Where Unicorns Run Free

My cell phone rang one hot August evening, it was a friend from college.  He and I often text, but hardly ever speak on the phone. I could tell almost immediately that something was wrong.  It didn’t take him long to get to the point.

“Charlotte has been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes,” he said, and then “I thought maybe we should talk to you about it.”

We have been friends for twenty years.   He and Michael never lived more than two doors away from each other the entire four years of college.  One summer, the four of us all lived in the same apartment, working random landscaping jobs for extra money.  We had shared laughs and beers, practical jokes and serious moments, accidents and deaths and then marriages and births.  When Wendy was in the hospital, Charlotte’s mom was pregnant with her and she never came, but Charlotte’s dad came and mustered other friends to help.  He brought books and jokes.  He sometimes just sat with us when it was all too terrible for words.  That was ten years ago.

We are still present in each other’s lives.  Michael and Charlotte’s dad go out for an occasional beer after work.  Our kids just recently were in a film together to promote the National Park Service.  When I was approached about looking for kids who would be willing to tromp around Minute Man National Park with tri-corner hats and wooden muskets, I could not think of a more perfect family to share this adventure with.  The kids learned about the Revolutionary War, and the adults got two whole days to sit around together.

Once a year, all of the adults (including other college friends) go out for a giant fondue dinner, three courses, lots of wine, more jokes and more laughter.  This year, due to unforeseen circumstances, I had to cancel at the last minute, and these friends made a “Pocket Darcy”:  a picture of me pasted on a Popsicle stick, to be a part of all of the pictures so I would still feel loved and a part of the night, even though I was reading 300 names at a college commencement that had been rescheduled.

When Charlotte was diagnosed, her parents had an idea that something was wrong, she wasn’t acting like herself on their summer vacation.  But she was diagnosed just a few days before school was about to begin, and so they were thrown into a whole new world of counting carbs, and blood sugar checks and two am wake ups to check it again.  They had to trust the nurse with something they had only just began to tackle themselves.  They were nervous.  They called a few times, and we tried to be supportive.  Michael strictly instructed me to be a good listener, not to give out too much advice.  When I told Charlotte’s dad this he responded, “No, I don’t care how much advice you give, I just want to hear your voice and tell me it’s going to be ok.”  So that’s what I told him.

And it was the truth.  Sort of.

The truth is that when your daughter gets diagnosed with diabetes, your world changes. There’s a lot more structure built into every day, . There are a lot more plans that need to be made about birthday parties and sleep-overs.  There is more worry, there’s no way to sugar coat that.  It’s manageable, but it’s lots of worry.

Charlotte’s mom would occasionally email me for advice, and at some point she asked if Charlotte and Wendy could get together, and I suggested Wacky Weekend at The Clara Barton Center for Diabetic Girls.  I’ve written about the camp before, it’s Wendy’s favorite place, and I thought that Charlotte would love to try it out for a weekend, with just some time alone with Wendy. Oh, and with dozens of other kids who have diabetes too.

Charlotte was SUPER EXCITED ABOUT IT!!!!

Her mom and dad were nervous.  She was only ten; she had never been to sleepaway camp before.  They asked me if I would be the emergency contact for the forms.  Then we decided that maybe Charlotte’s parents should just spend the weekend with us.  Their younger child and our daughter Penny could soak up all of our attention, while Wendy and Charlotte enjoyed camp.

It was a win-win.  We dropped off the girls and then took the younger kids to museums and National Parks.  We had card games and sleepovers at our house.  But throughout the weekend, understandably, Charlotte’s parents were nervous that she would be unhappy. They were nervous that the nurses wouldn’t be used to her.  They were nervous that Charlotte would be homesick, or wouldn’t like the camp, or she and Wendy wouldn’t get along as roommates in a cabin.

All of these worries, while understandable, turned out to be unfounded.

Sunday afternoon, when we all arrived at camp to pick up the girls, Charlotte came running up to her camp, hugged them both, told them how much she loved the whole place, and gave them a tour.  She told them she really wanted to go there for the summer camp program.  She read them her journal that she wrote a few times a day about all the fun she was having, even though she missed her parents.

They cried.  Out of joy and relief.

And I had to walk outside and dry a few tears of my own. Who would have thought that this would be something that we shared too.  Our daughters with the same condition, going to the same camp, twenty years later.

I walked to the fire pit in the center of the camp, where bricks have names and inscriptions written in them along the walkway and around the ring of stones.  Written among the bricks is a poem by Shel Silverstein:

This Bridge

This bridge will only take you halfway there

To those mysterious lands you long to see;

Through gypsey camps and swirling Arab fairs

And moonlit walks where unicorns run free.

So come and walk awhile with me and share

The twisting trails and wondrous worlds I’ve known

But this bridge will only take you halfway there–

The last few steps you’ll have to take alone.  

Our girls would have a whole history without their parents, but with each other, at camp.  They wouldn’t be alone.   They would always have someone who understood what they were going through.

So would their parents.

There was something sweet in knowing that.

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