It was a weekend of sunshine and heat and beer and poking around in antique stores. There was at least one startling revelation around the campfire and seriously off-color charades and a discussion on "Beall" (pronounced "beeeyalll"--an imaginary character created and trademarked by Fred). And food...oh my goodness. A seafood boiling pot and grilled steaks and pork chops and banana cream pudding and COUNTRY HAM (if you're not from the south, you don't know what you're missing there) and, if that wasn't enough, chocolate covered bacon sprinkled with slivered almonds.
Okay, so I could only eat one bite of the bacon. It was an amazing bite, though.
As often happens, one among us experienced rather too much cheer and, as I understand it, generally was a bit loud and sort of embarrassing until the next camp site (looked to be Church of Christ) started shining their lights upon our camp obnoxiously and said out-of-order rowdy camper had to be lured to her sleeping quarters with promises of high quality moisturizer and THEN upon reaching her sleeping quarters protested having to be put to bed at such an early hour but was in a dead sleep thirty seconds later.
And, of course, that someone was me.
I was granted an unexpected day off work Friday, another snow day, essentially, and so my camping trip was actually three nights long. Of course I had to celebrate properly! Jeez.
Saturday night Jake told me his story:
I was not a very nice kid, really. And I don't know why, you know? There wasn't any reason for it. My Mom loved me, everyone was nice to me, but still, I had this smart-assed mean mouth. I never did care what I said. If anybody crossed me, I could be vicious and just completely go off on them in the worst sort of verbal way.
By the time I got to high school, I hung out with a bunch of dumb meat-headed jocks. They were completely stupid for the most part. I really don't know how I ended up in that crowd except maybe because even the jocks knew they couldn't push me around. Because I was never scared of anything. I mean, I just never backed down. And so, because they couldn't dominate me, I was one of them, I guess.
The jocks picked on smaller, weaker well...nerds, if you'll excuse the expression. And I laughed about it when they did it. We all did--laugh about it, I mean. It was terrible, it really was.
I was on the track team, and this one day I'm running along on the track and I notice, running up ahead, one of those kids, like, a nerd, basically. And I'm running along, and this kid is small, and I start catching up to him. And right as I run up behind him, I just pull my fist and hit him in the back with my fist. I mean I hit him with everything I had and I was a lot bigger than he was.
I couldn't really believe the effect that punch had on this kid. It literally lifted him off his feet and when he landed he skidded on the pavement on his hands and knees. When he got up he as all bloody, but what really freaked me out was that he was crying. I mean REALLY crying. Just sobbing.
I stopped running and I'm just watching his whole reaction and I'm just kind of in shock, really. The kid turns around, still sobbing, and screams at me--just one word, over and over,
He wails it.
Four times he screams that word at me. Like, hysterically.
And I just stand there. I don't react at all, but each time he screams "WHY", I ask myself the question, but on the inside, you know? And I in my mind I just come up with...nothing.
The fourth time he screams at me, I've already turned around and begun to walk away. Because I had started to cry myself. It was horrible. I just...couldn't hold it back any longer. And I couldn't let anybody see.
After that happened and after that day I began to change. I stopped reacting so quickly to people when they pissed me off. I learned to stop being so quick to come back with something mean and nasty. When I wanted to, I'd remind myself how it felt that day to know how much I'd hurt that kid. And I knew I didn't want anyone else to feel that way because of me.
But I never stopped feeling guilty about what happened that day on the track. It haunted me, it really did. It's like it got worse as time went on.
When I was twenty-five, I was working at this place in [a large southwestern city]. And all of a sudden, one day, this kid walks in. I knew it was him because of his eyes. You know how a person can get fat or skinny or old or whatever and their eyes never change? Well, I knew those were the eyes of that kid, even though he had changed so much. He was, by then, as tall as I was. You would never have known he was that nerdy kid.
And so I asked him if he knew who I was. And the kid says no, he's never seen me before.
So, I tell him.
I tell him he might want to beat the hell out of me, and that I probably deserved it, but that I was the guy who punched him that day at the track back in high school. I tell him about how bad I felt. I tell him that I was crying when I turned around and I told him how I was never the same after that. I told him that, it probably wasn't enough, but that I'd been a different person since then, one who thinks about what effect my actions might have on others.
By then, we are both teared up, me and the kid.
He tells me that, yes, he remembered at that point (but I think he remembered before).
And, then, if you can believe it, he forgives me. I mean, that had to have been one of the worst experiences that kid ever had at school, one that was so bad it probably haunted him just like it haunted me.
I still can't quite believe I had that opportunity. That I got to say I was sorry and know that kid was okay and that he forgave me for what a jerk I was. What a gift.
I never saw him again after that, or at least I haven't yet.
I'm thirty-seven now.