I met Trisha at summer camp, where we both worked as councilors. It was last summer, only a few months ago. We learned each others names during orientation week, the week of training before the children came to stay.
I learned a great deal of names that week. The camp staffed about sixty positions between councilors, lifeguards, rope instructors, craft directors, nature guides, maintenance staff, kitchen staff, and leadership positions. Most of us were councilors, the teammates who worked directly with the children who arrived Monday mornings and left Saturday mornings. We lived in cabins with the children and made sure they stayed safe, hydrated, nourished, and entertained throughout the week.
Summer at camp lasted for ten weeks. The first week was training, and we had a different group of kids every week after that. The experience drew the staff together and I knew everyone's name by week three. Sixty people is few enough that I could learn everyone's name and something about their life outside of camp, but too many to become really good friends with all of them. I grew to respect most of my coworkers, so the ones who I befriended were those who I spent more time with. The decision was made through the randomness of scheduling more than personal choice.
Trisha and I spent a small amount of time talking to each other during orientation week because we sat together for a few meals. That is how I learned her name so early on in the summer. I didn't think much of it then. My relationship with her felt no different from my relationship with any of the other staff.
We spent more time together the following week. As councilors, we each had a group of eight children to care for. She hosted a cabin of eight fourth-grade girls and I hosted a cabin of eight fourth-grade boys. The camp management doesn't want female councilors to host little boys, and vice versa. It's easier to find yourself with a crimes-against-children-suit if you allow that. The leadership team scheduled our cabins together for a good number of activities, so by chance, we had quite a few opportunities to talk.
On that Tuesday afternoon, our campers were on the same team for capture the flag. We call the children who come here campers. We weren't really allowed to try that hard because most of our opponents were fourth-graders. So Trisha and I largely relaxed through the whole game, working together to rescue the kids who were tagged by the other team. In between rescue missions, we chatted about what brought us to decide to work at camp.
The thing you have to understand about working at a summer camp is that it doesn't pay well. Sure you get free room and board for a summer, but the salary doesn't amount to much. If I wanted to, I could have worked for my uncle for ten dollars an hour. Even if I had rented an apartment and bought my own groceries, I would have made more money doing that.
So why did I choose to work at summer camp? Partially, it's fun. I get to hang out with children, act childish, go kayaking on the lake, play games, go hiking, climb the ropes course, do arts and crafts, sit around a camp fire, and sing camp songs. Partially, like I said earlier, the staff is really close. I respect and admire my coworkers because they're the sort of people that care more about children than money. Perhaps most importantly, I love the mission of the camp. It's a Christian summer camp, so we teach the children about how to love God and how to love each other. We teach them about nature, about the Bible, about art, and dozens of other things. It's like school, except not quite as prison-like.
Side note for anybody who things that conditioning kids to believe in God by associating it with fun is come kind of evil scheme. There are plenty of kids who come and who are not Christian. We treat them with the same respect we do any other child. We teach about what we believe, but we aren't all like BELIEVE THIS OR GO TO HELL. We don't discourage critical thinking. Okay, so in any group of sixty Christians there will probably be somebody who says "doubting is a sin and makes Jesus sad." They might also scare their campers into religion with the threat of Hell. That does not represent a majority of how we roll. Admittedly, a lot of councilors do teach against evolution. Which really gets under my skin because evolution only goes against the Bible if you believe in the same flat-earth-supported-by-literal-physical-pillars-and-covered-in-a-dome-and-when-the-Psalms-talk-about-heavenly-storehouses-of-snow-they-actually-thought-there-were-massive-buildings-with-lots-of-snow-inside-in-the-sky-world that Moses believed in when he wrote Genesis. You can't blame Moses, though, because the scientific method wasn't formalized until the Enlightenment. But you know what, there are people with stupid ideas in every broader worldview category.
Sorry for that rant. I spend the school year studying nursing, so I'm not an ignoramus when it comes to science. It does bother me that some Christians deny the validity of science. The conflict between faith and science is something humans made up. In truth, they are harmonious. I believe God is responsible for the existence of the universe and I believe that he used the Big Bang and natural selection.
That being said, I'm not exactly a science expert. More of an enthusiast, really. Trisha, on the other hand, is an expert. She's studying at a different school to be a high school physics teacher. That was something I found out about her in that first week. I took the opportunity to ask her a bunch of science questions, and she was able to answer a lot of them. For example, I had heard that the moon is slowly moving away from Earth, and I wondered why. She explained that it had something to do with the tides and energy being absorbed by the moon. I can't really explain it as well as she could.
We spent a few hours together by coincidence of scheduling the following week as well, but even into the third week, my friendship with Trisha seemed no more important than my relationship with any other staff member.
My respect for her grew, though. She continued to impress me with her ability to run as fast as her campers, even though her BMI was about 35. (Now, I know I'm not supposed to estimate the body-mass index. Your supposed to use the exact height and weight to calculate it, otherwise the supervising nurse gets mad. But you basically can estimate it just by looking.) Plus, brains are weird. The more you get to respect somebody, the more attractive they look. Eventually even her acne looked almost cute.
By the end of week four, I definitely spent more time thinking about her than any of the other female staff. I imagined her standing in front of a classroom like a boss, teaching physics in a way that made it easy for students. I wondered what I would say to her if she asked me on a date, that kind of thing. Now, my male brain spends a lot of time thinking about girls that I respect, as evolution has programmed it to do. So its not like I was head over heals for Trisha, but I did start to like spending time with her more than I liked spending time with any of the other female councilors.
During week five, we didn't spend as much time together. Random scheduling was to blame, as always. It's not like the staff in charge of scheduling shipped the councilors together.
But we did have one interaction that week that sticks in my brain. One of my campers, a middle-schooler, knocked a plate of pretzels and cheese out of one of her campers' hands during snack time. The sixth-grade girl promptly begins to cry, so Trisha takes the child to sit on a nearby rock with her. I didn't catch the whole exchange, but Trisha asked a lot of questions about how the week had gone so far. Did you have fun in the pool? Did you enjoy the game of soccer? Remember that goal you saved? She did a lot more listening than talking though, and in only a few minutes, the girl stopped crying. Before long, she had another snack and began playing with her cabin-mates.
A not-insignificant number of couples get together from among the summer staff. There are three reasons for this. First, most of the staff are between 18 and 25, right in the phase of life when we're looking to find someone. Second, the smallness and closeness of the staff pushes everyone closer. Finally, some piece of our inner biology really likes watching people of the opposite gender acting in kind, supportive, and loving ways towards children. It's like natural selection itself is saying "that would make an effective mother, just in case you were thinking about propagating your genes."
Stopping a little girl's tears with pure gentleness? Now THAT is what I call hot.
Trisha certainly isn't what most guys think of as attractive. Like I said, she has acne and she's obese. On top of that, her hair is buzzed short. Not because she has cancer or anything, just because she enjoys having a military cut. But when you mix her intelligence and kindness with her high cheek bones, smooth brown skin, and perpetual smile, it's enough to counter any other outward weirdness.
The Saturday evening after that, the camp leadership team hosted a "halfway through summer" party by the lake, and most of the staff was there despite it being during our time off. We sung worship songs, roasted marshmallows, played card games, and simply talked. You know, all the things we normally did for work but without having to worry about the well-being of a small contingent of children.
At one point, I went to the edge of the dock where we launched boats from to look at the stars. The further I got from the fire, the easier it was to see the sky. The dock was the furthest I could get from the fire and also not be under tree cover or too far away from my friends. Clouds filled up most of the sky, but there were patches that the stars managed to peak out of. Trisha joined me only moments after I sat down.
We began talking more about our backgrounds. I'm a nursing student because my parents are nurses, so I didn't have much to share. Trisha's story is a bit more interesting. She was born in Guatemala, but her parents brought her to the United States when she was only eight months old. She didn't actually get her citizenship until halfway through high school. She used to be really afraid of getting deported, even though she was a legal resident, because she didn't know a lot of Spanish. If she was sent back to Guatemala, she would have been lost.
Her mother, on the other hand, knew three languages. Besides Spanish and English, she knew one of the Mayan dialects. Because apparently there are still Mayans around, and not extinct like I assumed they were for some reason. Her father only knew Spanish, so she didn't speak with him much.
I asked why Trisha didn't have a Hispanic first name. She told me that her parents were already planning on coming north when she was born, and they wanted her to fit in more easily.
We also talked more about our religious background. She, like a lot of Hispanic people, is Catholic. I'm Protestant. In a sense, we have a lot in common. We believe that God turned himself into a human, while at the same time still being God in heaven, grew to about 30 something years old, and died in a really painful way just to show us how much He loves us. We believe God made the whole universe. Not in the in the way described by Moses, but in the way described (but not explained) by science.
I always had weird feelings about Catholics, though. Women aren't allowed to be priests, they think the Pope has these crazy powers, and they believe in Purgatory even though the Bible says nothing about Purgatory. Some even pray to saints instead of to God.
Trisha, unsurprisingly, had some weird feelings about Protestants. We don't have confession, we don't do communion every Sunday, our services are ridiculously informal, and we don't baptize babies. Well, some Protestants do but my home church doesn't. Actually, the whole not baptizing babies was really appalling to her. I can understand. She thinks that if you don't baptize babies and then they die, they go to Purgatory. And granted, that would suck, but I just can't imagine babies, who lack free will, would be punished for not being baptized. I mean, that's a lot of babies in Purgatory otherwise.
We discussed a lot more than some of our differences, though. We talked about what made Christianity really special. We believe that you can have a personal friendship with God, the same God that created the universe. We believe God is sincerely interested in every person's life and that he looks down from heaven not to judge us, but because he loves us.
Her phrasing of this ideas stamped a beautiful impression in my memory, so I'm going to quote her directly: "A lot of people think that if Jesus were to come out of heaven right now and stand in front of them, he would just shake his head disapprovingly. That's just not who Jesus is. Sure, he knows about our every screw up. But if he was right here, right now, he would smile and embrace us."
We sat at the end of the dock side-by-side with our feet dangling off into the water. We leaned back on our hands so that we could gaze at the patches of stars. Her fingers, sprawled out as her palm pressed against the wooden boards, rested about five centimeters from my fingers. I thought about moving my hand closer, so that it would touch hers. I didn't though, because I didn't know how she would react. Would she think it creepy or too forward? Maybe she wanted to touch my hand, but didn't because she had the same hesitations.
We didn't end up holding hands. We just talked and sat beside each other.
I didn't see Trisha much at all the following week, but I spent a lot of time thinking about the last Saturday night. Looking back, week six treated me worse than any of the other weeks. Partially because I spent too much time thinking about the past and partially because I had a rough group of kids. Three of my campers were each others friends from school, and they pretty much ignored the rest of the cabin. Two boys fought with each other on every occasion. I personally didn't deal with the situation well; I ignored the small clique most of the time and I took sides when my two other campers fought, rather than mediating conflict. Another child was homesick all week and I did nothing to remediate that. I'd be surprised if he ever comes back to camp.
I didn't see Trisha at the end of the week either because she had to go with her dad to a doctor's appointment. Usually her mother translated for him, but she had work that day. So Trisha had to explain her father's symptoms based on what he had told her mother and what her mother related to her. Then she had to take note of the doctor's recommendations to tell to her mother to tell to her father. It sounded like a mess to me. She related that on Friday on one of the few occasions we did see each other.
The following week we ran into each other a bit more often, but not as often as I would have liked. On Thursday, when our kids were at the craft pavilion together, I discretely asked her if she wanted to go out for lunch after church on Sunday so that we could talk some more. She agreed, which jolted up my heart beat more than I expected it to.
I asked her discretely, of course, because you don't want your campers to think that you're dating another councilor. It's unofficial camp policy that unless a couple is married, they have to pretend to not be a couple in front of campers. If they do suspect some councilors of being a couple, they let you know. They sing poorly composed songs of him and her liking each other and the ask a barrage of "are you going to marry her?", "Do you like her?", "Can you give me dating advice?", etcetera. The teenage campers ask even more intrusive questions. One not-insignificant danger is that if a male child has a crush on a female councilor, he might see his own councilor as a competitor. You do NOT want your campers to see you as a competitor.
We know that this happens not from pure hypothesis, but because sometimes campers ship their councilors together. They're usually wrong about who likes who, but it doesn't matter to them.
That week was, after all, a teenage week. Teenagers were Trisha's strong suit. After all, she was preparing to teach high school. She taught physics to them in a way that caused all of them to fix their eyes on hers. She genuinely enjoyed talking and thinking about physics, so when she came to teach, she brought her passion with her. I listened once as she explained how gravity makes the moon orbit Earth and the Earth orbit the sun.
When Sunday lunch finally rolled around, we sat across from each other at a diner close to camp. It wasn't a fancy place, but camp doesn't pay well and we weren't hard to please. Our conversation drifted here and there as conversations between friends tend to.
At some point, after we had finished our food, there was a bit of a stop in the conversation. I thought about using this pause to ask Trisha if she thought of us as friends or as potential partners. I didn't know how to phrase it and I didn't want her to be put off if in the event she did think of us as just friends. I didn't know if I could be just friends with her. I was processing all that while also looking at her high cheek bones and perfectly rounded forehead and slender nose and smooth brown skin and shapely buzz cut and symmetrical ears…
Then Trisha started laughing, seemingly out of the blue. But not out of the blue. I should remind you that Trisha is very intelligent. She saw right through my body language. She knew my thoughts exactly. And she thought it was cute. So she laughed.
"What?" I asked.
"Just ask," she said with a healthy smile of perfect teeth.
"Ask what?" I asked, feigning ignorance.
She stopped laughing, put her elbows on the table, lifted her folded hands to her chin, smiled, looked me in the eye, and simply waited for me to ask.
I didn't ask for a couple of moments, simply waited for her to answer my dumb question. When I realized she wasn't going to say anything more, and when I convinced myself that I knew she knew I wanted to know how she felt and she knew I knew she wanted me to ask, I tried to put a question together that didn't sound idiotic. I looked down, because looking at her face wasn't very conducive to thinking clearly, decided what to say, and looked back up.
"I really like being with you. Are you okay with this being more than a friendship?"
"Yes," she answered quietly, nodding gently.
I got the answer I craved, but for some reason it didn't calm my nerves. My stomach still churned a little, the adrenaline in my blood still wanted to make my muscles twitch, and my heart rate felt around 110 beats per minute.
We held hands as we walked back to camp after lunch. Her hand was warmer than the summer air. It felt comfortable and right in my hand, like my hand had been walking around without rest its whole life and only now got the chance to sit down.
The cursed schedule kept us apart for the next two weeks, which was probably for the better because it would have been exceptionally difficult to pretend not to like Trisha, but it kind of sucked. The weekend between it was my turn to translate at the doctor's office. My aunt needed someone who knew a bit of medical terminology with her, and my parents were out of the state on vacation.
The time apart did give me a chance to calm myself down. The last week brought our campers together at the ball field, pool, and craft pavilion once again. I saw her care for children and she watched me do the same. We spent our time together carefully, discussing our respect for each other, but not flirting any more than councilors normally do with each other. Fortunately there was a baseline of non-genuine flirting for us to blend into that exists between many of the staff, regardless of whether or not they like each other and regardless of gender.
Trisha told me that she liked my facial hair and the way I care for people. She said that I would make a good nurse one day with my empathy for other people.
(She didn't see how I dealt with the camper that knocked the snacks from the hand of her camper).
I told her many of the things I already mentioned here. I told my campers that I was modeling how to be nice to other people and how to compliment them. It made the situation seem less romantic. I hope.
After week ten, after the closing ceremony, and after we packed our things, Trisha and I were finally free to not pretend we weren't dating. Our relationship came as a surprise to some of our coworkers, but those who knew us better and perhaps were more observant took the realization in stride.
I had a week and a half before I needed return to school for my senior year. Trisha also had some time before her junior year, so we planned a brief road trip together. We called our parents to tell them our plans and to make arrangements. My parents drove up in two vehicles. My dad, after making me swear that we would sleep separately, lent me his pickup, two tents, and some other camping gear. We had no desire to complicate our upcoming time apart, so it wasn't a difficult thing to swear.
I took the first leg of the drive while Trisha searched through her phone for some good traveling music. As I pulled out of the camp's main drive and navigated to the highway, we meditated quietly on the physical departure from our place of employment. The spiritual departure happened already with the closing ceremony; once the campers and most of the staff were gone, the place felt like it no longer existed, even though we were right there.
Once I pulled onto the interstate and accelerated to cruising speed, Trisha taught me about some of her favorite musicians. We were listening now to something by Josh Garrels as she talked about how he wasn't afraid to drift into falsetto if the movement of the song called for it. His sharp lyrics smoothly pierced into uncomfortable territory in one song or gently painted a picture of his wife in another.
Trisha sang along to a few of her favorite choruses. I already had learned to appreciate the sound of her voice, every pitch and every wavering. Whenever we got to a song we both knew, our voices harmonized and rang louder than the stereo system.
After about three hours of this, we pulled into a rest stop, did a few squats and toe touches, bought some salty starchy snacks at a vending machine, and switched spots. For a little while, it was my turn to teach her about the bands Red and Capital Kings. I also played a few songs from Skillet on my phone, but she was already familiar with their stuff.
Another three hours of driving and a stop at the grocery store to fill the cooler brought us to the camp site. We had a water pump, electrical outlet, picnic table, fire ring, and enough level ground to set up two tents. We spent the first fifteen minutes using our awesome summer camp skills to prop up our temporary homes and start a fire. As I unpacked, Trisha started grilling tilapia and roasting some veggies. Ignoring the table, we sat on cloth folding chairs next to the fire once the food was ready.
"I haven't cooked for so long," she said. "I've just been eating whatever they served at camp."
I nodded. "Fish filet is a good way to mix up the same repetitive weekly schedule of food."
Dinner kept our mouths full and quiet. After we finished, Trisha tended the fire while I washed dishes. We made sure to padlock the cooler just in case the local black bears were feeling hungry.
After all the work of camping was done and the sun had set, we sat by the fire, her right hand in my left hand, fingers between fingers. We sat quietly for a while as the crickets sang to us. The embers in the fire crackled and glowed an electric orange, occasionally shooting up tiny sparks. The night air felt like a hug, humid but not heavy, warm but not hot.
It felt good to be beside her. I felt comfortable with her, she felt comfortable with me, she knew I felt comfortable, and I knew she felt comfortable. It was a kind of euphoric mutualism. I didn't have to worry about whether or not she accepted me.
After enough time in silence, she began to sing one of the songs we sang at camp. I listened to the first verse in silence, appreciating her voice against the background of crickets and the crackling fire. At the chorus, I joined in and we sang together. We sang camp songs until we felt too tired to think. We stayed awake past even that point, hesitant to leave each other even so long as it took to rest our eyes until the sun rose.
Once the fire died, however, the cold of a late summer night started to nibble at my shoulders. I took my hand from Trisha's and moved to my tent. She followed suit. My hand felt naked without hers in it.
I awoke in the morning, changed, left my tent, unlocked the cooler, and set breakfast out. Trisha crawled out of her tent, squinting in the morning light, shortly after. We exchanged a "good morning" and hugged.
The next day followed a similar pattern as the day previous. We packed up, got in the car, rotated driving, and listened to music. Having left some of our reflection on the summer behind, though, we spoke a little more about the future. What would our relationship look like when we were at school? How would we manage our religious differences? Where will we live after school? What if distance strains us more than we expect? The future held a lot of uncertainty, but then, doesn't it always?
We had a wonderful road trip. One day we would stop to hike to a waterfall in the woods, another we would go to a lake and swim. One night, the campsite was full, so I slept in the truck bed and she slept in the cabin. Sometimes I cooked and she washed dishes, for other meals we reversed it. We shared all the tasks as evenly as we could, and the resulting efficiency rewarded us. Our conversations ranged broadly. What did it mean to be a nurse who honors God? What does it mean to be a Christian teacher in a public school? What famous person would you most want to talk to? Would you ever travel to Mars if given the chance?
I wasn't overly glad to hear that her answer to that last one was "yes."
We played "would you rather" and "never have I ever." In this manner, we got to know each other a lot better. The more I learned about her, the more I felt it was a privilege to know her.
Much of what we did resembled our time at summer camp, but we didn't have an army of small children to worry about. My attention was 100% on her, and her attention was on me. But eventually, the week did wear away. I drove her home and met her family, those wonderful folks I had heard so much about. I stayed for dinner, which just wasn't enough time to spend with such a family. In time, though, we exchanged a last hug of the summer before I headed home to my parents.
That was five months ago. Our schools are too far apart for us to visit each other, although we did see each other briefly over Christmas break. We talk on the phone a few times a week, but our academic schedules take up a lot of time. But every town needs teachers and nurses and we're almost done with school. We take our prayers to God and believe that He will take us where we need to be. We don't know where we'll be two years from now, but this June, we'll definitely be at camp.