The embers floated up towards the night sky. They danced as the gentle breeze off the lake carried them past the pine boughs to the stars. The lake was quiet except for the loon taking flight. Its wings flapped tirelessly against the surface trying to raise its heavy body into the air. Shadows were cast at our feet and our faces lit by the flames of the fire. It had been a long time since we we were all together in the same place at the same moment. Our shoulders sank back into the Adirondack chairs as the kids pranced around the fire and stood on top of the worn, round stumps placed for footstools.
I listened for discord and heavy sighs but I heard only laughter and certainty. Doubts had followed me to camp. Worries of us all getting along and being able to share an entire week with each other without entanglements packed my mind. I had read somewhere that blended families take three to five years to get used to their new experience. We are nearing the beginning of our third. While we all basically get along and have found common ground, there are still corners that seem prickly and uneasy. I most often doubt my reaction to those spaces and feel heavy hearted when they seem messy and chaotic. I had unreal expectations that there would be perfect harmony from the beginning. The love we had found, or that had found us, would magically wrap itself around the seven of us and smooth out any wrinkles before they even appeared. Naivety and being an internal optimist sometimes paint an unrealistic picture, creating something that won’t ever exist.
I need reminding that even in families that remain unbroken or blended there is discord. Obstacles, adversity, and challenges are a part of all of our relationships whether we are bound by blood, marriage, friendship, or happenstance. Libby had found her place on the largest stump behind the fire. She called it her stage. She belted out phrases from some of her favorite songs. Occasionally one of the other kids would join her or suggest a new duo. Marshmallows singed in the fire as Kyle and I readied graham crackers and chocolate bars. It was decided that no ghost stories would be told. I had forgotten most of the ones I learned from sleepovers in Spofford as a child. So instead, I suggested that we play truth or dare. Everyone agreed and as we took turns asking questions, I wondered what I wanted to know about Kyle. It became his turn and he asked me if I wanted a truth or dare. I blurted dare and waited to see what he would deliver. He directed me to walk up the hill and down the road to touch the side of the guest cottage. It was pitch black but no more than fifty feet away. Without a word I rose from my chair and climbed the soft hill of pine needles. I could barely see and as the campfire became farther away the sounds from the night sky grew louder.
I kept telling myself that I am an adult now. Childhood fears and spooks no longer have any power over me. As I made my way in the pitch black to the guest cottage my overactive imagination began to take hold. Creepers appeared behind the trees, waiting for me to trip over one of the many roots that crossed the dirt road. They stood silently out of sight, but not mind, my worst nightmares only wanting to do harm. I touched the smooth wood of the cottage and turned quickly back to the fire. The flames illuminated my destination and the quiet sounds of my family became louder with every step. I could see them, but they couldn’t see me. As if I was the creeper in waiting, watching from the dark, waiting to see if they noticed me. Chills covered my arms and I said enough. I pushed my childhood fears away and regained myself as I sat into my Adirondack chair.
“We were worried about you love. I’m sorry I gave you such a mean dare.” I smiled and shook it off and told the kids it was nothing. There was nothing to be afraid of. Without out hesitation I asked Kyle if he wanted a truth or dare. He thought about it for a few seconds and then said, “truth”.
“If there was one thing, and you can’t say nothing, that you could change about me, what would it be?” I had brought our family game to a new level. The four kids turned to Kyle and waited, wondering if he would be honest. They stared at him, mouths open, unable to imagine how he would handle this question diplomatically. I waited patiently, knowing that his truth whatever it may be would be filled with love. He looked up at me from across the fire and paused for a moment. My heart grew and filled with him. I smiled and reassured him that I wanted him to say it out loud.
“If there was one thing that I could change about you Jen, it would be that you wouldn’t doubt yourself so much.”
In the most kindest and gentlest way, Kyle had given me the gift of self reflection. Doubt has been my nemesis since I remember being me. He was kind enough to give it a name and speak it out loud. I was lucky enough to hear it from someone I love.