July 21st, 2009

Camp Romance

I went to a week of summer camp for most of my elementary and middle-school years, and even twice in high school. My priorities changed over the years that I went, from “staying alive” to “being good at air hockey” to “being remembered” to “meeting girls.” None of these priorities meshed with the stated priorities, which included “getting exercise” and “listening to preaching,” but I did those things, too, to varying degrees of success.

When I was pretty new to the weeklong camp scene, I figured out that people would recognize and remember me better if they could latch onto some particular aspect of me. Somehow I figured that an iconic T-shirt would be the way to accomplish what I was after, so I wore my Morris the Cat T-shirt pretty much every day. It worked, for good or ill, and people even started calling me “Morris,” a practice I encouraged. The program had so much success that people would even remember me from one year to the next. The shirt slowly wore out, of course, and its last days were spent being my “lucky football shirt” in high school, being worn under my shoulder pads.

I remember two camp romances rather vividly. One was the last week of camp I ever went to. I was in high school, and my friend Eric and I went to camp together for the express purpose of being crazy and meeting girls. I’m not saying these were lofty goals, folks, I’m just stating facts here. That week I met the improbably-named Buffy, and we spent the week enjoying each other’s company and breaking my heart. She wasn’t looking for anything past the week, and I didn’t know that’s how people did things. Live and learn.

I don’t know how many years before that it was that I had my most memorable camp romance. The way this camp worked is that everyone would meet for family-style meals in the dining hall. Every cabin had a name and had a sister or brother cabin that was on the same team (competition between the two teams drove all the activities throughout the week), and the sister-brother cabins would sit next to each other at the same long table. We either had assigned seats or my seat just became the seat I always sat in, as I ended up sitting in the middle of the row, right next to the girls’ cabin. This was before my express purpose was meeting girls, but it was certainly right in the middle of my “entertain everyone” phase (which I still flirt with now and again), and I remember making several of the girls laugh during mealtimes.

Somewhere about midweek I sat down in my usual space and after the prayer, turned my plate over to discover a purple envelope with my name on it. I don’t remember if there were hearts and other stuff on it, but I do remember disappearing the envelope rather quickly. There was NO chance I was going to open it right then and there, and I hoped few had noticed it. It seemed like some of the girls had, but I just did my best to soldier on.

The first chance I had after the meal I found a place away from other people (the bathroom) and opened the envelope. I don’t remember the specifics all these years later, but it was basically an “I like you!” note – an anonymous “I like you!” note, with varying levels of “This is what I like about you” writings scattered throughout.

Crazy mixed emotions floodgate status: OPEN.

On the one hand, hey, someone liked me!

On the other hand, who??

Over the course of the next days, more notes appeared. I came to anticipate and dread the meal time, anxious to hear more, but afraid I’d get hassled by the guys in the cabin and still having no idea who was writing the notes.

Again, specifics have been lost in the sands of time, but I remember getting the indication I would find out who it was on the last day of camp. Another mixed bag of emotions! After all, it might be someone I thought was nice and cute, but… it could also be someone I’d avoided like the plague all week. Hey, I was a kid. I wasn’t all enlightened about how everyone is beautiful just yet.

The big reveal came that Friday. You’d think I’d remember what meal it was, or more specifics, but the truth is, I haven’t thought about this in a long time, and I suspect it was something I buried, for reasons that will become clear in about two seconds.

So who was it? The whole cabin. All of them. Every girl in our sister cabin AND the counselor was in on it. All of them.

I wanted to crawl in a hole that was inside another hole that was buried beneath fourteen other holes. I couldn’t have felt more hurt and embarrassed, I didn’t think. (I came to find out in later years that I was wrong on both counts, but I was still relatively young here.)

Our cabin counselor somehow found me and he and the counselor from our sister cabin explained to me that this had been the way the girls cabin had decided was the best way to tell me that they all had enjoyed eating meals with me and thought I was neat and fun and all that. It was a like a big group “We think you’re great!”

To any future group of girls that will end up in the same cabin at summer camp someday who think that this is a great way to handle this sort of situation: it isn’t.

I wish I had a better ending to this story, something along the lines of “And when I got to college, I met one of those girls, only I didn’t know it. In the process of getting to know each other she told me a story about how she had the hugest crush on a guy at camp once, and when the other girls in her cabin found out, they concocted this plan to write him anonymous notes. Once we discovered who the other was, we had a good laugh about things and fell in love, which only ended when she had to move away and was sadly unable to return to college and the distance between us proved to be too great, and even though we still occasionally keep in touch, what might have been never was.”

I’d like to tell that story, but it didn’t happen. I don’t know that I learned any lessons. I still jump into things heart-first and I still have big dreams where love is concerned. I still get hurt, and I still look forward to the next opportunity without saddling it with what those girls did. After all, this one isn’t one of them.

As far as I know, anyway!