Tuesday, July 19, 2005

This is where the summer ends.

I really wanted to go to this WYSIWYG reading tonight, but alas, another more pressing obligation will be keeping me away... So in tribute, I'm posting my own little summer camp story.

I never went to summer camp.

Not for lack of trying, mind you. On the contrary, the moment my brother and I entered elementary school and our friends starting coming back from summer vacation with tales of “sleepaway camp,” we began begging our parents to release us to this strange and faraway fairytale land, in which things like bug juice and latrines existed underneath a canopy of trees and moonlight. But to no avail.

Looking back, I’m sure it was a money thing. But at the time, they had all sorts of arguments and explanations as to why our summers would be better spent in our own home with them; in our own neighborhood with all of the older neighborhood kids who could barely tolerate our annoying presence unless they were tormenting us, daring us to do stupid and disgusting things, and/or taking advantage of my parents’ good-natured hospitality and swimming pool, swing-set, wide array of sports and gaming equipment, well-stocked refrigerator, etc.

Initially, my folks’ principle argument centered around their insistence that summer camps existed solely for parents who didn’t care enough about their children to want to spend time with them in the summer. Parents who would rather send their children away until that blissful moment when school once again claimed them in the fall. But our noble parents, on the other hand, loved us very much and actually looked forward to seeing us during those three months of freedom each year.

Um, yeah. We weren’t buying it. So when that one wore thin (especially in light of the fact that my dad’s sister sent her kids, my only cousins, away to summer camp every year, and she did actually seem to love them), they moved on to my personal favorite: the one where they insisted that our home provided everything a summer camp possibly could and more, so why on earth should they waste their money sending us away to a place that could only pale in comparison to such lush surroundings? We had a pool. We had woods. We had a creek. We had animals, fruit trees, gardens, a boat, picnic tables, outdoor barbecues... What more could a summer camp possibly offer?

Right. I don’t know which would be sadder: the possibility that they might have actually thought, even for a second, that my brother and I would swallow that particular line of bullshit, or worse, that they might have actually believed it themselves. Of course in the end it didn’t matter, because as we persisted with our begging, so too did they persist with their flawed and frustrating rebuttals. And since, you know, they were the parents and we were the kids, well, they won in the end. Summer after summer, no summer camp for us.

But looking back, I have to admit that in some ways they were right. Our summers at Camp Suck did provide us with at least some of the experiences we probably would have had at summer camp. I had many of my “firsts” in those woods, that yard, at the hands of those sadistic neighborhood kids. First kiss, first fight, first round of “I’ll show you mine, you show me yours,” first drink, first humiliations, first betrayals. We peed outside, set fire to things, threw rocks, spit, lit fireworks, cursed... And it was there that I had my first real experience with death. And though it didn’t come at the hands of a machete-wielding, hockey mask-wearing maniac as my more gruesome summer camp fantasies might have dictated, it was in fact no less traumatic.

And my poor parents, since it happened on their turf, ended up having to deal with it.

[Continue to Part Two.]


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