Long ago, I was in the Girl Scouts. I wasn't the super scout that everyone thinks about when they hear that, but I was a member for 12 years. I had merit badges and sold boxes of cookies, and could recite the GS Promise and Law flawlessly. I was a nerd, albeit a lazy one.
Usually, once a year, we would all go on a camping trip. Nothing major, just a nice extended weekend or so stuck out in the woods, huddled under platform tents or holed up in a cabin if it happened to be winter. The tents were a bit of a pain in the ass if you were unlucky enough to grab one last, as nobody wanted the tents under the trees by the river...too many web worms and spiders for anyones liking. So I would sometimes (though rarely) pass on those trips. But I always went to the winter ones. They were more fun anyway, and, who doesn't like sleeping by the fire, in a clean cabin, with a quilt and hot cocoa in tow?
I couldn't of been older than 14, this particular time. There were only about 10 of us, leaders included on this trip. I had my bag packed, my CD player in tow, and I was really looking forward to the days ahead. The snow was thick and fresh, and the air was just chill enough for frosted breath without being too harsh. Perfect.
The night when we first got there, the leader's daughter got really sick. She didn't boil the tapwater before drinking it, and had multiple projectile episodes throughout the first 24 hours. The water came directly from a lake that was a hop, skip and a jump away from where the cabin was, and apparently nobody told her. Admittedly, I drank some too, but I guess I got lucky.
The next day, due to the events of the night before, winds up being a 'free' day. We were allowed to roam anywhere we wanted, just so long as we took a buddy and avoided obvious dangers. I, as well as my friend and some other girls, opted for a snowball fight. Then when we got bored of that, we tried to slide down a pathetic bunny slope we made by taking two of the 'forts' and pressing them together. We were outside for maybe, 3 hours or so, before we all came scrambling inside for clean clothes and drinks.
Then, came the big event. The reason why we were all there.
An entire day at the Camelback ski resort.
Only some of us actually knew how to ski. So the one or two of us who did, had brought their gear along and did mostly that. The rest of us, who had never even seen the snowy side of a mountain before, headed over to the snowtube slopes. Well, 'slope' is kind of inaccurate in this case. Its was almost more like a snowy obstacle course that you had to traverse in a big, bouncy black tire. Most people were trying to stick to this or that, but we were determined to try and do it all.
I was shivering the moment we got there. The sun was as bright as a thousand incandescent flood lights, but not a whisper of warmth was in the air that day. I had on a pair of old shoes, worn jeans, a t shirt and one of those ever-popular Starter jackets that everyone was issued in the 90's. Stupidly, I remember thinking I was dressed decently for a day on and around cold, wet snow. Apparently to my adolescent brain, denim and cheap, K-Mart sneakers were waterproof.
We were there all day, and it was non-stop from the moment we got there. I did a lot of pushing, considering I was the biggest one there, including the leaders. When I did get my turn, I usually didn't get to go far. I wound up being pushed out of it more than in the tubes, so I slid on the ice and the white stuff a lot. I was soaked within the first hour, and I remember shaking a little from how cold I felt. Eventually, my body numbed over, and I took it as a sign that I could just go at it harder...y'know, since I was used to it now.
It was nearly dark when we left. Everyone was red-faced and smiling, and shared their stories on the way back. The skiers talked about riding the lifts and occasionally wiping out on the blue square paths. The chalet they wound up at apparently had killer hot chocolate and doughnuts. The others shot back with their tales, and the car was lit with giggles. I remember getting a headache the moment I sat down, so I just played my Discman until my batteries ran dry.
It only got worse on the ride back. I could feel my eyes droop, and my skin re-warm and shiver. The minor headache I had turned into a vice clamping down on my skull, and by the time we pulled into the driveway, I was desperate to get changed and under a blanket.
As quickly as I could possibly manage, I switched outfits. My skin still felt like frozen meat underneath, despite being in a warm building and rubbing my arms. When the other girls settled back into the other rooms, I grabbed someones quilt and sat directly in front of the fireplace. I was shaking, nearly convulsing now. I could feel myself registering heat, but I just couldn't get warm enough. So I pulled the chair I was in as close as I could to the glowing embers, without the risk of going up in flames. I remember my head feeling like someone had hit me with a sledgehammer then, pounding and blindingly painful. I started to feel dizzy, and my breathing felt off. Within moments I was swallowed by it all, and everything turned black.
It was a long time before I finally woke up. Hours, maybe. One of the leaders was sitting opposite of where I was, quiet and lost in a magazine. She smiled when she saw me finally stir.
"Boy, you must of really had fun today, huh? You came in, and passed right out!"
I mumbled something in response. What it was, I don't really know. All I knew was that I needed to get to bed, and get to bed now. I moved my arms and legs slightly, a little surprised at how difficult it was. My head, thankfully, didn't hurt nearly as much, though it did feel like it was wrapped in a thick, wet wool. I stumbled to my bunk, absolutely ungraciously, and slept a hard, dreamless sleep.
Morning came, and I was the last to rise. I was sore, rigid, and I still couldn't coordinate my movements too well. It was a bit of a task to focus, so I did the bare minimum when it came to getting ready for the day. I didn't really initiate conversation, and avoided eye contact too. Not like that was unusual. Even then, I was a bit of a weird loner, so nobody seemed to notice. And, for whatever reason, couldn't hear anyone too well that day, either.
"You don't remember?"
"Last night. When we got back."
Carol and I tried to wake you up after you fell asleep in the chair. Megahn even threatened to take pictures of you sleeping. You really don't remember?"
"N-n...uh, no. I guess."
"Heh...yeah. You really were dead out. Here, look."
She showed me the photo Meg took. I remember having to stare it a little too long to register that it was even me. My face was bloated, my lips looked weird, and my hair was everywhere. If there was a more unflattering shot of myself, I dare anyone to find it. I looked so stiff. So pale. So very...corpselike.
I struggled through the rest of the day. When it was time to leave one Sunday, I still didn't feel like myself. I was in too much of a cloud to do anything other than what I was told, and I didn't even bother with my Discman the whole ride back. Which, made the fact that everyone got real chatty on the trip home that much more of a task.
I never told anyone what happened back then. It didn't really seem that important. In my mind, I ran my body into the ground having fun...you know, normal kid stuff. Next time, I would just have to be more careful, maybe even make myself take a break or two. No big deal, right?
Well, as bad as all that sounds, it's actually a bit worse than it is. If you don't already know, I have a rare blood disorder that makes me allergic to cold temperatures. Yes, that's right. Allergic. Hives and all. At the time, I didn't know that. Nor would I for years afterward. My mom had told me that we just get "red spots" if we didn't keep ourselves warm. It's a hereditary thing, going back to my grandmother. Maybe even further, I don't know. All I did know, was that winter tended to make me feel like I had been punched by a titan with a drinking problem if I stayed outside for too long, for...some reason.
I sometimes think back to that photograph. Does anyone still have it? I lost touch with everyone from that troop fairly quickly after this trip. Not because any of us meant to, but, high school was becoming more important, and, well, priorities change. Part of growing up, I suppose.
It's strange, seeing yourself in a state you don't recognize. Was I ever really just...sleeping?