Here’s what I remember from sleep-away camp. My 2nd grade best friend Amber had talked about it the whole school year—how much fun it was, all of her “camp” friends, how I HAD to come with her that summer, blah blah blah. I remember thinking it was going to be the coolest thing ever. Camp sounded AWESOME.
Then I got to camp. From the moment I put my bag on that bottom bunk I wanted to go home.
Amber had failed to mention that camp would involve countless group activities where a terrifying woman with permed black hair—my 7-year-old self was convinced she was the Wicked Witch of the West—would force me to pray in front of kids I’d only known for one day, and yell at me for playing basketball with the boys. (What the hell kind of scary Christian camp was this? Why did my parents allow this to happen? These are my questions now.)
By day three (or was it two?) I’d worked myself into a stomachache so fierce that the Tums the Wicked Witch was trying to force down my throat just wouldn’t cut it: I had to call my mom. I don’t remember this phone call actually happening, but I do remember the Wicked Witch telling me I was homesick and I’d be fine the next day.
The next day? I couldn’t stay in that terrifying place one more minute. I clutched my stomach and cried until she caved. Amber, who was having too much fun with her camp buddies to understand my misery, was unfazed by my announcement that I was leaving.
My final, glorious memory of camp: my parents getting out of the car when they arrived to pick me up.
I ran away from the clutches of the Wicked West and back to safety. I had made it two and a half days. I was a survivor. Amber and I never spoke about camp again.
Now I understand why my friendship with Amber didn’t make it past 6th grade. We were in two different groups: me, who hated camp so much that I made my parents send me home; Amber, who really, really enjoyed camp.
But as it turns out, we’re both fucked:
“People (like myself) who didn't enjoy camp tend to have a problem engaging in organized activities of all kinds. Later in life we often become criminals or sociopaths. The more respectable among us often become journalists. If we're extremely bright or creative (or aspire to be), we may become writers or scholars or artists. The common thread is an outsider mentality. A self-flattering analysis, I know, but such is my privilege as author of this article.If only I could have made it those three more days. Then I could put myself in the more respectable category as journalist and writer. If only. I could have been an outlaw. Now I’m just neurotic and needy. Dammit.
Some people hated camp so much that they made their parents bring them home. These people should not be confused with the outlaws described above. There is nothing outré about not being able to endure summer camp. The come-and-get-me set grow up to be neurotic and needy. These are people who can often be heard on C-SPAN's early-morning call-in program Washington Journal, filibustering from a time zone still blanketed in predawn darkness, until the host says, ‘Please state your question.’
Some people really, really enjoy camp. I wish I could tell you that these people grow up to be really, really normal, but they don't. You know who I'm talking about. These are the ones who wept uncontrollably when the papiermâché numbers spelling out 1967 were set ablaze on a little raft that a camp counselor, under cover of darkness, towed stealthily to the middle of Lake Weecheewachee on the evening of the last group sing. These are the people for whom childhood represented the zenith of human existence and everything that followed an anticlimax. The women—they're mostly women—usually end up in abusive relationships with pathologically angry men who eventually abandon them and pay child support erratically, if at all. If the person who really, really enjoyed camp is a man, then he is unlikely ever to develop an intimate relationship and on occasion may be spotted in the back of a police cruiser speeding away from a grade-school playground.”