My mother did not take to life with a disfigurement. Her demeanor in the years after her cancer surgeries was fearful and humiliated, edging toward paranoid (though her paranoia was and would have been quite justified, given people's tendency to stare at her with disgust and a stunning lack of pretense). The contrast between my mother and the woman I meet in the bathroom is glaring. You can rise above your challenges, or they can rise above you. Is there a third way?
Back in the bathroom (it rains throughout most of our trip, so I find myself sheltering there), a little girl, by the sound of her three years old or so, sits on the toilet in one of the stalls. I am at the sink and tending to my teeth. I hear her grunt, and I smile, smothering a laugh. This girl has not yet learned to be shamed by the sounds and smells that issue from her body. She grunts some more, and then her voice, ever so high and sweet: "What's your name?" (Grunt.) "Sarah," I reply. "Mine's Jolene!," she exclaims, still pooping. "Nice to meet you, Jolene," I say. I never do get to see her face.
At the campsite, we play games and games of Hearts, my family and I, while it continues to rain steadily. My younger son has not yet mastered the finer points of the game. Eleven years old is not about subtlety, nor strategy. Eleven years old is all transparent ebullience. To elevate his own interest in the game, he tries to shoot the moon with every hand he's dealt. Gentle reminders about the wisdom of this course of action fail to move him. When that first heart is taken by another player (as it is, inevitably), he turns red and chokes out a laugh before he cries. Each time he is freshly devastated, this intelligent child who refuses to make use of his superior logic. He looks so forlorn that I murmur, "Poor little elf." After we've blown out the citronella candles for the night, after his older brother has shoved off to the bathroom, I grab my elf and hold him tight. I whisper in his ear, "It's so hard to be the youngest. I know, I do." He doesn't answer me, but I know he's heard me, and I hope that he can hold on to this truth during the long years of his adolescence.
Late the next morning, as the rain keeps falling, we are back at the picnic table playing Hearts. And there's my youngest, confident that this time, yes, this time, definitely this time, no question, he's going to shoot the moon, at last.