“That’s why we gotta get them to come out. We have to lure them into our territory,” Caitlyn chuckled. “And then it’ll be all over for them.”
Caitlyn and I were on our eighth grade class trip in Texas. Camping out wasn’t exactly my idea for a class trip, but our class was close to being dead broke, and this was all we could afford.
The small, desolate camp had limited options for entertainment: a lake with canoes, a recreation center with games, and a six-foot-deep pool. These amuse a group of young teens for only so long.
Tired of the same old games, Caitlyn and I decided to go canoeing. Jon and his best friend, Jake, decided to go, too.
One of the three canoes was on the lake, and another had a bad leak. We raced toward the remaining canoe. Jake and I got there first, buckling life vests and grabbing paddles.
The canoe glided across the water, which shimmered brightly from the sun. After paddling for 30 minutes, Jake and I steered the canoe under the shade of a willow tree.
We talked about school and sports and graduation, only a week away. Suddenly we heard an ear-piercing scream. Two seconds later we saw Caitlyn running along the riverbank, her legs a cartoon-like blur. Not far behind, Jon hoisted up his drenched blue jeans with one hand, the other reaching out to grab Caitlyn.
Jake and I rushed back to the cabin. We didn’t want to miss a bit of whatever excitement was happening. I found Caitlyn rummaging through her backpack.
“Help me find my water guns,” she said. “I pushed Jon over the bridge and into the lake.” She let out a snort, laughing hysterically as she remembered the scene. “This means war is at hand,” she said with a serious tone and face.
Since girls weren’t allowed in boys’ cabins, Jake and Jon remained near their “home base,” thinking they’d be safe. The rule, however, didn’t stop us. I attacked from the front door of the guys’ cabin. Caitlyn took the back. We busted open the doors, shooting water with our guns like crazy.
Anticipating us, Jake and Jon had filled a gigantic bucket of water. Just as Jon was dousing Caitlyn’s dirty-blond hair, our teacher walked in.
Quick, blame it on the others! I thought.
Mrs. Berkner took in the sight: the sopping wet floor, our drenched clothes, our dripping hair, and the water guns lying on the floor.
She looked directly at Caitlyn and me. “No girls allowed in the boys’ cabin.”
Then to everybody: “Clean this up at once, and no more water fights!”
Awhile later, my eyes met a startling sight. Jon lay unconscious on the pine-needle-covered ground. His eyes were rolled back, and all I could see were the whites of his eyes. His entire body twitched.
My mind whirled as I thought back over what had happened since the teacher had interrupted our water fight. We should have stopped there. We should have listened to Mrs. Berkner. We should have . . . . I can’t take anything back now. It’s too late.
Finally, Jon blinked.
“What happened?” He blinked some more.
Blood oozed from his mouth. He was missing a couple of teeth. A huge bump rose on his forehead.
“What happened?” Jon repeated.
“You hit your head on the slide while you were running from the girls,” replied Mrs. Berkner. “Apparently your little water fight wasn’t over yet,” she said, her eyes stern and her voice staccato.
Mrs. Berkner held up three fingers in front of him. “How many fingers am I holding up?”
“Three,” Jon responded.
Well, at least he’s not seeing double, I thought.
“Who’s the president?” Mrs. Berkner asked. “What state are you in?” He didn’t know the answer to either question. That really scared me.
Red lights flashed, announcing the ambulance’s arrival. The paramedics took out a stretcher and strapped Jon to it, securing his head with black Velcro straps.
“I’ve always wanted to ride in an ambulance!” Jon gleefully told the crowd that had formed.
I stood at the edge of the playground where the sand met the dry grass, which had turned a yellow-brown from the hot Texas sun. The ambulance got smaller and smaller until it was just a speck in the distance.
“Are you going to be OK?” asked Caitlyn. “This isn’t your fault, you know. It was just an accident.”
I turned toward Caitlyn with teary eyes. “I know, but I feel horrible,” I whimpered. “Graduation is only a week away, and thanks to me he lost a couple of teeth.”
That night as I lay in bed I prayed, “Dear Jesus, please let Jon forgive me for ruining his graduation. Let him be well and be able to remember everything. In Your name, amen.”
The next day we loaded up the yellow bus with our luggage for the long trip home. Everybody was acting as if nothing had happened. Except for me. I sat in complete silence, avoiding eye contact with everybody. I just wanted to get home and seclude myself in my room.
I went back to school feeling nervous. My stomach was tied in knots, especially when I didn’t see Jon. I worried that his situation had worsened, but when I asked Mrs. Berkner where he was, she said he had gone to get a root canal done. It made me antsy that graduation was 24 hours away and I still hadn’t cleared things with Jon.
Graduation day finally arrived, and I got to see Jon. His forehead looked deformed, as if a golf ball had somehow found its way underneath his skin and positioned itself above his right eye.
“I’m sorry about the accident,” I said shyly.
“It’s OK,” he said with a smile. “We’re going to be in high school together, and the way you play, I’d rather be on your good side.”
Forgiveness is sweet.