Sometimes going home again isn't what you wished for, but sometimes, it is even better. On Monday night, I got to meet the best-selling author and my long-time idol, Judy Blume, IN PERSON. I attended a screenin of the first feature-length film based on one of her novels, Tiger Eyes (which is coming out this Friday), written with and directed by her son, Lawrence. The movie is a beautiful story of a young girl's journey to cope with loss, change, transition, anger and romantic feelings -- MADE EXPRESSLY FOR HER READERS (for those of you who remember the sweaters that Margaret's grandmother knitted for her.)
Now I am in good company among the legions of Judy Blume fans, who read her books over and over. She seemed to have one for whatever I was going through or needed to know (see page 115 in Forever. But on Monday night, I was on a mission to speak to my favorite author and thank her for one extraordinary act of kindness many years ago -- that I conservatively have repeated 1000 times over the years.
Thirty-eight years ago, when I was 10, I ventured off to sleep away camp for the first time. I hadn't been one of those kids who liked to sleep at friends' houses all the time. I preferred my own house, my own bed, my own routine. I remember the feeling in the pit of my stomach at dinner with my family the night before. In fact, I was so nervous that for many years, every time I passed that restaurant, I could conjure up that nervous stomach feeling (needless to say, I never ate in that restaurant again -- EVER).
I remember my first letter home on my Charlie Brown stationary in which I wrote, "Dear Mom and Dad -- I am crying now!" (Mom and Dad, I am so sorry -- had I known what that would feel like as a parent, I would have thrown it in the trash.) I remember not knowing the words to the camp songs or understanding the plot to Casino Royale (when they showed the original on Movie Night) and wanting desperately to call my dad who would have explained the twists and turns. And then on day 20 (which meant I had been exposed the day before I left), the red dots started to appear all over my body -- they were itchy and scratchy and seemed to multiply exponentially. And in an instant, I was diagnosed with chicken pox and quarantined by myself all alone my very first summer away from home.
In 1975 as I lay in the infirmary, Ms. Blume's daughter was a cool, older girl (as opposed to a chicken-pox covered 4th grader) at the camp. Upon hearing that a fan of hers was in the infirmary, Ms. Blume came in and talked to me and signed my copy of Are you There God, It's Me, Margaret (which of course I had brought to camp). She wrote (and I have the book to prove it): "For Rachel - Have fun at camp and feel better soon! Lots of love, Judy Blume." I kept that book in special place for my entire life -- when I found another camp that didn't remind me of being quarantined, when I graduated from schools, dated, got married, had kids, changed jobs. That it why I was carrying it with great care, my dog-eared paperback copy of Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret when I went to see Tiger Eyes on Monday night.
I tentatively approached Ms. Blume (okay, I admit, I saw her go to the bathroom and decided I had to go to) at the sink and told her about our meeting oh so many years ago, showed her my book, and blushed and gushed in her presence. But my night got even better. During the Q&A, Ms. Blume gave a shout out to the "woman I met in the bathroom" AND signed my book at the end of the Q&A. She wrote: "Rachel, how great to meet up with you 38 years later! Love again Judy Blume." WOW! And better still, she let me take a picture with her and Lawrence.
I think most of us had childhood idols when we were kids. It seemed easier back then, when our idols seemed of higher quality -- or at least we didn't know about their sexual exploits, drug use, or any other unsavory activity. And most of them don't stick -- we grew up, we change, we lost interest, we forgot.
But Judy Blume, you have always stuck. I admired you as a far away figure through your books as they enabled me to have new experiences, cope with things I didn't understand, and ensure that I didn't feel alone. I admired you as an angel swooping into my isolated infirmary room. I admired you as you raised a family, wrote beautiful books in your authentic voice, and built an enduring career. Often times, the fantasy isn't as good as the reality. On Monday, it was better. So if the roles are ever reversed and you need me, if you ever ask, "Are you There, Rachel?" my answer will be always be YES!!!!!
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