On one of Swenny’s and my first dates, we stayed up talking until sunrise. The topic of our conversation? Camp. Swenny attended a camp steeped in tradition. His grandfather served for a time as the medical director, his mother was a camper, as were his aunt and uncles, his brothers and all of his cousins. At one family wedding, gifts were placed in a canoe. As a person whose camp experience included pom pons, I was intrigued.
On Sunday, we leave for a long overdue vacation which will be spent near camp in a particularly beautiful area of northern Wisconsin. I have only visited once while passing through years ago as we prepared to send our own children. They loved their experiences, but they don’t measure even close to that of their father. When he left camp, a part of him remained.
The top of Swenny’s dresser is bare except for three pictures. One is of him and his friends at our wedding, and another is from the wedding of a close friend. The third sits alone. It is of him high above the tree line on a mountain out west, taken during an outpost trip from camp. He looks on top of the world. It was taken just two years before his struggle with alcohol began.
For years, I have wanted to take this trip. And as it happens, the timing is perfect. Swenny arrived home from therapy on Tuesday night with the news that Saturday will be his last day. It seems sudden to me, and I could tell from his reaction, it seems sudden to him, too. He is at ease with sobriety when surrounded by people who are helping to direct his recovery. His lets down his guard without consequence because others are looking out for him. With the news of his impending graduation, the dynamic in our home changed from hopeful optimism to tempered expectation.
But he has made progress in a short period of time. We were able to talk honestly in the presence of our son about our concerns for a relapse and his ability to pursue sobriety without the support of the group he has quickly come to love. Eventually, I found myself convinced that he can do this. I hope over the next week, he can convince himself.
As Swenny retraces his steps along the paths and rivers of a camp that took him from adolescent to adult, I will watch from the shadows of the tall pines for clues about what he still holds close from his summers spent there. And in the days, weeks and months ahead, I’ll draw from that to remind him that the person he was then remains within him today. And for that person, the best is yet to come.