'No apologies'

My permanent way to remember my Ôspontaneous' summer

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The Spectrum

I heard the buzzing of the tattoo machine in the artist’s hand, saw him slowly move toward my inner left arm and thought to myself: What am I doing?

Getting a tattoo wasn’t like me. Anyone who knows me will probably tell you I’m the last person they would expect to get a tattoo. To some people, I can be quiet, mild-mannered and reserved.

The plan to get the tattoo was pretty spontaneous. A text from my friend and summer camp coworker on our Saturday off day that read, “Let’s get tattoos at like 3. I really want to do it” started it all.

We had joked about getting tattoos together; tattoos inspired by a lyric from the Kanye West song “No Church in the Wild” that we had often rapped together throughout the summer: “Two tattoos / One read ‘no apologies’ / The other said ‘love is cursed by monogamy.’”

The plan was I would get ‘no apologies’ on my left bicep, while my friend would get ‘love is cursed by monogamy’ on her right bicep.

(So, yes, there is a girl out there somewhere with the words ‘love is cursed by monogamy’ tattooed on her. I love her dearly.)

Even though I had a moment of self-doubt while lying on the table in the tattoo parlor, I didn’t stop the artist. I looked up at the ceiling and let the needle push the ink into my skin.

Getting a tattoo may not have been like me, but it was something different. It was new. It was me stepping out of my comfort zone. It was spontaneous.

It think that word – spontaneous – accurately describes my summer.

I had a lot of freedom to be spontaneous and do what made me happy after I broke up with my girlfriend of two and a half years at the beginning of the summer.

(OK, fine, she broke up with me.)

It was a chance for me to try new experiences, and I took advantage of it.

I reconnected with old friends I had not given enough time to. I learned to how to drive on the thruway without my heart pounding and hands sweating. I played card games in the nude with my coworkers – the males ones. I went to a strip club for the first time – with a female coworker. Oh yeah, and I got that tattoo.

But my best – and also some of my worst experiences – came from working seven weeks at an overnight summer camp for kids who were 8 to 13 years old.

While all the other counselors were placed in different cabins and with different camper age groups every week, I spent all six sessions of camp inside Turner cabin looking after 8- to 10-year-old boys.

They kept me with the younger boys in Turner because most of the 13-year-old boys are taller than me and Turner cabin has the fewest porch steps for little boys to climb.

And apparently because I have patience with younger kids.

My co-counselors told me they didn’t understand how I never yelled. I didn’t lose my temper when my campers asked for the 10th time what we we’re having for dinner even though I had answered them nine times that I did not know. I dealt with cleaning up urine-soaked sleeping bags by putting on gloves, listening to the Breaking Bad theme song and pretending to be Walter White cleaning up a crime scene.

I dressed up in my old Halloween costume of Woody from Toy Story and pretended to be a sheriff to entertain them. I acted silly and crazy, doing different voices I didn’t even know I had in me and singing “In the Jungle” with my boys as we walked through camp.

It wasn’t like me to be patient with children and act silly, but I had to keep my sanity and my kids entertained. Being a counselor challenged me to change who I was.

I came out of my shell while reconnecting with my old camp friends. They made me feel comfortable and allowed me to act like the person I wanted to.

We called ourselves the “stoop kids” because of all the time we spent on a flight of steps leading up to camp from the road relaxing and talking. We spent our Saturday off-nights in a clearing of woods where train tracks used to lay – a place we affectionately called “Narnia” – until sunrise when we should have been getting sleep for the long week at camp.

Regardless of how terrible I felt the next morning making the hour drive back to camp, I wouldn’t trade some of those nights with them for anything.

My friend, the camp cook, and I got involved with two girls in our group of friends that are twins. We were nothing serious, but she helped me realize, after my breakup, there are other people out there. She also gets points for coming with me on my first strip club experience.

My summer wasn’t perfect, though. There were times I felt drained and felt I couldn’t keep going. I spent one of my Saturdays off waiting around for a tow truck after I ran over a boulder. Turner cabin had a mice problem. The girl I was seeing was named my co-counselor – twice – which made for some interesting late night escapades sneaking her out of my cabin window.

But regardless of the bad times, I wouldn’t change anything about the summer because it changed me.

I don’t think I was happy with my life or the person I was before this summer. I was scared of being alone and trying new things. I was afraid to speak up. That’s why when my friend texted me on that fateful Saturday asking me to do something completely new and completely outside of who I was, I said yes.

Stepping outside your comfort zone makes you grow as a person, and there’s no better time to step out of your comfort zone than during college. I wish I had realized that before this summer.

As a junior, I have two more years to make up for what I missed out on during my first two years at UB. Don’t be like me. Start now. You don’t have to spontaneously get a tattoo, but don’t be afraid to do something different every now and then.

I have a lot of ways to remind me about this summer.

On my last day of camp, I stole a wooden Turner cabin sign that’s now hanging in my room. I have a plastic bag filled with items ranging from crafts my kids made me, to the ribbons my cabin won, to scribbled notes of inside jokes between me and my friends.

And most importantly, I have my tattoo.

I don’t think about my tattoo often, usually only when someone brings it up and asks, “What does ‘no apologies’ mean?” For me, it’s not really about what the words themselves mean. I get it; it’s just a Kanye West lyric, and I’m still going to say, “I’m sorry.”

My best friend, who has four tattoos himself, didn’t like my tattoo when he first saw it. He told me he changed his mind once he remembered something his tattoo artist once told him: It wasn’t about what the tattoo meant, but where you were in your life when you got it.

I want to remember where I was this summer.

email: tom.dinki@ubspectrum.com