I guess I'll just start.
PACAA was at East Stroudsburg University, the same place where it was my last year on Jr. Staff. It was quite weird to go back there, everything felt like a memory. It felt like every 5 minutes one of us returning Staff Associates was saying "hey, remember when we did this here or that there" It was nice, and familiar, but still a little eerie. Anyways.. to my point. There was a lot of construction going on around the dorm we were staying in. The sidewalks were being redone, and there were bulldozers and tractors all around us. At some point in the beginning of the week, I noticed something. At PACAA 40, two years ago, there was a patch of flowers out to the side of our dorm. If you've been reading this blog long enough, you've probably seen the picture I have of two butterflies perched on these gorgeous purply-pink flowers. I took that picture on the morning of Christine Luciano's funeral, before the bus picked us up. Kristy and I walked over and those two butterflies stayed right there while we watched them, and didn't leave until we did. We said, "That's Liam and Christine, they're here, they're with us." Well, last week at PACAA it dawned on me that those flowers and that little garden are gone. Completely razed over, for newer, prettier sidewalks or whatever reason they were digging everything up. I was really disappointed when I realized that they were gone. I hate change.. even little tiny change.
"These are my people. This is where I come from. We're given this life, everything we got, and then some. It's not always pretty, but it's real. It's the way we're made, wouldn't have it any other way. These are my people." I heard this song on the radio today. (There are more country stations in Chestertown than necessary, but that's cool.) I've heard it before, but I totally forgot about it. And I like it. I've been thinking a lot about Chestertown and the Eastern Shore lately. It's like I said to Meghan last night - even though Kels and I grew up in Wilmington, in a city, we always had that Eastern Shore blood in us. We practically grew up in Chestertown, spending much of our youth out on boats, crabbing and fishing, going to Betterton Beach to collect Sea Glass and swim in the rocky floored water, watching Fire Works in Rock Hall. Although we did not by any means grow up in Kent County or grow up the way most of my cousins have, we were always treated to a little sliver of that life every once in awhile...
When I was younger, one of my uncles lived on a big farm. The kind of farm that has a lot of land, for a big tire swing and big dog kennels and a big dirt mound that we used to nestle beer cans into and shoot BB guns at. I always felt like I was living someone else's life when we would go visit. My 12 year old self was transformed from a girl trying to fit in at my middle school by wearing whatever clothes I could beg my mom to get me at Strawbridges and bargaining with her to let me buy school lunch like everyone else, to being a "country girl" who borrowed her cousin's boots and cammo coveralls and who tramped around out in the cornfields all day with a water bottle and "ate off the land". (Read: picking wild berries and eating a concoction of onion grass and roots. Yes it was disgusting, no it was not my idea.) I have very distinct memories of hanging out with this particular cousin, who had her own truck, listened to country music, wore flannel plaid shirts and dated men (yes, MEN) who were only a few years younger than my father. I was completely in awe of her. I yearned to live that life. There were things about it that didn't sit well with me, but from the ages of 8-12, I thoroughly enjoyed going to her house and living out my secret life whenever I could. From time to time, I still get the urge to take off my shoes, put on jean shorts and a t-shirt, and go traipsing into some wooded area, pretending that I'm hunting squirrels and that I'm on a long journey where I have to eat what I can find and build huts for shelter.
I played softball when I was younger. It's funny - I've always been very athletic, but when I was younger, I wasn't very good at sports. I loved to play softball...loved that orange dirt all over my white shorts (thanks mom), loved wearing my uniform and being number 2, loved to practice out in the yard with my dad when he would make the time. But.. I sucked. I played softball for 8 years before I realized that I may as well just find a new sport to play. (Hence, I began lacrosse, which was a whole different story for me.) During my last few years of softball, it became very evident to me that I was a horrible player. I could catch and throw and run fast, but I couldn't hit the ball to save my life. I dreaded coming up in the batting lineup. I hated having all of those eyes on me...every player on the field, every player in the dugout, every fan, and especially - every coach. I think now that part of this is the reason that I usually got flustered while up to bat. I was a nervous and anxious child who blossomed into a nervous and anxious adult. It's my nature to freeze up when I feel the burn of eyes staring at me, expecting me to do something great. My biggest issue as a batter was not that I swung and struck out or that I popped the ball up, only to be caught... my problem was that I did not swing the bat. Ever. I would get up there, get two strikes (and maybe some balls too), and have one strike left. And my coaches would yell, "Just swing, no matter what!" and the ball would come at me, and I would freeze like ice, watching the ball coming and going past me, into the catcher's mitt. Strike three. Every. Single. Time.
My high school years were complicated. As if all high schoolers don't lead a complicated, painful, and dramatic life... I felt like I didn't have a "place" in my high school for the first few years. I played sports but none of my friends did. I had one set of friends who I fought with all the time, and another set who went to our rival high school. Somewhere around the middle of my sophomore year, I decided that I wanted to have a wider range of friends, and get to know more people. I found a great group of girls who were fun and shared my interests, and who really already had cemented their "group" of friends, but kindly welcomed me in. I have an ocean full of memories from this time period, but the ones that stick out are not the happy and carefree ones. Sadly, they are the more darker ones. The disappointment, the shame, the hurt, the confusion, the anger. It will take many decades for me to process out everything, which is fine. I am not bitter about my high school experience. Do not be fooled into thinking that it was the worst ever... there were some really great moments, ones where I was proud, comfortable, ecstatic, in love (or, my version of "in love") and just plain happy. But, when I think back on those years, I can't help but feel that those great moments were overshadowed by this big cloud of "adultness". My very good friend Maria and I look back on those years and think, "Wow. We were dealing with something that was way over our heads. We didn't even know how to deal with those things." And it's true. We had no idea what we were doing, but we quickly learned, and we also quickly learned how to ask for help. And for that, I am thankful.