I know this might surprise you, but I have a story to tell about camp and unrequited love.
Now, there are some things that I need to let you know right off the bat in order for this story to make sense. First, most people call me Shannon today – it is my birth name after all – but for a period of time in my adolescence and on into my twenties, many people called me Crickette. It started out as a camp nickname; it stuck around for quite a while. Mostly because camp itself stuck around for quite a while. And many of the people I met at camp showed up at other United Methodist youth activities, so the name sort of spread, like a virus or a bad rumor.
The second thing you need to know is that I had a driving force keeping me away from my given name, and that was my arch nemesis. Her name was Shana. We met when we were 11. Shana thought very highly of herself. And her flute. And the way she played her flute. She found many, many reasons and times to play her flute. She also thought that she could stop walking along, bend down and find a four-leaf clover anywhere. I never saw it work. Not once.
Whatever camp week or assembly I went to, whatever Resurrection retreat weekend I signed up for, somehow magically Shana was there. Our dislike for each other was completely unspoken. On the surface, we were friends.
The third ingredient in the story is Tim. Tim was a camp counselor extraordinaire. One of those camp personalities that become legends. Try as they might, they can’t really define themselves in any other way besides camp, and so eventually, they just succumb to the gravity of it and move in. Camp was Tim’s whole life. Year in, year out. He moved up through the administrative levels.
Of course, I had a huge crush on him, but he was ten years older than me, so he was safely out of my reach and somewhere around rock star status.
By the time I eventually became a camp counselor, Tim was an Assistant Director. Still out of reach in my mind, but at least now I was cool enough to sit around the fire at night and not be sent to my sleeping bag as soon as my belly was full of s’mores. We could sit around and shoot the breeze and tell stories about college and, you know, stuff…
One night, during our staff training that first year, our evening plans got rained out, so the staff was sitting around in the lodge doing various hang out activities. Tim was casually strumming his guitar, and somehow we got on the subject of his cat, Guinevere.
“Did you know that she had a brother, Arthur?” Tim asked.
“No,” I said nonchalantly. “Don’t most cats have siblings?” I’m not much a fan of the feline family, so let’s be honest, I wasn’t terribly enthused by this track of our conversation.
“Yes, but I mean I had the two of them together for a while.”
And that’s when he proceeded to tell me the most heart wrenching story about how the cat had become sick in the middle of the night and, knowing that he would be unable to find a vet, he stayed up all night long, holding it, while it passed away. And then he looked me straight in the eyes with this look of complete pain and sadness.
I. Was. Undone.
I felt this stirring deep inside me like I’d never felt before in my life. This was no little crush I was feeling. For the first time, I knew what grown-up love was. But I still didn’t know what to do about it.
I decided to do what I always did in that situation – hide and wait.
As the weeks of camp passed, my feelings grew stronger. I started telling a few people about it, and they all echoed back the same sentiment that I was feeling – you know, Tim’s a lot older than you are…
But, lest I forget something, there was Shana. She too had started being a camp counselor right along with me.
Standard operating procedure on Friday afternoons after a long week of work together was that most of us would get cleaned up in the camp showers and go hang out together. It was sick really. I’ve experienced this same phenomenon with people who are in the cast of a play together. You spend all of this intensive time together, and you should want to run screaming out the door at the end of your obligation. Instead, you crave even more time when the opportunity for recreation comes about.
On one particular Friday afternoon about six weeks into the summer, I noticed that Tim and Shana were not joining up with the rest of the posse. They went off by themselves and started building a fire. Looked like they were starting a cookout. Seemed suspicious to me. I tried to write it off though. Maybe he’s going to do this with each member of the staff to get to know us better. I had a few ideas in mind for how mine could go.
But that night, it was all the rest of the staff could talk about. The speculation was rampant. And those who knew about my feelings kept looking at me with knowing empathy.
That was hard.
But nothing could compare to what happened a few weeks later. No one was quite sure exactly what the status was on the whole Tim and Shana thing. They appeared to be keeping their relationship under wraps. Until one day, I walked into the lodge and they were on the other side of the room. Tim’s back was turned to me. Shana took the opportunity to give him a big, juicy hug. And as she did, she grinned at me over his shoulder.
I turned around and walked back out the door because I knew in that moment she had won a contest that had never even been declared.
* * * *
Tim and Shana lasted for a long time. I had other crushes in between. I sat on the sidelines and watched. Eventually, Shana pressured Tim for a ring. He got one. They got engaged. I pretended to be ecstatic for them. And then, it all hit the skids. I pretended to be sad for them. They broke up. I pretended to be sadder still.
I waited the appropriate amount of time. Really I did. Like a year. And eventually, I started letting myself feel hopeful again that maybe something would happen between Tim and me. Like really hopeful.
By this point, I was 23 and I had been working at the camp for four years. I had graduated from college and moved back there myself to work year-round.
When that final summer started, I had to admit to myself that I had this big life plan going where Tim and I would be married and run the camp together. We would eventually grow old and sit in the rocking chairs and watch the children play in the evening. It was a good plan. I just needed to wait long enough for Tim to come around to it.
Right about the same time as I was having this big epiphany, a new character showed up on the scene. His name was Anthony. Sardonic, sarcastic, darkly handsome, and intelligent. Anthony was the perfect foil for my dreamy, scheme-y, floaty feelings. And I certainly have a darker side that can be appealed to, so we were well matched.
By that time, I too had risen up through the ranks of camp administration to Assistant Director, and part of my job was to go to town many evenings of the week to purchase vital items like Benadryl cream and flashlight batteries. As reaching escape velocity from camp before Friday afternoon was a coveted position, Anthony liked to tag along with me on my travels so that he could smoke. But, as time went by on our adventures together, I can now see that it wasn’t just the nicotine he was after. Anthony and I built up quite a rapport. Our witty, biting banter with one another – sometimes downright debates – were thrilling. I didn’t understand it at the time because I was too naïve, but I was experiencing sexual tension with this guy. Big time.
Eventually, I confided my feelings for Tim to Anthony. I’m not quite sure why. Thinking back about it, I can’t imagine why I thought it was a good idea. But remember, my pattern at that time was to tell pretty much everyone in my life except the person who was the object of my affection.
Anthony was a surprisingly sympathetic ear. He seemed to enjoy talking to me about the subject. Helping me turn the topic over and again, break it down into its parts, like compost.
As summer went along and began to come to a close, I realized that I was starting to get whipped into a near frenzy about it all. Soon Tim would go back to his year-round camp and yet another chance would have passed me by. I had been out of college for over a year at that point and waiting for him to come around to the life plan meant I was putting my life on hold. At night, I would sit up in those rocking chairs after everyone else had gone to bed, and I would cry. I would cry with this deep, deep despair that felt like my unborn children were walking away as ghosts up the camp trail before me.
Finally, one evening, Anthony and I were driving to town and were as cantankerous with each other as always. It was getting close to dusk and I was flying down this winding, mountainous road a lot faster than I should. He was challenging me that I should leave the camp at the end of the summer and do something else with my life.
“I just wish that Tim would wake up. If only he would turn around and look at me one day and maybe know how I feel about him. Then he would know. Then he might just figure it out and just know we’re meant to be together!”
“You think Tim doesn’t know how you feel about him?” Anthony fired back.
“Of course, he doesn’t…” I trailed off.
And right then, we rounded the corner in the late evening light to discover a giant flock of chickens in the road. I don’t know where they came from. It was as if they had all escaped from the chicken circus and picked that very spot to stake out their new home. But there they were – all 40 of them, mostly in the road.
Anthony took one look at them, and he took one look at me. He could tell by the look in my eyes that I was about to slam on the brakes, which probably would have wrecked the car.
He fervently laid his hand on my arm, looked steadily into my eyes, and said with passion:
“Hit the chickens, Crickette. You hit those chickens!”
I didn’t hit the brakes, but I did take my foot off the gas pedal. We glided through the sea of chickens, as they parted before us. They all flew away. We didn’t hit a single one.
When we’d made it to the other side, I pulled the car over to the side of the road to catch my breath and just take in the moment in amazement.
And then it all came rushing back to me. Tim knew. He’d always known. Nothing had changed. But somehow, with shaky legs, like those chickens, I knew I was going to be all right.