The summer before 7th grade, I went away to camp for five weeks. It was an extraordinarily long time to be away from my friends and family—a fact in the forefront of my mind as the day to leave home approached.
Mom bought a giant, powder blue metal trunk (with a lock) and we spent weeks filling it with everything on the suggested Camp Sequoya list: bathing suits and flashlights and stationary (with stamps!); bug spray and shorts and “hard shoes” for horseback riding; washcloths and towels and a good book or two to read during afternoon quiet time.
Every item placed in the trunk was stamped CATHY RIGG, a task about which my mother was very serious.
I don’t remember how I felt the day we claimed my (top, by the window) bunk, the day my parents kissed me goodbye and drove away. I expect it was the same confusing mix of terrified and excited that is the mainstay of every 12-year-old’s life.
I do remember missing home so desperately at the end of week two that I ached. It was my first—but certainly not last—time to experience that awful, cavernous, empty gut that feels like your soul turned inside out. I would lie on my sleeping bag there in the midst of those dark night sounds, and I would conjure up one story after the next, trying to get to one convincing enough for Mom to come get me. But the larger problem remained. I would have to make a humiliating trip to the Camp Office to call her.
What was the turn of events that resulted in my turning the proverbial corner? I don’t remember that, either. Perhaps Andy, the counselor I had such an enormous crush on I remember his name 40 years later—gave me a smile. Maybe my dear friend Lisa (who was not afraid of anything and was therefore our cabin’s unofficial leader) included me in some camp-prank planning. Maybe our friend Beth, a thoughtful, pretty blonde from Kentucky WHO HAD HER OWN HORSES helped me move beyond the debilitating fear I had of riding.
Whatever it was, I am sure it was a tiny moment, a small gesture of kindness offered by someone who had no idea how significant an offering they’d made. The world turned upright again, and I spent the last three weeks at Camp Sequoya singing, swimming, riding, shooting, sailing, diving, dancing—all with a full heart.
The last day of camp came too soon, I well remember that. We packed up our trunks and tried to imagine how it could possibly be that another group would move in as we moved out, we the girls of Cabin 7. I rode Sugar in the closing horse show, proud that I had overcome my fear and doubly proud that I managed to stay on Sugar’s back even as she reared in the final judge’s lineup, startled after being kicked by another horse.
And then we all hugged goodbye, and hugged again, and I started the kind of crying that comes when there’s so much sad inside of you it it forces its way out, it bubbles over and out uncontrollably, at all cost. There was nothing I could do but get in the car and close the door. And so I did.
I spent the long ride home thinking of camp, of those girls, realizing for the first time that life was bigger than my familiar 7th grader sphere. Acknowledging quietly that the world is filled with new, and new and different can be scary, yes, but also rather wonderful.
Hoping against hope we would all be back next year (they had promised), we would all be friends forever.