I grew up in
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
“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
For days afterwards, I feel depressed. The journey back to
I will write back to Maurice a month later, but he will not respond.