In my senior year of high school I was an after-school counselor at a private school in the heart of the San Fernando Valley. I was paid to play games, draw, tutor, and hang out with a group of kids that I saw grow up over two summers as their camp counselor. As with any group that you know for a year or two, eventually you find out which of them you love to be around, which you can’t stand, and which you have a soft spot for even in spite of themselves. This kid was deep in group three.
He had thick, Coke bottle glasses that made his already-gigantic eyes look cartoonish. His head was probably no bigger proportionally than anyone else at the age of five or six, but the glasses made it seem a skosh larger than his body might allow. His running style was very serious – arms locked and swinging vigorously, and head down, using his bobble-headedness and gravity to power him forward.
“What happened to your head little buddy?” I asked one day when I saw a bandaid in the center of his forehead.
“I ran into a pole,” he said sheepishly.
One afternoon I was playing tag with a group of the older kids. As they’re more agile, I had to put in some effort to keep myself and them entertained. Also, I’m a winner, and the fact that other people are better at things is a good life lesson. I tagged one kid, then jumped backwards off the jungle gym.
Two sharp cracks in immediate succession followed swiftly by wails from below me. I had come down squarely in the center of this kid’s leg, snapping his tibia and fibula right in half. I scooped the crying kid up in my arms and ran with him to the office. The supervisor, who had some medical training, looked the kid over and pretty quickly figured out that his leg was broken in two, which I guess you didn’t need a lot of medical training for – those cracking noises were pretty clear.
Weeks later he returned to school in a tiny wheelchair with his whole leg in a cast to restrict movement. His parents wheeled him into the office and said, “What do you have to say to Dingo?” (we all had animal names as counselors – mine was Dingo)
He looked up at me through his comically large glasses and with every ounce of sincerity the human heart has to muster, he said, “It’s okay, Dingo, I know you didn’t mean to.”
I sobbed then, and hugged him as hard as his fragile body would allow. What an amazing kid, and what a testament to the parenting to endure that level of physical trauma, and come out as a stronger human being. The malleability of the young mind, and its capacity to forgive are truly astonishing.
I on the other hand, stand firm in my belief that that kid should really look up when he’s running, and that we are equally to blame for the incident. Hopefully some of the children under my tutelage learned to watch where they were going – Dingoes might not eat babies in America, but they do occasionally fall from the sky and break your leg if you’re not careful.