Sunday, April 29, 2012

S.'s STORY: FINDING A SOULMATE IN SWITZERLAND

Name: S.
Roles in Girl Scouting: girl member, Girl Scout camp staff member, volunteer at one of the four World Centers
Location: Birmingham, UK

I grew up on the east coast of the USA and early on, from my elementary school years, I never really fit into my community’s conservative mould.  My childhood was a happy one but I always knew I was different from the regular crowd of girls.

The ice was broken for me early in my adolescence when one of my siblings came out to my parents. Despite their reaction, nothing seemed more natural to me. My thirteen-year-old self was quietly supportive, but all I could do was hole myself up in my room, studying and practicing violin, ignoring the arguments on the other side of my closed door.
 
Deep down, I knew I, too, was the same.  But I didn’t want to worry about breaking the news to my parents just yet.  I had time.  

My first crush arose sooner than I expected.  It was at music camp; she was a cellist.  
I felt strongly for her and I was convinced she thought the same about me, but after the two weeks of grueling rehearsals and lessons ended, I never heard from her again.  I wrote her a ton of letters but she never replied.  Maybe it was all in my head.  

Then I joined Girl Scouts. Late. My best friend in high school had also become a new member of Girl Scouts and the troop was planning exciting ski vacations and a camping trip to the Virgin Islands.  I loved  Girl Scouts after the very first meeting.  My Girl Scout leader said it was about time I finally joined; she had been waiting for me to become a member for years.
Fast forward to 1996, the summer before I was to attend university.  My Girl Scout troop had planned a trip to Switzerland to attend a session at Our Chalet, the international centre for Girl Guides and Girl Scouts in the Swiss Alps.  I was terrified. I had never been abroad and I wasn’t a huge fan of being far away from home. 

The minute the plane took off, I changed and there was no looking back.
  We hiked, hiked, and hiked, and met girls from around the world.  We didn’t stay in the Chalet itself; we camped and brought much of our own food and equipment.  It was amazing.  We endured torrential thunderstorms, freezing cold nights, and glorious days.  There was a group from England staying in Squirrel House (a small building also not connected with the main Chalet), and the girls in both our groups became friends.  This is how I met M., who is now my wife and parent to our six-month-old son.
I liked M. a lot during our time in Switzerland, but she was so quiet.   I, on the other hand, was talkative, chatty (maybe too chatty sometimes), and quite bubbly for her calmer British demeanor.
When I returned home from Europe there was a letter waiting for me from England.  It was from M.  
I immediately wrote her back, my heart racing the entire time I scribbled a reply.  We wrote letters like this for two years.  Every Tuesday, there would often be a letter waiting for me in my mailbox.  Then in 1998, M.’s family planned a trip to the USA during my summer break.  During this particular summer, I was living at home with my parents in Connecticut and working at a Girl Scout day camp.  I was woozy with excitement at the prospect of her arrival and we even talked on the phone once when I was in my dorm room at university. 
Her family came to Massachusetts to spend time with distant relatives, but M. was keen to escape her family holiday and take a train down to Connecticut to visit me.  (She had no idea what public transportation is like in the States!  I thought that was going to be the end of our friendship!)  Somehow, my mom and I found her at the train station and she stayed with me for three days. I was on an absolute high for that week.  We sat in my backyard, watching the stars and talking about everything…except our sexuality. 
It was devastating when she had to go, but I vowed to get writing as soon as she left.  We wrote non-stop again for another year and the following summer, I worked as a volunteer at Our Chalet.  It was an amazing experience and probably the best days of my life.  I was confident in who I was, but I didn’t share my feelings about M or my sexual orientation with anyone.  I wasn’t ready.  I was ready, however, to visit M. on my own and explore my feelings further.  We saw each other again briefly but suddenly I was back in the States once more.
Why didn’t I tell her how I felt?  We both left each other in tears at the airport.  I knew it must be love because I had never experienced anything that painful in my life.  That next Christmas, I wrote M. a coming out letter. 
I didn’t write about my feelings for her, instead talking about my general feelings about being with women.  Ten days passed and I couldn’t eat or sleep.  Then I received an e-mail reply from M. (this was one of our first emails)…a very polite email, but one that didn’t indicate anything more than acceptance for who I was. 
The following summer I decided to work in the UK as a camp counselor.  (This was awful, as British camps do not compare to American camps.) I visited M. at the end of my camp season and that is when everything happened.   
Our first night together, we went to the seaside in Wales to visit her great uncle and grandmother.  We had an attic room with a sea view.  We talked, flirted, and kissed.  It had been four long years; we were in love, and that entire week passed in a blur.  We decided to maintain our relationship the best we could with our newfound independence from our parents and the aid of email.
M. worked in the States for the following two summers.  The first summer, we were housekeepers on an island and lived in a rich family’s garage.  Finally, in the autumn of 2003, I secured a teaching position in the UK.  We have lived together ever since in Birmingham, England.  
We had our civil partnership in the summer of 2010, and I now have dual citizenship.  The last year has been even more amazing with the birth of our son.

Thanks to Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, I met my partner, secured my future, and discovered who I really am. 

1 comment:

  1. This beautiful, inspiring story puts a very happy smile on my face. It reminds me of the Norwegian and American who met at Our Chalet and whose story is in my book, On My Honor: Lesbians Reflect on Their Scouting Experience. I'm so glad to hear that you two are together in England.

    Nancy Manahan

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