“Hey Chunk! Chunk! Get the ball you big tub! Throw it here!”
On the first day of sleepaway camp two years ago, on a sandy, wind-swept ranch in Colorado, our counselors gathered all of the kids together for a name game that involved guessing someone’s nickname. Everyone sat in a circle, telling his first name and where he was from. Each kid said his full, first name, so when it was my turn I said, “my name is Theodore and I’m from New York City.” Now people were supposed to guess my nickname. “Teddy!” shouted one kid. “How about Ted?” shouted another. One kid even guessed that my name was Ed. “Ed?” I presume they weren’t all that smart, since Theo is a pretty normal name, so I told them that my name was Theo.
We continued to go around the circle when a boy said he was Charles Livingston and that he was from Atlanta. When it was time to guess his nickname, people guessed Charlie or Chuck. The kid said, “no, not Chuck; my nickname is ‘Chunk.’” When I heard it I couldn’t help but laugh. I snorted a bit and then laughed out loud, and then everybody else started laughing too. The boy next to me even slapped me on the back as if I was the leader of the laughing group. I could see that Chunk was uncomfortable, but I sort of liked having led the group in the hilarity. Chunk looked at me with sad eyes, and I felt bad inside, but not bad enough to apologize.
Charles Livingston would have been left alone if his nickname wasn’t Chunk. The name was not at all ironic, because he probably weighed around 250 pounds, and looked a bit like a sweaty egg with feet. Chunk explained, “my nickname comes from that character Chunk from a movie called The Goonies.” I decided that I was a little annoyed that he had made me feel bad just by looking at me with sad eyes. At least the game was over, and it was time to go to our bunks.
“Good Bye! See you soon!” we all said to our parents, who had been listening to an orientation speech by the camp’s director, while we met and talked to our counselors. As the kids took their backpacks, duffel bags and other belongings up the steep, dusty hill, they huffed and puffed a bit, and climbed the mini mountain that led to the bunks. I looked back over my shoulder to see Chunk way behind the crowd. Chunk wasn’t so much dragging his bags as he was tugging them up the hill, like a stout tugboat might pull a heavy barge. I remembered thinking to myself, “he doesn’t give up.” Even though he labored under his heavy load, he did not give up; he kept trudging up the hill under the hot sun, without a complaint or a request for help. I would think about this later, impressed at his character. Until that time, I had not recognized his good qualities, only the fact that he was a flabby, unfit kid, with an unbearably funny nickname.
Once we were in our bunks, everyone in our cabin made fun of Chunk for being fat, and I felt a little responsible for it, since I had been the one to laugh out loud during the name game. Originally it did not occur to me that just calling him “Chunk” was actually making him feel bad. I probably crossed the line again when I would say things like “Chunky Chunky, go get your SPAM.” The bunk almost exploded with laughter when I said it, and even Chunk would laugh with us. “Hey, my favorite food is SPAM,” Chunk, told us, which made us all laugh even harder. I began to feel uncomfortable listening to Chunk victimize himself so he could feel part of the group. I convinced myself that we were all laughing with him, not at him. By the end of the joking session, I noticed that his face had fallen and I realized that he finally appeared to be upset. I really don’t like being mean, and I truly don’t like upsetting others, and as soon as I saw his expression, I knew that what I and the entire camp were doing to him was wrong. His fake happiness, and joking around had blinded me. It was time for baseball, and as the kids ran out of the bunk, I could see a tear rolling down on Chunk’s fat face.
Now that he had finally cracked, Chunk wouldn’t talk to anyone, which was understandable. I would probably behave the same way if I had been made fun of to the extent that he had. Even though I knew how bad he felt about the joking, I still shouted out to him during the baseball game, “Chunk! Get the ball you big tub! Throw it here!” Later that night I was disgusted with my behavior. I felt so appalled with myself that my unease gnawed at me like the sharp springs that poked through my thin camp mattress, which scratched my side as I tossed and turned that night. From my own experience of having been being picked on (mainly by my brother Dustin), the number one thing that makes me feel better is to laugh. So I thought that might work with Chunk; I would try to get some time with him to cheer him up.
The next morning we were in our cabin, and our counselor, Andy, left to go shower, and I saw that he had left his blue Yankees cap sitting on his wrinkled old sleeping bag. I put on the Andy’s cap and I did an impression of him. “Hey boys, straighten up your stuff,” I said in Andy’s voice. After a few seconds of my impression, Chunk began to laugh out loud. I have to say it was one of the more haunting laughs I have heard, but I was glad to see him laughing. After a couple of days of making him laugh, he saw that I was not such a bad kid. Finally, after thinking I would not be able to make him open up, he began to talk to me. Chunk said, “I really didn’t appreciate what you guys were doing to me at the beginning of the week.” I acknowledged what he said, and told him, “I didn’t realize that you were upset, and it really made me feel bad that you were hurt.” He thanked me, and I think we had cleared the air. At least I felt better about myself for apologizing.
Towards the end of that day, as Chunk and I walked down to dinner, someone from another bunk shouted, “hey let’s get to dinner before Fatso gets there!” At that point, even though Chunk was certainly offended by that comment, I found myself surprised that I was offended too! “Shut up, you asshole!” I said, a lot louder than I meant to, and to tell the truth it surprised me that I even said it! Chunk turned to me and patted me on the back. “Thanks Theo,” he said. “Or should I call you Ed?” We both laughed and walked down to dinner.
Age 14, Grade 9