The Florida to North Carolina trek took sixteen hours—one for each year I’d been alive—or long enough to read Go Ask Alice, Love Story, and a Mad Magazine cover to cover. I packed my K-Mart steamer trunk with enough T-shirts, shampoo, and books for a summer at Our Lady of the Hills Camp, climbed onto a Greyhound bus, and didn’t look back.
Camp wasn’t boarding school, but some dreams were never going to happen—like my three summers’ running crush on Eddie Falcone. But camp, I decided, was better than boarding school. No homework. And, hey, I could count on a least one Eddie sighting a day.
I unfolded from the bus seat, climbed down the steps into my third year at camp.
The summer blurred by under a canopy of Carolina blue sky and white lace clouds: I slammed my body against the forgiving mat of the trampoline. I stretched out prone on musty canvas with a twenty-two snugged into my shoulder and aimed at targets I rarely nailed. I cajoled girls to hike to the most beautiful waterfall we’d ever see. I corralled them for kickball and hitting the canteen for Cokes.
And somehow, along the way, I was metamorphosing from a counselor-in-training into a counselor. Some of my skills, however, needed work.
Before camp I’d only ridden a horse once—a tethered ride around a Miami backyard at a fifth birthday party. But the I-love-horses chink of my Y chromosome survived. Over three summers of camp I mastered posting in an English saddle, a skill that made my nose tip up just a little higher than it used to. But I’d barely tried cantering or galloping—until today.
The sun deepened to goldenrod and sunk toward the mountains as campers practiced their skits in front of the cabins for evening activity. I and the other C.I.T.s climbed onto horses. I followed Diane, living her first twin-less summer, into the field atop a shiny, black-coated gelding named Smokey. Buttercup strolled behind me carrying Beth.
Diane goaded her horse into a smooth canter and Smokey followed.
Trees flew past the corners of my eyes, dark in the honey-yellow light.
Mountain air slapped my cheeks.
My knees gripped Smokey’s flanks and every time his feet hit the ground I jarred loose from his withers.
Next time I’d stick to trotting.
He careened around the corner of the field, unseating me even further. He ducked his head—a nasty quirk I’d been warned he loved to do.
My body flung forward into the dew-heavy sunset.
I smacked hard against Carolina clay.
Smokey jogged to the center of the field, his nose high and proud.
I lay winded on the grass, adrenalin mainlining though my body, my ankle limp beneath one bell bottomed pants leg.
Amid exclamations, “Thank God you didn’t get kicked or trampled,” “Where does it hurt?” and “Lie still,” a car drove across the field and parked.
Eddie Falcone stepped out.
All my religious training culminated in that moment.
There is a God and He really is kind. I would never doubt again.
After a stop at the infirmary where I was iced, ibuprofened, and splinted in an inflatable boot, Eddie tucked me into his car for the ride to the emergency room.
The sky had deepened to eggplant by the time we weaved our way through the woods.
If I had known that fifteen minute car ride would be the pinnacle of my relationship with Eddie, I wouldn’t have squandered it tracking the heartbeat of pain throbbing in my leg.
Between jaunts of silence, I apologized for taking up his evening. Twice.
“Don’t worry about it. I didn’t have anything else to do.”
How could you not like a guy like that?
The car went back to quiet. Eddie was not the talkative Falcone.
Too soon and not soon enough we arrived at the Pardee Hospital ER where my ankle was pronounced broken in three places.
After the doctor told Mom I’d need surgery to insert a pin tomorrow, he handed me the phone.
I said I was fine, she didn’t need to come from Florida to hold my hand. No way was I going home a month early if I could help it.
Mom, an R.N. in intensive care, was an easy sell. “Okay, honey. I love you. Talk to you after the surgery.”
Eddie left me with a few words and a face that said he felt all kind of awful for me.
I breathed a contented sigh as the mega pain killers and Eddie’s compassion kicked in.
He didn’t need to be concerned.
I don’t remember much till I woke up the next day after surgery with flowers from the camp beside my bed.
A couple boring days later I went “home” to camp on crutches with a high-tech, waterproof cast—made of fiberglass like Dad used to coat the hull of the Annie Lee. Who knew Hendersonville squirreled away fifty camps in her hills and had become an epicenter for broken limbs? I couldn’t have picked a better place to break a bone.
The rest of the summer unspooled with me hobbling around camp, inhaling the scent of mountain laurel that grew beside the pool and slipping into the summer-cold water every chance I got.
I painted ceramic mugs with my cabin, our voices drifting out the screens beneath the lodge. We moon-bathed and shared secrets on the flat rock of the camp’s makeshift golf course. We sailed sunfish in puffs of air on Madonna Lake. And we cried our way through Where Have All the Flowers Gone at the final campfire of the summer.
I crutched up the aisle of the Greyhound bus and rode to a new town, new high school, and still-new stepdad.
Starting eleventh grade with a broken leg, neon orange jeans, and one Kelly green Converse earned me bounteous offers to carry my books and enough notoriety to win vice president of the senior class and a berth on the homecoming court.
As with most hard knocks in life, I didn’t have to look far to see God’s kindnesses.
And if my boarding school dream got divinely upgraded, then maybe one day I’d splat in the sunset in front of somebody cooler than Eddie Falcone.