The fear comes without warning. It jostles Henry’s stomach and scratches unpleasant warmth up the back of his neck. He cranes his head to peer out the dirty bus window. His Dad is still there — a speck in the distance, waving frantically. His eyes fill with tears, but he pretends not to notice. He’s waited for this day for so long. He can’t wait to make new friends and play on the water. But his longing to become a normal kid again is betrayed by a sudden urge to puke.
He turns his attention to the clamoring kids that fill the seats and scamper down the aisles. The humid air hangs thick with tween excitement. He longs to join in, but he already misses home.
As the other kids laugh and sing, and revel in their parent-less freedom, Henry dons a face-splitting grin. He lowers his head and stares intently at the mini-game system in his sweaty hands. He pretends to play, avoiding conversation with anyone. Suddenly, his trendy, new crimson baseball shirt feels constricting, and it sticks to his skin. His snug blue NHL cap now sits awkwardly on his head. A kid behind him snatches it and starts playing keep away. Someone asks him if he’s old enough to attend this 12–18-year-old sleep-away camp.
Henry feebly protests, and, with the gusto of a kid who’s just learned to curse, manages an “I know I look ten, asshole. What can I say? Good things come in small packages. For the record, I’m twelve.” The back of the bus erupts in collective laughter, and someone throws Henry his hat.
Henry’s Mom passes away when he is nine. And, everything is different all at once. His workaholic father digs out ample free-time in an attempt to fill the gaping hole in the family. Henry misses his Mom and is petrified of losing his Dad too. He clings to him like a life-preserver. His friends withdraw as if he carries a fragile disease. And his coaches and teachers are the worst. They look at him like a kicked puppy and make him feel weird and soft inside.
Thus, when Henry and his Dad become “a team,” he welcomes it. No more questions from friends, no more pitying looks from adults. Father and Son spend all of their free-time together — fishing in the warmer months and playing one-on-one ice hockey in the winter. The neighborhood kids have given up asking him to ride bikes or play. Henry doesn’t mind…