A Sanctuary, Safe and Strong

June 3, 2010
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Leaves brushed against my legs and mud squished between my toes as I rushed down the narrow dirt path. I ran down the steep hill, towel in one hand, a change of clothes in the other. My joyous laughter mixed with that of the seven girls running behind me as we raced downward. When we finally reached flat land, the grass surrounding the path was taller than all of us. We sped over the dirt with our arms extended straight out. My fingertips brushed each blade of grass before it bounced back for the girls behind me to feel. We continued running until we reached the end of the towering grass, and a river emerged before us. The sun beat down on the clear water and revealed the bottom – a floor of smooth pebbles beneath endless blue.

I turned around to face the seven girls behind me. “Ready?” I asked them.

“Yeah, let’s go!” they all shouted. Throwing our belongings on the ground, we raced toward the edge of the water where we formed a perfect circle out of habit. Glancing around, we giggled nervously, and slowly at first, began peeling off clothing. A cool breeze rippled the water and swept over my bare skin. “Ah,” I sighed. I raised my arms and spun around in a circle, marveling at this form of freedom and the level of comfort that had grown between us.

I grabbed the hands of the girls on either side of me, and as a chain of eight, we rushed toward the water. We dove in as one and let the cool water envelope our bodies. Someone began laughing, and her laughter spread like wild fire. Soon we were all hooting and whooping. Glee radiated off of each girl, and I let it fill every nerve of my body.

“Let’s play Marco Polo!” Amanda shouted. “But instead of ‘Marco Polo,’ let’s say something with our name in it. ‘Something Spiralia…’”

“‘Naked Spiralia!’” Charlotte shouted. We all laughed, and Charlotte dove under the water with her fingers held high in the air. She put down one finger at a time until there were none left, and she rocketed out of the water. “Naked!” she yelled.

“Spiralia!” we all shouted back. We splashed and yelled until Charlotte finally gave up. Throwing her eyes open, she sputtered, “This is too hard!” We laughed as we all swam back toward her.

“Can we sing together one last time?” Julia asked. I smiled at her love of music and couldn’t help feeling slightly responsible for her constant desire to sing. We stood on a rock in the middle of the river and formed our circle once again. Nobody had to ask what we would sing. “And So It Goes” had been everyone’s favorite since we learned it at our a Cappella group’s first rehearsal in September.

“Hmmm,” I hummed, giving them the starting note. “One, two, three, four,” I counted off, and beautiful voices filled the creek.

“In every heart, there is a room,” we sang in harmony. “A sanctuary, safe and strong, to heal the wounds from lovers past until a new one comes along.” I felt Audrey’s pure soprano voice mix with my warm alto tone and Julia’s full, rounded notes until I couldn’t distinguish one from another. We were all one voice, one heart, one spirit. I forgot that there was water or land or anything but music. Our sound was the only thing in the world.

I listened to the group in awe at how far we had come in just a year. During our first few rehearsals, I had to remind them, “Blend is everything! Listen to the people next to you!” over and over again, and now it was as if there was only one voice singing the four-part harmony. We were so unbelievably tuned into each other, to our sounds, to our music. I didn’t even have to conduct anymore. Everyone was so together, every vowel shape was similar, every consonant perfectly placed. I looked around the circle and felt such deep respect and love for every girl looking back at me.
“And so it goes, and so it goes,” we sang. “And you’re the only one who knows.” We held the last notes for an eternity and savored that beautiful D Major chord ringing in the air before placing the “s” and closing our mouths. The sound of silence chimed briefly around us as we all smiled at each other.

“Guys, that was beautiful,” I told them as if they didn’t know.

“We couldn’t have done it without you,” Amanda said, always the one to give me all the credit.

“And I couldn’t have done any of it without you,” I responded. “I’m gonna miss you all so much next year.” Tears formed behind my eyelids at the thought of leaving, of never singing with these girls again.

“No!” Hannah interjected. “Don’t think about it! We still have eleven days of school, and I’m not gonna cry till the very last one. That means you can’t either!” She smiled, and the simple act lit up her whole face.

We rejoined hands and made our way back to the shore. The air was warm, and the sun quickly dried the beads of water left on our bodies as we climbed onto land. None of us wanted to put our clothing back on now that we had grown so comfortable with one another. Wrapping towels around ourselves, we began walking back up the slope towards our cars. This time we walked slowly, in no rush to reach the end of the hill and admit that we would probably never sing a Cappella together again.

Mud plastered itself over my wet feet as we continued climbing. I wished the walk back up would never end, that time would slow down. I wished I could stay on that muddy slope forever, creating music with the girls who I had coached, sung with, and laughed with all year; the girls who I was comfortable enough to be naked with; the girls who had become my second family.

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