Sunday, July 1, 2012

First smile

I was on the frisbee field when the camp director appeared. He had a note with a phone number. "Tristan's mother just called," he explained. "Tristan's favorite uncle died suddenly and she wants to call this evening to tell him. She mentioned you by name, Mama Kez, specifically. She wants you to be with him when he gets the news."

I sat with Tristan, a 16 year old boy that I've played frisbee with every afternoon for several summers, a boy who that very day had grinned at me after a difficult play and exclaimed, "I live for this!" He listened to his mom's voice and answered with brief words and no emotion on his face. When it was over, he hung up and just stared at the phone for a minute. Then he looked at me, still emotionless, and said, "My uncle died yesterday. A heart attack. He's the third person in my family who's died suddenly like that...I was just dog-sitting for him last week."

There wasn't much to say, not much to do. We talked for a few minutes and then he asked if we could go back to the activity. The next day, I took Tristan and a friend out for a hike and lunch. There wasn't much serious talk, but I wanted Tristan to know that we care. I watched him closely over those few days, waiting for his smiles to come back, but they didn't.

Yesterday morning, I walked into Arts & Crafts. "There's Picasso at work," the counselor on duty said pointing at Tristan who held up a ridiculous piece of modern art. Our eyes met and his emotionless face burst into an enormous, uncontrollable grin. It was Tristan's first smile.

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