Some of my best memories come from working with children. They are quick to laugh and are quicker tosay and do some of the most amazing things. We tend to think of children as being self-centered,immature, and needy. However, sometimes children can show us just how grown up and blatantlyhuman they really can be. The biggest lesson I learned about being a kid was while working at summercamp.My first memory of Matt was in July of 2008 when he showed up for one of our junior high/middleschool week-long retreats. Matt arrived for registration with grease stains on his blue tank top, holes inhis black gym shorts and a scowl on his face. He handed in his admittance form to the receptionist andshe recoiled slightly. Scars on his forearm indicated that he had cut a swastika into it previously.I remember thinking to myself please dont put me in charge of this one.I watched Matt as he interacted with the other children. He dropped his dirty duffel bag by the edge ofthe pavilion and immediately walked over to a group of three boys who seemed like they knew eachother. He got no closer than an arm’s length when one boy looked at him, turned around, and walkedaway. The other two followed close behind. Matt looked absolutely dejected.A girl noticed his head hanging low and came up behind him. She tapped him on the shoulder."Hey, whats your name?" she asked politely.Matts demeanor changed almost immediately. "What do you care!" he snarled."Im Liz," ignoring his angry tone.I sat back and watched the situation unfold. She was absolutely polite throughout the whole exchangewhile Matt exemplified nothing but surliness. This would have probably gone on for some time in similarfashion, but their conversation was cut short."Alright campers!" cried Dave, the program director."Its time for your cabin assignments!"A chorus of excited screams, shouts and whoops followed, and everyone assembled under the pavilion. Isat over by the picnic tables and was arguably just as excited as the kids were.Dave started with the girls, listing off a counselors name and then assigning a number of girls to her."Okay, girls, go ahead and find your bunks and get unpacked!" Daves voice was always enthusiastic.He then began assigning the guys to their counselors starting with me.Even his cheery sing-songnotescouldn’t make my gut feel any better when I heard Matts name come up on my list.I proceeded to get my group settled in and help make their bunks - most just brought sleeping bags toput on their mattresses.
Matt was very quiet and would not accept any help from me,but he did say one thing that stuck out."Whats wrong with your eyes?” he asked as he unrolled his sleeping bag, “You Chinese or something?"I simply smiled and explained to him that I was adopted from Korea when I was a baby and grew up inAmerica like himself. My answer seemed to satisfy him and he continued silently unpacking the rest ofhis belongings. The other kids, on the other hand, were appalled by his questions."Why didnt you yell at him?” asked Ashton, “Isnt that racist?"Ashton was a skinny looking but vocal kid in my group. I told Ashton that sometimes we just need to benice to people. He didnt seem to understand, but he nodded and plopped down on his bed and startedkicking the bottom of the bunk above him.Later that day, we went out to the "rec-field" to play one of my favorite games, orbs.Orbs is a four-way frenzied mash-up game of capture the flag combined with tag. The field is dividedinto four quadrants and everyone is assigned to one of four teams. A kickball is placed in each corner ofthe square field and players on a team use the balls to tag other players on opposing teams.The whistle blew and the game was on. I ran as fast as I could to the far corner of the playing field andnearly made it into the crease where one of the balls was being held, but I was tagged by one of theother staff before I could dive in. This meant I was now on their team. I turned and ran to anotherquadrant and was about to make another move when I saw it."Hey! I tagged you, you cant steal our ball,” lectured an older boy to Matt, “Youre on our team now!""You did not tag me!” cried Matt, “I had ten seconds before I had to try and run back with the ball!"The older boy kept pointing his finger at Matts nose with his other arm firmly wrapped around the ball.Tears were welling up in Matt’s eyes. Just then the boy snatched a chain off of Matts neck that had aring around it. I started to jog over to ameliorate the situation but arrived too late. Matt wound up, anddespite being two years junior to his adversary, delivered a crippling blow. The boy keeled over andMatt began kicking him in the ribs. I wrapped Matt up and pulled him away into the grass on thesidelines."He didnt tag me!" Matt cried defending his actions, "And he took my ring!"I said I understood and explained to him that he couldnt just haul off and hit people like that.After much deliberation and calming him down, we came to an agreement. If ever he felt like hittingsomeone, he was to just leave the situation and find me immediately. It was quite astonishing how wellit worked. During that week, every time Matt was angry, he really did come find me.I noticed he began treating others with more gentility and he even made friends with the other guys inmy cabin. I told him that I was really proud of him and that he could pick something from the camp storeif he liked. He chose a t-shirt, saying he wanted to remember this week forever.
We had a lot of good chats and from time to time he even shared about his personal life.I learned that he wasnt popular in school and that it made him feel sad. His mother had died in a caraccident a year earlier before the end of summer and his father had a drinking problem. So he lived withhis grandmother whohad barely enough to even take care of herself on a fixed income. I figured out thering belonged to his grandfathers before he died. Matt was very close to his grandfather and seemed tohave spent more time with him than he did with his father. I also learned Matt only made it to campbecause he qualified for our scholarship program. The program was created to help low-income familiesgive their children the opportunity to attend summer camp.Now that we were opening up ourselves to one another, I felt I could ask him about his scars."Matt, were friends, right, buddy?" I asked placing my hand on his shoulder."Yeah, youre the coolest, Craig,” his face lighting up, “Nobody else wants to talk to me.""Well, I just want to know where you got the scars on your arm."Matt looked away and the glow left his face."Its okay, man, you can tell me.""I was arguing with my dad and he pinned me down and carved the swastika into my arm. He said a lotof things about God not existing and Jesus being a Jew, but I dont remember much. He was reallydrunk."Matt started crying and I wrapped him up in my arms and consoled him the best I could."Thanks for being my friend, Craig."I looked at his face and could see traces of his emotional scars still evident. I waited until he calmeddown and then we rejoined the rest the group at the "end-of-the-week bonfire."We all sang campfire songs, and a few of our favorite contemporary songs, to the sound of Davesacoustic guitar followed up by my favorite part of the week. Everyone was asked to be silent, and if youhad something to say about the week, you stood up. I was anticipating what people had to say. I had aknot in my stomach, a lump in my throat, and a bump on my head, but the bump was from a basketballthe day before.Slowly, people stood up and spoke. Some kids talked about how great the games were. Others werebonkers for the food. Some had something personal to say - they talked about how many new friendsthey made and how their counselors helped them out when they had issues throughout the week. Therewere a few tear-jerkers, but despite my expectation that Matt would stand up and say something, henever did.The next morning, I helped my campers pack up all their stuff. Matt, who had become much more vocalover the course of the week, was unnervingly silent. The morning buzzed on by as we went to breakfast,
stacked our belongings under the pavilion and sat by the picnic tables. There was a flurry of hugs andgoodbyes as parents showed up to take their kids home.An hour had passed and only a handful of campers were left. I looked around but couldn’t see Mattanywhere. I went to the registration desk and asked if he had left yet. I made it a point to see all of mycampers off, but there was a chance that he could have slipped away without me knowing. She said hehad not and I let out a sigh of relief. I walked back to the pavilion and found Matt back at the picnictables."I almost forgot my shirt you bought me!" he said, now wearing it proudly. "It was under my bunk in thecabin, so I went and got it. I hope thats okay."I smiled and said it was fine."Matthew!" his grandmother had arrived. "How was your week?"He had a million things to tell her and soon she became overwhelmed. But in the chaos of hisrecounting, we managed to pack all of his things in the trunk of her Corsica. I shook her hand and toldher it was a joy to have her grandson at the camp.“Well, Craig, I guess I have to go now.” Matt was welling up.“Dont worry, buddy,”I gave him a hug trying to hold back my own tears, “Hopefully you can come backnext year.” I waved as they pulled away and then started back to the cabin.We were responsible for cleaning the cabins before going anywhere for the weekend. I was excited toget out of there, so I started right away. I began by removing the mattresses and pillows from the bunksto be washed, and under Matts pillow, I found an envelope marked "Craig." I gingerly opened it andinside was the chain he had on the rec-field complete with his grandfathers ring and a note: Dear Craig, Before he died, my grandpa was my role model. He was really cool and liked the same things I did. Whenever I would feel bad, my grandpa always knew how to make me laugh. I miss him a lot. You remind me of him, and I want you to have his ring. It helped me feel better when things werent going right, but I dont think I need it anymore. I want you to have it. Sincerely, MattThe very next summer, I headed for college and found a job near the campus. I never did get a chance tosee Matt again.To this day, I keep the ring in my desk drawer. Between my full-time job, classes and a lot of clubs andorganizations I help run, Im very busy and can get stressed out. Some days I come home angry and
tired, but when I take out Matts gift, it cheers me up. It reminds me that things arent always as bad asthey seem.I still think back the time when I was hoping so badly that Matt wouldnt get placed in my cabin, and yet,he turned out to be one of the greatest kids Ive ever met. I thought I helped him by being his friend, butreally, we helped each other.Location: USARead more short stories:http://www.shortstoriescorner.comPlease check out the E-Book Store for more fabulous books.http://www.shortstoriescorner.com/e-book-storeImage courtesy of Image courtesy of Download ”Running Children” by chrisroll FreeDigitalPhotos.net