Contributor Valerie Moreno – To Linda

I was ten when we met. It was my second year at summer camp for blind children and I was dismayed none of my friends from the previous year were cabin mates.

That year had been filled with trauma: an intolerant school teacher; the death of my grandmother and a third move in two years. Finding I knew no one in Green cabin made me panic. “Stop crying!” My mom pushed me on to the cabin porch where there were wooden benches and a picnic table. “Nobody else is crying, it’s always you.”

I felt my face flush and my stomach begin to hurt. “Cry baby!” someone teased. Two counselors and some girls stood silently. No one said a word and I felt my sneakers stick to the floor. I was alone, a feeling I’d come to know well.

Suddenly, a bench creaked and footsteps came toward me purposefully. I felt a small hand brush my arm. “Hi, I’m Linda,” a gentle voice said. “Please, let me show you my doll. Her name is Joanne. You can hold her all day. I don’t want you to be sad, Joanne doesn’t either.”

I took the soft bundle in my arms and hugged it, then Linda. “How precious!” a counselor said and began to sob, but Linda and I were laughing.

For two weeks, I shared baby dolls and giggles with Lin, someone I truly liked and admired. She cared about everyone, always ready with a soft word or gentle pat if someone was angry or upset. She played something called an Auto Harp and sang softly as others talked and moved around her. She held her own in the midst of others overlooking her, her radio always tuned to a local rock station. Sometimes, she’d pretend she was a Spanish senorita complete with gestures and accent. Her laughter was sunshine and contagious.

One day in crafts, girls began joking about the silly names their mom had for them. “My mom calls me Tulip or Buttercup,” one laughed. “I’m honey bear!” another shared. We all laughed. “What about you, Linda?” someone asked. “Well, I’m Lin once in a while, but mine usually calls me Brat. Hey, you, Brat! Isn’t that funny?” No one laughed in the stunned silence, but Linda did, laughing harder as she repeated “Brat! Brat! Brat!”

At lunch I couldn’t eat. “Are you sick?” Linda touched my hand. The rock in my stomach turned in to hot tears. “No, I’m sad.” “Sad? Why?” “That you’re called Brat,” I answered. Linda slid her chocolate pudding toward me. “Have my dessert,” she said. “Don’t worry. Only she calls me that.”

I understood courage and determination that summer from a whimsical, talented little girl who often forgot to comb her hair, searched for mice in our cabin and sang as sweetly as October wind.

When she died, my heart and mind were filled with the memory of a little girl holding out a doll, saying: “Hi, I’m Linda. Please, let me help.”

I know she always will.

To Linda, Rest in Peace. 12/1/13

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