Maggie was a sweet quiet polite girl. She liked to read and spent most of her time alone curled up with her favorite book. An innocent enough hobby, but it seemed to dominate Maggie's err, umm 'social life'. This bothered her parents.
The truth was that there was absolutely nothing wrong with Maggie. Right now she was just fed up with people, especially those of her own age. Unfortunately, her parents had little insight into this so they worried greatly that their daughter would become a recluse if they did not intervene.
Maggie’s dad felt the situation warranted drastic measures- they would send the poor girl to summer camp. If nine weeks of emersion in a sea of other kids her age could not break Maggie out of her anti-social bubble then nothing else would. Not surprisingly, Maggie did not want to go.
Despite her protests the day of Maggie’s departure to Camp Willow Lake finally came. She dragged her feet getting on the big green camp bus that was to transport her to what was no doubt going to be her biggest social disaster yet.
Just to put a final nail in her coffin her mother ran up beside the bus and pushed Maggie’s well-worn pink teddy- Chuckles through the bus window. By the time they pulled up at the camp's front gates Chuckle’s arm had been ripped off and Maggie was wearing two boxes worth of apple juice on the crotch of her white jeans- making it look as though she’d had a really embarrassing accident on the way over.
The situation did not improve as she entered the camp for her obnoxious pink knapsack suddenly went missing (it was later discovered in the swamp). When she tried to get help from the hyper active eighteen year old counselor with the crazy red pigtails she was told to stop being such a baby about it because it would show up eventually to which everyone started chanting: ‘don’t cry Maggie baby-wabie’.
Red-faced and embarrassed Maggie lingered in the back of the crowd of kids as she was assigned to share a cabin with a couple of snotty twelve year old girls that could have passed as twenty year old women. The two laughed and squeaked and made excited noises as they talked of boys and movie stars and makeup and tried to pretend that Maggie wasn’t even there during the walk to their cabin. Maggie and her one armed Chuckles followed far behind, secretly thankful to be ignored.
Maggie claimed a lifeless cot for herself to sleep on. The other two girls had already taken the new bunk beds for themselves. As they continued to chatter on like a couple of hens Maggie stowed Chuckles inside the small trunk at the foot of the bed. Then she flopped down and dozed off briefly. When she awoke it was sunset and one of her two bunkmates was poking her in the arm with a stick as though she were a piece of road kill.
“Hey… uh, pony tail girl. It’s time to go down to the mess for dinner and orientation. Do us a favor and sit at a different table- you smell like old apple juice.”
Maggie was the last to arrive. The cafeteria was already buzzing with hyperactive kids and the only spot left open was next to the two girls that had just expressed their distaste for Maggie’s stale apple smell. Maggie took a deep breath to steady her nerves, walked up to her bunkmates, and began the process of begging for a seat.
“Excuse me,” she whispered to the back of the head of one roomate, “I know you said you didn’t want me sitting here but there’s nowhere else for me to go and I was just wondering if I could sit here tonight?”
The perfectly styled strands did not respond. Maggie finally resorted to tapping the girl on the shoulder.
“Ugh, what do you want ponytail,” asked the girl with disgust?
Maggie very patiently and politely repeated the same request and explanation that she had told the back of the girl’s head at least three times already.
“Oh, is that all? You just need a place to sit? Well there’s plenty of room in the outhouse for people who pee their pants.”
“Hey, I remember you,” shouted the boy across the table. “Did you enjoy that juice box Maggie baby-wabie? Why don’t you go hug your teddy?”
The table erupted in laughter as Maggie’s cheeks shown red. From behind her Maggie heard the voice of the other boy that had drenched her on the bus.
“Hey Maggie baby, don’t leave just yet! Since you can’t have a seat here at the cool table we’ve got a consolation prize for you instead!”
Poor gullible Maggie turned around just in time to catch a lap and chest full of ketchup.
“News flash retard: white shorts went out in like- the eighties,” said the horrible blonde girl.
“Hey Jimmy- good job! Fatty there looks like a great big tator tot now,” said the boy sitting across the table from the perfect blonde girl to his friend that had pasted Maggie with the ketchup.
“Ha…ha! Tator tot…tator tot…tator tot,” screamed the entire mess hall.
The shouts followed Maggie from the mess hall as she ran out the door and back to her bunk in the cabin. She flopped down on the bed and cursed herself for being so dumb.
Her hands fell to the sides of the bed.
The metal frame felt so strong and supportive. She ran her hands up and down it methodically to pass the time. With each pass her mind grew clearer and her thoughts and anger drifted away.
Amid the silence, Maggie discovered something hard and scratchy poking from the mattress- something that she had managed to miss a few hundred times before. The interruption startled her and without thinking she pulled the object out-it was a pair of black sunglasses.
To this day no one knows what it was that possessed Maggie to put on an old pair of sunglasses in the middle of the night, but she did, and all at once she was plunged into the bright sunlight of a hot August day. She was at the same camp, but it was different, younger. The kids around her on the dock were all wearing bright green t-shirts with the camp logo. She watched in awe as they taunted a young Spanish girl that was standing close to the edge of the boards. They were pushing her and making fun of her. Then they pushed her in and laughed at her as she floundered near the surface screaming until someone came to save her.
The image faded away to darkness. When it shimmered back into focus Maggie could hardly believe her eyes. She was standing among the same kids on the dock again and was watching a swimming race. The Spanish girl, wearing the sunglasses, had won the race! The image faded away again, like an old slide show.
When Maggie could see again she was standing in the middle of an archery field. A tiny boy with blonde hair was surrounded by a group of older boys wearing blue camp T-shirts. They were pounding the snot out of him for costing them the winning place in the archery contest. The horrid slide show continued.
In the next frame the little boy triumphed. Maggie watched him hitting bull's eye after bull's eye in the next competition. Then he sat happily on his teammates' shoulders, wearing his new sunglasses of course.
The next morning after her roommates left Maggie rolled out of bed and strode quickly out the door. She had intended to stroll down to the lake to wash her clothes, but at that moment the two boys that had doused her in the mess hall yesterday showed up.
Not realizing that she was being watched, she carefully took off her stained shirt and pants and washed them in the lake. Then, while they dried on a nearby bush she submerged herself in the water so that anyone that might happen by would think that she was just out for an early morning swim. When Maggie was far enough out in the water the two boys jumped from their hiding spot and snatched up her clothes before she even knew what was happening. They ran off into the woods laughing like mad men screaming: ‘have a nice swim tator tot!’
Maggie remained marooned in the water all morning until Craig, the handsome twenty-year-old camp administrator, nearly ran over Maggie’s head as he came sailing along in a canoe.
“Hey, you there,” he screamed, “what are you doing in the lake-it’s dodge ball time. And why are you wearing sunglasses, it’s overcast today?”
“I.. uh.. I’m going for a swim.”
“Well Miss Maggie swim time is not until this afternoon. No campers are aloud out here alone. You could get really hurt out here or lost or drown. So I have to insist that you get out now. “
“I can’t get out now.”
“And why might that be,” asked Craig, irritated.
“Because… I uh…because I just got in.”
“Well, Maggie you have just earned your cabin ten demerits. Now get out of the water this instant.”
“No way,” screamed Maggie.
Craig dragged her from the water. Maggie covered her face in embarrassment till she discovered that she actually was wearing a hot two-piece bikini. Craig was silent because he was enraptured by her beauty. When he regained the ability to speak he decided that she didn’t need the demerits if she would just accompany him to breakfast with the counselors.
After a long leisurely meal Maggie returned via Craig’s escort to her cabin. Inside she found her two roommates lying sprawled across their bunks. They were sunburnt, hair a mess, covered in poison ivy rashes, and doubled over with food poisoning. Maggie snickered quietly and walked over to her own cot, which had been replaced in her absence with a brand new air comfort mattress.
She sat down and was just contemplating whether she should take a walk with Craig or if she should take a nap when she noticed that the new bed wasn’t the only thing to appear while she was gone. Next to her feet stood a trunk full of brand new trendy clothes. She giggled with delight as she went through them and picked out an outfit to wear to dinner.
That night at the ‘new faces’ dance the two boys that had dumped apple juice on her were both nursing broken legs and a multitude of scratches. At first Maggie was going to just let them be, but then she was seized by a fit of revenge. She grabbed some ketchup and hurled it across the two of them screaming: ‘who looks like a tator tot now!’ The entire mess hall screamed with laughter as they hobbled away as fast as they could.
After her display of power, Maggie made a lot of new friends. Girls clung to her commenting on how much they loved her hair. Boys high-fived her for throwing ketchup on those ‘two losers’ while other guys rubbed her shoulders and fetched her drinks and food. It was the single best night of Maggie’s life. When the mess hall was finally cleared out Maggie left with an entourage of over fifty people.
Maggie earned ten demerits for ditching swimming because she was too busy entertaining all her new friends. They had gathered around the dock on the far side of the lake and were taking turns pushing a terrified ten-year-old girl into the water till she was nearly drown.
The next day Maggie and her cohorts set out to finish tormenting the girl from the dock. When she saw Maggie’s group she tried to side step quietly around them. One of the boys stuck out his foot and tripped her. She fell into the water hitting her head on the way in and lay very still on its surface. As she sunk slowly further and further into the brown depths Maggie threw back her head and laughed a horrible cold cackling laugh while closing her eyes into a horrid grimace of pleasure under the lenses of her sunglasses.
When Maggie finished giggling and opened her eyes again she found herself inside an ancient cabin. She was sitting on a green couch facing a battered brown desk with a little nameplate on it that read: ‘Dawn, camper relations’. Behind the sign sat Dawn, staring intently at Maggie. Without a word she produced Maggie’s pair of sunglasses from her desk drawer .
“Hey,” yelled Maggie greedily, “those are mine I want them back now!”
“Do you really Maggie,” asked Dawn, speaking for the first time in her quiet voice. “Do you really want to go back to the way you were when you had them?”
“I uh…,” Maggie paused.
She sat in silence for a moment thinking back to what had happened only moments ago. Tears of shame began to roll down her face.
“I didn’t think so,” she finally said.
“Wait, yes I do- I do want them back Dawn,” sobbed Maggie. “My life was so perfect when I had them on. I had friends and those girls that were picking on me stopped and I had a boyfriend…”
“Those people were drawn to the power of the glasses Maggie, not to you.
“You lie,” cried Maggie, “you’re just jealous!”
“Maggie, I’m far too old to be jealous of an eleven year old so stop being so ridiculous and think. Would real friends encourage you to behave badly? Would they laugh when someone got hurt or even killed?”
“No, that was pretty bad,” admitted Maggie. “We shouldn’t have let her drown.”
“Good, I’m glad you finally stopped focusing on yourself for a minute and gave some thought to someone else.”
“It’s just that I was picked on so bad, I guess I thought that it was my turn to get revenge, that it was my turn to be loved.”
“Maggie, do you think Jenny loved you when you led a group of kids that pushed her into the water to drown? Do you think Trisha and Beth loved you when they were laying there agonizing with food poisoning and fevers and rashes and you were too busy playing with your clothes to help them?”
Maggie sat and stared at her feet sheepishly.
“That’s right Maggie, think back to that night in the mess hall. Think of why you hated those people that picked on you in the first place.”
“They were mean and heartless,” whispered Maggie.
“Yes, they were, but did you ever stop to think of why they picked on you?”
“I figured it was my clothes and hair.”
“Clothes and hair don’t make a person who they are. They say that to understand a person you must first walk a mile in their shoes. Do you know what that means Maggie?”
Maggie stared blankly back, thinking that Trisha’s shoes always looked like they would be rather uncomfortable to walk in.
“It means that in order to understand what motivates another person you have to look at things from their point of view.
Trisha’s mother spends no time with her and could care less about whether Trisha lived or died so long as the girl stays quiet. She envies you horribly. She wishes that she had a mother that cared like yours does and secretly prays that just once her mother would run to the bus window to tell her goodbye like yours did. Maggie, I think you are much better off without these sunglasses,” concluded Dawn, taking them back out of her drawer, “but that is for you to decide. Just don’t forget who you really are when you put them back on.”
Maggie reached out and took the dark glasses, sighing deeply as she slid them back on her face. Instantly she was transported back to the dock, just moments before Jenny was due to fall to her death. Without a second’s hesitation Maggie pulled the sunglasses off her face and chucked them into the water as hard as she could. Then, she pushed the boy that was about to trip Jenny out of the way. Trembling, she held out her hand to the terrified girl. As the crowd around Maggie began whispering at her sudden ‘uncool’ behavior she said in a loud, confident voice: ‘Jenny, I’m sorry I’ve been so mean to you. If you can forgive me, I’ll teach you to swim for real.’
Maggie’s former clique began to ‘boo’ her, but Maggie no longer cared. Those people weren’t her genuine friends, but she had the feeling she was about to make her first real one.
After the angry mob dispersed she had the most fun of her life teaching Jenny to swim. Over the course of the remainder of the summer they became inseparable and on the last day of camp Maggie realized that she was much happier making one true friend than a hundred fake ones.
She felt indebted to Dawn and wanted to find her and thank her for all her help, but she didn't seem to be standing in the 'farewell' crowd with the other counselors. Craig, however, was standing right next to her.
“Craig, could you do me a favor,” she asked earnestly.
“Only if it's quick, the bus is about to leave.”
“It’ll only take a second actually. I can’t find Dawn and I was wondering if you could just tell her that I said ‘thanks’.”
Craig cocked his head to the side in confusion.
“I hate to break this to you, but we don’t have any staff members with that name this year. In fact the only Dawn to ever work here has been dead for years. Seems she was out wandering in the woods one night and fell from a cliff. Some people said that she committed suicide, but after an extensive investigation the police ruled the whole thing accidental- though they never could figure out why she had been wandering around in the middle of the night with a pair of sunglasses on….”