I sometimes point to 1994 as the year I came of age. A lot happened in those 12 months that turned me from a very clueless kid into someone who at least had the potential to become a man. My grandmother died in January. Shortly afterward, I got my own ride. I had my first broken relationship in the form of Megan Adams. I went to Space Academy. I got my second-ever "real" job. I quit that job two weeks in and started working for a newspaper. I wrecked my ride -- breaking my brother's arm and his trust in me in the process. I think I may have even had my first real conversations with Jessie that fall. There was a lot on my plate.
In June, I left for what was supposed to be a four-week stint as a lifeguard at a Boy Scout camp about an hour or so away from home. I didn't know it at the time, but I was pretty much clueless about how life, the world, people or relationships worked. I wasn't even an afternoon's drive from my momma, but when I showed up at camp -- a place I'd spent quite a bit of time at as a kid -- I was home sick. If I could have quit that very first day, I would have. In fact, I think I may have tried. I remember something about telling the boss that I didn't feel good and that I might need to head home. Luckily he was wise in the ways of sad little teenagers and didn't believe any of my bullshit.
The first week at camp was spent putting the place in order before campers arrived the following week. Parts of the camp sit dormant throughout the winter, so there was quite a bit of work to be done. We cleared brush from campsites and scrubbed buildings down. I wasn't really familiar with this concept called work. Yeah, I'd mowed the yard a few times... but not without plenty of breaks. Having to stay on task and work most of the day were most definitely foreign to me. Strike one.
Those of you that have talked to me or met me in real life probably saw a gregarious side of my personality. Some folks have described me as Type A and I imagine it's not hard to believe that I could enjoy being the center of attention or the life of the party. Those things are all true, but they're just one side of me. I also have a side to my personality that's very withdrawn, very private and practically fearful of speaking up and saying the wrong thing. Well, a lot more of the "quiet me" existed in 1994 than does in 2009. So when I found myself sharing a cabin with a half-dozen strangers, I was quickly intimidated. I didn't really know how to form relationships or to interact with people. In the end, I faked my way through it and did okay... but it's hard to make real friendships when you're thinking of reasons to leave. Strike two.
During that first week, I got a call from the editor of the weekly newspaper in my hometown. Not long before, she had told me there were no opportunities for an internship that I'd wanted to pursue with them. But she wasn't calling about an internship -- she was calling me about a job as a typesetter. I planned to take an afternoon off from camp the following week to drive home for the interview. I got the job. Strike three.
My second week at camp -- the first with campers -- really wasn't that bad of a gig. At the pool, I was assigned the kids who were complete non-swimmers for a variety of reasons. By the end of the week, I had them in the water building their comfort and confidence. In the process, I imagine they were helping me do the very same thing for myself. No job exists in the vacuum of the actual work accomplished, of course. A variety of personality conflicts and a small bit of inept management started to rub me the wrong way. It was only made worse with the knowledge that I was gone after the second week to start what I hoped to be a career in the newspaper business.
On my last night in camp, some of the guys on the lifeguard staff thought they'd send me out in style by tossing me into the pool fully-dressed. I didn't appreciate the gesture -- at all. I came out of that water almost as fast as I went in and was cussing the entire time. Looking back, I can't believe how big of a douchebag I was for how I handled it. Not only was I unable to see at the time that it was all in fun... I lacked the ability to calculate any sort of revenge. I just ripped my lifeguard tag off the peg board on the way out and left them only with a few more choice words to ponder.
To answer the original questions, it all happened because I was a 16-year-old who had no clue how to manage his feelings and emotions. I wish that I had been debonair enough to manage the whole experience differently, but I don't really regret that any of it happened. Life is a catch 22 like that. You never want to fail -- even as a kid -- but it's hard to know success without a little taste of failure. In the summer of 1994, I learned a lot of lessons from a very small bit of failure. It wasn't a bad trade at all.