Last night, I sat up thinking about a girl I had in my bunk during my first year as a camp counselor. She was what we at camp refer to as "awkward"-- quiet, prone to odd conversations when she did open her mouth, and habits rather different from a typical 10-year old girl. She had a connection with bugs that none of us could understand. Spiders, daddy longlegs, and moths-- all would sneak into our bunk and swarm on the walls and bed legs. While the rest of us would end up stomping and swatting, she would shout at us to stop. She would then go about rescuing the insects and arachnids, cradling them in her palms as she carried them back into the great out doors.
I never really understood her. After all, I'm the girl with green bug splatters on the walls of her apartment. I don't handle bugs well. But I tried to work around her sensibilities, calling her into my counselor room whenever a spider dared to step foot on my walls. The way she cared for such insignificant lives made me feel guilty for all of the ants I squashed when I was younger, the centipedes that I directed my father to kill, and the spiders I smashed with blobs of tissues.
On the last day of the session, we were scrubbing down the bunk and packing all of our belongings. This is traditionally when the insects are flushed into the open. Well, our bug quota was met by a single gigantic spider. It looked like a bristle brush with eight hairy legs. Screams of 10 frantic girls echoed off the walls, the springs of the beds screeched as they all jumped up out of the way from the multi-eyed menace.
But not this girl. With her typical calmness and almost vacant smile, she advanced on the spider, bending down and reaching out her hand. The next thing I knew, she was screaming as loud as the rest of them, holding her hand tightly to her chest. The spider had bitten her. Hard.
As I raced her down to the infirmary, she told me tearily that it didn't hurt her so much as surprise her. I suppose she was feeling a little betrayed by an animal that she always tried to help.
I don't know why I still remember that-- it was four years ago. But whenever I watch those daytime trashy TV shows about child abuse and wild, out of control teens, I think of her. I suppose it's the loss of innocence that gets to me, how one event could change a child's outlook, even something very small.
I wish I could have smashed the spider before she had gotten to it, just so she could have avoided the disappointment.