Two Summers Later

Two Summers Later

It feels like every summer has a life and a story of its own. The past three have been the most emotional and life-changing of all my summers so far. Mostly, it’s been the camps that make it so.

Before I continue, I want to clarify for some readers who might not have experiences with summer camps. I talk about my camps a lot–some people in my life say too much. But anyone who’s been a part of a summer camp knows–there’s something about them. The closeness. The intensity. The season. The rigor. The relationships built fast and left too soon. The 16-hour days getting up early and staying up late. Getting down and dirty. If you’ve not experienced that, it’s understandable that you won’t feel the level of emotion that goes into my stories about camp. But if you have been a part of a camp, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

There’s a piece of me that will always be stuck with the first summer camp I worked for. It’s a stubborn piece. Some days I want to be selfish and let it go. Some days I wish I could walk away without feeling guilty and broken. But I don’t think that’s going to happen.

I made some amazing friends at this camp, both with the other counselors and with the kids. I was barely 19, working with high schoolers in my first youth-oriented job. What had even possessed me to apply, and to interview passionately enough to be selected? I credit the South Dakota trip as the catalyst for my desire to work with youth. Setting out on the trip, I was terrified of meeting the kids and convinced that I would fuck up their lives in the three days we were there. I wouldn’t know what to say or do with them or how to interact. Going there and meeting kids from a place and culture I had little contact with shook me. Hearing the stories of the suicide epidemic was what pushed me into the place of wanting to combat youth suicide, which soon turned into a desire to work with kids in any way I could. My experiences from the trip were a huge motivator for me when I interviewed for the job and started working there.

But I forget that I applied for the job before the trip.

I can’t remember applying for the job, writing my application, finding references, sending it in, agonizing over it. I remember doing that for the resident assistant position at school; not for this summer camp. I remember getting the email from my supervisor suggesting the job to me and a few others. I can’t remember what interested me about the job, since I was still pretty afraid of kids. Maybe it was the fact that they would be high schoolers. Maybe it was because it was similar enough to my current position that I felt it would be easy enough to transition to. Maybe it was because I had friends who were applying. Though I wonder about it, I don’t think my abuser had anything to do with it—we were dating at the time; she had no interest in the job at all, so I doubt she convinced me. Maybe it was just because I wanted anything but to go back to my parents’ house that summer and was looking for any way to stay on campus.

At any rate, I got the job.

I felt like I sucked at it. The kids still scared me; I wasn’t always sure what to say or do. But I went through the training, learned a lot, and enjoyed it; I was making friends; I was connecting with my supervisors. By the time camp rolled around, I was excited to meet the kids. I acted as a TA for the first group, the middle schoolers. I learned the names of all the kids in my class and things about them. I made solid connections with several of them, and we talked outside of class. I didn’t have to, but I joined them each day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I cried when they left.

The next six weeks I worked as a dorm counselor for the high school campers. I was going through a lot at the time. My abuser broke up with me, but we made the dangerous decision to remain friends. She was running hot and cold with me, sometimes wanting to be my best friend and sometimes ignoring me completely. My family was becoming hostile towards me, offended by my decision to further my education and experience by staying away from home. Thanks to counseling, I was beginning to recognize my depression and anxiety for what it was and put a label on my panic attacks, which was both freeing and terrifying. My self-harm episodes became more frequent and more alarming. During the first week, the head counselor noticed the scars on my arm. She took me aside and I broke down, telling her how much I felt I was struggling, how I felt I was no good at the job and close to quitting. She calmly talked me down, told me I was doing fine, and gave me ways I could be supported.

I kept trying. I made friends with many of the kids and learned all their names, though not as quickly as I wanted. As would become the tradition, the queer kids gravitated towards me. I was teaching a class called Images of Gender and I hit the cap of 24 students. I spent time with the kids even on my days off, having nothing better to do. I enjoyed being with them, though again I didn’t always know what to do or say and sometimes backed off to let the more experienced counselors handle things.

I didn’t agree with their disciplinary methods—making the kids do pushups or having them go on all fours saying “beep, beep, I’m a jeep.” I thought there were better ways to handle behavioral concerns. I felt that having them do those things would humiliate them, and I didn’t like that. If I witnessed a camper breaking rules, I told them not to and explained that what they were doing went against camp policies. If they asked why, I’d say that they were at our camp and needed to follow the expectations of camp while they were here, even if what they were doing was something they would do at home. If I heard one of them swear, I would say “I’m pretty sure you didn’t just say something you shouldn’t say, because I know that you know the rules. So I know I’m not going to hear you say words like that. Right?” It amused them. I never had a case of a camper continuing to swear after I spoke out.

The only time I yelled was when I saw them throwing bananas around the room. I was angry; I hate seeing food wasted. I tried to address the problem by talking to the individuals throwing the bananas, but when they didn’t listen, I stood in the middle of the room and yelled at them to stop. Seeing me—the tiny, timid counselor—screaming at them made them all immediately freeze. Because I never yelled or told them to do pushups, they took me very seriously in that moment.

Many of the kids liked me. Some saw me as their enemy, but I knew that I wasn’t going to please everybody, and each kid was going to have their least favorite counselors. There were some days I simply had to hide. There were some days I took my fears and frustrations out on my fellow counselors. There were some days I was not as engaged as I should have been. I knew this was not okay; I knew I had to work on bettering myself.

I thought I was allowed a few days to be weak; I thought everyone was.

The summer came to a close and the school year began. When I ran into my supervisors, we’d talk excitedly about next summer. I asked several times how I could continue to be involved, attending some of their fall and spring events and keeping in touch with my campers on social media. I asked my supervisors how I would apply for the following summer. I was told I didn’t need to, but that I would be sent an email gauging my interest in returning, and all I had to do was say yes. I knew I was going to; as difficult as it had been, I loved that job. I loved my kids. They cried when they said goodbye to me. I knew I’d made an impact, and a positive one.

I didn’t receive the email, even as the school year came to a close, even as my friends who applied started hearing back. One day I ducked into one of my supervisor’s office, explaining that I had one day over the summer I’d need off and that I hoped it wouldn’t cause a conflict with move in days.

She looked uncomfortable and said, “Oh, this is hard.”

“What?” I asked.

“Well, we’re not hiring you back this summer.”

I couldn’t speak. I could only stare. I felt like piece of me were falling to the floor. I thought of all the kids I’d connected with. The things some of them had said to me, about how I’d helped them, how important I was to them. I thought of every mistake I’d made that summer, of the negative feedback I’d received.

“I hope you’re not mad,” she said.

“I’m not.” I wasn’t. Not yet. “I’m…sad.”

This was worse than a breakup, ironic because later that afternoon my then-girlfriend broke up with me. This was worse than if my supervisor had told me at the end of last summer that I wasn’t coming back. They’d been telling me all year I could. What had I done to change their minds?

I agonized over it for months. When summer rolled around I cried when I thought of what they would be doing without me. I did everything I could to stay in their lives, working three hours a week as an elective teacher and volunteering for field trips. The ones who remembered me greeted me with excitement and love. I made new friends as well, once again attracting and mentoring the queer kids. My supervisors continued to interact positively. They even let me take three of the kids to my on-campus apartment to visit my cat. They trusted me completely. So why hadn’t they taken me back as a counselor?

I attended the end-of-year banquets, crying and watching them cry as they left, tucking away my favorite memories and chalking them up to a summer well lived. Wondering what I had done wrong, why they had rejected me, why it had to be like this. Wondering what I would do next year.

I wasn’t a teacher this summer. My new job schedule conflicted with class times. I’d had so many experiences since that first camp that I went everywhere confident in my abilities to mentor, build connections, lead, love, and succeed. I knew what that first camp had let walk away. They could have kept me on and I would have done better. They could have been straight up with me and told me off the bat I wasn’t coming back, because apparently they’d known all along even as they told me I could.

The only thing I did that summer was sleep over in the dorms so they could maintain the required student-adult ratio, and attend one field trip.

I could barely handle it. I couldn’t stand arriving on campus after most of them had gone to sleep, but at the same time I couldn’t bear the thought of arriving early to spend time with them. I was angry I could only attend one field trip but did nothing to fight for more.

I fostered my existing connections and built new ones. Still, it wasn’t enough. I felt myself slipping from their lives. I became less important. They stopped needing me.

I realized I could not return for another summer without breaking even more inside.

This time when I left, I didn’t say goodbye.

Back to School

Back to School

Last Friday was the first day of the year where it felt like fall. I saw brown leaves on the ground and whistling down the street on my way to work. I wore layers for the first time since winter. The air was not just chilly; it was the autumn kind of chilly, the kind that holds promises for more tantalizing days, for harvests, for darkened evenings and blustery afternoons.

I walk into stores and I see back to school banners and notebooks for seventeen cents. Along with the mellow hues of the season come the bright block colors of new pencils, crayons, and paper. Along with the chill of the air comes the thrill of going back to familiar classrooms or starting the same routine somewhere new.

I’ve been trying to stay off social media, but when I do check for work purposes, I see posts from my friends excitedly preparing for their second, third, and final years at college, or gearing themselves up for grad school.

This is the first year in four that I am not joining them. It wasn’t going to be originally, but it’s how it ended up playing out.

**

Applying for and being accepted into Alverno’s Master’s Program in Counseling and Community Psychology has been one of my proudest accomplishments. I walked through so many months with that happy success under my belt, excited that I had concrete plans to share with anyone who asked me what I would be doing after graduation.

I’d always worried about the transportation piece. I still don’t have my driver’s license; though even if I did, the idea of the three-hour drive through highways and city streets terrifies me. Taking the Greyhound wouldn’t be the end of the world, especially if it’s to further my education in a field I was really excited about. At that time, I wanted my counseling license as soon as possible; I was sure I wouldn’t be able to get an impactful enough job without it.

I was determined not to move to Milwaukee, either, though many of my friends and advisors suggested that I do. I didn’t want to leave behind the many connections I’d worked hard for in my city. I didn’t want to leave my current job—if there was even a chance of my ability to return.

Besides, I didn’t have the resources to make such a dramatic move. I had nowhere to live there, and no knowledge of the safest places to live there. I didn’t have the money it would take to make the move.

So I waited knowing something was going to work out—I just had to figure out what.

Three weeks after graduation—three weeks of being homeless, living out of my car, and couch surfing—I got my current job. Originally I’d applied to the place as a part-time daycare teacher, just looking for anything to get me through the summer. But once I submitted my application and resume, I received a reply just a few hours later, asking me to apply for a different position: Youth Program Coordinator.

When I read the job description I was elated and apprehensive. It seemed too difficult for my current capabilities. I wasn’t sure I was up to that much commitment, that much work. Was I qualified? Should I even bother? It would be my first full-time job, my first professional position.

But the title—“youth program coordinator”—spoke to me. The descriptions of the position working with youth and families and developing programming for them excited me on a level I hadn’t felt before. This could be a bridge into exactly what I wanted to do.

I applied and was invited for a phone interview. At the end of the call we scheduled a face-to-face interview for the following week. At that interview, I talked with the childcare supervisor, CEO, and CFO. I was intimidated; and yet they were all so friendly, inviting, and encouraging. They saw my foot bouncing with excitement, they saw my eager smiles as they described what I would do. I saw their looks of satisfaction when I described my experiences and passion.

They said they’d been looking to fill the position for a few months, and had hoped to have it filled by now. But they were waiting for the right person.

The next day I received an email inviting me to fill the position.

I was the right person.

**

All summer I worked on programming, connections, fundraising, relationship building, planning, organizing, and assisting with anything in my realm. It’s the most intensive and exciting job I’ve ever had. I feel more confident and at home than I have in years, except maybe for my position in the after-school program.

All of my experiences cumulate into this position. I’m reminded daily how good I am at what I do, and my supervisor has mentioned more than once how happy they were that they’d waited for me.

“You’re the one for this job,” she tells me. “This is you.”

I didn’t really think about Alverno until August had already begun. I’d applied before my legal name change; I realized I had yet to change my name in the system.

I realized that Milwaukee was more of a commute than I was prepared for.

I realized that counseling wasn’t what I needed right now.

**

I formally withdrew from Alverno the day before Orientation. Numerous phone calls after numerous days putting them off lead to two unanswered voicemails from my advisor and, finally, a request to receive the withdrawal in writing. It took me longer than it should have to send the email because I was full of regret. But when I got the reminder on my phone because I forgot to delete it, I felt some relief that I didn’t have to drive hours this morning or take the greyhound all Friday afternoon to get there. Besides, I wouldn’t miss the last day of camp for anything.

Earlier that month my supervisor had pointed me in the direction of UW-Milwaukee’s online Master’s Program in Community Engagement and Education. I applied experimentally and was accepted two weeks before classes started. I was excited; it was even closer to what I wanted to do, and I wouldn’t have to make the terrifying drive or sacrifice every other Friday afternoon to bus rides.

A few days later I received a call from the residency office telling me I was not an established Wisconsin resident and didn’t qualify for in-state tuition. I had to establish residency first. Despite having been a Wisconsin resident almost all of my life; despite having parents who had been Wisconsin residents for decades; despite receiving a degree at a public University in Wisconsin; despite having a valid Wisconsin state ID; despite owning a car registered in Wisconsin; despite having filed Wisconsin income taxes for the past three years.

“So, which state do I have residency in instead?” was the question I wanted to spit out, but never asked out loud.

I called them back and they told me the only way to prove my Wisconsin residency was to get tax documentation from my parents.

My gut dropped when I thought of the months-long tax battle I’d only recently gotten over. I told the caller that this was not an option for me. That they had basically disowned any commitment to me.

“But look at it this way,” he said. “You’re getting an education to better yourself. I’m sure they’ll want to help you do that.”

I thought of my dad’s furious reactions when I said how much I liked college and how much I was learning; his bitter conversations with my mother on how horrible this college experience was for the family. I thought of his sharp email asking me where I was going to get money for the Study Abroad trip I wanted to take. Their refusal to grant me even grocery money. Withholding vital documents and information I needed.

No, sir, they do not want me to succeed.

“They have proven to me several times that they will not do anything to help me,” I said as calmly as I could.

He relented and told me I could appeal. I groaned inwardly at the amount of work I’d have to do and hoops I’d have to jump through to in order to file the appeal. It was a week before classes started, and there was no guarantee my appeal would go through.

My only other option was to sustain myself financially for a year without attending school. It was stupid, but the easiest and most feasible option.

I contacted the registrar, and they delayed my enrollment until the fall of next year. I breathed a sigh of relief. It was the same day I sent in my official withdrawal from Alverno.

**

At the same time, I sigh at the bittersweet knowledge I will not be returning to the familiar classrooms, not joining my friends in the exhilarating scramble for fresh school supplies. But then I see my kids at work preparing themselves for the upcoming quarter, and feel the same excitement I felt at the end of last summer. I look at my plans for my programs in the public schools and feel the same shivers in my chest.

The thrill of gathering notebooks and binders for myself can wait.

Now I’m preparing myself to set out on a new adventure, where my learning doesn’t come from books and papers; where I’m the one writing the curriculums and presenting them to classrooms. I’ve been an educator and even a teacher before. But this is the first time it’s my full-time job, and this is the first time that the programs I’m a part of are my own.

The same day I withdrew form one school and confirmed the date of my enrollment for another was the last day of camp. I said goody-bye to some of my campers. For those who are returning for our school-year programs, I tease them with hints at what I have planned for them. I can’t wait to get them involved in the projects and activities I have in store. All my preparation over the past few months has been leading me towards those moments.

It’s been a great summer, and it’s going to be a great fall.

 

I Felt it Once, and Sometimes it Comes Back

I Felt it Once, and Sometimes it Comes Back

There are those days where I desperately miss my hometown.

Maybe it’s not that I miss the town itself—I miss what it felt like to enjoy living there.

I miss the few true friends I actually had.

I miss my first boss—one of the best and most understanding ladies I’ll ever have the privilege of knowing.

I miss my co-workers—such caring, thoughtful, and fun individuals are hard to find.

I miss working at the boutique—remembering how I learned to interact with people, learned that I could be confident and competent.

I miss working on Jefferson Street with all the local shop owners, the ones who weren’t just in it for the tourists but who actively participated in community functions and gave back.

I miss the small-town events that were tailored towards residents and not just tourists. I miss running up and down the street on errands; that wonderful day where I made and delivered huge bouquets of balloons.

I miss rainy days at work listening to Frank Sinatra Leonard Cohen. I miss sunny days in the garden. I miss admiring the clothes that were too expensive and that beautiful pair of earrings I almost bought. I miss the pride in knowing that all of our products were either made in America or certified fair trade.

I miss my boss’s stories and tales of inspiration, the adventurous life she led. I almost went to New York with her; if I’d stayed, I probably would have.

I miss the routine of setting up in the morning and taking down at night. I miss packing my lunches and finding moments to snack on my trail mix and bean sprout sandwiches. I miss running down to the bakery to buy the homemade baked goods and bring them back to share.

The excitement of filling out my first time card, of my first paycheck.

I miss the theaters. The shady nights volunteering in the open-air theater, the paper tickets, watching the actors roam around the growing night before the show started.

I miss my first internship, where I learned all the nooks and crannies of the theater, and could still find my way to the third floor if I went back there today.

I miss folding programs and answering phones, filling out the ticket orders every Thursday morning. I miss chatting with my friends there, delivering mail, sweeping under the theater seats. I miss standing on the stage as I helped move props or held book.

I miss the smell of the theater. To this day I can’t describe it, but I’ll never forget it.

I miss stocking concessions, those awful trips up and down the basement stairs. I miss the Door County Cherry trail mix and Ben & Jerry’s single serve I occasionally treated myself to, as a benefit of being a volunteer.

I miss the feeling of sitting in that dark cool theater and watching people I knew acting on the stage, so close it never failed to send tingles down my spine. I miss memorizing the lines with the actors as I eavesdropped on rehearsals over and over.

I miss seeing shows for free and becoming a familiar face with the other workers and volunteers.

I miss co-directing the acting workshops for first graders, filling in the roles no one else wanted and reading Roald Dahl’s Vile Verses with the ecstatic kids.

I miss the feeling I got when working and volunteering, that the people around me genuinely cared about me. They were happy to see me. They were interested in my life. They enjoyed sharing these moments with me.

I miss those people; they were the first ones who made me feel like I had somewhere I belonged.

I miss my shop, I miss my theaters—my first real homes.

I miss feeling like that small town mattered to me.

 

The Worst Best Job I’ll Never Have

The Worst Best Job I’ll Never Have
Today I interviewed for a job that I have to turn down. It pays 13/hour and takes place during weekend nights. I would be working with youth, specifically those with mental/emotional disturbances, trauma, those who have been through juvenile court, and those with nowhere else to go. The goal is to rehabilitate the youth so they can return to society hopefully with a better foundation for which to live their lives.
Sounds right up my ally, right?
I thought so too, until I learned what “emotional containment” means.
The supervisor I interviewed with assured me that the theory and practice of emotional containment has been proven successful time and again, that it was researched and developed carefully by professional psychiatrists and psychologists, that each worker at the facility could adapt to it, and that, eventually, the kids would be grateful for it.
So what is emotional containment?
Emotional containment means that, as a worker at the facility, you are not allowed to express your emotional reactions to the kids’ behavior in front of them. The example my interviewer used was self harm.
“Most kids do it for attention,” she explained. “So if we give them the satisfaction of an emotional reaction, whether positive or negative, it just reinforces their attention-seeking behavior.”
Emotional containment means not asking the child if they are okay.
Emotional containment means not expressing empathy towards their torment and their pain.
Emotional containment means assuming that all the youth in the facility are subversive attention-seekers utilizing extreme behaviors to get them something they don’t deserve.
I can’t work somewhere that has this mentality.
I can’t walk into a kid’s room, see the scars or the blood or the weapon, and not take a deep breath, get as near as they feel comfortable letting me, and quietly asking them if they are okay.
I can’t not ask them if they are okay.
I can’t not react with empathy and the desire to love and to help.
I can’t not check in on them with the intent to give them the attention and care they crave and deserve.
I can’t ignore my gut instinct to coddle and protect those who need it most.
I listened to my interviewer and felt slowly less engaged.
I heard her voice and the words and I felt my intuition guiding me gently away.
Because I knew I couldn’t do what she was asking me to.
When she asked me if that was a philosophy I could stand behind, I hemmed for a moment before looking her in the eye and telling her that was not something I could do.
She nodded and moved on, indicating that I could be trained in this practice, that eventually I would recognize its effectiveness and appreciate it.
That’s when my gut, my spirit, my brain, my pasts lives, whatever–that voice inside me that every day drives who I am, but who rarely speaks out so loudly and so strongly–told me to get out of there, leave, to say no.
We finished up with pleasantries. I thanked her for taking the time to meet with me. I walked out of there conflicted: maybe it was just me. Maybe I was the one who had to change.
Later that night I had job training for my current job, another position working with youth, but this time in an after-school setting. One of our training activities was about body language and personal space, and the demonstration required us to get very close to and touch our team members. My personal bubble is very large, and I am an extremely touch-sensitive person. My arms are especially vulnerable and this was the part our instructors wanted us to touch. I walked away from that activity with my nerves on haywire, trying to figure out if they had been hurt or not. I rubbed my arms to calm the skin and remind myself that I was intact and alright. As I waited for my team to rejoin at our table I glanced at the faded brown lines staggered up and down my forearms.
I remembered my interview, and how the interviewee had described and self-harm situation; how I had been triggered right there and fought to stay professional, struggled to stave off my rising panic. Imagining blood. Imagining scars. Seeing the blade. Feeling the pain again.
I rubbed my arms and wished no one would ever touch me there again.
I wished that someone, anyone, would have asked me if I was okay, that first time.
I wished someone could have caught me in the act–and sat with me quietly, asking what I needed.
I thought of the kids I’ll be working with at the school, and how I could never turn calmly away from them if they expressed pain or distress.
I thought of my TRIO kids and how I could fight to protect them.
I thought of my Literacy kids and how they would let me hold them and kiss their bruises and scrapes.
I remembered the empathy expressed by the little girl, who I’d saved from the slide monsters at the park with my invisible bottle of monster spray. “Tss, tss,” I said, spraying. “Now you don’t have to be scared.” She happily slid down and into my arms.
“I was scared,” I told her later, holding her hand as we walked back to our building–“When you ran into the street, I was really scared.”
She turned to me and pinched her fingers in front of her face. “Tss, tss,” she said.
It took me a moment to realize what she was doing.
She was saving me from being scared, as I had done with her.
Kids are so empathetic. And so intuitive. They know more than we think. They read me better than I read them. And they can tell when I really care and when I’m pretending. They understand what it means to feel someone else’s pain or fear.
I can’t contain my emotions when I know they are choosing to expose theirs to me.
I don’t care how many PhDs reviewed the emotional containment method, I can’t do something that goes against everything I know and see and believe about kids. And I can’t work somewhere that will try to convince me that my intuition is wrong, that could change the way I think and work and live. Chang who I am. Not when I have such huge goals. Not when I see so much more opportunity than that.
Effective as that strategy may be, it’s not something I can do and live with myself at the end of the day. It’s not something I can do and look into the mirror afterwards saying “That was my best me.”
I can’t suppress the empathy I was blessed, or cursed, with, that has literally tried to kill me but also been the only thing keeping me alive.
I turned down a $260/week paycheck because, as much as I need the money, I can’t compromise myself to get it. I’ll work at McDonald’s if I need to. I can’t fathom working somewhere that does exactly what I want to do the exact opposite way I want to do it.

An Open Letter to the Summer Camp that Broke my Heart

An Open Letter to the Summer Camp that Broke my Heart

Dear TRIO,

I’m writing to ask why I was not hired for the summer of 2016.

Is it because I refused to make the kids do pushups, instead taking the time to patiently explain camp policies and values?

Is it because I connected with the queer kids on a level no one else could, and was able to talk with them about their coming out, dysfunctional families, fractured support systems, and questions about their gender/sexual identities?

Is it because when one of the girls was in danger of harming herself, I was the one her friends told when asking for help?

Is it because I spent two hours of one evening answering one student’s fascinated questions about the lgbtq community, saying things some of the other RAs in the room didn’t even know about?

Is it because I made food for the kids and helped them out in the kitchen?

Is it because I made coconut ice cream for the vegan student when all the other students got ice cream?

Is it because every Wednesday and Friday I made sure there was a vegetarian option for the orthodox Catholics who couldn’t eat meat on those days?

Is it because after an argument with one of the girls about race and labelling others, I told her it was okay to be angry and walked with her as she explained herself and cried?

Is it because I told the kids that as RAs we were not infallible, and that we were learning from them as well?

Is it because I made boob jokes with the high school senior who later wrote to me thanking me for being the older sister she never had?

Is it because I had fascinating, productive conversations about gender theory with the philosopher kid no one could stand?

Is it because when the large, scary-tempered middle schooler got yelled at for not doing his homework, I took him aside afterward to thank him for reaching out and apologizing that I hadn’t helped him sooner?

Is it because when one of the girls showed signs of depression, I talked to her to find out what was wrong?

Is it because I asked one of our Latina girls to teach me phrases in her language?

Is it because I listened to the annoying kid’s rants in my class and thanked him for his contributions, seeing the big grin on his face when he heard those words from me?

Is it because I sat through a Batman marathon with the two kids that wanted to because no one else would?

Is it because on my days off I continued to plan activities with my kids and tell them I would be there to do things when they asked?

Is it because when one girl forgot her money, I secretly bought the gem stone she’d been admiring to surprise her with later?

Is it because I listened to all the random thoughts of the sweet little boy the teacher ignored?

Is it because I explained to the girls no one likes what they were doing wrong, and continued to face their wrath at every step despite the fact that they showed that they hated me?

Is it because I hosted a hair dye party in my room when my queer kids initiated me into their peculiar brand of punk culture?

Is it because I listened to the boy with Asperger’s as he ranted or looked into the tiniest of things when most of the others ignored him or tried to get rid of him?

Is it because I listened to the white ghetto girl who didn’t know shit about diversity, but who still had things to say and needed someone to tell her what she missed?

Is it because I volunteered to teach my class even after being told I could not be paid for it?

Is it because I cried in front of the kids because I was beyond not showing them I was human?

I’m not dumb, I know none of these are reasons. But maybe when you read them, you’ll understand what you lost when you fired me.

I know you probably fired me because last summer I was struggling with depression, self-loathing, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts. It’s probably because I needed a little extra support from my supervisors to get me through a week. It’s probably because I was honest with the kids and told them I’d been through a breakup and when my uncle died. Or maybe it’s because of my gender identity, and that’s why you can’t tell me about it.

Or it’s for other reasons I don’t know, which apparently are not worth telling me so I can grow from them.

I hope the first day of training goes well; I hope the new RAs get along with the old ones, and everyone has a chance to learn and tell their story. I hope you all have a fantastic summer–and even if it doesn’t sound like it, I mean that sincerely.

Because who could spend a summer with those kids and not chalk it up with the best days of their life?

You’re never going to read this letter, because it wouldn’t do any good if I sent it. But I hope at some point you reflect on the person you rejected and wonder what it would have been like if you’d kept them.

Because every hour of every day this summer I’m going to think of those kids. I’m going to wonder what they’re doing and ache over the conversations and experiences I’m missing.

Have a great summer. Tell the kids I said hi. If they ask, I’ll leave it up to you to explain why I couldn’t come back.