It’s been a long month, and a busy one.
I turned twenty-one, and I am still sort of confused by it. Time is on my mind a lot these days. Admittedly, we have a young staff at camp this year, but to be among the older members of it is very strange to me. It sounds morbid, not to mention darker than I ever was as a teenager, to say this, but I literally just never thought I would get this far. I mean, I did. But I just sort of took it for granted that I would continue to grow old. Once I reached eighteen, I was surprised by that fact, but I got just as complacent in the three years since then as I did in all eighteen before that. It’s okay, I’m not ____ yet.
Well, I am now.
It still doesn’t feel real, but things sometimes don’t feel real at Sjölunden – the passage of time being among them, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Although now it is occurring to me that getting existential about the passing of days and weeks (which I don’t do often and usually here) is different than getting existential about the passing of years. Which I also do here, but less often, since the place seems so timeless.
I have been thinking about that a lot actually – the time of Sjölunden. In many ways. My time here, everyone’s time here, the actual chronos of where it falls.
Basically, the actual chronos of Sjölunden will change. Next summer the timing will be different, in a big way. This, combined with other things that I’ll mention later that also have to do with the wildly confusing passage of time, almost ensures that I will not be back next year – even though I was going to try to do something else with my summer anyway and have been planning as such for years. And that is strange to me, too. That this timeless place can have what seems like such a definitive end, and that it is coming.
I still feel nineteen here sometimes.
Still not old enough. Said the Oldest Child™. Pretty characteristic of me, actually. Never good enough.
But I do – I feel nineteen. I feel untried and overwhelmed and uncertain, and yet confident and young, tough and yet not tough enough.
I feel fifteen – frightened, out of my depth, hopeful.
I feel seventeen – strong, excited, frisk, still uncertain.
And I feel what I guess is twenty-one – tired, old, decidedly unmagical, and yet like I belong, like I am needed, like the work that I do and the things that I am good at are necessary, and I feel sometimes as though I am as alive and awake as I have ever been.
I am myself here, and yet I am also someone else, and that someone is everyone that I have ever been here. I’ve talked before (maybe?) about the weird feeling that the past is happening now, somewhere. Every time I “cross the border” into Sjölunden, I pass fifteen-year-old Red sitting at the tent, tossing a ball with questions taped on it (a classic trick I now use as a teacher), learning, at the beginning of a journey. Red at seventeen haunts the sailing dock (and Red at every age thereafter, if we’re honest). At nineteen you can find me standing uncertainly on the stage – and at twenty-one you can find me there quite certainly. At sixteen I am with Ronja in Sandviken, laughing; at twenty I am on the dock watching the meteor shower with Helena and I am shivering with thought; at twenty-one I sit listening to the students sing and I near cry.
My Sjölunden self is different from who I am elsewhere, but she is still me. (Notably, Red being the All-Purpose Name of Obscurity that I give myself is a blanket, but I have a different name in camp than out, and using Red to cover up for that name when usually I use it to cover up for my real name is weird, but illuminating.)
I have thought for many years that when it comes to Sjölunden, I am a balloon, and it is a wall. Not the kind of wall that blocks you. The kind of wall you, as a balloon, need a bit of a boost from every now and then. Stopping by on your way from one phase of your life to another. I’ve done that more than once now. Needing to be where you can fall back on the timelessness, where you can remember where you’ve been so that where you’re going makes more sense. Twenty-year-old Red might have been dead scared of the fact that she was traveling to Sweden that fall, but fifteen-year-old Red, still learning how to say Vad heter du? somewhere, made it all fall into place. I come back to be able to think, This is why I am here.
That this time may be ending makes me sad, but as a good Doctor Who fan and a meticulous observer of the universe, I know everything has its time. Something or someone else will become a wall for me, for a time. Maybe I’ll manage to come back some year after next. Maybe I’ll send my children here. Or maybe they will surprise me with something else entirely, like I did my own parents. Not to mention myself. Oh, fifteen-year-old Red, you had no idea, but thank you, sweet brave terrified girl. What a journey you began.
That is why I am here. To do Red at fifteen proud, wherever she is.
In my 2016 playlist there is a song called “Cracks in the Floor of Heaven.” Its chorus is as follows:
One man’s water is another man’s wine;
Somebody’s daughter winds up somebody’s bride;
Even three words can hurt you sometimes;
Maybe the cracks in the floor of heaven are the stars in the sky.
I am somebody’s daughter, and my parents, bless their souls, loved – no, love me enough to have given me Sjölunden, not to mention everything else.
I did a thing when I was leaving Umeå and buying small things for my family. I bought a baby hat.
I do not know any babies that I am particularly attached to. Not at the moment.
In case I needed further reminders of memento mori, with every birthday I get closer to one day having my own children, which is one of the two main things I’d like to do with my life. The reminder, again, of how old I am, how old I am quickly becoming, is unsettling, terrifying and deeply sweet.
In other “somebody’s daughter winds up somebody’s bride” news, my best friend Hannah is getting married.
This is old news by now, but of course it’s been making me think.
Somewhere, teenage Hannahs and Reds are sneaking into a school play by the gym’s back door, Fattyz Fridays pizza with our Senior Year Cool Band Dude Boyfriends, working on trigonometry and German. For the church talent show she is reading a poem that I wrote about her observations in junior year chemistry. We are sleeping in the doublewide at her dad’s ranch and talking about how the universe might just be a cell in the brain of some larger being, about Ted Bundy, about our ex-boyfriends and Shakespeare and things we did at college. We are watching Firefly on my couch after she got broken up with. We are driving around our hometown some weekend night sophomore year of college. We are sitting on my roof watching the fireworks on my twenty-first birthday, Sam on my other side.
And the next day I helped her choose a wedding dress.
Somebody’s daughter. Not to mention somebody’s old friend, someone you know in deep, old, sweet ways…oh hell, I am going to make myself cry.
The thing about the past happening somewhere, though, is that the future is also happening somewhere.
Somewhere I am standing up by Hannah’s side at her wedding, and when my toast comes, she and her new husband both laugh and cry.
Somewhere my children are lifting a yellowed knit baby cap out of an old box and smiling fondly to realize that they all wore it, once upon a time.
Somewhere I am back at Sjölunden again, somehow, bouncing lightly off a wall, and I still haunt the sailing dock.