The Connection

The Connection

From Chicken Soup for the Kid's Soul

The Connection

It was the summer after fourth grade that I came to realize that the connection we have with other people is necessary for our survival.

Joel Walker, age 11

“I’m gonna die! I’mgonna die!” I was screaming over and over, hanging on for dear life. Suddenly, my toes slipped out of the crack that had been supporting me. “I’m gonna die!” I screamed again. If I don’t find a place to secure my foot, I thought, I’ll fall in! I felt around with my toes and found a place to steady myself. Looking up through the steam, I could see my friend Warren kneeling above the pit.

“Grab my hand!” he shouted. I stretched my hand as far up as I could without losing my balance. I couldn’t get a grip on Warren’s hand because of the sulfur that covered my hands.

“Don’t worry. I won’t leave you,” he assured me. “We’re gonna get you out, Joel.”

Warren stayed next to the steam vent and talked to me while some of the other boys ran to get help. I knew they’d do everything in their power to save me.

Our friendships had grown out of the connection we had made, and the trust we had built with each other, while on a club soccer team called the Ameba. We had really learned how to communicate with each other while playing by saying things like “Behind you” and “Open over here.”

We kept the team together for the whole year. That summer we had the chance to go to Hawaii for the Big Island Cup Tournament. It was the first time in ten years that a team from our area would have the opportunity to go. All we needed was the money to get there! Our team went door-to-door in our community, and the generous donations we received paid for our tournament costs. We were on our way to Kona for a nine-day adventure.

We got to the hotel and put in a few hours of practice the first day. The following day, we weren’t scheduled to play a game, so we decided to do some sight-seeing.

We went to see the ruins of a burned-down village that had been in the path of an erupting volcano’s river of molten lava. There wasn’t enough time to hike up to the volcano’s opening, so we went to see the steam vents at the Volcano National Park. A steam vent is a crack in the earth’s surface caused by the pressure and heat of a volcano. The same steam that erupts from the volcano also comes out of the steam vent. Some vents are large and easy to spot by their steam, which rises into the air. Others are small and difficult to see, so we had to be careful where we walked because they are sort of hidden in the grass throughout the park.

I wanted to take some pictures, so I went exploring with Warren in search of a steam vent to photograph. Just as I heard Warren call out, “Joel, you’re walking past one,” I turned too sharply and tripped over some weeds. The next thing I knew, I found myself wedged into a steam vent that was just large enough for me to have fallen into.

That’s when I began screaming for my life. Warren tried to rescue me, but the slippery brown sulfur that is a byproduct of volcanoes burned my hands and made it impossible for us to connect.

My mind sent screaming panic signals all through my body. I pushed against the sides of the steam vent with my hands, which were being burned so badly by the smoldering sulfur that the blisters rose two inches high on my fingers and palms. I felt that if I slipped down any farther, I’d surely die from the deadly heat of the steam. Or worse, fall into the mysterious black passageway that led to the volcano’s boiling lava center.

Somehow my shoes slipped off my feet. I don’t know how that happened because I had socks on, and the socks should have kept my shoes on. Losing my shoes saved the soles of my feet from having rubber melt into my skin. The hot sulfur, which smelled like rotten eggs, still burned my soles right through my socks.

I tried to look up through the scalding, rising steam. This time, I saw a man—a stranger—calling down to say that help was on the way. Warren, reassuring me, added, “They’re coming, Joel. Hang on!” The team chaperones got there and quickly made a human chain, so that the person pulling me up wouldn’t fall in with me. One of our team chaperones reached down and finally made the connection that saved my life.

The instant that our grip was locked, she pulled as hard as she could. I landed on the ground, just outside of the steaming vent. Without hesitation, the adults stripped me of my scalding hot clothes before the burns got any worse. I didn’t even care that I was naked in front of everyone! I was shivering and shaking all over, and in the most terrible pain I’d ever experienced. But I was just glad to be alive!

The stranger who had come to help quickly carried me to my coach’s car. We headed for the visitor’s center, where they could call the paramedics. A park ranger passed us in his truck. We flagged him down, and he had us follow him to the park office. The first thing he did was to put me into a sink of cold water, to keep the burns from getting any worse. The paramedics arrived not long after that. Halfway to the hospital, after the paramedics had taken my blood pressure and temperature, I had to be transferred to a second ambulance because of some crazy territory line or something. I kept pleading with the driver, “Just go! Please, don’t stop.” I was in so much pain; all I wanted to do was get to the hospital. The paramedics in the second ambulance had to do all of the same tests again! It seemed to take forever.

It wasn’t until I had finally reached the hospital and had been treated for my burns that the initial shock began to wear off. I realized how important friends are—people are—to all of us. They saved my life! If I had been alone, I would have died.

The news of my accident spread over the television stations from Hawaii to California. My mom flew to Hawaii on the first plane she could catch, to bring me home. On the plane, and even at the airport in Los Angeles, people recognized me as “the boy who had fallen into the steam vent.” They’d stop to talk to me, and I felt that they honestly cared. Many people told me that they had been praying for me.

My family and friends were there for me throughout my painful recovery. My parents took me for treatment to a hospital near my home, and I had to go there every day for four weeks to have whirlpool therapy. Either my mom or dad would go with me every single time. Getting into that water was the most painful thing that I’ve ever had to go through. I would kiss my mom or dad’s hands over and over again, to keep my mind off the pain. That seemed to make the pain less unbearable.

I have learned a lot since that summer day, which came so close to being my last. The experience has changed my relationships with my friends. We talk a lot more, about anything and everything. I am more interested in being there for my family, too, just as they were there for me. When my mom got stitches in her thumb, I stayed with her in the emergency room the whole time and held her hand. I understand the importance of moral support, of just being there for people. I reach out to others more than I used to.

Once that summer was over and all of the therapy was behind me, I got right back out there to play soccer again. I had really missed the sport. But mostly I had missed my friends, the people—the connection.

Joel Walker, age 11

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