I remember as we lay under the bare night sky, a scene from a pitiful romance novel, with the fireflies buzzing around us like dancing stars. The meandering river blared past us; its sound fading with our habituation. Not even our chattering teeth, the rocks digging into our spines and our fear of the legendary ghost woman could shatter this postcard picture.
Memories of the last nine years of camp flashed in the night sky.
The eight- year old, stomach rumbling with anxious butterflies, stood at the doorstep of camp, away from home for the first time. She curled in her sleeping bag and cried for her mommy at night. She encountered her first bully.
Standing at the top of the waterfall.
“Who wants to go first?”
She said without thinking, wanting to be first in everything, ignoring her pounding heartbeat.
The previous day, without thinking twice, I’d jumped from a height of 30 feet into the unrelenting river, leaving my fear at the top of the boulder.
When she was fifteen, she sat on the side of the raft, paddling as hard as she could.
“You’re small, and probably can’t paddle much. You should sit at the back,” they’d told her.
Furiously she threw water behind her, not wanting to be the deadweight.
This time I was at the front, unquestioned.
“I’m going to carry four tents. Has anyone ever carried four tents in the history of Youreka before?”
The instructor affectionately laughed at her.
On the trek that evening, the straps of the bag dug into her flesh, the weight of the rucksack tilting her backwards.
She sat alone on the riverside, the stones she threw making inaudible splashes.
“They think I’m bossy, but I just wanted to help them pitch the tent. People always think I’m bossy.”
The flash back ends.
Back then, I hadn’t known how to braid my own hair and let them be a tangled mess. The first time I didn’t bathe for seven days, preferring to live with the reek. I hadn’t known how to push my boundaries, or even touch them. I hadn’t known how to live with people my age.
I learnt to bask in the company of the mountains. Along with cliff jumping and river crossing, I learnt to gulp down my fear. I learnt to wiggle and make a place for myself. But most of all, it made me stand taller and broader. This wasn’t winning a spelling bee or shooting a three pointer, it wasn’t praise from my teachers or acknowledgment. It was a brand new photo of me.; one taken from a completely unexplored angle. The first time I jumped from that waterfall with ten pairs of eyes staring at me, daring me to do what they themselves were scared to do, I felt proud of myself.
For all that they gave me, I whisper my gratitude to the mountains and to the water, to the fireflies and the rocks underneath my back.
The wind blew, nature acknowledging its role in mothering me.