Alone at Camp

Photo by Claude Piché on Unsplash

Today, my faithful readers, I’m going to tell you about the nightmare that was sixth grade camp.

In the town where I grew up, there were six elementary schools, and then one junior high and one high school. Sixth grade camp was a way for everyone from each school to come together to meet the people who would be your peers the next year in junior high.

I had very few friends in elementary school, and none of them were planning on going to camp. And yet, I still wanted to go.

Each school had to prepare a skit for the talent show. My school performed “Achy Breaky Heart” – not by Billy Ray Cyrus, but by Alvin and the Chipmunks. Since I was the smallest person in my class, they voted for me to play the part of Brittney Chipmunk. Brittney had speaking lines that I had to lip sync to before and after the song. When I said I didn’t want to play the part, the teacher insisted, saying things like “it’ll be fun.”

Naturally, being afraid of EVERYTHING, I was way too shy to perform well during practice. My movements were not exaggerated as they should have been, but rather barely visible to the naked human eye. My classmates jeered and taunted me. What’s new, right?

I rode alone on the bus ride to Camp Kern. I ate alone, I did all of the activities alone. It was swelteringly hot, but I couldn’t swim because the shallow end of the pool was five feet deep. At 37 years-old I’m five feet tall. I’m quite sure in the sixth grade my head wouldn’t have even poked out of the water. So, I sat by the pool while the other kids splashed and swam – alone.

I took one shower the whole time I was there because I was terrified of showering naked in front of other girls. Gross, I know. You try telling my anxiety to strip down and stand in front of a bunch of people who don’t like me. My anxiety says we’d rather smell for a few days, thanks.

Part of the camp experience was taking various classes that you sign up for ahead of time. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, so of course I signed up for the journalism class. I’d hoped I could just write articles about camp or nature. But no, the counselor in charge of the class insisted we interview other campers for our articles. I strongly considered throwing myself in the too-deep pool.

When the counselor realized I’d spent half the afternoon hiding behind a tree instead of interviewing campers, she decided to help me out. She paired me with a camper who could help me conduct the interviews.

I remember we walked over to the volleyball court where a small girl was sitting on the ground next to a wheelchair. The counselor introduced me to Tiffany, who I was assured would have no problem interviewing people for my article.

Tiffany immediately started shouting at everyone who walked by. “HEY! HEY YOU! COME HERE, I GOTTA ASK YOU SOME QUESTIONS!” (Twenty-five years later, she’s still just as outspoken.)

So, Tiffany helped me write two articles – she conducted the interviews and I did the writing. She ended up becoming my best friend.

So, aside from that one silver lining, camp was horrible for me. I imagine kids all over have similar experiences, so I encourage anyone who may be affiliated with a camp program to take this into consideration. I understand that it’s important to encourage kids to play together and participate, but if you see a child who’s having an especially hard time connecting with others, give them a little extra attention. Maybe don’t make them star in the talent show.

Though I killed that performance, once I was in front of a hundred kids. Makes no sense at all why I was okay with that, but not okay with practicing in the cafeteria without an audience. Anxiety doesn’t make sense.


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