During the waning days of summer camp, we were given an opportunity to swim in the camp’s large, shallow pool. The half- Olympic pool was nowhere more than three feet deep, but it was a welcomed respite from the hot southern California sun. I climbed into the pool and sank to the floor, letting the water embrace me in it’s cool arms until my need for oxygen forced me back to the surface. Then I rested on my back, with an arm crossed over my eyes to block the light, I floated out toward the middle of the pool and away from the uproarious play going on nearer the edge. The water in my ears drowned out the noise, and for the first time since I had been at camp, I felt alone and at peace. I could feel the stress of the past two weeks slowly seeping from my muscles, and for a moment I was content. There were two lifeguards, and a random collection of counselors and children, so I felt confident that the boys who had so relentlessly tormented me wouldn’t dare attack me in this place. Almost as the thought had drifted through my mind though, a hand grabbed hold of my ankle and yanked me back to the present reality. Immediately, two more pairs of hands grabbed onto my arms and shoulders. Just as I took a deep breath so as to call for help, the boys pushed my head under the water. For a brief moment, the calm blue of the pool lulled me into a false sense of serenity. Certainly, the trio of bullies would only hold me under for a moment before letting me up so that I could hear their taunting laughter. I methodically tested their collective hold on me, but with four hands on my shoulders, and one each on my left arm and head, it was impossible for me to do much but thrash my right arm around. Any hope of striking the thugs was rendered impotent by the pressure of the water. I reached up to wave for help, but my fingers barely traced the surface above. Seconds went by, until it felt as if I had been underwater for a noticeably long time. Surely someone would be coming to my rescue soon… and more seconds drifted by, until my body involuntarily started trying to gasp for breath. Clenching my jaw tight, I knew that if I swallowed any water there would be no hope of recovery. Those boys were mean, but they were not liars. They were going to kill me. Once I understood that, my mind went immediately into a mode of thought I can scarcely describe. I was no longer struggling to escape, or to breathe, or even to live. I was going to destroy them as utterly as possible. Eyes opening wide, I remember how lazily the shorts of the boy in front of me drifted in the shifting water. A dark blue against a sea of lighter shades. With my right hand, which they had still failed to restrain, I reached up the leg of his shorts and grabbed hold of his testicles. With all of my strength, I yanked down on the sensitive gonads. With not enough oxygen left for a primal scream, I continued pulling down until I felt his hands release. Shortly the other hands let go of me as well. As I surfaced, I still had hold of the boy’s balls. The first sound I heard was his screaming in agony. Unable to muster the strength to swim, I waded my way to the edge of the pool, under the shadow of the lifeguard tower. Gasping for air and gagging as I lay on the concrete, my vision dimming, voices seemed so far away. The boys were angrily shouting threats, their voices steadily closing in on my new position. Shakily, I climbed to my knees, which wobbled unsteadily in my attempt to stand. Above me, the lifeguard shouted down “That’s it! Get out of the pool!” Certain that he had seen me being attacked, I turned and pointed to the bullies “They were trying to drown me.” I gasped. In a voice like ice, the adult said “I saw what happened. No one touched you. Now leave the pool area before I have to call your counselor.” For a split second, I stared up at him, my mouth hanging open in shock. “Go!” the lifeguard snapped at me, his finger pointing to the gate. I glanced back over at the boys who, now emboldened were closing in on me. The uninjured two hopped out of the pool, but I turned on my heels and ran as fast as I could down to the nurse’s office. Sitting alone on a plastic chair, I sobbed uncontrollably. No one ever asked me what had happened, but for the last few days of camp, I never for a moment left the immediate vicinity of the adults, the more of them I could see, the better. Laying in bed that night, I could still smell the chlorine water in my nostrils.
One summer, I was sent to a camp for young Type 1 Diabetics. We were promised to learn the importance of diet, exercise, and self-injections, all the while surrounded by other children who would understand our struggles. As one might expect from any summer camp, there were contests, skit performances, and canoeing on a lake. There were also lines for injections prior to lines for uninspired camp meals. For dessert we had a single graham cracker. At night, I slept in a simple cabin with three other kids and our “coach”, who was mostly there to make sure none of us died. I enjoyed the short hike to the lake, and the occasional game of flashlight tag, but most of the experience was standing in lines, the fun of which was tempered only by a group of bullies who had made my misery their primary objective. On the first day of camp, as I had been looking for which cabin I had been assigned, three of them confronted me. The larger boys claimed that it was my fault that some other kid had broken his leg. I was confused as I didn’t know them, or whoever had supposedly been injured on my account. They promised to kill me at their soonest opportunity. Those three boys hounded me relentlessly, and even conscripted new soldiers to join their war of contrived revenge. When I had free time, I spent it hiding in my cabin, or hovering as close as possible to one of the camp counselors. Even though I had enjoyed canoeing at the lake, I avoided the activity after they had tried to capsize me. For two weeks, every waking moment was a fight for life and limb. I cried myself to sleep, wishing with all my heart that I could just go home.
Mother and Father had packed up our campground during first light, and while my siblings and I were still mostly asleep, drove down the mountains to Cedar City. We stopped for breakfast at a crowded family restaurant, and packed ourselves around a table in the middle of the dining area. I needed to do my injection, and even though I felt strange doing it where everyone was eating, taking it into the bathroom was an even less appealing option. With all five of us sitting elbow to elbow, I had no place to set the cooler I kept my insulin in. After trying a few places, I finally settled on the center of the table. It was mostly out of the way, and in plain sight so I wouldn’t forget it when we left. Father was in a hurry to go, so I ate my pancakes as quickly as I was able, which wasn’t quickly enough. Mother was already rounding up Brother and Sister as I finished my breakfast. Once Father had paid the bill, he was in no mood to sit around any longer. Despite my efforts to move more quickly, I was still the last of the family to head out the door. As we traveled west toward home, the interstate took us through a canyon, winding down to the desert floor. I enjoyed the view of towering cliffs, but once we reached the relative flat of the Nevada desert, I laid down on the floor of the van and fell asleep. Several minutes later, I snapped awake, a panicked thought fresh on my mind. Did I remember to grab my insulin as I rushed out of the restaurant? I looked in the ice chest, in my med box, and in my duffel bag. The little yellow cooler was not to be found. I asked Mother if she had seen it, and she looked through the ice chest as well. She let out a sigh and told Father that my medication was missing. He was understandably annoyed, as he turned the van around at the next emergency access. We had driven almost an hour away from Cedar City before having to turn around and return for my medication. I knew I had made a mistake, and despite my remorseful attitude, Father’s disappointment hung over me for the entire trip home.
I had been invited to a sleepover with R2 and another of our friends, but Mother told me I couldn’t go unless I promised to be home in time for her to give me my morning injection. I knew I could make no such promise, and said as much. She then spoke to me a truth I hadn’t considered, but deep down had always known: I would be unable to travel on my own until such time as I had learned to give myself my own injections. It was a harrowing thought. I had scarce become accustomed to having Mother give the injections, but to do it myself seemed altogether daunting to even consider. Still, I promised Mother and myself that I would give it an honest attempt. A few days later, she presented me with a device which promised to help one learn the art of inserting metal under one’s own skin. A metal tube was separated into three rings, which could be pulled apart and locked into position. From there, a gentle downward push would collapse the mechanism and the internal spring would insert the needle into flesh. A simple enough concept, I thought that for sure I could manage. The device concealed most of the syringe, and so it was from a psychological perspective as simple an undertaking as placing a metal tube against my skin and gently pressing down. In practice however, it was another thing altogether. My mind never let go of the fact that inside that tubing was a very sharp needle. I grabbed hold of the device, and despite my every attempt to press down on it, I simply squeezed hold of it more tightly. Mother said “Just push down, it’s easy” but I gripped it until my knuckles turned white, all the while making not the least downward pressure. I was frustrated, embarrassed, and for a short while hopeless. Eventually however, I realized that I didn’t have to push down very hard for a pencil to write, and so it was the same. I closed my eyes and imagined writing on my leg with a pencil. The device snapped down so quickly that at first I wasn’t certain that the needle had penetrated my skin. I finished the injection and did a happy dance around the kitchen, in that warm California summer morning sunlight. That afternoon I made plans to join R2 and gang for another sleepover soon. At that time, I had never felt more free, despite the fact that I was simply regaining the same freedom that most any other child would have taken for granted.
Once I returned home from the hospital, there were many changes and adjustments. The urine tests and injections were bad enough, but now I had to adapt to a more stringent diet as well. Thankfully most of my meals went unchanged, as Mother had always prepared reasonably healthy meals for us, but snacks were another matter altogether. I couldn’t eat cookies, I couldn’t eat cake. I couldn’t eat pudding, I couldn’t eat chocolate. I couldn’t eat anything fun at all. The doctor had recommended carrot sticks. My joy was as absolute as my sarcasm is as I say so. I can’t recall if it was for Christmas, my birthday, or just because, but I do remember that Mother bought me a popcorn air-popper replete with various flavoring salts. She set it up for me on the kitchen counter, and showed me how to operate it, as well as measure the popcorn kernels. As I was having to measure all of my food now, this helped me to see how useful measuring could be. I still struggled with the gram and net carbohydrate scale, but the popcorn popper was the first integral step toward my acceptance of the rigors of my new diet. Plus, it was something in the kitchen that Mother would let me do on my own.