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Picture this: a girl on the verge of becoming a teenager, very much in the middle of figuring it all out. She’s a mess. She has no idea how to do her hair, so she just pulls it back out of the way. And she also wears shirts that are one size too big for her, most of them being church camp t-shirts or anything with Captain America on it. She’s out there trying to find herself or make herself from the ground up, but she only has the social skills to survive — get in and get out. She has yet to learn the rules of eye-contact. The soundtrack of her internal life is Taylor Swift, but that is only limited to her dreams. If she loves two things in this world they are musicals and Marvel movies. But outside of those two things, her identity is a little fuzzy.

Do you have an image? That was twelve year old Caleigh.

She usually stuck to the same things, the same people, and the same circles, with the exception of one summer when she decided — unprompted — to try theater camp at a college instead of going to church camp. A new thing, with strangers and no one to cling to. But she would be able to sleep in her own bed and shower in her own shower, so that was the pro that tipped the scales in favor of doing something new.

I remember the anticipation for the third week in June and the emails from a woman named Mindy, who seemed really nice but I really wasn’t sure what her real last name was, as she has sent out two emails a month apart and she had signed off with different last names. Obviously not knowing her, I went through all the possibilities. Marriage? But it just seemed so abrupt, no one prepared me for this. Adoption? She was definitely an adult. Divorce? I don’t know, her emails seemed happy. Collector of last names? Strange hobby, but to each their own. Witness protection program? If I were her, I’d get another case worker, especially for picking another last name that was in the same vein as her old one. Absolutely uncreative. Not that it was my business or anything.

The day I met her was a muggy evening in mid-June, the sun was shining gold over the Pennsylvania hills, but the clouds threatened a storm. All I had to do was go up to the table and say my name and I’d get my lanyard and folder. Easy. But social anxiety made it the hardest thing ever. I made my mom come with me and then she proceeded to leave me alone and friendless. I chose this though. And I liked Mindy, she was kind. She had red hair, like I always wanted, and eyes that sparkled.

That first night of camp, she led us in the most Christian fashion of yoga, calling it an “anti-rain dance” and while it didn’t work, the tradition of a giant improv machine that we built inside still did. As we sat in the century old gym on campus — the sky dimming as the gym lights flickered fluorescent bright — I hoped that I would end up in Mindy’s performance group. Then my name was called and I wasn’t. But Mindy was so involved in everything that it almost didn’t matter.

There were more yoga circles to ward off rain and improv games that my overthinking mind completely failed at, especially when I had to do it with the boy I liked. I also learned the art of eye-contact and not being afraid when other people saw my eyes too. Then, after two weeks of workshops, blocking, choreographing, and rehearsing, we performed the songs we learned for our parents.

On the show night of the camp, I finally figured out her real name, as she announced from the stage, “My name is Mindy Williams. You may know me as Mindy George, but I got married over the summer.”

This was met with a chorus of “awwww”s and applause, while I proceeded to scan the audience, just to see if he was there anywhere. I wanted to know the man who was good enough for Mindy. (As an aside, if I could go back in time to that moment and tell that Caleigh anything, it would be that anything you imagine about him wouldn’t be good enough and all good things in time.)

All that to say, I went back to the same camp the next year and did it for four more years until I graduated.

And I learned from Mindy, as she gently pushed me outside of my comfort zone. She encouraged me to play — a sacred practice that I had somehow decided to give up way before I should have. The confidence I didn’t have in myself, she gave to me, until I had enough of my own. And together we built little worlds with man-eating plants, singing trolls, and demi-god children trying to survive monsters and high school.

She was the reason why when I went home after the last night of theater camp that first year, I told my parents, “I think I want to go to college at Geneva.”

And then that’s where I ended up going.

She was the reason why I chose her husband’s section of ENG 101. Even though I had no idea what to expect, I kept telling myself, “Mindy wouldn’t marry someone who wasn’t nice.”

And she didn’t. And here I am, writing this blog post for another one of his classes.

Now I’m in the shows she directs and she lets me help her with costuming and painting and buying snacks for the theater. We have a tradition of hugging before and after every performance. We talk about Marvel movies and cardigans and life, as I’m still figuring it out. Sometimes, we end up unintentionally twinning in the same boots, jeans, and a sweater — whether it’s because I’ve become more like her or she’s just helped me become more like myself. In some ways, she’s become a second mom to me.

I believe in the magic of meeting certain people at certain places and times, whether we are aware we need them or not. Sometimes they even lead us to other people we need too. And it’s all so beautifully mysterious to realize how much they end up meaning to you.

photo by Mikki Steele

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