I freely admit to being terrified. I kind of wonder how my mother felt when she dumped out the contents of the green canvas duffle after two damp weeks at Girl Scout camp. I can still remember what that smelled like; nice in a musty, woodsy, but I don't want to keep wearing it sort of way. Except I would have. At ten, eleven, twelve, and possibly even thirteen (questionable) she still had to peel clothing off my back and throw me in the general direction of water. One summer my uncle handed me a wash cloth (I'd heard of them but not once held one up close) and a bar of soap and told me to go scrub my neck. That nice tan I had going on turned out to be summer dirt. I hadn't been home enough that summer for my mother to have seen me (or my brother) in direct sunlight for much more than thirty seconds. 1977. Right. I was thirteen and Star Wars was awesome! Quality time with Mom; too dark in the theater to see the dirt. That woman had her priorities straight.
Elizabeth has done her best to keep the still clean clothing in one large bag and the pretty much not so clean with the ohgoodgodthisisrancid clothing in the other large bag but there's also a bit of a free for all going on in there. The good news is they gave away all of the white B3 work shirts which, despite how clean she may have looked in the video on Tuesday morning, looked like holy hell by the end of the day. Over to the right is the blue duffle with the flowers. It's eclipsed by all that plastic which makes it hard to believe all that plastic started out in the duffle in the first place. I trip over the mountain several times a day as a reminder that I'm going to have to deal with it one way or another before the next unsuspecting non-family member crosses the threshold.
If I take it out with the trash she'll be naked until fall. Every piece of summer clothing this girl owns, and then some, is in one of these plastic bags. We don't have a lot around here and it's not so much for lack of spending as lack of spending. That made sense to someone. This started shortly after the divorce but went into full swing the year her dance tuition quadrupled and we stopped spending money on anything and by anything what I mean are those little things that aren't so little as you think because they add up. We still bought clothes and shoes and household items but we did oddly. I remember offending the living shit out of Portnoy when I bought two pairs of work shoes of reasonably decent quality (remember, I was his first and most likely only exposure to Corporate America and also the benefactor of my only real experience with direct reverse snobbery). I looked at him and said, I don't think you understand. It's going to be another two to three years before I buy another and by then both pair will have been walked into the ground. Which, by the way, is not such a good thing but I do it anyway for reasons other than money (shoe shopping is right up there with bra and bathing suit shopping).
So about buying things. You can suffer death by a thousand cuts and wonder why your budget is blown. You can watch your checking account empty down to about nothing and have no freaking idea why. I spent the majority of my money on food and gas. Those were the things that mattered to me. I stopped buying clothes, Elizabeth stopped buying clothes. She bought pointe shoes and ribbon and elastic and I told her boyfriend the other day that a pair of shoes ran $80 to $93 depending on the shoe and she quipped, add in the elastic and ribbon and you're up over $100 and if you need new toe pads and any other sort of thing you can hit $125 in a heart beat.
My point is that we knew exactly where the money was going and I know those plastic bags hold every stitch of summer clothing that kid owns plus every last bit of underwear, all of her socks, all of my wool socks, three new t-shirts from Walmart (I notice they're still in their original bag; she was afraid they were cut a little too big and she was probably right so fine, I'll wear them), and her very best dress and sweater which she apparently stood in front of for a good fifteen minutes trying to work out if it was worth spending that much babysitting money on for, well, just a dress. When she tried it on back home I agreed it was worth that and probably a little bit more and that yes, it had called her name the minute she walked in the store. I have a dress in the very same color that I nearly cried about before I bought it this summer. She stood beside me and whispered, do it!
When she unloaded this explosion of unruly stuff I stood over it wondering how this kid had managed to accumulate so much and asked about the luggage contents brought by other girls. She laughed. They changed twice a day just like she did except, she informed me, Mom, if I'm only wearing these clothes for half the day I don't really see any point in not wearing them again the next day. It just seemed sort of ridiculous. I did wear all my underwear though. THAT had to be changed. Socks though, you were right about the socks.
And Mom, they started giving stuff away at the end of the week.
Wait, you guys were specifically told NOT to do that under any circumstances.
Yeah, I know, they did it anyway.
What did they give away?
Socks. Wool socks. Socks like my socks. OK, your socks but you know what I mean.
Elizabeth. Do you have any idea how much those cost?
And they gave them away?
Yep. Hundreds of dollars of socks. Also, underwear.
Raised in barns?
Rich barns. One girl gave away half her clothes.
Elizabeth. Do you know what would have happened if you'd given away half your clothes?
Yep. I would have been missing half my clothes.
Thank god. Some sense.
Shadow hit the nail on the head when she said Elizabeth would come away with more than she'd leave behind. There was never any doubt about that but she came away with some things I wasn't counting on and they're not bad, I was just startled.
Let's face it. My daughter is entitled. I don't mean that in a negative way and the one or two times I put that in front of her she burst into tears the way I did when I was told back in 2007 that I was privileged. My daughter tries very hard not to be entitled. She doesn't want to be that person and she's not; at least not for the most part. Quite honestly, you can't grow up in this environment without believing there are things which you should have and if it looks like you're not going to have them then something is FUCKING WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE. Let's face it, that's going to happen. The balance is the intelligence to recognize the truth no matter how much it hurts. You are not going to Tufts. Your parents can't (and will not take out the loans) pay for that and if you even think of taking out that sort of student loan you'd better check in to the earning potential on the other side of whatever degree you choose. And you're probably not going to land enough of a scholarship to get you over the hump. That's just an example and it's OK. This is not unexpected.
Back on coming away with more than she left behind. She worked hard and it was good. She knows how to dig, she tells me. She can dig for days. She can sift but sifting gets hard after a while but that's OK. She can use a pick axe on the rocks in the ground to loosen them up before digging again and she can make cement. She is pleased with herself. She understands painting very well to prevent rust and why it's so important to prevent rust. She has been paying attention and she knows just exactly how much a cinder block weighs having spent a good amount of time passing them down the line. Her work gloves show significant labor. She also knows what work avoidance looks like and she hasn't any use for it. She is embarrassed by it. She is possibly the smallest member of this very large team and she often feels alone although she knows perfectly well she isn't because she is surrounded by other students working just as hard as she is. One girl is crying but she can't say why. She keeps painting.
At home she can't say what she learned when I ask her directly but she can paint around the edges. She tells me she was cold at night until she got up and turned off the fan closest to her cot. I feel bad about not packing something else but I'm not sure what that might have been. She says she stopped using the deet the second day because she forgot to put it on and then discovered the bugs didn't touch her but they were eating up the kids around her. Most of them had been sprayed or used the fluid she had but none of them had their clothing saturated or were taking B12. We don't know what did it but she never used the deet again and came home without a mark on her. Permethrin. Apparently it kills those bastards on contact. I have no idea why it seemed to be acting more like a force field because it's not like they don't want to eat her alive here in the swamp.
She wanted more time with the kids. She didn't get it and it made her sad. She felt isolated but when they went into town she stayed in one local shop sitting on a stool watching a man paint small leather binders. He spoke no English and she had an entire four Spanish phrases (and six years of French which did absolutely no good). Later she had a few more words. She watched him finish and sell the binders as people came in and out of the shop. Sometimes he personalized the bindings if people wrote a name on a piece of paper. In the end when she had to go, she wrote my name on a piece of paper and pressed two flowers in the book, snapping it shut and burying it in the bottom of her bag. Later I explained about bringing plants across borders but I'm happy to have them.
She swam in the crater of a long dormant volcano and saw an island with monkeys (the monkeys were not in the crater). She drank coconut water through a straw and then threw the coconut to the ground to crack it open and eat the inside. This confused me. Coconut water comes from greenish coconuts and coconut milk comes from ripe coconuts which is the sort of coconut you want to eat but she seemed happy enough to drink and eat what she was given.
She went back to the site and dug up more dirt and moved more gravel and passed on more blocks and painted more rails.
In the end they came home and it took the same twelvish hours and her bag was searched and she wondered why and I said, that's just the way it is, welcome to the family. Our bags are always searched. Never become a mule. It will end badly.
I retrieved my girl and her explosive bag at 2:20 AM on Sunday morning. When I drove through the very dark towns to collect my girl I did my very best to keep the gas pedal off the floor. She was perfectly filthy and tired as hell but we stayed up until 4 anyway because we were wired from waiting. And also because I drank roughly 32 ounces of very strong coffee at 1 AM. I may have drifted off just before sunrise.
She is happy to have gone. I have no doubt about that. She got more than she bargained for but I don't think she can articulate it yet and I'm quite certain she wasn't expecting anything of the sort. I still need to take the photographs off her camera. The battery died on day three and she lost the spare. I'm not sure if it died from heat exhaustion or something else but I'm hoping she's got enough in there to jog her memory a bit. She has always needed processing time and as she gets older the need for that time becomes greater.