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Always Listen to Your Gut

I hate to admit it, but I didn’t always listen to my gut.

Cousin Lena, my superhero, is three years older.

Her hand-me-downs were my favorite, my hair was cut Dorthy-Hammil-style like hers, and we always played whatever she wanted. I imitated her mannerisms and followed her around like a puppy-dog when she’d come over for weekly family gatherings.

Summer of ‘76, about 5 ½ years old, Lena and her younger brother tag along with me for my summer camp at the rec center.

“They have tetherball and a machine that gives grape soda at lunch for FREE!” I happily tell them as we get out of Mom’s car and hustle into camp.

But later that morning, Lena decides that she has had enough.

“Let’s go!” Lena announces as she gets up from the table and starts walking toward the door.

“Where are you going?” I ask, confused.

“To your house,” she states matter-of-factly. “I’m done with my gimp bracelet and bored here. We're leaving.”

“How can we just go? Do you know the shortcut?” I whisper.

It’s not possible for anyone to leave camp early in the middle of the day by themselves.

There’s no way we should do that.

Is it possible she somehow has heard the back way from my big brothers?

“Stop worrying. I know it,” she replies confidently.

“Are you sure?” I ask again.

She nods and turns.

Our moms wouldn’t want us leaving, but I don’t want to be left behind.

I hesitate for a moment.

Then we all just walk out the propped open door to the parking lot. My heart is beating.

After a bit, Sam and I glance back, pausing. I expect a camp counselor to come rushing out the door after us.

There’s no sign of anyone, though. Just us.

Did we really just leave without getting caught?

I’m starting to feel a lump in my throat and tears welling up in my eyes.

Lena shouts at us to hurry up.

We turn around and follow her, single-file, down Falls Road.

We carefully balance on the white line between the cars whizzing past on one side and the steep tree-lined embankment on the other.

Eventually turning onto a different busy road, we now have a little more space on the side of the road to walk.

I’m shouting, “Hey, this doesn’t seem like a shortcut.”

No reply.

We continue in silence except for the sound of gravel crunching under our feet.

To my surprise, we didn’t die that afternoon.

Just some blistered ankles and thirsty kids.

It seems like hours before we make it to my house.

Mom’s face in seconds goes from happy to puzzled to confused to alarmed to angry as Lauren stammers to explain why we’re home so early.

I keep my gaze down and breathe a sigh of relief that Mom's emotion is not directed at me.

I’ve never heard her yell like that before.

They never accompany me to camp again.

And from that point on, I learned to not follow my hero, or anyone for that matter, when my gut tells me otherwise.

Trust your instincts.


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