The memory of the moment remains with me after all these years. Camp Widjiwagan was my home for one week, which was just enough time to sear the experience in my mind. Amid all the wonderful camp fire songs, the sound of creaky cabin doors and floors, and glorious camp food, we also enjoyed pool time each day.
For some reason, one I cannot recall some 35 years later, we were transported to the pool by bus. Since our cabins must not have been near, we had to take our towel and change of clothes on the bus. In preparation for our trip to the pool one afternoon, I politely rolled my clean clothes into a ball with my undergarments discretely tucked in the middle. Though an all-girl camp, no self-respecting 8-year-old wanted to expose her unmentionables to anyone.
After an hour or more of frolicking in the pool, the whistle called our attention to the lifeguard’s announcement. It was time to exit the pool and get changed for dinner. The bus would take us from the pool to the mess hall. So, an army of young girls filed into the tiny locker room to get changed. I grabbed my things and stood in line to wait for an open stall. After what felt like an eternity, one opened and it was finally my turn.
I carefully unrolled my ball of clothing to discover one missing item. Immediately, panic started rising at an uncomfortable rate. I wasn’t about to ask anyone standing in line to look for them. To avoid humiliation, I decided to proceed without saying a word. I changed, boarded the bus, and hoped no one knew.
As the last few girls filed on the bus, the camp director took her place at the front. What happened next is the moment I cannot erase. You know those moments that unfold in slow-motion? This was just like that. After counting girls, she held the underwear over her head and asked if anyone was missing them. My eyes darted around the bus. I was secretly hoping someone would claim them. Anyone could have them, I wasn’t picky. There was no way I was going to claim MY property. I recall a strong desire to melt into the bus seat until the moment passed.
While that was wildly embarrassing for my young self, something has always troubled me about that moment. I can’t figure out what would keep me from claiming the property that was rightfully mine. No consequences were at stake for raising my hand. It’s not like she was holding up a pack of cigarettes that no 8-year-old should have in the first place.
When I look back, I see a young girl who had lost her voice. A girl already consumed with the need to protect her image. It’s okay if you don’t see that illustrated in this recount, but I am still that girl in many respects. I don’t ever want to look bad in front of others, so sometimes I take a step back when I should be stepping forward.
Do you know where image protection was rooted? The belief that I was bad and needed to keep others from finding out. That will silence a voice at any age. When you feel bad, or like a mistake, you don’t feel worthy of speaking up, so you shrink back. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself because I was afraid of being exposed.
Being voiceless and afraid is a heavy load to carry. I wish I could tell you I found my voice the next year, but I didn’t. I’ve spent the last 35 years excavating the true me. Because I believed I was less than, I carried myself that way. The girl who didn’t claim the underwear became the woman that wouldn’t submit her name for the job she wanted. She mourned missed opportunities and dying dreams.
My “wasted years” required healing. Just as a broken bone must be set and casted, heart fractures require specific attention to maximize healing. Maybe you are limping through life with an old injury. Maybe you didn’t even realize you lost your voice. It’s never too late to reach for healing. You don’t have to be the same person you’ve always been. It will require heavy lifting, but wholeness is available.
You might not be in the position to claim those twice handed-down underwear, but you might be ready to reclaim your voice. Don’t shrink back and let another day pass you by. Today is the perfect day to place your foot on the road to recovering the real you.
#MomentofTruthMonday #CampWoes #Healing #RecoverYourVoice #LifeLessons