February 23, 2012
By , Poway, CA
Years ago, my friend Cameron and I were alone at a garden bench together, playing a game of checkers. It was a ritual we had together as kids, one that we had every week. But one day stood out from all the rest. One day he looked me in the eyes, and asked “Have you ever had the feeling that you were here for a reason? That you were here to make an impact on the world, and it doesn’t even have to be a big one, just big enough to change someone’s life ever so slightly… I don’t know…” You see, he was embarrassed at the time because he was so unnaturally smart that kids made fun of him, but to me, he was gifted. He was different from all the rest of the kids who constantly told me that it couldn’t be done, that it was stupid. But that’s the thing about it, you never know until you try.

What I neglected to tell you earlier was that particular conversation with him happened at the children’s hospital in January of 2005. It was a bleak day the day I found out. The sky and clouds itself seemed to rollover, leaving only a dull blue sky to peek through the few patches not covered by the ghastly looking clouds. I was in class when the phone rang abruptly, interrupting our small group work. Nonchalantly, the teacher walked over and answered the phone. The call was taking an unusually long time, and I looked up to her face morphed into a solemn grimace, staring directly at me. She hung up, pulled me aside, and told me to pack up and head directly to the office. There, I was greeted by several faces in the office staring at me. I walked up to the attendance counter, and without one word, handed me a slip. Something was deeply wrong. I stepped outside, and found my mom waiting for me in the gardens. There, she murmured, “Joey, Cameron has fallen sick with cancer. He’s going to be in the hospital for a while, just until he can recover. We are heading there right now.”

When I arrived at the hospital, the colorful, cheery walls enveloped me, a grand illusion made to distract me from what was really going on. I stared down an outdoor hallway, sick with worry as the nurse lead us to a room with the blinds closed and a blank white door. I’ll never forget what I saw once that door opened. I stared through the doorway to find a boy, or at least that’s what I thought it was. “Hi Joey,” it exclaimed. I could barely make out my best friend, who I had grown up with my entire life, as he laid there, crippled, pale, and helpless, yet smiling right at me. After a discussion filled with confusion and emotion, the nurse gave us permission to play checkers on the bed. We played for at least an hour (he would usually win), while the parents sat in a corner and talked. While we played, I asked “How much longer are you going to be here?” Cameron replied “Just a few days, I’ll be out soon.” As I left, I looked back at a boy, who had been put through more than most go through in their entire life, smiling and happy. I had no idea on what was really going on.

Soon, those days turned into weeks, and weeks into months. The cancer was fighting with everything it had, and my friend’s body could simply not handle it. I would visit him at least once a week, and would spend the greater part of my day worrying about him. Even so, he finally started to recover, and was able to get out of bed, and eventually go outside. One night, I remember it being particularly beautiful. As we played his favorite game, checkers, in a garden outside, the darkened sky twinkled, as a luminescent moon shone before us. I pointed out the beautiful stars to Cameron, and he replied, “Those things that you call stars? Well, that’s just what scientists call them. They are really gateways to heaven, where angels come down to earth from, and where good people go to when they die.” We continued playing, talking about one thing and another, but my mind was focused on what he had said earlier. Even for someone as smart as Cameron, he rarely talked like that. As we went back to the room, he had a seemingly different presence around him. He could tell I was worried about him, and whispered to me “Don’t worry about me, I’ll be better in no time, trust me.” He died later that night.
After the Funeral, a select few were invited over to his house to say their final goodbyes. There, someone came up to me that I never expected to see. It was Mr. Tony Gwynn, the famous San Diego Padre and future hall of famer. He came up to a startled young boy and elaborated, “Joey, a couple days ago I visited the children’s hospital, passing out baseball bats I used and signing them with a personal message to a couple of children there. I knew Cameron was a huge baseball fan, as are you, so I visited him first. I sat in there and talked with him for a while, and on my way out, he did something nobody else had done before, he asked ‘Can I have one for my friend Joey?’. He was on his death bed, feeling miserable, but he still thought of you. He was a good friend, Joey. I'm sorry you had to lose him.” Then he pulled out a signed bat that he used in his games with the Padres, with a personal message dedicated to me written on it, and handed it to me. I was awestruck, speechless, and amazed at Cameron’s thoughtfulness. I was so lucky to have a friend like him.

And now, I lay here, staring at that baseball bat, that symbol of friendship, and remembering what an influence Cameron had on me. Was Cameron an angel sent by God? Was he just an unnaturally gifted and spiritual kid? Whoever he was, he shaped me and who I am today. I know now that the best I can do is to strive to be more like him, and to look back on my memories with joy.

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