(Liya Rechtman)– From the ages of 7 to 14, I attended summer camp. Allow me to be self-indulgently nostalgic for a moment here because, afterall, summer camp was created in order to produce nostalgia.
I would load my two impossibly heavy duffels onto a bus, wave goodbye to my parents, and let the beauty of the Adirondacks in upstate New York sink into my skin. I lived in the City where the most foliage I generally saw on a given day was in one street near school, which had 5-10 trees planted in little concrete boxes on both sides. It was more than that, of course.
Watching the bus hit low-hanging branches as we finally turned into camp, parking between the tennis fields and the mess hall seemed so perfect: no regular, real-world bus could happily fit in this place. This was a space where the desires of seven-year-old girls ruled. At summer camp, we could be whomever we wanted.
I spent long days building fairy houses. I was a clownfish, Avril Lavigne, a Barbie, a leader of the Blue Team, a chef, my own counselor and, most importantly, an orangutan. The last night of every year involved a handing down of “wills.” The older campers wrote up a list of things they wanted to pass on once they moved on (in our minds, this was akin to real death). My Younger Senior year, a pair of identical twins gave my best friend and I the orangutan and flamingo suits. They didn’t fit us at all: the twins were tiny and my friend and I were… not. Regardless, for three years we wore them around all the time, often on special, celebratory days but sometimes not.
Eventually, we too had to give them up. I wrote letters explaining why we were giving them to the next girls, what legacy we were leaving. I cried when I went up on stage in the big barn and read out “I will my orangutan suit to so-and-so.”
We had to move on and spend our summers at internships and academic pre-college programs, just like everyone else.
Recently, I received promotional material from my camp in the mail, asking for donations to their equivalent of the Fresh Air Fund. How strange to think that camp had continued without me. I haven’t sail raced in five years. I no longer waste away the hours reading fairy tales with my best friend in a hammock. I’m certainly too old to pretend to be a clownfish or a horse (except, of course, on Halloween).
I miss it. I miss camp and friends there so keenly now.
In writing this post I’ve been trying to determine what, if anything, I’ve taken with me.
I don’t believe in magic, in the more conventional sense, but I am, afterall, a religion major. I spend my days (especially now) imagining Buddha’s conversations with his faithful servant, Ananda, regarding a woman’s ability to achieve nibbanna. I am not a Buddhist. Theologically, I couldn’t disagree more with Buddhist principles. Regardless, I have chosen to spend six weeks at a nearly-empty Amherst campus, lying in the grass outside Hitchcock pondering Buddhism.
Is this where my background as a camper comes into play?
Pandamonium has written a couple of pieces about the rediscovery of childhood in college and creativity in relation to Christmas.
Re-reading his posts, I am able to console myself with the thought that all is not lost. I watch a lot of science fiction/fantasy TV when I have the chance. I will basically submerge myself in any really good show if I have a couple of hours on my hands. I love the experience of, after three or four episodes, feeling like the characters have become flesh-and-blood people in my life. The same goes, of course, for good fiction, even though at this point I mostly read nonfiction.
And I write. While you, my lovely she-bomb readers, only read my nonfiction blog posts, you shouldn’t be surprised to know that I also write fiction and poetry. At last! An outlet. Most of what I write begins with something true and continues on into the realm of the imagined possible. I use personal truth as an anchor, but I can’t help but spin out into something farther, bigger, unreal and yet completely real to me. Even if just for a moment.
So thank you, Camp Whippoorwill, for giving me all that.