Thursday, February 24, 2011

Clearwater... part 1

I've just realized that the majority of notes I have involve camp. This note, from Cate*, was written to me from Clearwater Presbyterian camp in northern Minnesota, about 2 hours from Minneapolis. Our church held retreats there, and the greater Minnesotan Presbytery holds a summer camp there annually, which Cate attended every year until she started to go to Workcamp. I have a HUGE amount of "care cards" from when I used to do Workcamps also, but that's another story.

Cate and I were very good friends from 1998 - 2000ish... We were still friends after that, but not very close, and understandably so. She's one year younger than me, and was definitely the lighter half of our duo; 1998 was the year I started to get really depressed, which freaked me out to no end. I had a very hard time expressing it, and unfortunately, when it did come out, Cate, and her boyfriend/my good friend Tom*, took the brunt of it. For two years. I'm pretty sure I just completely burnt her out, which I'm very sorry for now; it was a lot to try and deal with. Reading through all these notes gives me a picture of myself then that is very often funny, but just as often, or more often, really sad.

Cate touches on an anecdote from the first time I went to Clearwater. Our youth group had done a retreat earlier in the year, in the fall. Since I was brand-new to the church, and it was the first time I'd ever gone on a retreat of any kind, I didn't know what to expect - but I definitely did not expect to be taken on a sort of "living history" scavenger hunt which involved running up to a door like Martin Luther and nailing the "95 theses" to a door. The rest of the time was spent singing, eating, and running around the woods that surrounded a calm, clear lake.

One night during the retreat, my nervousness about being new - new to the group, new to organized religion where people held hands and sang (I didn't know any of the songs!) - resulted in my telling a ridiculous story, which is what still happens today when I get nervous and have too many glasses of wine. We'd gathered around a fire pit, and I started telling the story of a novella I'd written between 1996 and 1998. I'd sent it to be judged for a children's writing contest earlier that summer, and when I'd returned from Costa Rica I'd found out I'd won first place, which was pretty exciting for me.

The story was about a girl named Lindsey, 11, who was the second-youngest in her affluent family, and felt she was quite out of place - her older siblings were all brilliant and successful (one was a law student, the other very popular) and her younger sister, Jan, was beautiful and the apple of her parents' eyes. She decided, in a jealous haze, that she'd push Jan off a bridge and into the river near their house, jump in after her, and save her, becoming the hero of the family.

She pushes, she jumps in after - but the current is too strong and Jan drowns. Quickly getting rescued herself by passerby, she lies and says Jan slipped and she jumped in after, and she's so sorry she couldn't save her, blah blah blah. The family and majority of the people in the ensuing hoopla believe her, except for one police detective, who is suspicious of Lindsey's account of the events (I do not explain why he's suspicious, but I was 13). Lindsey starts acting weird, not sleeping or eating, and eventually her older brother Peter gets a confession out of her. The entire family is disgusted and shuns her - she's sent to a sort of school for emotionally disturbed youth, and the rest of the story is a series of letters from her to her brother Peter, discussing her life, life at home, and the results of one distressing trip back home to see her family. The letters end when her school writes a letter expressing sympathy for her suicide.

When I finished telling the story, there were tears in nearly everyone's eyes. The girls immediately expressed that it was the saddest story they'd ever heard, and oh my goodness how awful for that family, and where did you see this, did your mom know them - and it dawns on Cate and I that they missed the fact that it was fiction.

If this happened now, I'd put my hands up to stop them and calmly explain that no, they'd misunderstood, I'm so sorry - it's a work of fiction. That's all.

But 14-year-old me and 13-year-old Cate burst into a fit of giggles, nearly falling off the logs we were perched on. I was gasping for breath and trying to control myself as the girls who had been incredibly sad minutes ago now thought we were heartless for laughing at such a sad story and cruel for laughing at them for being sad about it. I did eventually manage to explain it was fiction, but I doubt I apologized, and by then the damage was done. Cate remained my only church-friend for a while.

* Names changed to protect people.

Do you have notes you want to talk about? Comment below!