Anyroads I Love You, Camp! Don't Ever Change. Julia Gazdag

It’s two in the morning. Our five girl bunk is dark, fairly quiet and sardined to the brim with people. When the counselor – whose impeccable instinct led him to check on us despite our quietest whisperings – turned on the lights, he was greeted with twenty pairs of terrified, blinking little eyes. I’m pretty sure he admired our guts, because instead of spewing fire he burst out laughing and told everyone to go home. Which, granted, is better than a decibel-enhanced talking to and loss of pool privileges or whatever we’d have gotten from someone else.

All of this worked out well for me, because I sure as heck wasn’t part of the invitation brigade and if there was going to be a cabin party, it should be at someone else’s so that I can leave and go to bed when I so desire. How I ended up playing hostess to the social hub of the week is still a mystery to me but I’m guessing it has more to do with my then-roommates than any social skills I had at the time, especially considering the disproportionate number of boys in relation to how many I legitimately spoke to.

If not for overnight camp, I would be a social cripple too awkward even to tell someone the time at the bus stop, though at least I would get to read all the books I never seem to have time for. I’m sure you all have stories about first kisses behind the art shack and secret pacts with your ten thousand best friends and they are probably really fun and you should share them (the comments section is just a few paragraphs away, y’all). But when I tell you there was a crazy late night party with boys in our cabin when I was twelve, it sounds like I’m living a lie.

Sure, there was a party – in the cabin where I lived only because I grew up with one of the friends who had all the extra social grace I never managed to get a hold of. It was easy to get away with pseudo-socializing because no one knew I spent all year holed up in a corner of the schoolyard reading books and not talking to anyone ever. This is the magic of camp: even though it’s like middle school concentrate, it’s like going off to college because no one knows where you’ve been and you can fool them to think you’re not a sad sack of awkward who just wants to read War of the Worlds one more time.

It’s fair to say that you all have my summer camp and friends thereof to thank for the limitlessly obnoxious and outgoing person you see in front of you today. Also, my best friend of sixth grade on, but we’re talking about camp right now (I love you, girl). The truth is, you all still terrify me. By “you all”, I mean “anyone I interact with”. But summer camp taught me how to suppress all that and interact with you in a way that makes you comfortable, perhaps even amused. And that, my friends, is priceless.

Sure, arts and crafts is fun and sneaking over to someone else’s cabin at two in the morning is an adventure. What made me most comfortable, though, was playing cards on our porch at night. It isn’t until now that I realize it was because the game was a safe little bubble: the number of players was limited, hence the number of people I had to interact with. It was on our porch, so it consisted of people I was already comfortable with. I could be myself and observe my friends to figure out how this whole social interaction thing worked. Eventually I got good at it myself without people raising their eyebrows at me and slowly backing away.

There were a lot of summers with crazy adventures and a whole lot of growing up that high school never accomplished. Eventually I became a counselor, which is nowhere near the fun power trip you would think but at least we got to leave camp grounds and have a beer at the end of the day. There is still a whole universe with its own rules, culture, and memories that exists between the folks I shared it with and I, even though we’re all grown-ups now. Well, we’re adults. I’m still unsure about the grown-up part.

Guest photo this week by Julie Sugar (who held my hand and commiserated with me at 1:30am when those people still weren’t leaving our cabin)

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  1. Man I wish I had been productive like you and read books like War of the Worlds. I planted my chubby twelve year-old face in front of Howard Stern’s “Miss America”, while all the other kids were hooking up and creating memories. Down the road though my camp persona evolved, after I went AWOL and returned. Due to my love of sleep I became “The Bear”. The Bear realized he lacked confidence, was incredibly awkward, and would never be cool in the conventional use of the word. The Bear, always innovative, filled a niche. He used his awkwardness to make people laugh…ah the art of self-deprecation. Instead of having some great dis up his sleeve, he lost the ‘tude and just loved everyone. Did he pursue girls, nope, he just became their friends. Sports? No, no, no he ditched them and did arts and crafts all day with the girls.

    • Here’s a secret: NO ONE is cool. Everyone is insecure. So ultimately… whatevs.

      War of the Worlds is effing amazing. Couldn’t put it down. So good. I still read it every few years.

  2. I never went to camp, not a proper camp. It’s not the norm in England.

    • I wonder if that’s why we had British kids at my camp once. I guess they got lucky?

      Julia Gazdag | 7/05/2011 03:07 pm
  3. I love this! I would still be painfully (and I mean painfully) shy if not for summer camp. (It was orchestra camp… don’t judge.) The private jokes still get thrown around to this day. But I think I had more completely mortifying experiences at camp than anywhere else. Oh gosh… cringing just thinking about it.

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