Hal arrived at Camp White Elk with his parents quite early on Saturday morning. His parents were very pleasant, but businesslike. They met me, the other cabin counselors, the camp director, saw Hal's cabin, got his stuff out of the car and into the cabin, said goodbye to one and all, and left. Hal quietly unpacked and then walked around the camp, checking the place out, and saying little or nothing.
He wasn't much to look at: average height, flabby body-little muscle but not much fat either, dirty blond hair, acned face. It would have been vastly improved by a smile, but smiles were rarely seen. His clothes were quite appropriate for a camp setting, if you were age 30 plus. Completely out of place in his teenage world: khaki work pants, polo shirt, leather shoes with a hiking sole. He didn't own shorts, called sneakers "gym shoes" and only wore them for sports, and when he changed we learned that he wore boxers, which may be in style in the 21st Century, but sure weren't in the 1960's. He was shy and it soon became clear that he would be a loner.
Ronnie was a natural loner, comfortable in the role. As I got to know him during those two weeks I realized that he was simply one of those unusual people that are happy within themselves. He was good at school, and his life centered around school and books. He enjoyed camp, but for the opportunity to be outdoors, not for the sports or comradery. Hal was completely different. He was the loner: on the outside, wishing that he could be inside, but not knowing how. He knew he didn't fit, but hadn't a clue why. If the boys were swimming he would go with them, but then stand in the water and watch them play. Efforts to play with them ran afoul of his clumsiness, he would fall, slip, or simply not be able to keep up as they swam
Tom was aware of this and tried to draw him in. Hal would respond positively, but soon edge back to the sidelines. If felt so sorry for him, but really didn't know how to help him. I worked to see that he was included, but there was no way I could stop his constant drifting to the sidelines of whatever was going on.
Tim and Tom were the natural leaders. Franklin was their greatest asset, as he liked them both and would do anything for them. He wasn't the natural leader, just the naturally nicest guy you would ever want to meet. By Tuesday of the first week Tim and Tom had a project: Hal. They recruited Franklin and me as allies. Tom saw Tim and me walking in from the far side of the field, heading toward a game of Capture the Flag that was getting started. He motioned us over, "Can you skip the game and talk?"
"Sure," we both said.
"Let's find Franklin."
"He is over with the gang laying out the boundaries for Capture the Flag," said Tim. "If we get him out of the game, the other side might have a chance. Franklin," he shouted.
Franklin saw us and walked over. We all sat down on the grass leaning against some trees. Tom said, "Tim and I were talking before dinner. We have a project, and we need your help. We are going to need everyone's help."
"And the project is?" said Franklin.
"Hal?" I asked. "Hal is your project?"
"He isn't happy, and he isn't happy with who he is," said Tom. "He needs help. We need to help him."
Tim added, "Tom and I talked this afternoon. We think Hal is basically a nice kid who simply hasn't a clue. Obviously his parents don't either-look at the clothes they buy for him."
I added, "They brought him here early on Saturday, said the minimal amount possible to the staff and others around, and left. They hardly said 'Goodbye' to Hal."
I looked at this group of three boys. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. The usual reaction to Hal, I was sure, was to just let him stand outside the circle. I could easily picture his school life, as he was virtually ignored-at best-or teased-very likely-by his fellow students. Now here were the three leaders of the group, asking how they could help Hal, how they could bring him in. These were quite exceptional boys. They were doing my counseling job for me, in a way that I couldn't do it myself."
Franklin asked, "Do you think Hal wants help?"
Tim said, "I think the question is, 'Will he accept help?'"
Tom concluded, "We can try. We can offer. If our efforts are rejected, then there it is. But I get the feeling that they won't be."
"Just what did you have in mind?" I asked.
Tom ticked off his plans. "We need to deal with his looks-clothes, hair, body. We can't help the acne, but a lot of popular kids have acne. His body isn't bad, he isn't overweight-just no muscle at all. You will be amazed at what two weeks can do in that department. He's clumsy, he needs coordination: for that I prescribe trampoline-that's Tim's job, and baseball, specifically catch. That's Franklin's job. And he needs to run, run, run, swim, swim, swim. That needs to be everybody's job, but I'll take the lead. His shyness is a problem. First, he needs to get over it with just the four of us. Then the group. Since we only have two weeks, by the end of the first week we have to start pushing him into larger groups. Sink or swim. I think he'll swim, if he gains enough confidence through the make-over and the physical training."
"You have it all figured out, haven't you?" I asked.
"Well, it is a lot to ask. Obviously all we can hope to do is put him on the right track. But if he gets support here and sees progress, he might keep it up at home. Where is his home?"
"St. Paul," I answered.
Tim chimed in, "That's the same as Minneapolis. If things go well here, I'll help him keep going at home."
"Why are you kids doing all of this? You have your own lives to lead at camp. You have set an almost full-time job for yourselves."
"It's a challenge," said Tom. "And I have an older brother that went through Hell as an outcast in junior high school. Our parents didn't have a clue how to help him. Finally, a group of neighbor kids took over. They almost took him prisoner, while they reshaped him. When he got to high school he was a new kid. I know what a gift it was. Not just to him, but to our whole family."
Tim looked squarely at me and said, "I have my own agenda for these two weeks, but I don't think this project will get in the way. I'm in."
Franklin simply nodded and said, "Whatever floats your boat."
"Go get him," said Tom.
Franklin got up and walked over to the Capture the Flag game, where Hal was sitting in prison with three others. He walked up to Hal and said, "Hal, you aren't doing anybody any good sitting here in prison, I think I'll kidnap you." With that he picked up Hal with incredible ease, slung him over his shoulder and carried him off. Hal accepted his fate, and, in fact, seemed to like the attention from this very popular boy."
Hal was dropped unceremoniously into the middle of our group. Tom went right to work. I couldn't believe what I was hearing, but I decided to let him go. He seemed to know where he was going.
"Hal, you're a drip. You look stupid. Your clothes are stupid. You haven't got a muscle on you. You're hair's too long. You haven't got any friends. You stay out of most games. Am I right?"
You could have hit Hal with a baseball bat and it would have affected him less. He hung his head, looked at the ground, and we could hardly hear him say, "Yes."
"Would you like to fix all that?" asked Tom.
"I can't," said Hal.
"Bullshit," said Tim-one of his favorite words, I knew.
"You can, with our help," said Tom.
Franklin said, "Hal, these two kids like you and would like to help. We can see a really sweet Hal underneath your shell. If you try hard, and work with us, we can help you. What grade in school are you?"
"You mean you are going into ninth?"
"Going to a new school?"
"Then this is the summer to create the new Hall for the new school. Want to try?"
"I don't know."
"You have to do better than, 'I don't know.' We want to create a Hal that does know things."
Franklin repeated, "Want to try?"
"Yes." It was so soft you could hardly hear it. But with that word Hal's life changed. It started right then.
"Bingo!" said Tom.
Franklin and Tim added, "Great."
I hugged Hall around the shoulders and said, "Good. If you give these boys a chance, they really will try to create the new Hal. I can't wait to see."
Franklin said, "He's mine to hug," and gently pushed me aside. He picked Hal up and stood him on his feet, and hugged him tight. "We were a little tough on you. And guess what? It's going to get worse, not better. Tom and Tim and going to take you apart and put you back together again. It going to hurt like Hell, but it'll be worth it. During all this, I am going to be your friend, ally, supporter, and protector. When you need a hug, or just need to get these two off your back, come find me."
Hal hugged back; hard. He was clearly filled with hope, apprehension, and downright fear. But he had said, "Yes" and it didn't seem he was going back. And I was sure that Tom and Tim would throw that "Yes" back at him every time he wanted to quit-which was certainly going to be often in the next two weeks.
Tom said to Hal, "Tomorrow morning. Ten o'clock. Far corner of the game field. Don't be late or we'll come looking for you."
With that, Franklin picked Hal up again, carried him back to the Capture the Flag prison, and set him down in jail.
The next morning none of us were certain that Hal would show up. Tom insisted that none of us talk to him and urge him to come. He said, "He knows what the deal is. If we have to urge him now, we will accomplish nothing. He has to want to do this. If he wants to, he'll show. If he doesn't show, better for us to know now and not put a lot of effort into nothing."
About five minutes before ten Tom, Tim and Franklin met in the corner of the field. I had offered to try to join them, hoping that I could get someone else to run the archery range for a while, but they insisted that this meeting had to be boys only. It was their show, I didn't go. Tim told me later about the events of the morning.
Just before ten Hal was seen walking across the field. Head down, hesitant, moving slowing. But moving their direction. They greeting him warmly, and asked him to confirm that he really was up for all this. Did he really want to be the new Hal?
Very softly, "Yes."
Tom jumped right in, "Listen Hal, none of this head down, we can barely hear you stuff. That is your problem. We start solving it right now. Look up, look at us, and tell us what you want."
Hal slowly stood up straight, looked at Tom and said, "I want to change."
Tom looked him right back, and said firmly, "You will. But, you have to do everything we ask, no arguing, no fighting back, just do it. OK."
"Let's go into the woods a ways."
"Why, what's in there?"
"You job is not to ask questions, just do as we ask. We won't hurt you, but you have to trust us. OK?"
Franklin took over, "Hal, stand there and get rid of your clothes. That is the first and easiest thing to change."
"Here? What will I wear?"
"That is our problem. Your problem is to take off those awful clothes."
Hal striped down to his boxers, sock and shoes.
"Sock and shoes off," said Franklin.
Hal started to sit down to take them off.
"Don't sit," said Franklin. Stand on one foot to take off the other shoe. You need to learn to balance."
Hal just barely got his shoes and socks off without falling over, but he made it.
"Now the boxers," said Franklin.
"What? Here?" said Hal.
"No questions," said Tim. "Get 'em off."
He did, but slowly.
"Stand up straight," said Tom.
The three of them looked at Hal. Tim felt his arm muscles and said, "These can be easily fixed."
Franklin ran his hand through Hal's hair and said, "This has got to be shorter. A flattop do you think?"
"Definitely," said Tom. "Hal, do a lot of the boys as your school have flattops?"
"Yes, but I have always been afraid to change."
"That is over, as of now."
Franklin poked Hal in his belly button and said, "It's an innie. Best kind. At least we don't have to do surgery to get rid of an outie."
Hal looked a little green, Tim told me later. He was beginning to wonder how far this all would go.
Then Franklin looked at him and walked up and cupped his balls, rolling them in his hand and squeezing them a little. "These are a good size and shape. No changes needed here."
Hal really was getting green now. He was also getting very, very hard. Tim said, "Well that works. Do we need to test if further?"
Tom grabbed his dick and squeezed. "No, it's fine. I am sure that all the plumbing works. Let's get him dressed. He walked into the woods a ways and got a bag. He pulled out a pair of Jockey underwear and told Hall to put it on. It was followed by a green Packers tee shirt and a pair of short khaki shorts. Hal put the clothing on, relieved to cover his hard-on, but it could still be seen making a rather large tent.
Franklin moved close to Hal, pulled down his shorts, took his dick and flattened it against his belly, holding it with the Jockey elastic. "Now pull up your shorts and you won't show."
Tim handed Hal his own gym shoes and sweat socks and told him to put them on and start calling them sneakers. Hal seemed very uncomfortable in the short shorts, but looked 100% better. And for that I am not taking Tim's word for it. Hal was taken to the archery range so that I could take a look at him. "Hal, you look great," I said. Then I turned to Tim and asked, "And where did the clothes come from?"
"Ronnie's Jockeys, Carl's shorts, I'm not sure where the tee shirt came from. Everybody was willing to pitch in, but we had to consider size."
"When did you organize this?"
"This morning while people were getting dressed. Later we'll take him to the camp store-they have camp logo tees and shorts. I don't know where we get more Jockey shorts."
"I'll deal with that this evening," I told them. "What are you going to do for the rest of the morning?"
"Jog and run. In the sun. We have to get some color into those legs. And the tee shirt comes off as we run." Hal looked tired already. By lunch he looked dead. But he looked happy for the first time since he had arrived in camp.
After lunch Tim told me about the morning. "You did what to his prick?" I asked him, somewhat shocked.
Tim said, "It was Franklin's idea. He said that we needed to establish authority and make it clear that nothing was off limits. If Hal was going to fight that, he would fight other things along the way. Franklin wanted to settle authority very early."
"And he also wanted to feel Hal's balls. It's a good thing I wasn't there."
"Now you know why you weren't invited."
"Tim, that wasn't a boundary issue, it was just poor judgement. What if you had been seen?"
"Kids can get away with that sort of thing if it doesn't go too far. You think they are going to get all bent out of shape over four kids and a little play? We were going to get sent home? Get serious."
"Tim, no more of that, OK?"
I wasn't sure whether he really meant, "OK", and whether he could check Franklin's playfulness. But I didn't have any choice but to trust these boys.
That afternoon it was off to the trampoline. Franklin and I spotted at both ends while Tim coached. At first he was on the trampoline with Hal, but then Hal went alone. It was awful to begin with, but neither Tim nor Hal gave up. Eventually he was getting pretty good height, doing knee and seat drops, and feeling fairly comfortable. That was Tom's signal to take Hal swimming.
I was beginning to feel sorry for Hal. He was being put through boot camp by these three. But he liked it! I wasn't sure whether it was the promise of a new Hal, or just the fact that three very popular boys were paying so much attention to him. I guess it didn't matter. He was having fun, and certainly improving himself, if only temporarily.
That night was haircut night. One of the other counselors had clippers and played barber. Wow, did that bring change. Long shaggy hair to a flattop in a couple of minutes. It made his blond hair look lighter and cleaner. He may have still acted like a loser, but he didn't look the part any more!
A game of catch with Franklin followed the haircut. He had to borrow a glove from Ronnie, who assured him that he, Ronnie, had no interest in the glove-it was his mother's idea-and Hal could keep it. Tim and Tom looked at Ronnie like he might be their next victim. Ronnie looked right back and said, "Don't even think about it!"
Hal couldn't catch a basketball thrown gently from eight feet. The hardball scared him to death. Franklin was very gentle, tossing easy balls right at him from close by. Slowly they got harder and from a greater distance. But all thrown at just the right place to catch them easily. Progress was made, but slowly.
Wednesday ended with a jog around the game field and a back rub for Hal by all three boys in succession. Tom was last. He made Hal take off his shorts and Jockeys before he would start the back rub. I started to say something, but decided against it. Hal complied easily, and laid back down on his stomach. Tom did a wonderful job, starting with his legs, working up over his buns and across his back to his shoulders. There wasn't anything sexual about it, and the shorts would have interrupted the smooth flow. Hal went to sleep as Tom worked on him. Franklin woke him up, told him is pajamas were ugly and that he should sleep nude. He did, and went right back to sleep. It had been quite a day.
Hal woke in the morning with a fierce hard-on and no way to hide it. Jim got on his case and teased him a little, but not meanly. I suggested that perhaps Hal would rather not sleep nude-that that really didn't need to be part of the new Hal. He looked relieved. After coming back from taking a piss he was back to normal. He dressed in new camp shorts and a tee, with his sneakers, and blended right in with the other campers. Urged on by Tom, he and Jim walked to breakfast together and ate together. Hal seemed almost comfortable.
For the rest of the week Hal spent his days running, jumping, swimming, and playing catch. He was getting better at all of them. Amazingly, however, he really seemed to take to running. He developed good endurance, which surprised all of us, and soon Tom wasn't able to keep up with him. He was no match for Franklin's long legs, nor for Tim's boundless energy and strength, but he gave them a run for their money. He loped easily around the game field whenever he had a break. He had found something he was good at, and kept at it. There is nothing like success-in anything-to build an ego. His running success was paying off in many ways. Most importantly, many of the other campers saw him running and were impressed. Several came up to Tom and said something like, "My God, what have you done with Hal?"
Tom's answer was always, "Hal did it to himself, and you need to tell him how great his running is." And he followed up, making sure that the complements were delivered to Hal, who was drinking it up.
On Saturday came a scene that would have rattled my cage pretty badly, had I known about it. As it was, I am able to tell you about it only because I heard the story-eventually from both parties-years later. But I'll tell it here, as it happened on that second Saturday.
Franklin and Hal were running, not just around the field but on through the woods on a long looping trail. They stopped to rest at about the half-way point, about two miles from camp. Franklin very hesitantly asked Hal, "Did you like it when I felt your balls that first day?'
"Want to do it again?"
After a pause, "OK."
"Would you like to handle my balls?"
"Let's take our shorts off." That was all they had on to take off except their shoes.
They did. Franklin more quickly than Hal. Franklin said, "Lay down."
Hal did, and Franklin knelt over his legs, so that he could get to Hal's groin. Very gently he stroked Hal's balls and penis. By this time Hal was hard as a rock, and breathing pretty heavy.
Franklin played with him for a while. Neither of them said anything. Slowly Franklin shifted what he was doing to a stroking motion that would bring on an orgasm if it was kept up. Franklin wasn't sure he should go that far, so he stopped. Hal didn't ask him to continue.
Franklin laid over on his back and invited Hal to do him. Hal got in the same position that Franklin had been in and started awkwardly to stroke Franklin, who was in seventh heaven. Franklin was soon going to pop, but he looked up at Hal and realized that Hal wasn't having a good time at all. He was scared and confused. No smile, no joy.
Franklin rolled over out of Hal's reach. "You don't really want to do this, do you?"
Very hesitantly, Hal answered, "No."
"Why did you let me start? Why did you take off your clothes?"
"I thought it was expected. That it was part of the new Hal. I wanted to do it for you."
Franklin broke down crying. "Oh, Hal. Never. Never. You don't.... Never agree to sex with anyone unless you really want it. I really could enjoy sex with you, but only if I thought you were enjoying it with me."
Hal responded, "Franklin, roll over. I'll finish doing you. I know you want it, and it won't hurt me." Franklin didn't move. "Let me do it, you know you want it. Hell, you were in the middle of something when we stopped. It isn't fair to you to stop now."
Very slowly, and without saying a word, Franklin pulled on his shorts.
"I don't seduce other boys. I thought you wanted it. I was wrong. It was wrong to push myself on you. I am really sorry. It won't happen again. Please don't tell anybody."
Hal said, "I won't tell a soul. You have done so much for me. I would like to do this for you. He stroked Franklin through his shorts, but Franklin pushed his hand away.
"No. It's not right. It's over. And thank you for being so kind to me. I just did a bad thing, and I'm sorry. Forgive me."
"There is nothing to forgive. Let's just completely forget it." Hal pulled up his own shorts and started running.
Franklin said, "You go ahead. I'll catch up." He lay there and cried for a while. Then very slowly he pushed down his shorts and jacked himself off. After the incident with Hal, he was very hot and he shot his load off onto the ground very quickly. He pulled up his shorts and started off after Hal. He had to push himself to catch up, but by the time they were back at camp they were running together. Neither of them spoke of the incident until years later, not to each other, not to anyone else..
I realized that it was time to write to Hal's parents. I wasn't sure what they were going to think of the new Hal. Surely they would like some of the changes. But how would they react to the hair cut, the changes in his clothes, to his tan/burn, to short shorts, to doing flips (yes, flips, just single front flips, but flips nonetheless) on the trampoline. This certainly wasn't the kid they left at camp. I wrote,
"Dear John and Hazel,
"Hal has had a very successful week at Camp White Elk. I am not quite sure how to explain just how successful it has been. Three of the boys in Hal's camper group, Tom, Tim, and Franklin-perhaps Hal has written to you about them-have made Hal their "project" for the summer. That may sound pompous, or like a real put down for Hal, but it really is what happened.
"The trio, Tom, Tim, and Franklin, decided that hiding inside Hal's outer shell was a truly wonderful kid. They set out to draw out that wonderful kid. Right away they told Hal what they wanted to do, and he agreed. Well, I don't think you will recognize your son. First, he has a haircut-a flattop. He is worried about what you are going to think of that. Frankly, so am I! I hope that you will be enthusiastic about the haircut. It will really make Hal's day next Saturday, if you like his haircut and tell him.
"You will find him in camp shorts and a tee shirt. He hasn't worn any of his old clothes since last Tuesday. He says that he won't even take them home. I'll let you all talk that one out when you get here!
"It turns out that Hal is quite a runner. He runs several miles every day, and swims quite a bit as well. In baseball he is a good fielder, but can't bat very well. He loves the trampoline and has progressed to doing flips. If this doesn't describe the boy that you left here, you are right. As his counselor I would dearly love to take credit. However, absolutely all of the credit goes to his three best friends here at camp, Tom, Tim and Franklin-and to Hal. He has worked incredibly hard. Yes, three best friends. He has many others. He isn't the most popular boy in camp-the trio claim those honors, but his popularity is widespread. A number of boys are beginning to run with him every morning.
"I look forward to seeing you Saturday, and seeing your reaction to the "new Hal," which is what everybody calls him, including Hal.
I mailed the letter with some trepidation The response came two days later in the form of a phone call. They got me out of the mess hall at lunch to take the call. It was Hazel.
"We just got your letter. We simply don't believe it. What has happened?"
"Just what I said in the letter. If anything the change has been greater than I said in my letter."
"You say he likes to run? Hal has never done anything athletic. His father has urged him to, but he has never been interested."
"Tim, Tom, and Franklin can be very persuasive. Franklin is twice the size of Hal, and he could have dragged him kicking and screaming, but he didn't need to. Hal is a born runner. He simply loves running."
"OK, he loves to run. How fast can he run? Is he just playing at it?"
"Over distance, he is the fourth fastest runner at camp. Tim and Franklin can beat him, and so can one older boy. The others can't keep up after the first mile."
"What's this about clothes?"
"He has decided he is going to wear what the other boys wear. Almost exclusively tee shirts, shorts and sneakers."
"He was sent with good outdoor hiking shoes."
"I don't think they have been on his feet. All the boys wear sneakers, and so does Hal. He only had one pair, and they are wearing a little thin. Beginning to smell too. If you have another pair, bring them when you pick him up."
"What has been your role in this, Charlie?"
"I just let it happen. It was Tom's idea. He organized it, convinced the others, convinced Hal, and made it work. But it couldn't have happened if Hal hadn't been open to the idea, and really worked hard."
"I guess we haven't been very good parents. We simply accepted the fact that our son was somewhat of a loser. We had really given up."
That was what I was waiting for. Some admission that there had been a problem and that the change was for the better. "Never give up on a boy. Come with high expectations. You won't be surprised. And may I offer some advice?"
"I think we are going to need a lot of advice. Go ahead."
"Just two things. First, only say good things. Praise is what the boy needs. Praise everything. Be enthusiastic about everything."
"Let him leave his clothes behind. Go from camp to a clothing store and let him buy what he wants. Make no suggestions. Tom and Tim will give him lots of advise."
"That is going to be difficult. I have picked his clothes, and thought he always looked nice. I hate tee shirts." Long pause. "I guess I just put my finger on part of the problem, didn't I?"
"Hazel, I see great things ahead for you and Hal. How do you think John will be."
"If Hal can do a sport, and running is a sport, John will be happy."
"Remember to tell John, nothing but praise. Nothing but praise. It will pay off."
"Thank you, Charlie. We'll see you Saturday."
"Don't get here too early. Not before ten in the morning."
"Why? We usually move very early. We thought we'd drive up the night before, stay at a hotel and come about 8:00 a.m."
"Please let Hal have the morning with his friends. I think they will all leave about 11:30. If you come at ten and leave when the group does, it will be very supportive of Hal."
"I guess we have a lot to learn."
"If you are willing, learning will be very easy. Be ready for the surprise of your life on Saturday."
I hoped that my dreams for Hal and Saturday would come true
They did. By Saturday, Hal was everything he had ever dreamed of being. He still wasn't a very good batter, but could at least hit the ball from time to time. When he did, he could run the bases well. He played short stop and not much got by him. His throwing wasn't as accurate as he would have liked, but it was improving. He hadn't gotten beyond the single front flip on the trampoline, but the flips were beginning to look fairly graceful. He ran like a deer through the woods, loving every minute of it. There was a track coach somewhere in St. Paul that was going to have a wet dream over having this kid on his team for four years!
And he had made friends. Good friends. Tim, Tom and Franklin, of course. The rest of his camper group as well. He and Ronnie got on pretty well. I almost thought that Ronnie was going to follow Hal's lead and try to become a new Ronnie. But he seemed very content to be the old Ronnie. And that, of course, was the key to Hal's success. He was smart enough to know that he wasn't happy, and that a new Hal was possible. He simply didn't have a clue how to become the new Hal. The trio showed him the way, urging him on every step of the way. But the steps were Hal's. He was really great.
He led a group that ran every morning. In fact they were out running when John and Hazel arrived-at 9:15. They were simply early folks. I told them Hal was out running, not expecting them before ten. I expected him in by 9:30 to shower and get ready for them.
John asked, "When did they leave?"
"Right after breakfast. About eight."
"Hal has been running an hour and a half?"
"That's right. They usually run two hours in the morning."
"How much ground does he cover in two hours."
"About twelve miles."
"Twelve miles! Hal couldn't run a mile when he left."
"He can now. Here they come." Five boys were running across the field, Hal clearly in the lead and hardly tired. The others were struggling to keep up.
Hal ran up, saw his folks and froze. He was wearing shorts and sneakers, without socks. He was sweaty all over. His nice flattop was wet and flattened to his head. He smelled. It was not the way he was expecting to greet his mother. He had been worried about what she would think. Particularly of his haircut. Now was the moment of truth.
Hazel took one look at Hal, having watched him run across the field, and grabbed him in the biggest hug you can envision. His sweaty body didn't bother her at all. She just stood there and held him. All of our worries evaporated, especially Hal's. Hazel had gotten it right for once. She really was a pretty good mother.
Now it was up to John. "Hello, Hal." They shook hands. "Charlie says that I have a track star on my hands. Is that true?"
Hal rose to the occasion. "Not yet. I am saving that for next year. This year I just want to be the fastest ninth grader." Father and son hugged.
Tom, Tim, and Franklin had arrived by this time. They watched Hal being greeted by his parents with very moist eyes. When Hal introduced them, they got big hugs and thank yous from Hazel, and sincere handshakes from John.
Hazel and John started to make noises about Hal gathering his things so they could be off. I looked at both of them and said, very quietly, "Not before eleven-thirty, at the earliest.." I hoped that they would take the hint.
Hazel came up to me and said, very quietly again, "We're learning. Thanks for all you have done."
Hal was delighted to know that he could stay a while. He had made good friends-I think for the first time in his life. Parting was going to be difficult for him. But by leaving last, he had a chance to have a real goodbye with each of his friends. He took advantage of it. He hugged each, promised to write, and received similar promises.
Franklin was the first of our camper group to go. He said goodbye to each, including me, and gave Hal a bear hug lifting him high off the ground. Hal ate it up. These two had a bond which at that time I didn't understand, but realized much later. Franklin had been so kind to Hal. Well, Franklin had been kind to everybody. But for Hal it was special. Hal had never had a friend quite like Franklin. It was all Hal could do to let him go.
Franklin's parents got into the car and were waiting for him to get in. He started to, then paused and said, "Mom, Dad, just a minute."
He looked toward me and pulled me aside. He then floored me with, "Good luck, Charlie. You and Tim are great together. Yeah, I'm gay too. Bye. Keep in touch." And he was in the car and gone. Well, that explained a little about Franklin. It set me wondering about him and Hal. What had happened? For years, I imagined a lot of different scenarios, but never the truth.
I also had to deal with my shock at Franklin figuring out that I was in love with Tim. That was quite a blow. Tim would be the last to leave-he had asked his parents to come after lunch. Right now I had five other campers to say goodbye to.
That proved difficult. Hal and Tom had a difficult separation. Tom was from Detroit, not near the Twin Cities, and they might never see each other again. Hal realized how much he owed to Tom and didn't know how to express his thanks. Hal was crying serious tears as they hugged and said goodbye. It wasn't easy for Tom, but almost impossible for Hal. Hal's parents had already thanked Tom, and understood that they needed to stay clear of the final goodbye. We all did. Finally Tom broke free, waved goodbye to the rest of us, climbed in the car with his parents and was gone.
While Tom was saying his last round of goodbyes I had spoken to his parents. I introduced them to John and Hazel, and gave them some idea of the Hal story and Tom's role in it. "You have a truly remarkable son. It has been an absolute delight to have him in my group this summer. I'll never forget him."
"Charlie, Tom has written us about this group, and about you. From what I know from his letters, and from what I am seeing here, this has been an most extraordinary group for an extraordinary two weeks. And it couldn't have happened without an extraordinary counselor. Tom can't say enough good things about you. Neither can we. And we want you to know that we talked with Stanley and told him exactly the same thing. He said he had been watching you and your group, and had never seen such a successful camping experience. We thought you should know that. Thank you."
I didn't know what to say. I'd like to say that I had just been doing my job. But in fact Tom and Tim and Franklin had been doing my job. I had just been going with the flow. And falling in love with one of my campers. I wondered what Stanley would think of that. But it was very gratifying to know that I was getting some of the credit for the success of this wonderful group of boys.
Ronnie was next to leave. His goodbye was sweet. He simply said, "Charlie, I had a wonderful time. I know you think I should have been more involved, but I got just what I wanted. Thank you for letting me be me, and not trying to make a new Ronnie. Bye." And another was gone.
Jim and Andy left together. They hadn't been much involved in creating the new Hal, though they had been supportive when asked, and always friendly to Hal-which had been incredibly important. But Jim and Andy had become good friends, and now Andy was leaving with Jim's parents to share their vacation. Both boys thanked me for the summer, assuring me that they had had a wonderful time. I think they were telling the truth.
Then it was time for Hal to leave. He hugged Tim for a long time. So did Hazel, and John shook his hand warmly and thanked him for all he had done for Hal. Then Hal hugged him again, hugged me, and then very slowly and reluctantly walked to the car. It wasn't fear of what was ahead that was slowing him down, but the end of the most fabulous two weeks of his life. I could only hope that when he looked back on these two weeks that he would see them as a beginning, and not as a wonderful island of hope in the middle of a sea of unhappiness. I had promised Hal that we would keep in touch. Now I told John and Hazel to please call me if there was anything I could do for them. Over the next few years they did call. They were very well-meaning parents, and proved to be very supportive of Hal through his high school and college years. But in an odd way they grew dependent on me to assure them that they were doing the right thing for Hal.
With a final wave, Hal was gone.
Tim and I walked off into the woods. There we admitted to each other that we really were madly in love. It remained to be seen whether on not it would last four years till he was an adult. Who knew? We had our first kiss in those woods, and then came back and ate a very tasteless lunch. Nothing could have tasted at all as we contemplated four years apart. But we didn't have a choice. Maybe we would make it through. If Hal had done the extraordinary, so could we.
Norman and Betsy, Tim's parents, arrived shortly after lunch. They took me aside and followed up on the letter they had written to me. "Charlie, Tim has written us so much. We simply can't thank you enough for the support you have given him. To have someone outside his family that he could talk to about being gay was just so incredibly important. We've talked to Stanley and told him how helpful you have been to Tim. He thinks you are an exceptional counselor."
I replied, "I am glad that Stanley thinks I am exceptional. But it is the seven boys of the group that are exceptional. And Tim was one of the best. Has he told you about Hal?"
"Get him to tell you the story. And don't let him downplay his part. He and Tom and Franklin gave Hal a life. He literally owes any happiness he finds to those three boys. You have an incredible son. I wish that I had been able to get to know Carl better, but he was in the older camper group. I think he's pretty special too."
"Everybody seems to be grasping for superlatives this afternoon," said Betsy. And from what I have seen and heard, they aren't strong enough. Charlie, we can't thank you enough. We hope you can come and visit us sometime in Minneapolis. Keep in touch."
I wanted badly to kiss Tim goodbye, and I knew he wanted the same. But we didn't. However, he gave me the biggest hug he could, and I squeezed him back. "You can't do that like Franklin can," he said. "But I like it just like this."
A final squeeze, into the car, and the last camper was gone.
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