I started working at camp in 1987 when I was 16 years old. My first two summers consisted of cleaning bathrooms and the kitchen and basically being psyched out of my mind that I was at camp for the whole summer with my best friends. Getting paid $200 was a bonus (yes, that’s for the whole summer). The summer of 1989 was my first as a counselor, it was a blur! There are things I remember here and there and my eyes were certainly opened to many things about kids, the world and myself. I actually used to have a fantastic memory but it has become sort of a ridiculous joke of late how much my memory has deteriorated, be it age, raising a child, stress or what have you, I don’t know. But I’ve noticed that as I go through the days, months and years of life and details I used to remember are no longer recalled; there are things I carry.
In 1990 I was working my second summer as a cabin counselor at Mission Meadows. One week in July I met my cabin full of girls and one girl, Regina Slater from Kane, PA, was more quiet and reserved than the rest but I could tell she was happy to be in this place. I think I felt a special connection with her given that I myself am a quiet type but there was something else that I didn’t have a connection with because my life growing up had been so different from what she knew. As the weather cooled off in the evening I realized she didn’t have anything with her to keep her warm…I loaned her a sweatshirt. My “day” off happened to fall on her birthday, so I got her a cake and a card for the cabin to sign and during cabin time that night we had a surprise birthday party for her…she cried! I was naive. I went up to the dining hall after the girls went to bed where I told the story of her tears and I didn’t understand. The camp nurse, Marleen, had knowledge of the family situation and she told me that it was probably the only birthday party Regina ever had. She turned 13 that day.
At the end of the week Regina had to go home and although I didn’t really know what she was going home to, I knew I didn’t want to send her there. I gave her my sweatshirt to keep and I hoped that I would see her the next summer. I cried. We wrote letters for a few years, she told me about her time in foster care, her parent’s divorce, she asked me to intervene with her brother who was doing drugs. I can only imagine what my thoughts were as I read letters about a life so foreign to me. I never saw her again – she never came back to camp and eventually the letters faded, as letters often do.
I have been lucky in my life to have kept in touch with many friends. The gift of the internet is sometimes being able to connect with pieces of my past. In this last year I was re”united” with a long-lost dear friend by way of the internet, I have been able to see pictures and hear stories of other former campers who have children of their own. Over the years I have carried Regina with me, the clear memories of our brief time together are so precious to me as I have hoped that she knew that she was loved, by God and by me, and that love had in some way helped her to find peace in her world. Occasionally I would attempt to locate her online but never had any success. Last Thursday morning I decided to try again. The first hit in the search results was an obituary from more than three years ago for a Regina Slater from Kane, PA whose birthday was in July. She died in an early morning car accident.
Since finding this and confirming that this is indeed “my” Regina, I have been able to piece together very little of her life. She leaves behind a young daughter, Sydney, which is perhaps the most heartbreaking part of the story. The pieces of her life that I have been able to find don’t point to ideal circumstances and it makes me terribly sad, but I can’t know if she was happy as circumstances don’t always determine that, character does.
I’ve realized that I will now carry the grief and sadness for Regina along with the hope that she had found peace. And I will carry Sydney as well. If the Universe sees fit I hope my path will cross with Sydney’s one day and I can tell her that she is carried, and loved.