Henry stood outside the waiters’ cabin, making no effort to conceal his tears. His duffel bag and valise lay on the ground beside him. Walter, the camp director, had his arm around his shoulders while Louise, Walter’s wife, kept everyone else at a distance. I had never seen a 16-year-old cry like that before. What could have happened that would make them send my best friend home halfway through the camp season?
Walter was co-owner of the camp, where only well-to-do parents could afford to send their sons. Nestled in the stately trees of the Adirondacks, it fronted on beautiful Racquette Lake and featured tennis, golf, canoe trips, theatricals, and social activities with the girls’ camp across the lake. During the rest of the year Walter was chairman of the Physical Education Department of the high school from which I had just graduated. Henry was a little younger than I, and still had a year to go.
Greg, Walter’s partner, taught at the same school. I had had both for gym. Greg told me he had a cousin, a lady dentist, who had the same last name as mine. He wondered if we were related. I told him we were — she was my aunt by marriage. After that I wasn’t just another student. A few months before graduation he asked me if I could type. I told him I had been typing since junior high school and was pretty good at it. He offered me a summer job, which I accepted, as office boy in his camp, and asked if I knew anyone who would be interested in being a waiter. I recommended Henry.
Bruno, the French-Canadian handyman, drove the battered camp truck up the dirt road, churning dust until he came to a stop in front of the cabin. Walter helped Henry climb into the cab next to Bruno and placed his bags in the back. Henry was still crying as the truck pulled away.
When the truck was out of sight, Walter walked toward me, slowly, as though he was rehearsing what he would say. “Henry had to go home,” he said. “His parents were in an accident.”
Accidents are things that happen to strangers and people you hardly know, not to your best friend’s parents. I visualized a wrecked car and bodies on gurneys being loaded into an ambulance. These weren’t just anyone’s parents. They had always been wonderful to me. From the time I was ten I spent hour after hour at Henry’s house with him and his little brother — I was almost their third son. I envied him for having such terrific parents. His mother was lively, friendly, and had a great sense of humor. My mother had been sick with MS for as long as I could remember. His father was suave and soft-spoken, a sales executive with a leading electronics and appliance firm. My father worked long hours, six days a week in a one-man store, barely making a living but refusing to give up his business.
Walter walked back toward the cabin. Henry’s friends for the summer were waiting there to hear why their bunkmate had left. Louise, as soon as she saw that her husband was occupied with the waiters, came over to me; I assumed to offer consolation.
“Did he tell you what happened?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied, “He said Henry’s parents were in an accident.”
“An accident?” she said. “When a man shoots his wife and then himself, it’s no accident.”
In my lifetime I have experienced a wide range of emotions, but envy is no longer among them.
The writer is the humor columnist and a staff member on Encore Speaks, the monthly publication of the Encore Monroe active adult community in Monroe Township.