Camp: a status report

Where to begin? The beginning doesn’t seem right. There’s no way to explain to someone who hasn’t been at a camp like this what working at a camp like this is like. When I’m at camp, Time looses all meaning. I never know what day it is. All I know is that Day Four ended, tomorrow is Day Five when the kids go to their classes again and I think we’re giving them prizes later in the day. And the day after that, Day Six, is our excursion to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. And hours loose meaning as well. The only real regular schedule is the one set by the dining hall: breakfast-lunch-dinner. I feel like an old person eating so early in the day. But if I don’t, I don’t eat at all.

There’s been a million little anecdotes that I could list at this point. But they all end in some version of “you’d have to be there.” What I really need to get off my chest is the girl who was sick today. She’s been sick for a couple of days, but today was bad enough to take her the emergency room. While we were there, she told me all sorts of interesting things about her life. Most were the random thoughts of a fifteen-year-old girl who’s sitting on a hospital bed in the ER, a little nervous, with her camp director trying not to be so nervous. Until she told that she’d been sexually assaulted by a relative.

I feel the need to not be so forthcoming about this story here. I feel the need to respect the privacy of this girl, and I will. Besides, this entry really has very little to do with her and a lot more to do with my reaction to it. (Rest assured, myself and the folks who sign my paycheck are taking it serious and taking the appropriate steps.) I don’t know what to do with this knowledge. Being here with these kids is so disorienting. They all look so small and vulnerable and young and naive. And I have a hard time reconciling the way they look with how I was when I was their age. Was I that young? Yes, I was. And it scares me to think of the things I did when I was that age. What was I thinking? The drugs, the sex, the general inanity of my choices then. It’s a wonder I’m alive if you think about it.

So I think about that. I put their experiences through my own filter. But I don’t want to believe that they are having the same experiences. I don’t want to believe that they’re making bad choices or that terrible things are happening to them. But they are. And bad things happen. And there’s really nothing to be done about it.

And then there’s that. The nothing to be done about it. I can contact the appropriate people. I can hope that she opens up to the right people. That she works through whatever she needs to work thought (just as I have) and come out on the other end a stronger, healthier, more full human being. But there’s no telling. And, really, in the end, who the hell am I? I’m a camp director she’ll know for all of a week one summer when she’s fifteen. Maybe my gentle suggestions and appropriate decision will set her in the right direction. Maybe they won’t. There’s just no way to tell.

And then there’s the sense that there’s something about me, something that makes people feel compelled to tell me these things. Because, truth of the matter is, this isn’t the first time. Locked in my head are the secrets of a lot of people with similar horror stories about their lives, their pasts, their families. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I’m going to go with neither. It is what it is, but whenever it happens, I can’t help feeling that apart from a deep seeded desire to Teach, perhaps I have another vocation I was meant to have in this life. Another path to tread. And perhaps I ought to honor that.

Of course, the trouble is that it’s late. I’m at camp. And camp makes you think things you don’t normally think. Time stops. You forget about the outside world. Your friends, your family, you dog, all seem like memories from some distant part of your past that isn’t even real anymore. (Maybe this girl’s having the same experience which makes opening up so much easier for her.) So maybe I ought to file this entry away under “Camp” and come back to it in a week or two.

But something tells me — no matter how much or little I effect this girl’s life — I’m not going to forget this one.

One thought on “Camp: a status report

  1. My first, sixth, and eleventh gf’s were all the victims of sexual assault of a kind, in each case by somebody close to them, boyfriend, relative, etc. I’ve spent hours just comforting, trying to talk them down, trying to help them come to grips, sometimes even trying to keep control when faced with the individuals responsible. Looking back on it, I think that, simply by being there, simply by listening, I made a difference. Sometimes people just need somebody outside of everything, somebody not connected to the rest of their life to talk to so that they can hear themselves say it, put it all together and see it for what it is. Being there just as a camp director, somebody she could talk to without immediate repercussions, you made a difference, you helped, if only by letting her speak about it, maybe more.

    Like you, people tell me a lot of things, from good friends to acquaintances to total strangers, and, most of the time, I think it’s simply because I listen, pay attention, and act as if I care. That’s something you do exceptionally well, probably because you do, well, care.

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