks more clearly this time. “Can I ride on your neck?

“Sure,” I reply, and I bend down to let him on my back. He jumps on, and rides around for a few minutes. “I’m so tall!” he exclaimed, as we ran around the block. This is only the beginning of my friendship with Maurice.

For the rest of the week, we play kickball together. We play tag together. We play Spongebob Squarepants after he decides I have the best Patrick Starfish impression in the whole world. Some of the other kids see how much fun we’re having, and they join in too.

After we’re done, Maurice and I walk back from the park to the block where the camp is. “I wish you were my dad,” he says calmly.

“But you said you love your dad, and that he’s great,” I reply. My heart pounds in my chest as I fumble for a good response.

“Well, then I wish you were my uncle. I’m gonna call you Uncle Nick from now on, okay?” He answered.


“Hey Uncle Nick, you wanna go grab a drink?”

“Sure,” I answered. We got some Kool Aid, and before we knew it the day was over.

Leaving Maurice at the end of the week is one of the hardest things I’ll ever have to do. Unlike most kids working there, I live four hundred miles away. I cannot come back and visit sometime. I tell him this, but he doesn’t understand.

“Will you be back on Monday?” He asks. I tell him no, but that does not bother him. “What about Tuesday?” He says.

“Maurice, I’m sorry. But I don’t know when I’ll be back next. It might not be for a really long time,” I say sadly.

“But I don’t want you to leave,” he whimpered.

“I know. I don’t want to leave. But I have to.”

“I’ll miss you,” he says.

“I’ll miss you too buddy,” I answer. I give him a big hug as tears trickle down our faces. “Promise me you’ll try hard in school, okay? Don’t get into trouble, either. You’re a great boy.”

“Here,” he says, as he grabs a napkin. He writes his address on it and hands it to me.

“I’ll write to you soon,” I tell him. “Goodbye.” I hug him again, and slowly walk to the bus. He grabs my leg and won’t let go. One of the adults with our group comes over and gently pulls him off. As the bus drives away, I wave goodbye, and Maurice chases the bus down the street, waving and yelling.

I notice for the first time the terrible conditions on Maryland Ave as we head back to the school. How did I not see this before? Maurice was so trusting, and it cost me no effort to become a great friend to him. I no longer am immature. It amazes me to conceive how important I am to Maurice. Maurice showed me that everyone is the same, no matter where you are from. We all need to love, and need people to love us. Both Maurice and I needed that connection. I was a random person who had no connection to him, and he treated me like family. When I left, I felt like I lost someone important in my life. That relationship helped me mature. I now see how tough the world really is, and notice my problems are nothing compared to that of millions of people in my own country.

For days afterwards, I feel depressed. The journey back to Massachusetts is infinitely longer than from Georgetown to Carver Terrace, both in miles and in emotional difficulty. I still think of Maurice, and the great times we had. I now understand how lucky I am to live where I do, and to have the opportunities I have. For seventeen years, I had been sleeping; I was living in a dream world. Maurice opened my eyes, and showed me the truth. I needed to grow up, and that is exactly what Maurice helped me do.

I will write back to Maurice a month later, but he will not respond.

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