From Liz Hulley

I had a little friend at camp who captured my heart, about 7 or 8 years ago. She was just this shy little thing that would always beam at me in greeting.

In “Russia-A Love Story,” I posted a photo of us together. That was a day when we were saying goodbye as our group left for the airport, and Yulia gave me a little parting gift. It was her own purse, with my name scrawled on a piece of paper. Inside, a note addressed to me said “Farewell.”

Just what was in that purse? An icon (Saint Tatiana), a hair elastic, and a 2004 calendar. I have no idea why this particular assortment was given to me. Were they her dearest possessions? Ones she thought I could use? Or the quickest ones she could find before running to see us off?

We met again at the orphanage in the fall. When you have a reunion with orphans, it’s not what you would expect. Yes, there is some joy and exchanging of hugs, but it isn’t like a happily-ever-after feeling. I was happy that I had the opportunity to see them again, but there is something about the camp atmosphere where you love and yet keep your distance. And here, we didn’t quite know how to be the kind of friends who saw each other regularly.

So some of the kids who were my little shadows at camp grew cold fairly quickly. Yulia would often come up to give me a hug, but I was working with a different group and without the sports and other mixers at camp, it was hard to find a reason to just “hang out.” The kids had school and were kept pretty busy after school. Well, I wouldn’t have minded just hanging out, but you have to be purposeful in relationships with orphans. Just like in any relationship, if you are going to involve someone’s heart, you had better be serious about your intentions.

Within the walls of the orphanage, I go months without seeing certain children. Whenever I would see Yulia, she had gotten taller. Her smile was now more flirtatious than innocent, although I wanted to believe she hadn’t changed.

The last time I saw her, she was standing outside with a group of…well, teenagers. Smoking, dressed like teenagers, conversing like teenagers. Yulia’s hair was dyed black and I wanted to yank her away from the other kids and return her innocence, and her little brown pixie cut.