It's summer. My wife was recently notified by e-mail that Camp has started. Camp means Camp Jabberwocky, on Martha's Vineyard, the first cerebral palsy camp in the United States, where J spent a few weeks of most of his summers. I've written about Camp before. It's donation supported, so don't make assumptions about wealth given the camp's location.
This puts me in mind of piece sent to us a little after his death by its author. The camp doctor is a volunteer; I'd imagine he's still there. He was originally there because his son had CP. His son died a few years before J did, but he continued on.
He writes about visiting a patient. There will be a reference to Bandersnatch; that's because the cabins there get their names from Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky. I am posting this because it conveys J extremely well, better than I could.
I use "J" in a sort of half-assed attempt to preserve privacy. However, if you were to look at the original thread in the first Tales of J post, "Reply to a friend checking on me," I was too fardreit (Yiddish for disoriented, it literally means "spun around," same root as dreidel) to avoid using his first name. It is used here. I never called him J; I used his name.
One warm early summer night just after sunset I was feeling sorry for myself.
I had been with Camp all day and I was tired from all the frenetic activity and the intense emotions that I always feel there. Even though those feelings are powerfully positive, they can be draining sometimes.
Just as I was about to go back to the “Doctor’s House” that camp rents just down the street, ready to finally slump on the couch and watch the end of a Red Sox game, one of the counselors asked me to go up to Graham’s cabin, Bandersnatch (the cabins are named after characters from the famous Lewis Carol poem about the Jabberwock), and check on a camper named Jonah. He was an impish youngster, about 10 years old at that time, who always had a mischievous look in his eye. He had CP and depended on others for all his daily needs.
Jonah’s spasticity was fairly severe and he had a habit of sleeping on his belly, insisting that it was the only way that he could be comfortable in bed. As a result, he had developed friction sores on the front of his lower thighs and kneecaps that were hurting him.
I went up to see him in the twilight of that perfect late June evening. Cicadas were buzzing. There was a gentle breeze in the scrub oaks that shelter the campus. I could faintly hear the mournful tone of a fog horn way out in Vineyard Haven harbor. Lights were on in the cabins around camp and muted chatter, laughter and some singing could be heard from cabins in the distance.
After seeing Jonah’s abrasions, I decided to apply antibiotic ointment to the scraped areas and dress them with a non-stick bandage and repeat that procedure for the next few nights. I went back out to gather the supplies from our modest clinic in the “main cabin.”
As I walked, I wondered what I was doing. It was a glorious summer evening. I was on one of the most beautiful islands in the world. I imagined that, at that very moment, some of my old school friends were sitting on the deck of a big, beautiful boat in Edgartown Harbor, sipping champagne and looking up at the stars with not a care in the world. I envisioned well heeled vacationers laughing by candlelight over lobster dinners in elegant night spots around the island.
By contrast, I was dirty and exhausted, about to visit a hot cabin on a trivial first aid mission for a disabled kid from Indiana whom I had never even heard talk.
And, like everyone at camp, I was a volunteer. If I was going to take care of people during my precious vacation time, wouldn’t it be smarter to do something that involved getting paid?
In that cranky state of mind I opened the creaky screen door to Bandersnatch and sat on the edge of Jonah’s bunk. In the semi darkness It didn’t take long to apply the ointment and dressings. I said a cursory “Good Night” to Jonah and pushed open the screen door to leave.
But, just as the door was closing, I thought I heard a sound coming from Jonah’s bunk.
“Jonah, did you say something?”
Indeed, In a faint, halting voice delivered with great apparent effort, I heard him speak for the first time.
“What’s that Jonah, I didn’t quite hear you?”
“Jonah, I’m sorry. I’m not understanding you….Try one more time…”
On his third try I finally got it. In one of my life’s most wondrous epiphanies I clearly heard Jonah say:
“Thank you, Doctor Steve.”
In that poignant moment, I was suddenly amazed by the grace of the tiny figure lying patiently on his belly in the twilight of that June evening.
” You’re welcome, Jonah. We’ll do the same thing tomorrow night. Have a good sleep.”
As I pushed open the screen door of Bandersnatch for the final time that evening and emerged into that splendid summer night, I was not jealous of anyone in the world.
I knew that I was exactly where I was meant to be.
I've written a lot of posts about J and about being his father. I keep an index post of these posts as I write them so the links are collected in one place, with brief descriptions. This post is now on the index post. Here's the link to the index: