sad camp

There are some stories I can’t tell.
They are too heavy.
There are too many.
They are not mine to give.

Last week I packed up some dusty tshirts and tennis shoes and headed out to the Adirondacks. I sat on a bus with thirty counselors and thirty campers. We were all there for free. Working for free, playing for free, for once in our lives, missing the rent and never having to collect it.

I am a story teller more than I am a writer, and I am a writer more than I am a person. Because of this, when things happen to me, it’s like I’m watching a sentence be crafted, melded, melted and started all over again. I am a story teller. I don’t understand people until I write them as characters– everything feels like a plot point, feels like turning the page.

I don’t believe people are born as writers or storytellers or lovers or givers. We grow into ourselves, our ways of getting by. When we’re small, we don’t really have a good way of getting the heaviness out of us. When important things happen, it can feel like they’re ricocheting around our ribs.

The camp I worked at this week was for children with families affected by cancer. Most of them didn’t have a way to talk about their heavy feet. They didn’t have a place to unfold and then crumple, a person to cry to, time enough to write their stories– they were too busy living them.

Camp is a place for writing stories, for letting go of some of the heavy.

Have you ever heard of muscle memory? It’s the way your body learns certain feelings. Everyone who has ever lived in a house with cancer has a lot of the same muscle memories. It’s strange to share a memory with a stranger. Like, two o’clock in the morning, driving to the emergency room, unsure if you should say goodnight or good morning. Like, praying to the God you’re afraid has forgotten all about you, asking for more time and asking for less suffering, trying to choose which one you’d pick if you couldn’t have both. Like, hospital food, and the way nurses look at you, and never feeling like a kid because you were born knowing more about dying than being alive. Like, crying in a public bathroom. Like, I know I’m supposed to be strong. Like, because I wasn’t dealt the worst deck I made a rule that I can’t be sad. I can’t ever cry. Like, when the cancer comes back and it wasn’t supposed to, and I don’t want to be scared again. Like, being four feet tall and eighty years wise. Like, I miss my mom so much. I miss my dad so much. I miss them both so much. Like, I’m sorry this is happening to you. I’m sorry this is happening to us. Hold my hand.

Before I left for camp I wrote down three questions to answer as soon as I knew how. I put them in an envelope. I asked myself,
Do you trust me?
Are you happy?
Do you feel sorry for me?

This week I brushed so much hair. I pulled it taught and tight and braided till my hands bled. I gave away food when I was hungry, gave up beds when I was tired, emptied my pockets when I already felt vacant. I cried hard. I cried loud. I cried in front of a lot of people. I told my secrets. I fell asleep in the grass, holding a hand that was far too small to have felt so much death. We were counting constellations. Her breath got heavy and slow. I ran a race. I put bug spray on my face. I didn’t hear from you. I made five new best friends. I learned five new ways to have your heart broken. I kissed the tops of heads. They told me they loved me back. I trust you, he said.

I don’t know what it’s like to be twelve years old and watch two parents die. I don’t know what it’s like to come home and find your dad in heaven. I don’t know what it’s like to know six types of cancer before you can memorize a telephone number. I don’t know what it’s like to be strong– really strong, not the oh-you’re-so-strong but the actual strength that builds roads out of cemeteries, lifts baby brothers over broken bridges, moves mountains when you don’t know what it means to be here. Of course you’re not happy. We don’t have to be happy. Hold my hand.

I could feel sorry for sad kids for the rest of forever. If I started right now, I wouldn’t run out of pity. I could apologize. I probably should apologize. You remind me of my brother, but he’s never had to carry a casket before. Being sorry for you doesn’t take away the heavy. So, I will tie your shoes. I will count the constellations. We are going to dance long after we should be asleep. I will hold you tight while you cry over a mosquito bite. I will hold you tighter when you cry over a tumor. I can’t feel sorry for you; I’d run out of space for all this love. Here, hold my hand.

I heard the most incredible stories this week that cut through me in a way that I never thought was possible. I usually want to give everything away. I want you to have my stories. I want to give you my life on a silver platter. I will romanticize it and erase all the grey, all the commercial breaks. I want to serve you. I want my stories to teach you. This week I learned that there are some stories I can’t share. But there are a few that I can.

Here are some things that I really, really need to tell you :

When it comes to roasting marshmallows, it’s always worth it to play the long game.

It’s not fair. They should be flying kites, not making appointments. I don’t understand. Why do some people have to grow old before they grow tall? Where does this wisdom come from? When will they get to act small?

People really need to stop making broad generalizations about how kids experience grief. They feel things as differently as adults do, and it’s preposterous to treat them like a single symptom.

At camp, we snuck into the kitchen. We stole so many snacks. I saw big smiles and fistfuls of chips, brownies. We’d already brushed our teeth.

I’m not the same.

We lost a sneaker in the creek.

There were two snakes in our cabin. We were screaming, but we were not scared.

I hate cancer. We all hate cancer, but we have this family. We have an extra family that we can find in the middle of the mountains. We will help each other feel less heavy. We love each other very much. There is magic at camp, and it helps us tell stories.


diamond in the ocean

I’ve climbed a lot of different mountains for a lot of different reasons. This morning, I was trying to get closer to heaven. When did it get so hard to talk to the person I told everything?

Today, there was a fog thick as guilt. There were grey (with an “a”) skies. There was quiet. I couldn’t see five feet in front of my face. This year has been a lesson in learning what I do and don’t know, what I can and can’t control, what’s the right way to hold. This year was a lesson on how to live in fog.

Last August, I asked how the sky could be so blue.

Last July, all Hunter and I listened to was Frank Ocean. When the album didn’t drop, we still thought we had time to wait, time to waste. A week ago, all I listened to was Frank Ocean. When the album didn’t drop, I realized that believing you have time left is something you grow out of, like velcro, like the tooth fairy, like trusting Frank Ocean.

Last June, Hunter asked Desi if she would be sad if he died. We were all cuddled up in bed together. She thought a bit before she answered.
“No, because Grandma is gone too.”
Never before had I swallowed such a sword. When I’m sad enough to erupt, I remember that it’s Hunter’s grandmother’s turn to spend summer mornings all curled up under the covers with him.

Last May, Hunter and I traveled to Atlanta. We rode a ferris wheel that left us suspended at the top for so long that he finally said, “I guess we’ll just stay in the sky forever.”

Last April, Hunter and I sold concert tickets to pay bills. We played a lot of pool. We made plans for the fall. We had plans to make more plans. Our plants were growing through our pant-pocket seams. April showers washed away a lot of what we thought it meant to be here.

Last March, Hunter and I got rear-ended twice in one week. Once on my birthday and once on our way to the rollerskating rink. He made me a tower of chocolate cupcakes.

Last February, falling in love felt like getting fat, storing up warmth for the winter, holding hands in caves. Falling in love felt like blowing up a hot air balloon. We didn’t know where it was going. We didn’t know where it was going. Falling in love felt like French fries for dinner, tipping 25%. Falling in love felt like gaining weight– “I love you” is the heaviest thing I’ve ever said. I never felt as full as I did with you in my head. Falling in love felt like chocolate mousse on top of his car, sharing a spoon we found in the street. Hepatitis could only be real if heaven was real too. Because falling in love felt like takeout, felt like feeding you sugar out of a saucepan, felt like a clogged artery. Falling in love felt like four weeks without fasting, tasting grapefruit for the first time, forcing a tube down my throat that kept me alive. Falling in love felt like I never wanted to be forty before. Like kissing a blueberry bush. Like I don’t want to forget.
I don’t want to forget
I don’t want to forget
I don’t want to forget
Falling in love felt like getting fat.

Last January, we stayed warm. Hunter would button me inside his grey wool coat.

Last December, Hunter told me he had his happiest birthday he could remember. My first time driving on the highway he yelled, “that exit! that one right there!” I threaded the needle through four lanes of traffic. I had to steer the rest of the way with one hand because he couldn’t stop giving me high fives . We got a secret fish. We spent New Year’s Eve sprawled in the basement. We were meteorologists. We tried to forecast a full year. We were optimists.

Last November,
I loved his all black high top converse and his maroon and blue coat over his navy hoodie.  I loved the way he looked that fall.  I loved his hair I loved his eyes I loved his hands and I loved that I could quietly and comfortably love all these things while pretending to just be his friend.
The weather was getting colder and the ground was coated in shattered leaves.  It felt so strange that I had known Hunter for less than a month.  There was such a familiarity in the front seat of his Volvo.  It all felt like washing my clothes.  I could have fallen for him with my eyes closed.  But my eyes were always wide open and his eyes were always grey and green and looking right at me.  His hair had tints like a sparking fire every time he tilted his head.  The bones in his fingers waxed and waned.  His feet always pointed out.  Jeans with a single cuff, shirtsleeves pushed above his elbows.  His skin was golden, even in the tail end of fall.  Lips like peonies.
“I could kiss you.”
My mom heard me say it in my sleep.
I could kiss you, I could kiss you, I could kiss you.

Three May’s ago, I met a boy at drivers-ed. I was four hours late. He pulled me out a chair. I smelled like sweat. When my mom came to pick me up, she asked who that boy was, and I said, “someone I’ll probably never see again!”