Reflection.

An Ode to Camp Counselors: Real & Proverbial

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Disclaimer: I’m about to drop a very cliché, but perfect e.e. cummings quote. SO SUE ME.

We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.

Throughout my life I’ve struggled with “hated instantly” syndrome—an all too common malady that infects a good portion of the population (especially the lady zone) if they have some semblance of a brain and a handful of people think they’re kind of okay to look at. I have also given this peachy gift to others, lamenting their made-up flaws simply because I am jealous of the way their various traits come together. It is, essentially, the crux of middle school.

One of my first experiences of being hated for no explicit or viable reason was at summer camp when I was about twelve. I had put off that rite of passage for as long as possible, my over eager nerves being too palpable to leave home for any period exceeding twenty-four hours. But, finally, I’d given in—the yearning for independence (if only lasting four weeks) outweighing the need to see my mother’s face for reassurance that what I was doing on a daily basis wouldn’t kill me.

I immediately gravitated towards my two counselors—who were peppy and kind and actually, well, spoke to me. The six or so other girls in the cabin went about their business (sharing bunks and whispered secrets) in a perfectly fine manner at first, albeit one in which I did not exist. The increasingly familiar feeling of worthlessness began to form in my stomach, like a child I was ashamed to be having. I carried it around with me, speaking to it in a way not yet informed by therapy or self-help books or The Real World confessionals.

It only grew heavier as the silent abandon of my bunkmates turned into regular eye-rolls and scoffing at the slightest sounds escaping from my mouth. Each night in my journal, I unleashed my latent feisty-ness by lambasting the ‘bitchez’ around me, thrilled by my inappropriate language and well-hidden anger—like carrying a hundred dollar bill in your panties. But beneath my journaled posturing (at that age, you expect everyone to read your journal, thus negating any of it’s potential to be an honest document) I was deeply sad, and worse than that, totally confused. What had I done? Which one of my physical features might have caused this ripe hatred to blossom? It must have been my frizzy hair, or my non-sloped nose, or that damn devil: my scar.

*

The other day I got breakfast with one of my camp counselors (my favorite) from that time, after keeping in touch via the wonders of social media. I tried to keep my cool, but inside I was a pool of melted butter—experiencing one of the strongest sensations of gratefulness in my little life so far. This saint—okay, her name is Sam—had singlehandedly changed my camp narrative: first, by treating me as someone worth talking to…even someone she enjoyed talking to, and second (though she doesn’t remember it), by insisting on a bunk meeting in which the other girls were essentially ordered to (in slightly different language) quit their bullshit.

“You were very quiet those first few weeks, and suddenly this vibrant little character arose,” she said over breakfast, mentioning my newfound confidence, which manifested itself mainly in the wearing of too-large vintage earrings and bikini tops over t-shirts. “And it was YOU that brought that out!” I wanted to scream, but didn’t, because life is not a Lifetime movie, a fact I lament…in case you’re not already aware. But it was her—her unwarranted yet obvious belief in something about me…ultimately, that I didn’t simply suck: that I was worth getting to know and had a voice worth sharing.

Reuniting years later over breakfast was not something I’d ever necessarily expected, but one of those epic intangible gifts of the life cycle that make you stop for a minute and think: wow, this shithole is pretty alright. Everyone should get the chance to sit across from those people who helped them fully flesh out, who—even if in seemingly minor ways—helped light a little confident fire under their asses.

Saying thank you, when it’s a thank you that I feel so deeply it makes my adrenaline run, is not easy for me—I get frightened by my own outpouring of emotion. “Buck the fuck up,” is a common inner mantra. So I didn’t shower Sam with heavy thank-you’s or a long diatribe about how she helped make me me, though I hopefully sprinkled enough of my gratitude on the table to make it known.

And, guys, I’m an adult now, ya know? I HAVE SHIT FIGURED OUT AND MY EMOTIONS ON LOCK.

Except that, that insecure twelve year old is still there—she always will be—staring up at Sam and others like her with all that crazed little girl admiration reserved solely for big girls. Specifically those who lend an ear and don’t roll their eyes at your strange conception of the world. Not surprisingly, Sam is still one of these people for me—always cheerleading from the social media sidelines when I post my writing or some minor accomplishment, still giving me a sense that these displays—my feelings—are legitimate. And while she may be a piece of the puzzle that led me to this moment, spilling my shit on the Internet like it ain’t no thang, she’s a pretty gigantic piece, wholly deserving of a blog post if not much more. So, thanks Sam, you’re the stuff of e.e. cummings’ dreams, and I’ll never forget that.

Categories: Reflection.

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