Walking around wearing bug spray and sun block and checking for ticks. The leaves of the trees dappling my skin with shadows and light. Practicing “survival trail tactics” like finding the direction of the wind with a pile of crushed up leaves, using the shadow of a stick to tell the time, studying animal footprints and building a lean-to for when it rains. Looking up at the stars — actually seeing stars — and locating the constellations that I learned about in science class so long ago.
Being away from my parents. Taking orders from someone who is a freshman in college. Fostering independence because there is no one telling me what to do — just counselors making suggestions, but leaving the rest up to me. They help teach life skills that other adults can’t bother with — you know, things like how to wash your hair in the sink, or the best way to scrub an outdoor toilet. No TV, no air conditioning, no McDonald’s and no shopping mall. But that’s all part of it — being content with making friendship bracelets or gluing googily eyes onto seashells.
Sleeping in a cabin that smells like moist wood. Having the bottom bunk — being afraid to fall out of the top bunk — and rolling a sleeping bag over a plastic mattress that hasn’t been cleaned since god knows when. Falling asleep to the sounds of crickets chirping and frogs croaking and owls hooting. Being surrounded by seven or eight strangers who play tricks on each other in the middle of the night. Becoming the closest of friends by the end of the week. Spending every waking moment — from kayaking in a murky creek to ambushing the boy’s cabin with water balloons — together.
Speaking of boys, having a crush on the cutest guy in camp. He might not even be that cute, but compared to the guys back home, he’s exotic — he’s from Seattle. Getting asked to the Friday night dance, the one that takes place on the basketball court with a “live DJ” (some counselor with a boom box and a collection of NOW That’s What I Call Music! CDs). Being one of only seven couples slow dancing to Savage Garden. Sneaking off somewhere to try French kissing. Discovering it’s really not that sexy (probably because we’re terrible at it). Exchanging screen names at the end of the summer and maybe leaving him a token of affection, like a dream catcher or a frame made from Popsicle sticks.
Looking forward to meal times because it means not doing ropes course or playing soccer in the hot sun anymore. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, sloppy Joes and fish sticks never tasted so good. Even though it’s mass-produced and full of preservatives — the vanilla pudding comes from a can — devouring everything set before me. Doing this because my snacks were seized away upon arrival — some BS about bears tracking the scent (but knowing it’s because the counselors need something to munch on during their smoke breaks).
Floating down a river in an inner tube, holding on to my friends like a daisy chain, laughing our heads off and freezing in the cold, fresh water. Meeting a freckle-faced girl who lives two hours away from my town, who loves wearing her hair in pigtails and watching the movie Spice World as much as I do. My best friend. Making blanket forts in our bunks and reading magazines with her flashlights during “lights out.” Becoming pen-pals who write to each other four or five times a year. Handwriting notes on pink or blue paper, in bubblegum-scented envelopes that are plastered with Lisa Frank stickers.
Learning silly camp songs and singing them around a bonfire while roasting marshmallows. Feeling comfortable knowing I don’t look absolutely ridiculous singing the Baby Shark song, because everyone looks ridiculous singing the Baby Shark song. Being goofy. Preparing for Color War by painting my face like the guy in Braveheart. Screaming like a banshee, slipping and sliding around a mud pit obstacle course. Getting into a giant food fight at the end of camp and not thinking about all of the starving children in the world who could probably have used this food.
This is the first time in my life where I didn’t have a break between the end of June and the beginning of September. I’m missing out on those vital transitional months of our younger years — it’s going to be weird not having a clean slate for eight weeks, to return home as a different person. Summer camp offers an opportunity to refresh and reinvent oneself. I’m not looking for the easy way out — of course eight weeks off of work is bad for productivity. But I’m looking to recharge, beyond the standard amount of vacation time allotted by corporate policy.
I want to go back to those curios summers where I didn’t know who I was, or what I was going to become.