*Written in 2012 for a memoir assignment at Boston University*
August 6, 2005. I woke up at eight in the morning in my top bunk, warm underneath my covers. Though I felt lazy and tired from staying up all night with my friends, the sun that pierced through our shabby curtains beckoned me to start my day. It was camp, after all, and every day at camp was a good one—at least it was for me at French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts in upstate New York.
I was excited to wake up next to new friends. Though we had only met only three weeks prior, I knew I could tell these girls anything. We shared embarrassing stories, clothes, bathrooms, and problems. We went to awkward basketball court dances together, skipped water-skiing electives, and roamed around the camp past curfew, inevitably causing trouble. I woke up that morning happy to be drowsy in a bunk of creaky beds, insect-ridden bathroom stalls, and erratic electricity.
I hopped down the bed latter and performed my daily morning ritual: wash face, brush teeth, and get dressed to obnoxiously happy music blaring from the main office’s speakers. Good Day Sunshine, a Beatles classic, vibrated through bunk G13B, waking up the girls who always attempted to sleep through breakfast. The Beatles got it right today, I thought.
Just as I finished putting on my sneakers for my tennis elective, my counselor hesitantly approached me.
Something’s wrong, I sensed.
I felt a knot form in the in the bottom of my throat. When my counselor wasn’t her perky self immediately, when her words came out in an oddly serious tone, I began to worry. She told me that I had to go to the main office immediately.
I had only been to the main office once before, and it was for a serious bunk meeting. I wondered what I could have possibly done to warrant the main office. I knew it entailed talking to the head of camp, Ron, who wasn’t the most forgiving.
A sense of dread overcame me during my lonely walk downhill to the office. The sun was bright in a cloudless sky and campers played volleyball on the sand. I saw familiar faces practice songs for the next big musical production while dancers twirled and leaped across the green lawn. While I would have normally embraced everything around me, my sight was obscured by the rampant thoughts that clouded my vision.
The rest of the afternoon unfolded in scenes shifting from complete blurriness to clarity. Right when I entered the office, my world was clear. A head counselor who I knew placed her hand on my shoulder and escorted me to the camp directors office. The big wooden door opened slowly and to my surprise, I saw my family sitting on the big black couches in the room. My dad, sister, and step-mom looked at me as I entered the room. Their expressions were somber and filled with grief as they motioned me to sit down on the couch. This is when the world began to get blurry.
Before my dad could let out a word, he choked up. Short but intense breaths interrupted his speech. His eyes began to water and turned a pinkish-red. I couldn’t help but release the emotion I had been stuffing down my throat; it poured out of me in streams that came and went with my arrhythmic breaths. I listened to my dad’s voice quiver. It seemed like he was fighting with his words, and the words slowly defeated him.
After one deep breath the five words that would change my life forever escaped his mouth: “Annie’s no longer with us.”
My head fell to my knees—it was impossible to look up. I felt the weight of my tragedy like heavy blow to the head; my forehead pounding, my vision blurry, I prayed to wake up from this nightmare. Reality could not be so harsh.
My mind started gathering images of Annie. I felt I could reach out and touch her, feel her arms’ embrace, hear her voice sing me to sleep. A slideshow of memories appeared before me. I saw us walking down the streets of NYC, hand in hand, singing a song from RENT and laughing at the faces we make at each other.
My sister: so radiant, her voice like an angel, her spirit boundless.
Then I recalled how troubled she was by the disease that hijacked her mind and forced her to do the unthinkable.
My flashback spiraled into one of my saddest memories with Annie. She was sitting on her bed at my grandparent’s apartment in Manhattan and sobbing into her hands. I was only twelve—I couldn’t grasp the depth of her depression. She told me she didn’t know why she was sad either. She sent my grandma and me to CVS pick up some medicine with a name I couldn’t pronounce, and we quickly brought it back to her. I returned to the apartment to see her eyes closed—she was lost someplace in a dream.
From her expression, she appeared more content in her dream world. It was not as hard as the real world. It was safer.
When I woke up from my flashback, I hugged my dad for what felt like an eternity, until we knew that it was OK to let go.
We decided to get some fresh air, so we took a walk around camp. We stopped at a grassy spot by the lake and sat down. We didn’t say much; there was no need. We sat there, in silence, for a while.
My dad asked if I could feel her looking down on me, and I replied yes, because I could. I saw her in the branches, in my reflection in the lake, and in the sand. I saw her in the bird that seemed to fall straight down from the sky.
When the bird shot back into the air and became just a tiny spec within the wide blue, I realized that she was never actually falling. She was always flying—in her own direction—to a safer place.
“I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged, that’s all. Their feathers are just too bright…and when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice…but still, the place you live is that much more drab and empty that they’re gone.”
-- Shawshank Redemption