A lot of the girls I went to middle school with grew up “summering” in Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod, you name it, they were there. There was probably a girl in pearls sitting by the pool drinking a virgin piña colada. I grew up summering in Cheboygan, Michigan, and normally the word “summering” and Cheboygan wouldn’t go in the same sentence. In fact, trying to compare a summer in Martha’s Vineyard to a summer in the woods is nearly impossible. I grew up with scraped knees, zebra mussels in my toes, and two-minute showers because there wasn’t enough hot water. I grew up knowing if I were last to the mess hall there would be no grilled cheese left for me and I’d be cleaning dishes. I grew up the best way anyone could. While my middle school counterparts were lounging by the pool idolizing Justin Timberlake and Zac Efron in magazines like Pop and J14, I got to sit by the campfire looking up my heroes: Brett, Michael, KG, just to name a few. They weren’t in a magazine, nor would they likely ever be, but they picked the strings of their instruments singing used up songs of the past and recreating them with their camp magic.
It was the closest thing I will ever see that has any semblance of enchantment, true captivation. Lyrics from Oasis’ “Wonderwall” and Paul Simon’s “Call Me Al” were what my best friends and I hung on to. It’s what I clung on to when I was lost and couldn’t find my way — when it was those dreary other months that weren’t summer. We always begged for more music trying to delay our curfew, but it never worked. However, we would always manage to find a way to stay up late swapping stories over flashlights and swapping “illegal goods” (Twizzlers, Oreos, peanut butter, etc). It always surprised me that you could put 10 12-year-old girls in a cabin when, give them four weeks, and then they’ve managed to create a family. A family that runs deeper than just four weeks of the year; one that has seen it all from the struggles of our teenage life to the ever so scary, but prevalent issues of the real world. You couldn’t scare these girls away, because they knew who you were at your core: Who you became when camp let you be whomever you wanted, who you were when you got up onstage at the camp talent show, and who you were when the cute boy in B14 broke your heart for the very first time. You couldn’t scare these girls because we had all come to the woods of northern Michigan looking for a home. Sure, we wrote letters home telling mom and dad that waterskiing was scary and we’d lost color war, but what was never in the letters was: “Dear mom and dad, thank you for sending me here, I’ve found home, I’ve found family, I’ve found myself.”
I’ve found that arts and crafts maybe isn’t something I should pursue, but I make a damn good windsurfer. I found out that it’s okay to try and fail. Because, as we like to say, “Everyone’s a winner at Walden.” Now this is something that always caused my eyes to roll into the back of my arrogant teenage brain, but what a wonderful thing to tell a child. You’re a winner. It’s so tacky, cliché, and somehow so overlooked today. With that mentality, how could I not get up at the talent show and make a fool of myself? Try waterskiing and fall flat on my face? Sing with my campers at campfires? How could I not be me? It’s simply I could do all of these things. Though somehow when I left camp after nine years I seemed to forget this, forget who I was. It’s not because I didn’t think I couldn’t do something, but because my family wasn’t right there, because I wasn’t in the warm embrace of trees underneath the wooded land of Walden. I wasn’t home. I was in the world. The “real world.” The world that told me my responsibilities were to end up on the dean’s list, to graduate, get a good job, become an adult, to forget who I was. I was suppose to forget that there’s always time for chanting and singing, that shoes weren’t mandatory, that grilled cheese is totally acceptable to eat as an adult. I was supposed to forget to live and to be a kid sometimes. I was supposed to grow up and pretend nine years of my life didn’t make me who I am.
I did what I was told and I go to my internship at 9 AM every day. I file papers, write donation letters, and email sponsors. I wear a button-down shirt and sit in my cubicle. While I do this, hundreds of miles away, there are kids and counselors at camp. They’re waking up to a bell, eating cereal, playing games and swimming, wearing dirty shorts and playing outside. They’re teachers and students.
As I sat in my cubicle picturing Long Lake and Burrito Day, I realized something. I’m not an adult, and I don’t want to be. I don’t ever want to vacation in Martha’s Vineyard and I don’t want to sit in a cubicle for the sake of putting something on my resume and begging people to let me into their grad schools. I want to have scraped knees, lead color war teams to victory, and live life by a bell not a clock. I want to be the girl on stage at Walden Under The Stars and I still want to idolize those counselors who create a home for me. So until I get back to northern Michigan it will always be a part of me. I’ll always be a camper and a counselor.