For almost a month in July they were mine. A few dozen 15-16 year old girls.

They came from some of the best neighborhoods and private schools to group homes and everything in between.
And somehow, magically, the guards and labels and cars and boyfriends and social status didn’t seem to make it very far past those slamming double screen doors.

And it only took a few nights on those hard bunks hearing each other snore and cry and fart and giggle for everyone to start getting real. And no one put on their make up in the morning. Hair air dried or immediately went up into a ponytail and it was one big community closet.

And during the day we swam, fished, crafted, walked up a lot of hills and stole ice from the ice machines. After lunch they read the newest Harry Potter books on their bunks and passed around the latest Seventeen magazine. Or shaved their legs with spray bottles. Dug through their caboodles. Listened to their Discmans. Wrote their friends or boys and occasionally even their parents. And later we would dance in the alcove, run people’s bras up the flag pole, sneak forbidden snacks and wonder what the night’s activity would be.

(campout dogpile)

And late at night. Those bunks were always at least two deep. And it didn’t matter if we were sticking to plastic mattress covers or laying flat on our backs on the tennis courts looking at the stars, two hours into our scheduled fifteen minute devotional or singing around a campfire, their stories spilled out.

(2 of my favorite girls in my bunk!)

And some of them were really normal.
They weren’t pretty enough.
Or popular enough.
They missed home.
Or their parents were splitting up.
They were jealous.
Or they’d never even kissed a boy.
Or they’d given their last boyfriend too much of themselves.
And some of them broke my heart.
They threw up after every meal.
They were abused and berated.
Their dad was in jail.
Their mom had taken off.
Their parents were addicted.
They were addicted.
They were deep in depression and had contemplated suicide.

And I don’t know that I ever said the right words.
But I listened. And I laid there.
And I told my own stories and insecurities.
And I snuck a few of them out to check email or raid the fridge or walk across the catwalk late at night. To keep having those conversations.
Because I didn’t know how to heal broken hearts, but I knew how to be present.

And at the end of those long hot weeks.
I was spent. And drained. And emotionally exhausted.
I had given them every single piece of me. I was tired and sun burned and out of clean clothes.
And I was completely empty and so ready to get home.
But I knew it mattered. I knew it was important.
Because once. Someone had done it for me. When I had slept, and written my name in sharpie, on those exact same bunks. In the exact same alcove.
Spilling out my own stories and hoping for someone to listen.
And she did. And it changed me.
And I knew that it was my turn to do the same.

And I had taught them some of them how to put in a tampon, and bait their hooks, make a banana boat, how to do a jump serve, how to pray, that doing a belly flop off the dam is a really bad idea, how to tip a canoe, to expect retaliation if they came after me with water balloons, hit a bulls eye, what I think God sounds like, how to properly wrap a bunk with toilet paper, and how to get their sheets to stop slipping off those miserable mattresses.
And they taught me how to love with my whole heart until it was so empty that it was full.

And at the end of July they all went home. Back to their fancy neighborhoods and grouphomes and happy families and horrible ones that I didn’t want to think about.
And I started teaching highschool. I got married the next summer instead of reclaiming my bunk. The good one by the fire escape and a decent breeze.
And there was no facebook or myspace to make keeping up easy.
But a few of us managed. I got letters and emails and mix tapes in the mail.
We caught up over pizza and coffee and ice cream when we happened to be in the same town. And their was a whole table of these girls at my wedding.

And these girls aren’t girls anymore.
They are 26ish.
And wives and mothers and girlfriends.
Some of them are in med school and law school and most of them have real grown up jobs and health insurance.
Some of them live across the country. And some of them have traveled places I’ve only read about.
And at least one of them lives in my own town.
But they are still mine.

And to be honest. For the most part, I’ve lost touch with most of them.
Life kind of does that.
Even with facebook.
But this morning I was logging onto my computer and I saw a facebook post that one of them had just had a baby.
And so I did what you always do on facebook when someone has a birthday or a baby or says something funny or is going through something hard.
I wrote on her wall.
But suddenly that didn’t feel like enough.
And I flashed back to this girl with short hair and sassy at 14 giving me a run for my money in the intermediate dorm.
And later at 16 and beautiful and the stories she told on those bunks.
And the hard that she had lived.
And just a few years earlier I remembered tears quietly slipping down my face as she walked down the aisle. And my son dancing at her reception.
And I knew that facebook wasn’t going to cut it.

And she lives in my town.
But I didn’t know her number or even the hospital.
But that didn’t stop me from literally sprinting out the door.
Without brushing my hair or brushing my teeth. Just like one of those July mornings because suddenly I couldn’t get there fast enough. I drove too fast and called hospitals on the way. And got it on the first try.
Room 207.

And I was the last girl she was expecting to walk in the room.
But her face lit up when I did.
And I almost crawled straight into her hospital bed with her because it would have been just like one of those bunks.
But instead I went immediately to hold her beautiful baby girl, named after her grandmother. The exact same one that used to send her to camp every summer. And I pulled up a chair and let her tell me a few more stories.
Because in some of the most important ways, she is still part of mine.


Beth (and Eric) said...

That is so YOU. Sprinting out the door. I have goose bumps!

michelle said...

beth, just wait till i get yours in my arms :)
maryland is kind of a long sprint....but I've been training!

Laura and Kerry said...

I was one of those girls. And one of my twin girls woke up with a fever tonight and I am awake and couldn't go back to sleep. So I checked facebook. And now I am crying. Wow. I remember that little girl as well. Cowgirl, you always said the right things.

Katie England said...

I am crying! I love you!!!

Dawn said...

This is what I love about you, my friend!

samskat said...


You did it again! Some of those girls were mine, too...I believe the one that just had a baby was mine when she was a smart alecky 11 year old. :) Thanks for sharing, and for making me cry. Proud that you're my friend, and wish that I could see all those girls again!!!