Jamie breaks his leg, but the worst part is going home.
This injury brought him straightaway to the hospital, and after that, would bring him back to the cloistered den of his parents' home. In the sterile white room where he had been brought after his leg was set, he had lain flat on his back wondering about his fate. He right leg lay in a heavy white cast. The fibula had been fractured in two places.
In his dad's car, in the passenger seat that had been pushed back all to way to accommodate this artificially enlarged limb, Jamie stared out the window as neither he nor his dad said a word. They were headed down the mountain, Jamie's suitcase and duffel bag in the trunk. His dad had a stern look on his face, and Jamie knew that if he said anything, his dad was apt to take whatever was said in the worst way possible.
"Well," his father said at last. Just that. It shattered the silence but Jamie knew that nothing would come after it. It was an invitation for Jamie to make his case, to defend himself. Jamie wondered if he should take the bait.
More silence came. Jamie's father didn't weaken the tight grip he held on the steering wheel, his eyes focused on the winding road ahead. Jamie knew if he did say anything, his father was liable to angrily spit out that he was trying to drive, trying not to kill the two of them, dammit. Jamie stayed silent.
Finally, one they'd gotten out of the hills, his father spoke.
"We'll see what the real damage is when we speak to Margaret." Margaret was Jamie's mother.
Margaret's eyes flitted here and there when her husband dramatically held open the door for Jamie on his crutches.
"Lawrence," Margaret said.
"Here you are, sir," he said to Jamie with a grimace as Jamie struggled to lift his leg over the threshold.
"Poor thing. Well, I guess you'll be at home for...a while," Margaret said, glancing at Lawrence, though she was technically speaking to her son.
"They said if I recover quickly, I might make it for the end of the winter season," Jamie offered, wishing his mother would look at him, though her eyes kept dancing around the room.
Lawrence harrumphed before leaving to grab Jamie's bags from the car.
"We're both still proud of you. We aren't..." Margaret finally glanced briefly at Jamie's face. Then she changed the subject, and smiled.
"I need to go make sure Sophie is ready for ballet at 3:30."
Jamie's younger sister Sophie was, as Jamie always thought to himself, his replacement. She came along after Jamie's parents seemed to have tried to do everything they could think to do with Jamie. Did he like racecars? No. Did he have an aptitude for chess? Not really. Did he like to build things, to play sports, to research? No, no, and no. Well...he did like to do all of that. But marginally. And marginally wasn't good enough for his father. And the only thing his mother cared about was what mattered to her husband. That is, until Sophie was born seven years ago and won both of their parents' hearts.
Maybe that was what, in the end, made camp matter so much to Jamie. Here was a place that was 1) free of his family and 2) a place he could be himself without needing to prove anything to anyone. He knew some people disliked camp because they had to sort of fend for themselves. But being independent among strangers was definitely preferable to Jamie than dodging landmines at home.
Camp was his ticket away from his parents, though Jamie would never have described it in that way. By everyone else's standards, his parents were great. They pushed him to be the best version of himself that he could be. They enrolled him in therapy when they began having problems with their marriage, when he was ten years old. They called it preventative. Jamie liked playing Uno but got tired of how much the therapist talked about mundane things, like irrigating his backyard. The parents rarely came up in those conversations.
When Jamie failed to single-handedly save his parents' marriage, they had Sophie, and it seemed she did the trick. Like children with a new toy, Jamie's parents jumped at the chance to raise a new child, one that might turn out to be the brilliant offspring that Jamie had failed to become. Sophie turned blue-eyed and blond-haired, her first word at 5 months was "dada," and after that she seemed to become even more precocious. Lawrence and Margaret invested in Baby Einstein, classical music, and a plethora of creative and challenging baby toys and gadgets. Either these technologies and advancements developed after Jamie was an older child, or his parents hadn't been interested in them back when he was born. Though Jamie had to admit his earliest memory had to do with playing with a large assortment of hand puppets.
Sophie was the savior, the one whose birth reestablished Lawrence and Margaret's marriage. They still never hugged or kissed (or at least Jamie never noticed them doing this anymore), but they were united in their commitment to giving Sophie the Best Life Possible. Enter ballet, and chemistry sets, and trips to amusement parks, and sleepovers, and new dresses for just about any occasion that Margaret could think up. Jamie wondered if they were spoiling her the way they had, as his dad often grumbled, spoiled him. He still couldn't help feeling resentful of Sophie even as he knew, as he thought to himself late at night with his leg in its cast in his childhood room, that spoiling is something that is always done to you.
One morning Jamie hoisted himself out of bed and into the bathroom, where he washed himself as best as he could, before making his way down the hall to the dining room where his father was reading the newspaper with his daughter. His mother was in the kitchen, scraping some jam onto toast for Sophie, who sat in a pink sweater at the table, looking like a little doll, as Margaret liked to say.
No one said anything as Jamie pulled out his chair and sat down, so he belatedly said, "G'morning," which the others answered back in mumbles, Sophie looking not at Jamie but at their father for her cue.
Margaret came into the room and sat Sophie's plate in front of her. "Oh Jamie, I just put away the bread and jam. You didn't want breakfast, did you?"
"No, thanks, I don't feel like eating much right now," Jamie said, truthfully.
"You know your sister, she needs to eat something regularly at least five times a day, isn't that right, honey?" Margaret smoothed the hair out of Sophie's face. Sophie stared at her brother as she brought the toast up to her diminutive mouth.
"I've told her teacher, she needs a snack two hours before lunchtime. I just can't believe she expects Sophie to remember on her own. She's just a child." Margaret frowned.
"These teachers these days," Lawrence grumbled vaguely, turning a page of his newspaper.
"I like to eat fruit cups. I like PopTarts. That's what I like." Sophie said this with a mouth half-full.
"Yes, darling. We'll have to start cutting back on your sugar, though," Margaret sighed.
"Don't want another kid bouncing off the walls and falling down...we have enough medical bills as it is..." Lawrence didn't take his eyes off the paper.
Margaret laughed out loud and covered her mouth. Sophie laughed, too.
If Jamie had been able, he would have left that table immediately, but instead it took him a minute to fumble with his crutches and retreat back to his room.
Jamie had taken off a year after high school just so that he could be a camp counselor for a year, something he wouldn't ever be able to do again, except maybe at winter and summer breaks. The summer and fall had gone well. He'd been one of the more capable counselors, he'd organized a number of games and activities, and he'd been a listening ear for a few different boys who'd had a difficult time adjusting to a week away from home.
"It's hard at first, to be away from your family. You probably miss being with them," he'd told one sniffling ten-year-old. "But guess what? You're in a place where we're all in the same boat. We all miss our families. We're all feeling this with you." Jamie smiled as the boy looked at him timidly.
"Even you?" the boy asked.
Jamie swallowed. "Even me."
That was one of the things Jamie missed the most, he thought as he sat in his room, flipping through a paperback without any interest. He missed being a support to others. He had real people skills, but those seemed to disintegrate when he had to be back under his folks' roof.
"One of these days, boy, you are going to have to get your s*** together," his father had thundered the night before, after Jamie had forgotten to move his clothes from the washing machine to the dryer. Jamie had gotten used to the routine of camp, and forgotten that his mother was too passive to approach her son directly about laundry matters. And so she had mumbled something to her husband, who took it as a direct insult to his house. "Still spoiled," Lawrence spat.
Jamie tossed the paperback on the nightstand and wondered what he was going to do with himself the for the rest of his recovery. He already felt bored and useless.
He crept out of his room. His mother was in the living room doing a cross-stitch.
"Oh, Jamie! It's a good thing you're finally out of your room...since you don't have much to do with yourself, can you help Sophie with her homework? She's got some tricky subtraction."
"Hi, Mom. Nice to see you, too. Sure, I can help her," Jamie said, leaning against the wall.
"Good! She's at the kitchen table," Margaret smiled primly.
"Yeah, I can see her from here," Jamie said, scratching the back of his head.
"Good, so go on over there," his mother said, chuckling.
Jamie hoisted himself back up and made his way around the kitchen island to the table where Sophie sat swinging her little legs, her shoes dangling off her toes.
"Okay, kiddo, I heard you have some subtraction to do."
"She's got subtraction and some godawful spelling words. You can handle that, right? I've got to run," Margaret said over her shoulder. "I need to pick up some things before I take Sophie to Annie's house for their sleepover."
"Yeah, don't worry, it's only second grade work..." Jamie answered back but his mother had already left out of earshot. He turned to his sister who was idly coloring the "o" on her name which she had written on the top of her paper.
"This one is hard," she said, indicating the first problem. "And this one. Aaand this one..."
"Alright, we better get started then. Let's see. 54 minus 13. That's not so bad..."
The math moved along slowly, as Sophie, who was supposed to be so precocious, seemed to get tired of thinking and preferred to color various parts of the page instead.
"This isn't a coloring assignment," Jamie told her, which made her scowl.
"I don't like math," she pouted.
"We'll never get to your spelling words at this rate..."Jamie sighed.
"For once, just once, I'd like to not do my homework. Other kids don't do it." Sophie stared at her paper.
Jamie smirked. "Yeah, but those kids get in trouble for not doing it."
"It must be nice." Sophie kept staring.
"What must be nice?" Jamie asked her.
"Not having to be perfect all the time."
Jamie paused. And then he said, "I think it must be awfully nice."