Chapter 24: Camp

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The mountains lit up brighter than they’d seen in weeks. Bouncing colors flitting from peak to peak. The sky seemed lighter than usual, the world seemed to be in a state of activity, if that could exist. It was noticed by each member of the small group, spurring discussion.

“I bet it’s the first day of summer camp”, Jamie said as they sat around in a semi-circle watching the mountain range. “Julie always had stories from camp, with the first day always being the most exciting for her. She liked meeting new friends, and everything always seemed to be full of promise on day 1. Later she’d talk about how much of a pain some of the activities were, or complain about the cliques that formed in the group, but on the first day, none of that mattered.”

“Did you ever go to camp?”, Mrs. Corum asked.

“No, I used to do things at school during the summer – little project teams and reading groups, that sort of thing. I never wanted to leave home for even a week or two, so I kept busy doing those things”.

“I never went to camp either”, Mrs. Corum said with a wistful look, “But I had a similar experience in college. We’d be so excited at the first day of the semester. Well, actually a few days before the first day would be exciting. The first day kinda ended all of the excitement as the magnitude of work we were going to have to be doing started to hit us. But that first few days, before the classes started, were blissful. Meeting new friends, exploring the dorm that you may not have been in the year before, and going out with old friends and catching up about your summers. Even after the first day of classes, we’d have fun here and there, but it wasn’t as unabashed as those first few magical days”

“I always wondered what college would be like”, Sara Beth said, breaking into the conversation, “I guess I’ll just have to ask you about it, since I don’t think I’m going to get there”. G-ma shot a look over at Sara Beth, but decided not to say anything. She was still certain she had the way out of this place, even thought it came at a huge cost that nearly broke her heart. Maybe the mountains would stay active, and she would be wrong. She hoped that was true, but secretly felt it was highly unlikely.

“You can ask me about it anytime you like!”, Mrs. Corum replied to Sara Beth.

“I’ll have to take you up on that.”

As they spoke, Ryan shifted restlessly on the ground, the group naturally turned to look toward him, and sensing this, he felt inclined to speak.

“Its not easy being me today”, he told the group, receiving somewhat shocked looks in reply. He’d never really spoken about his own feelings without spitting emotion all over his victims, so this semi-self-revelation seemed really out of place. Out of concern, or perhaps just sheer curiosity, they encouraged him to speak.

“What do you mean?”, Jamie asked.

“We all know that ‘me’ in the outside world is likely not going to be easy on Julie when I see her at camp, even if that’s just a few times. And I guess… I guess I feel bad about that”, he said with a sigh.

“You could change”, Mrs. Corum said after a few moments pause, “You might not be as mean as you were. You’ve changed here a bit, maybe you changed more in the outside world”.

“I don’t know about that”, Ryan replied, “I think there were some things here that changed me a bit. None of those would have happened to the me in the outside world.”

“Other things may have happened there”, Mrs. Corum reminded him.

“Are you sorry for what you’ve said to us here?”

Ryan turned his head with a bit of shock, Mara hadn’t spoken to him since he lashed out, days earlier. And now she was asking him a direct question.

Ryan had thought about his actions several times since that day, and had come to two conclusions. The first was that he couldn’t go on being so emotionally unstable. He had to ‘grow up’ and stop reacting so severely to his world. So what if the world could annoy you – it wasn’t a powerful person who let the world get so deeply under his skin. And Ryan wanted to be powerful – he’d always wanted that – and he’d never have it if his emotions ruled his life. So step one was decided: Become more controlled, less impulsive.

The problem with his current situation was the second thing he’d concluded. After what he’d done to Mara, Jamie, Sara Beth, Julie, and everyone else, he felt he’d burned his bridges pretty much to the ground. There was no way that this group was ever going to accept him. The past few days were filled with worry over Julie, but had that not been the case, Ryan would have left the group. He firmly felt that he’d have to leave this group and maybe find others in the future. They’d surely never be satisfied with him in their midst.

With those two things in mind, he felt he had two options to reply to Mara. He could either shrug off the question, and ignore it, or he could answer honestly. A powerful person, he reasoned, could admit when he had been wrong. So the 12 year old boy who desired to become a man mustered up all of the courage he could, turned toward Mara, and replied in as sincere a voice as he could, “Yes”.

Mara, apparently prepared for this, pushed further.

“Then apologize”, she said coldly.

He may have been calm and cold in his affirmation, but this was starting to heat him up inside. The rage emotions came first. The line “Who does she think she is!” came flying through his mind like a missile, crashing into the space behind his forehead. Before he could speak, a different message came through – somewhere in his mind, by some miracle, he felt a simple urge: ‘Wait’. So he waited a moment or two before replying. And slowly the heat began to give way to a different thought. If he was sorry, which he was, and if he had wronged people, which he had, he should apologize. As hard as it was to expect, Mara was right. But of course, no one likes admitting someone they don’t particularly like is right. What would an adult do? Ryan reasoned they’d try to play it cool.

So in a surprising move to the entire group, he took a deep breath, and forced out the following words.

“Mara, I apologize for what I said and did to you. I’m trying to get better at this, but I just run too hot in my brain.” Turning to the rest of the group, he continued, “I apologize to all of you as well. Some of you I’ve said horrible things to, and all of you have had to endure my explosions. I’m sorry”.

Now it was the group’s turn to respond. Ryan had to admit that he felt better on the inside, but that was little consolation to the emotional rollercoaster he was on daily. He sat there and found himself very interested in how the group would respond. After all, he’d convinced himself that there was no way they’d ever accept him, not after what he’d done.

And while no gushed over him in those next few minutes, and no hugs were given, each did tell him that they accepted his apology, and that hopefully things would be different in the future. From that day on, things were different. Sure, things slid back and forth for a time, but eventually Ryan was confident he’d get to the emotional stability he craved.

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