I've gone away

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I used to keep it all in a milk crate which I took from against the rear hall wall behind the kitchen. The crate was maroon, the letters worn away to white flakes of paint and inside were my seasonal supplies: book lights, mess kit, canteen, what remained of the bug spray, flashlights, etc. Eventually the crate carried shoe boxes for the years I worked there. Folded inside were my staff shirts and ties, my small keepsakes, the folders with the songs and rules, the doodles. I threw most or all of it away when we moved to Baltimore. Overwhelmed with moving and the insane mass of keepsakes, I purged it all like wiping clean a cluttered slate. I had my memories and that was enough. I didn't think those would fade.

It wasn't till recently that I realized the songs have come loose in my brain. From neat knots to snarled words. 

That what was once as cyclical as the seasons (my summer home) felt like it had happened to some other girl.

Let me explain in a way everyone can understand.

Let me do this over again. 

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For summers I went to a girl scout camp (Camp Wendy) from when I was very young, 6 or 7, until I was 14 years old (long past the point of being an actual girl scout). At first it was one week of day camp, and then one week of resident camp (overnight) and then (because I begged) two weeks of over night if my parents could afford it. Every year was the same type of thing. The same chores (cappers) and camp events, songs, fires, boating, pool, and counselors who went by weird nicknames, and a new group of girls that I would quickly bond with. Sometimes I could do a special week (like horseback riding or hiking, or bike riding or staying up late every night.) Whatever it was, I never missed home. My mother would ask, "Did you miss me?" and I would always reply, "No." But I would miss camp. I would wait every year for the calendar in the mail. I would pick out what I wanted to do. I would drag out my supplies. I would pack. I would go with the same mixture of nervousness and excitement and going home. Because though I moved often, I never stopped going to camp. It was constant. I might be a nerd in school, but at camp I was just another camper. It was a safe, loving environment of only girls and women. When my life felt like a bruise, Camp Wendy was the band-aid I plopped over it. 

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My favorite counselor memory involves a girl with dark circles under her eyes. She was of the middle age range. So maybe nine or ten. Her hair was a light brown and straight. I don't remember her name. But she was a girl who came with a note. One of the special cases. Her mother, who suffered from depression, had tried to kill this girl and her little sister by injecting them with her insulin. The girl was clinically depressed. She had trouble sleeping. 

At this time at camp we had a rope course and a rope course instructor. She was lead these amazing team building exercises. In this particular excise, the girls had to get a small circle over a coffee can filled with water and lift it without spilling the water. Attached to the circle where all these ropes. (imagine a spider) So they had to work together to do this. Well, the instructor chose depressed girl to be the group leader. This quite, haunted girl. And we encouraged her and she did it. Everyone cheered and this girl's face... I started crying right then and there. I'm crying now remembering it. I just knew, even if she forgot that moment, it had done something good for her soul. That it had made up, just a bit, for where she was coming from. And I knew that, because I saw myself in that little girl. 

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The summer I was 14 camp felt too small for me. After that summer, I wrote a letter to the girl scout office telling them my camp history and how I felt too old to be a camper but was too young to work at camp. I skipped my first summer at camp when I was 15 and then they created the CIT (counselor in training) program. I went and it was probably the best summer of my life. I was sixteen and felt like I had been given this amazing gift of a group of sisters. I was incredibly depressed before camp. I felt liberated when there. I had a childhood dream of growing up to be a counselor and I was finally living it. There are too many memories for me to share them with you or make you treasure them the way I do. But the best was when the camp director took me aside (something she did periodically to all of us as we were in training) and she showed me the letter I had written to the girl scout office. This might have been the first time I realized how my words could be a catalyst. That I had inspired someone to create a place for me and by creating this place, the effect had rippled out to scoop up all these other girls.

I don't know what I said to the director. I was probably too embarrassed to thank her for all she did. My memory instantly leads me to her heroic saving of us from a wasp nest that ended up with her scooting out of her shorts as the wasps attacked her. Which leads to learning how to lash. (I still expected that table/shelf to be standing) 

I worked at the camp for three more summers (three seems too much, but I think I am figuring it correctly) going by my camp name, learning CPR again on the plastic dummies, singing the same songs. I even talked to my future husband on the pay phone there. I just...I can't express this too you. 

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There was a reunion this past weekend. I couldn't go, but I was able to stop by with the children, my mom, and Kevin. Everything was so much the same, but overgrown and abandoned. That felt wrong. You see, the camp closed two summers after I stopped working there. I curled my fingers through the chain link that surrounds the pool where I learned to swim. I looked out over the lake where I used to wake and watch curls of morning mist spiral off the water. I realized no place had ever felt as sacred as right there to me. That I was home. That I had grown and been sheltered there and then I'd left it behind--left a part of me behind. I didn't want to leave. I suddenly missed it painfully. 

I belong here. I belong here. 

It beat in me and everywhere I looked stung from remembering. 

I belong here. I belong here.

It even smelled the same. Everything smelled just the same and it made more memories smolder. 

How did I ever leave you behind?

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I want to see new groups of girls there. I want to see my own daughter there. 

I'm afraid those things might never happen.

And for the first time, growing older felt painful because no matter how many summers Camp Wendy was my constant--it felt like it was fading. 

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