SPF 1,000

SPF 1,000

From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul IV

SPF 1,000

Cameron and I met in the ninth grade, at a time when we were both covered in acne and our mouths were full of metal. Until I met Cam, I had a few good friends with whom I shared many of the same interests, but never in my life had I experienced a friendship quite like the one I shared with her.

“I’m Cameron. Friends call me Cam,” she said, introducing herself to me.

“Cool, I’m Lauren. Friends call me Lauren or Lauren.”

Cam and I shared everything. At times it even seemed like we shared a brain. Cam and I both had a thing for snapping photos of our shadows in the moonlight. Some nights we would ditch everyone else, and walk around school, the park, even train tracks with our cameras—searching for the perfect shot of a our shadows, imprinted on the sidewalk beside us.

A few months before I met Cameron, I was diagnosed with a rare nervous system disease that progresses if left untreated. I was misdiagnosed for months. Consequently, a lot of time was wasted on the wrong treatments and I was getting worse and worse. Cam was the first friend I ever told about my situation.

“Eventually I might not be able to walk, be in the sun, digest food, eat like a normal person. Or worse,” I said as we sat on a bench one day after school. She was quiet for a moment.

“Well, if you can’t walk, I’ll push you and if you can’t eat, I’ll have a food fight with you anyway, and if you become allergic to light we’ll still be able to go shadow-hunting. I’ll be your emotional sunscreen—SPF 1,000.”

“My SPF 1,000, huh?”

“Yup,” she laughed.

I hugged her. “Thank you.”

Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months and my health deteriorated. It was getting increasingly difficult for me to get around. Soon I lost the ability to walk entirely. Cam was there with me, every “step” of the way. Finally, things got bad enough that I was forced to leave school. Over the next four years, I was in and out of the hospital. It became my home away from home and I was often there for months at a time. I was very sick and unable to stay in contact with friends, even Cam.

I remained bedridden for those four years but eventually gained a lot of my strength back. I had a nurse who gave me my medicine and made sure I was okay. I was never “alone” but that didn’t change the fact that I felt lonely. I needed someone to talk to, a friend.

“Cam, it’s me.”

“Lauren, oh my gosh. How are you? I have missed you so much. How are you feeling?”

Hearing Cam’s voice filled me with an inner peace I hadn’t felt in a long time.

“I’m fine, now,” I said, relieved. Everything was going to be okay.

Things slowly began to improve. I received a power wheelchair for my eighteenth birthday, which for me meant FREEDOM! Finally, I could get around again! I could go outside at night, smell the grass, feel the wind against my face. I could take photographs with a flash. I could live. I called Cam and told her the news.

“I’m on my way!” she said.

That night, I took my first walk in four years. Cam brought her camera, and I brought mine. We walked and talked and laughed like we were kids again. We made shadow puppets in the dark with our hands, against the pavement.

Having her back was a relief. There were so many things I wanted to tell her, so many questions I had about myself.

“Sometimes I wonder about my purpose, Cam. Why am I here? What’s going to happen to me? I mean, I’m lucky to be alive. I’m appreciative of every moment and every day. The thing is, though, I don’t just want to “exist.” I want more than that. I want to break free. I’m tired of being the patient patient. I want to change the world. I want to be great, I want to help people and I don’t want to be alone. It’s just that, I’m terrified of being alone again . . . ,” I trailed off.

“You will never be alone, Lauren,” she said shaking her head, smiling. “You will be great. You will do whatever you want to do and you will never, ever be alone.” She paused to snap a picture of a tree and then continued. “Think of me as your shadow. No matter how far you walk, no matter how dark the night becomes, I’ll always be behind you.”

We stopped and took pictures of our shadows. She looked at the screen on her digital camera. “Hot!” she exclaimed. “I think we finally got the perfect shot!”—two forms, dancing across the sidewalk, side by side, best friends back together again.

I looked over at Cameron and laughed. “What would I do without my SPF 1,000?”

She kissed me on my cheek and we kept on down the road.

Lauren Henderson

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