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Sawyer 1

I lost it when Darius peed in the girls’ cabin.

Sawyer 3

I lost it when Darius peed in the girls’ cabin. It was the end, the twisted climax of a week I will always associate with pure, unbridled pain.

Sawyer 3

I lost it when Darius peed in the girls’ cabin. It was the end, the twisted climax of a week I will always associate with pure, unbridled pain.

Darius had been building to this all week. This eleven year old had become my sole responsibility for the week he was at YMCA Camp Orkila, and he was systematically breaking me down. My directors had told me to focus my efforts on him for the week he was here, because as a first year counselor I could use the experience of dealing with a child like Darius. Yet in the seven years I’d been a camper here, I’d never encountered anything like him. Here was a child naturally skilled at wreaking havoc; harassing people and wildlife was an art form for Darius.

Before this week, all I’d wanted was to be a counselor. I wanted to support children and teach them to trust themselves, just as this camp supported me as a camper. I was ecstatic, and spent hours learning the best methods of managing children. But what about when your camper is fifty feet up a climbing tower and unstraps himself to taunt you? I realized that nothing I learned in the workshops had prepared me for Darius.

My drive to help others succeed was gone. After days of being positive with Darius, negative reinforcement became my best friend. It was all I could do to keep him in line.

Then, the finale. I’d been setting up for dinner when another camper told me that Darius had peed inside the girls’ cabin, and ran away to the forest. I led a four hour search party tracking him down, and spent an hour cleaning the desecrated cabin. I was broken. The hours of mental depravity had gotten to me. For those last two days, I paid as little attention to Darius as possible. We only spoke when he created problems.

When Darius got on the bus to leave, I started breathing for the first time all week. But as he boarded the bus, he said something I never expected: “Jacob, thank you for this week. I had so much fun.” That moment still feels as raw today as it did two years ago, and I still can’t put what I’m feeling into words .

No one was waiting for Darius back in Seattle. His foster parents had abandoned him while he was at camp; CPS picked him up a few hours later. I still question myself about how I acted that week. Was I justified in how I treated him? Or was I simply too frustrated to dig deeper and help him, to support him? I tell myself I was only fifteen, it was how anybody that age would handle it. Maybe that’s true. But the idea that Darius is still out there, living a life in which everyone treats him the same way, still haunts me. It will for a long time to come.


I hit a boy with a bat in the second grade after he said “short girls can’t play baseball.” I saw red, and as my mom says, “When Audrey is seeing red, let her be.” Overcome with emotion and not thinking about consequences, I was too young to find a constructive way to deal with things that upset me. It would not be until my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years ago that I found a balance.

Alzheimer’s ran in the family, and knowing that it may only be a matter of years deeply rattled my mom. She read that jigsaw puzzles could delay the presence of the disease, so we began to puzzle together.

She puzzled because she had to. I puzzled because I wanted to.

For every puzzle, there is a strategy. First, find the edge pieces. This gives it a structure, a way to begin, a way to work from the outside in. From there, find a dominant color scheme or a section that appears easiest to tackle. Pull out all the pieces that fit this microcosm and complete a puzzle within the puzzle. Continue doing this—section by section—until you see a completed picture tied together by all the challenges you just tackled. Then, start over.

Within a year of casual puzzling, puzzles took on a new meaning. I went from doing them for fun to using them to reset. I saw red less and less.

My biggest puzzle, one that took over two years to tackle, is that of my sexuality. For the year before I came out to my parents, I was jumpy, testy. Obviously not at peace, I needed something to do to keep from bursting, so I did jigsaw puzzles once, twice, three times; I finished a puzzle, gave it a look, then ripped it apart to start over. I did it faster each time. Unaware of it then, every time I finished a puzzle, I got closer to putting together the pieces of how to deal with the component of myself that did not seem to fit—the gay part.

Life is full of situations that require some movement of the pieces to achieve something workable. Every day in Calculus, I stare at the page until I can find some way to begin the problem. I will try anything until I find the right edge pieces to work towards to the answers. In soccer, I play in the center of the field and my job is to be the brain. I see the second pass before the first is made and find a way to manipulate the players and the ball to get the outcome we want. My job is mentally exhausting, but every game it’s a new puzzle—and that’s why it’s fun.

I’m tiny, I’m gay, Calculus drives me insane, but puzzles reset me. They alleviate stress and bring understanding of my world and the world around me. Audrey is doing her puzzles, let her be.