The drought, long summer days filled with an angry western sun, had significantly drained our enthusiasm for outdoor games.
“Perhaps the children would whine less if we could conduct a safe and orderly water fight?” I suggested to camp’s director in my most responsible 18-year-old voice. “We’re in a drought.”
One mad dash to Safeway later, our group of inspired counselors had bountiful supplies for a shaving cream fight, rationalizing that we would surely be instructed to hose off afterwards.
“Ready? Gooooooooooo!” Thoughts of parched throats were flung to oblivion as shaving cream was glopped.
Vision blurred, I stumbled into my campers, whooping in wild abandon.
Screams met laughs as each kid transformed from grumpy hiker to foam covered yeti. Hair turned sticky, eyelashes clumped together, and clothing stiffened. Locating a relatively clean corner of my T-shirt to wipe my eyes proved challenging.
He was wearing Dorothy’s dress. Robin’s egg blue overlaid white in a plaid pattern stretched to the point of breaking; 100 thread count cotton protesting quietly as he strode around camp.
I surveyed the quieting madness and patted my shaving-cream Mohawk contentedly.
“I like your hair style,” he commented, lowering sunglasses in what would have been a decidedly Frat-boy patois except for the speaker.
Camp’s golden boy had sprouted a beard at the age of 13, capturing the hearts of easily swayed prepubescent females since 1999. Nominated for “most spirited” most weeks of the summer, John was still an easy-going and surprisingly humble object of affection. The fact that John was my friend was not a declaration of elite status; John was friends with everyone.
“I like your dress.”
A lifetime later I saw a hastily posted message on social media, inviting all such friends of John to celebrate his birthday in Fort Collins; he was turning 28.
Years and thousands of miles between us had diluted our camp friendship to a fading memory. I had disappeared into the recesses of South America for the Peace Corps. He had changed states, suffered a heart break, and moved back. I contemplated this as I drove north; planning to surprise a boy I had grown up with but did not currently know.
Arriving at his house with a half-baked plan, I failed to anticipate their migration from the address posted. Echoes of a lonely doorbell in the background, I benignly accosted surrounding residents until finding John’s whereabouts. They had biked to Old Town; I borrowed a neighbor’s phone.
“Hi John – Happy Birthday. I’m here.”
“Hello? Thanks! …Who is this?”
It was the slow kind of falling in love that started with a rekindled friendship and was based off of a mutual respect for snow sports, sweet potato fries, and the genuine belief that all people are capable of greatness.
Nearly two years later, we have all but completely filled in the gaps of our lives with stories and understanding. Camp’s favored sweetheart has become my favorite partner in crime.
He still wears dresses, on occasion.
Julie Fast is a Nordic ski instructor and lives at YMCA of the Rockies near Granby.