Yesterday Leta began her second full week at a three-week-long sleep away camp in New Jersey where she has no access to a phone and thus cannot call or text anyone. If you had a certain visceral reaction to the content of that last sentence, do not feel alone inside that emotion. In fact, you can join me over here on the cold tile of the bathroom floor where I’m curled up in the fetal position with a stash of Twinkies and collecting each one of my tears in an empty Silly Putty container.
If your immediate thought was, “… and the big deal is?” Have I got a gold star for you. It comes with a wet finger in your ear and the slowest, most dramatic and vulgar interpretation of the jerk off motion. YOU went to sleep away camp and LOVED IT. And even if you didn’t, YOU SURVIVED. And look at you! Such a high-functioning adult who ascribes your success and tenacity to those formative adolescent struggles and experiences and not at all to your glaring and unchecked privilege.
Come here and let me lick my finger.
I got a letter in the mail from Leta two days ago, and she seems wildly happy. She mentioned being upset about a thunderstorm that rolled through one night, but the rest of what she wrote is beaming with the joy I want her to take away from the expanse of time she is spending away from everything that is familiar to her. I don’t need anyone to reassure me that she is creating tremendous memories and forging friendships that will last decades if not the remainder of her life. This is indeed a wonderful opportunity for her, I would never deny that. She’s an outgoing kid whose generosity of spirit makes it easy for her to bond with kids of all ages. I have no doubt she will come home sore from all the giggling and a backpack full of awful jokes that will make me groan. At least, I hope they’re indulging in something like swapping awful jokes. I never went to three weeks of sleep away camp, but I did go away for a week every summer with the girls from church and we always came home with horrible obscenities written in permanent marker across our foreheads.
I want that for Leta.
Even if she does get a little melancholy, she will survive. And she will become a high-functioning adult who might one day be tempted to attribute her standing in life to the personality traits she fostered during these weeks and the weeks she’ll most likely spend there every summer. But she will resist that temptation knowing that it has a whole lot more to do with the fact that she doesn’t ever have to be afraid of losing her life if a cop pulls her over for neglecting to use the turn signal.
Since I can’t call her—already this is the longest I have ever gone without speaking to Leta, and I miss her so much that my chest aches with the weight of it—I’m sending her letters. And instead of filling her in on the boring details of my day to day (“Someone referred to me as Sarah Armstrong in an email and asked if I’d accept a box of superhero-themed clothing for my son in exchange for a review. Rather than respond I printed it out, tore it into bite-sized pieces and swallowed the whole thing.”) I decided I go into my archives and send her some of the letters I’ve written to her over the years. The first one I sent her refers to The Constitutional Convention and Jesus Christ in the same sentence, and there may be a not-so-subtle suggestion that Jesus is capable of magic. The goal here is for her to see my name on the outside of an envelope and panic.
I also just learned that if I want to send her food of any kind I have to send enough for all 17 girls in her bunkhouse. I looked at that requirement for a bit, studied it and may have even involuntarily counted that high on my fingers. Then I texted my mom and asked if she’d be willing to gather up 17 Books of Mormon, take them with her to church and have several members of her congregation write their testimonies on the inside cover. Because if I’m going to take precious time away from ingesting delicious printouts of PR idiocy to send 17 of anything to New Jersey, by god, those girls are not only going to know my name, they are also going to talk about my loaf of homemade sacrament bread like it’s a fucking unicorn.