Age: 17, Grade: 11
School Name: Stuyvesant High School, New York, NY
Educator: Bill Boericke
Category: Personal Essay & Memoir
Banana Split with a Twist
It was 11:36 p.m., almost half an hour past my curfew. I was sitting on my bed, staring into the cheap five dollar alarm clock from Amazon, when I heard a quiet whisper from behind the door.
“Hey, Mark needs you to go down to the office.” A few more knocks followed on the old wooden door. I angrily opened the door to see Rudy, my counselor, who stood there with disappointment written all over his face.
“Sorry to bother you. Mark wants to see you,” he said with a smile, trying his best to cheer me up. In a state of confusion, I hurried down the stairs in my pajamas and rushed into the office. Incidentally, Mark, the camp director, was in no mood to rush. He sat in his big armchair and signaled me to sit down with his dark eyes and furrowed eyebrows. This was unusual. Mark typically wore an artificial smile; happy or sad, he would always have the same facial expression.
He said in a calm voice, “Tell me what you think you did wrong this time.” This caught me off guard. I expected him to say, “Today is your last day at this camp. We are going to ask you to leave.” But no, he wanted me to recite back to him whatever wrongdoing I had committed. I responded, “For taking bananas from the buffet?”
That was seven hours ago. It didn’t make sense for him to summon me past my curfew just to talk to me about some bananas. It had to be something more serious, didn’t it? As I recall, my friend and I had been eyeing the stacked fruits as we finished eating dinner. Thinking about our master plan, I couldn’t help but grin. We had planned on taking some bananas to put in our dorm freezer, because we couldn’t even leave to get ice cream. So, we improvised by eating frozen bananas to cool down after hours of playing soccer. My friend and I were like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I was Butch and he was the Sundance Kid. I recall Mark telling us during one of the morning meetings not to take any food outside of the cafeteria. But I ignored him, It’s a d*mn banana! What harm could it bring?
I watched to see if Mark or any other counselor was watching and gave my friend the GO signal. In a blitz of a second, he took a handful of bananas, came back, and stuffed them into my backpack.
Whew! We did it. They definitely didn’t see us.
Soon, we heard Mark announcing that our dinner break was over. We tried to act as innocent as possible as we walked by him. “Open your bags.” he commanded in his monotonous deep voice. I could feel the heat rising through my face. I wondered, How did he see us? He was talking to other people! WHAT? Despite my alarm, he simply instructed us to put the bananas back and let us go.
Mark interrupted my train of thought by yelling, “The problem is that you fail to recognize your misbehavior, and show no signs of regret!” He was right; I didn’t feel any remorse for my behavior. “I know that you are a smart kid, but you are definitely not acting like one! I’ve warned you twice already, but you don’t take my words into consideration and you continue to act the same way!” he exclaimed. I had heard this tune before. It was like reading my report card all over again: “He is very smart but… He can be an amazing student but… He does well on tests, but he is disruptive to the class.” At that point, I stopped listening and continued fake-nodding in agreement.
“Hey? Hey!” he yelled, jolting me out of my haze. “As I said before, I need you to call your parents to tell them what’s going to happen.”
“What’s up?” my mom said. I had called her just 50 minutes ago, telling her that everything was going great. Everyday, the counselors took each student’s phone away and gave them back between 10:30 – 11:00 p.m. for us to call our parents and let them know that everything was okay. I sheepishly mustered my courage and whispered, “I got kicked out.” I could feel the sound waves resonating through the phone lines, from Portland to New York, delivering a knock-out punch to my parents. My mother anxiously bombarded me with questions, “What did you do? I thought you said everything was okay and you were going to behave? What about that book that you said you were going to write with Dr. Thomas? Do you think you’re still going to be able to do that?” I burst into an uncontrollable fit of tears and started bawling. I didn’t know whether I was disappointed in myself because I wasn’t able to behave and keep that promise to my mom, or I was acting sorry and hoping to persuade Mark to let me stay. Either way, the hard, unchangeable truth was that I had been kicked out of camp.
After my little tantrum begging them to let me stay, they sent me back to my dorm. Since it was my last day, they gave me back my phone. As I sat on my bed, watching meaningless videos, I thought, how is this any different from a prison? No leisure and freedom, just constantly hammering kids with advanced math. The camp was composed of extremely bright kids from all over the world. The majority of kids were my age. However, they had a very competitive admission process; students had to pass a “Qualifying Test”. They kept telling us that there were no right or wrong answers. It was ironic because they reviewed the test by showing the “bad answers” compared to “good answers” everyday. One day, they used one of my solutions on the board as an example of a “bad answer” and I quietly felt ashamed. In a sense, I was glad to be going back home, like I was being freed from prison after serving a long two week sentence.
I heard the same knock on my door. It was Rudy telling me that I had to leave for my plane. The alarm clock read 4:32 a.m. I took my two bags of luggage and burst out of the room. Without even saying bye to Rudy, I continued to briskly walk across the silent hallway. I didn’t want anyone to know.
I was accompanied onto the plane by a stewardess because I was 12 years old at the time. Mark’s questions kept nagging at me. What was my problem? What was I doing wrong? I was lost in thought when she asked me, “Anything wrong? Can I get you some snacks?” I thanked her and sat down; I was glad that my mom had bought me a window seat. At that time, I believed that being smart justified all of my actions. For many years, I had outperformed most of my peers. This belief probably started in elementary school math class. In 1st grade, while other students were covering addition, I was doing multiplication of three digit numbers. Since I knew everything, I would talk to other students and amuse myself by creating index card toys during class. By 6th grade, all my teachers wrote that I was either disruptive, lacked focus, or didn’t listen to what they said. The fact that I was always able to answer any question that the teacher posed made me feel like I was superior to him or her. My behavior carried over to camp; I believed that I was above Mark and the camp’s rules. After all, this belief had gotten me kicked out of camp.
The stewardess’ tap on my shoulder drew me out of my pity party. She said, “Here’s your snack. I brought you a sandwich and OJ.” While munching on the cardboard-like sandwich, I looked out the window and saw the airplane workers doing their job to get this plane in the air. It felt like everyone on the plane was also going through the motions of life, except me. I had messed up my first stitch on the fabric of life, but the sewing machine, or the world, did not wait for me to go back and fix it. At that moment, it just clicked for me; if I did not change my behavior, I would continue to have similar experiences. I realized that camp is a microcosm of society, and that there are consequences to one’s actions. I questioned myself, where could this happen again… School? College? My future workplace? I was frightened; getting kicked out of camp had stained me for the rest of my life, and I didn’t want that to happen again.
I believe that being smarter than others does not exempt one from societies’ rules. Regardless of how smart people are, they must learn to listen and respect others around them. Mark was probably trying to stop students from taking the food out of the cafeteria to prevent rats and bugs from infesting the dorms. Putting myself into Mark’s shoes, I would have done the same thing; 12 year old kids need supervision. Now I understand how frustrated Mark may have felt when I constantly disobeyed the rules.
The following school year, I made a conscious effort to keep my behavior in check. Even when other students wanted to talk to me, I encouraged them to listen to the teacher and follow the instructions. I turned my chattiness in class into helping other students. That year, I was relieved when I got back my first report card. It read, “He consistently performed at a very high level this semester… Original and creative. Demonstrates high level thinking.” To be honest, I think Mark made a good choice in letting me go. In the process, I learned that my former behavior was unacceptable and this knowledge has changed me for the better.