This is one of those shiny bright pearls the scriptures say to not throw before swine. But it's also too beautiful to keep to myself, so I'm sharing it with you anyway. (I say anyway because I have a sneaking suspicion that this is a stupid thing to do. But what's adolescence for if I can't do stupid things occasionally?)
What I'm trying to say is, don't be a pig about this.
Okay. I went to Girls Camp. The first day and a half- all of Monday and Tuesday morning- were as bad as I expected. There was nothing for the YCLs (Youth Camp Leader) who showed up a day early to do. I had a long conversation with some girls, debating just how bored you would have to be before your brain killed itself. We agreed that extended solitary confinement with absolutely no entertainment- not even colored chalk and an empty wall- would probably do it. I contributed that if I were in solitary confinement with nothing but my math textbook I might actually understand the mysteries of 'geometry' someday.
Then, on Tuesday afternoon, the girls arrived.
When you sign up to be a YCL, you get to choose which year you want to do. You can choose 1st years (twelve) all the way to 4th years (fifteen). Three or so months ago I volunteered for 1st years. I don't remember why anymore. I think I was thinking along the lines that they would be small, easily bullied, and wouldn't bully back. (I've met a few people who are afraid of my size. Most are not. A few take that even farther and discover that they can wrestle me to the ground even if they weigh less than half what I do. I don't want to talk about it.) So anyway, I chose 1st years.
As a YCL, you are assigned to the year you choose. Within that year is a group of girls that, along with another YCL as your partner, become your own special responsibility for the next week. You give them presents, make sure they get places on time, see the nurse when they need to, aren't bullied by the other girls, drink enough water, and get their camp certification passed off. For that one week, you're constantly checking that your own girls are always present or accounted for at all times.
So on Tuesday the girls arrived. And when they did, and I found my little group of girls (have you ever noticed how cute twelve year olds are? Especially when they have braces.) the awfulness just stopped. I experienced the strangest thing- it was Girls Camp, and I was happy, all week long. Not my-heart-is-about-to-explode happy, but just constant my-cup-is-full happiness. The kind of happiness that I usually get when I'm on the couch in the air conditioning reading a really good book by a favorite author. But while the cabins had A/C, the walking around we did all day didn't (I sweated like cheese left out on the counter all week), the couches looked like they had housed several tribes of mice at one point even if they didn't now- I didn't try to find out- and I didn't bring any books, good or otherwise, with me. All week long, when I wasn't doing something else, I puzzled about it. I mean, Girls Camp. I'm not supposed to be happy during Girls Camp.
And then, on Thursday- testimony meeting day- Heavenly Father provided the brick I needed. I can be very thick sometimes. The YCL leader- the lady who makes sure we don't sell drugs to the kids and all that- had all the YCLs together doing the whole last-day-speech spiel. Thank you for doing this, blah blah, appreciate it, blah, something to thank you, blah blah blah, the Stake Young Women's Presidency.
And then the brick, right in the middle of her spiel to make sure I didn't hear anything she said.
"You've been big sisters to your girls this week."
I always say I'm an only child. It simplifies things. But I'm not really. I have a sister. She's buried in a cemetery in McKinney. When we can, which isn't very often, we visit. More often we ask the Horde to visit and put a pinwheel on her grave for us. (I've never denied that they have their good points.) (On a side note, visiting my sister's grave while growing up has given me a tendency to plan my funeral. I want a pinwheel on my grave too. If that seems weird, it's actually a really nice effect, especially when the grave has a small stone, which hers does. I've mentioned this once or twice to my friends. They think I'm weird. They're just perceptive that way.)
I never knew her, but I've always missed her. At one point, for a year or so- I think I was five or six- I was wildly jealous of her. Partly because I could tell how much emotional energy my mom spent on grieving and thinking of her- kids are not dumb- and mostly because some well-meaning person told me that she hadn't been born alive because she had done something really good before she was born and so she didn't need as much time as the rest of us. Which is nice, as far as it goes, but I took it farther- so I didn't do something really good before I was born, so I do need more time to suffer and perfect myself? Meaning that she's better than I am? (Which, honestly, she probably is- it wouldn't be hard- but it's hard to have perspective at that age. Now I deal with that by thinking that Heavenly Father will provide plently of opportunities to do impressively good things here. And that she had to give up chocolate ice cream to go to heaven early.)
But most of what I remember of my childhood- my entire life- is being alone and wishing that I wasn't. Wishing I had someone my own size, instead of just my parents, to share things with. Wishing that all my friends didn't have to be invisible, and that I could have someone to climb trees and play spaceship with. (Of course one of the best spaceship trees had power lines right through it and after I showed it to the Teacher she wouldn't let me play in it anymore. Grumble.) Someone to maul the cats with. Someone who would take turns doing the dishes. (That one's come up more often recently, ever since the Teacher was removed from dish-doing duty by fibromyalgia.)
So when the YCL leader said 'you've been a big sister', it felt a little like being hit on the head. (Hence the brick analogy.) The first years are twelve. My sister turned twelve earlier this year. If she had lived, she would have been one of the girls I took care of all week. I almost fell apart right there. But since I have an instinct for avoiding public embarrassment like that, I managed to hang together until testimony meeting. Then I really did fall apart. I cried a lot, and used a lot of my neighbor's tissues, and tried to be quiet so that other people could listen to the testimonies. Crying quietly is something I can do, but it was harder than usual Thursday.
All week long, I had little sisters. Four of them. And they were all of them completely different. One of them was so sweet I'm surprised her family doesn't get cavities from living with her. One of them was sarcastic, and totally got my sense of humor. One of them was a total trooper- she had horrible allergies all week, but managed to have fun and be fun anyway. One of them was shy, and had to be drawn out carefully.
And I know that my own sister would have been completely different, just because there's no such thing as duplicate people. For one thing, looking at the size of her hand- and footprints, she would have been a giant like me. And she was allergic to vinegar. And the rest has always been imagination. Sometimes when the loneliness bites harder than usual, I imagine that if I turn around really quickly, I might see her: a tall, gangly girl who hasn't grown into her own body yet, with bright red curly hair, hazel eyes, and a huge smile like mine, full of teeth. I never turn around, because I don't want her to not be there.
This one week of Girls Camp, I did have little sisters. And now I know just what it is I thirst for, what it is that makes my throat hurt when I see my peers towing younger siblings to Primary, what it is that makes me so ready to play stupid games with my younger cousins, what makes me listen to their simple tragedies and joys, what makes me so patient with them when I know that any of my friends- the ones with siblings I would definitely consider mauling if not murder for- would be bored into rudeness, into rolling their eyes and huffing their breath and dropping heavy hints that now would be a good time to go back inside and watch TV. Now I know what exactly is promised me in the words "families are forever".
And it is almost sweeter than I can bear. I was allowed to taste, this past week. The price was that I had to give them back again.
But I'm still glad that this was my last year of Girls Camp.