My heart sank when he said those words. It shouldn’t have. Why should I care when Chuck got married? He wasn’t my boyfriend. He wasn’t even really a friend. He was my team leader on our Teen Missions team. In two days we would be saying goodbye and very likely never see each other again.
It was a bit hard to recover the moment after looking at engagement rings and Chuck’s sudden announcement about his marriage prospects. It didn’t really matter. We joined up with our team and had dinner. We could now count the time we had left together in hours instead of days or weeks.
On our last night in Florida the entire team gathered in one of the dorm rooms. The mood was somber as we sang songs, read the Bible and prayed. Some of the team was excited to head home to clean sheets, hot showers and home cooked meals. Most of us, though, were just plain sad at the thought of leaving our team members. Sure there were days that summer that I hated and times I wondered why in the word I had signed up for second summer with Teen Missions, but now that our time was almost over, I didn’t want to leave. We had survived Boot Camp, giant tarantulas, malaria and wearing 8 inch work boots all summer. We had laughed and cried and prayed together.
Who could possibly forget the Sunday some of us girls sat swaying gently in our hammocks in the girls’ tent site, enjoying our Day of Rest, when our idyllic afternoon was shattered by a team member’s quiet cry.
“Help me” Kerri’s voice was quiet and barely audible. Her desperate tone caught our attention even through our laughter.
“What? What is it?” we asked.
“There’s something. In. My. Underwear” she whispered, her voice choked with emotion.
The girls and I looked at Kerri in horror. We were frozen in the moment. No one even blinked.
“Help me” she pleaded, her eyes expressing the horror her mouth couldn’t voice.
Finally Kerri could take it no more and ripped off her long, peasant skirt. There, wandering without a care in the world across Kerri’s Fruit of the Looms was a massive insect. None of us knew what to call the loathsome creature. Black spindly legs, iridescent shell, long antennae, bulging eyeballs. Kerri flicked it off with her finger and the rest of us girls screamed in disgust and shock.
After the fact, we pieced together what must have happened. As we were eating lunch in the jungle that beautiful afternoon, the horrible insect must have climbed up the inside of Kerri’s skirt, only to be discovered when she felt it crawling against her thigh…We called her Cricket for the rest of the summer.
What we had endured together that summer along with all our happy memories, meant most of us were dreading the moment we had to say goodbye. Chuck put out a notebook asking for the addresses of “anyone who would like to keep in touch”. Trying not to appear too eager, I waited until several other team members had written their addresses before I added mine to the list.
The next day our entire team and two leaders were dropped off at the Orlando airport. It was Chuck and Christy’s job to get us all to our gates so we could fly home safely. Our flights all across the country (and Canada) were spaced out throughout the day. Our team was shrinking member by member amid hugs and tears and promises to write no matter what.
Finally the hour of my departure approached. Chuck volunteered to take me, Kerri and one of the boys to our gates. First he dropped off our male team member, then we walked together to leave Kerri at her gate. Kerri was worried. She had never flown alone and was unsure of herself. Chuck assured her she would be just fine, dropped her off and left her watching after us.
It was just me and Chuck now (the rest of the dwindling team was with leader Christy). Chuck walked me all the way to my gate and valiantly volunteered to stay with me until my plane came. I remember looking at him as he gazed off into the distance. His hair was blonde, freshly cut by Christy. His eyes were such a bright, beautiful blue. He had wrinkle lines around his eyes when he smiled and laughed…
Chuck abruptly set down the backpack he had carried all summer long, through Boot Camp and the jungles of Brazil and back to Florida. He methodically began taking everything out of it and stacking it on the empty seat next to him. Once it was empty he handed it to me and said, “I want you have to this“.
There is very little romance with Teen Missions, but this I knew was a gesture of romantic affection. I took the bag awkwardly and then unloaded my backpack. The green backpack I loved so much I had sewed onto it a Winnie the Pooh patch and a rainbow ribbon all around the zippered edge. We repacked our new bags just as boarding was called for my flight. Chuck and I stood and looked at each other awkwardly for a moment.
Then Chuck drew me into a hug that was much too long and much too close for a brother and sister in Christ. When we finally pulled part, I turned and boarded my plane.
Our summer was over.
To be continued….Part VI