I was in a room full of counselors and campers and tutus and music and it was the last place I wanted to be
They said your name was Abby. I promised to love you from the minute I met you.
I’d asked for a boy, you were a girl. I’d requested a little kid and nobody would ever mistake you for that. I preferred a kid with Down’s, with cute almond-shaped eyes. Yours were blank, typical of a kid on the autism spectrum.
Until the buses rolled in, I’d had this picture of what you looked like, blonde hair, bows, maybe All Star high tops.
Your hair was brown. It was a pretty light brown, chin length. I guess 14-year-olds don’t wear bows anyway. I’d have to try out my fishtail braiding skills on somebody else.
The first word you whispered — whined, really — was “home.” I know I should’ve wiped away your tears and hugged you like I’d known you since forever and promised to protect you from all evil.
But I couldn’t. I just put my hand around your shoulders and waited.
I actually would’ve loved to be home too. We could’ve cried together. I was in a room full of counselors and campers and tutus and music and it was the last place I wanted to be.
I didn’t really know what to tell you even though I’d practiced my speech only ten million times and they’d lectured me for a full hour about you, your behaviors, and your triggers. Goodness, they had us coming up to camp a full day before you to hear all that.
You probably sensed my confusion because you just sat there with me.
I waved to a few kids I remembered from the day before, avoided the director, and looked at the stage.
Anything, as long as I didn’t have to meet your eyes.
I knew it was time to talk when I saw you getting restless. I closed my eyes to the sea of faces spinning around me and looked at you. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Breathe.
“You’re Abby, right?”
An imperceptible nod, maybe? Could I pretend that you nodded?
“I’m Shira! I’m going to be your counselor and we’re going to have so much fun together!”
You didn’t look convinced. So I did what I do when I’m nervous. I talked.
It doesn’t mean that you did, though.
I asked you to show me around, this had been your camp since forever. We ended up in the same place over and over again, but hey, I hoped I was getting the connection thing right. They had been so into that in all of the speeches.
I was so excited to hear music coming from the dining room — helloooo, CAMP! But you had other plans for us. I’d forgotten that your greatest trigger was loud noises. We stayed in our bunkhouse, but I knew I needed to come up with something, and fast.
“I have a surprise for you!” I decided.
Your eyes lit up and you finally said, “What?”
I panicked for a second but hey, Gushers to the rescue. I unearthed them from my sweatshirt pocket. I was planning on eating them on the bus, but I ended up being too nauseous. Thanks, motion sickness.
I didn’t know then that my nosh box was my most precious commodity in the entire 21 acres of Camp Ahava. You would teach me. Very, very soon.
But all I knew then was that it was time for supper and I was more exhausted, more emotionally drained, than I’d ever been in my entire life.
Good thing I didn’t know that the fun was just beginning.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 854)
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