BY SARA PALMER
Based on the suggestion: Camp
We were thirteen years old and boarding a bus heading nine hours north to the U.S – Canada border – this was summer camp.
Church camp was a big thing in my family and this year was no different. I remember gathering around the sign-up sheet with my two best friends at the time, Tanya and Leslie. The top of the sheet read: Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness. We all signed our names quickly, then ran back to our parents to tell them what this years summer adventure would be. It was May and we wouldn’t be leaving until mid-July. As excited as we were, we knew we would have to pocket it for a while.
The summer moved quickly, and suddenly, it was the night before we were to leave. Leslie, Tanya and I were simultaneously packing while maintaining a three-way phone call. Leslie had a phone in her room, upstairs and away from the rest of her family. Tanya and I weren’t that lucky. I knew we were both fighting to keep the phone between our ear and shoulder as the cord stretched halfway through the house, losing touch for a second, and scrambling to retrieve the it each time a family member lifted the cord a bit in an attempt to limbo to another room. Leslie’s dad drew a comic strip for the town paper and worked in advertising, her mother stayed home and made everything look perfect, always. Tanya had a step-dad and two younger siblings. I had a single mom and two older sisters, which always kind of felt like three moms, but not in that cool, progressive way.
Excitement and nerves were building that night on the phone. I was stacking piles of clothes on the floor to be packed. Shirts in one pile, socks in another, pants in another and so on. Tanya had been packed since that afternoon and was simply double-checking her list. Leslie’s clothes were still in the wash and her concern for not being able to shower was mounting. My oldest sister had hit her third visit to my doorway, this time with billowing frustration, she spoke, “Seriously, get off the phone!” the last two times, she had just angrily mouthed it. She meant business and I still had some packing to do. So, I let the girls go, and told them I’d see them at the bus in the morning. All this, while walking past my sister into the kitchen to hang up the phone, maintaining zero eye contact. This said, it was my idea to get off the phone, not hers. Being the youngest, it was the little wins that mattered most sometimes.
I couldn’t sleep much that night and as we loaded the car and headed to the church. My thoughts went in every direction, trying to make sure I remembered everything; I almost didn’t realize we had parked. I looked up to see a crowd of familiar faces surrounding the bus and most important, Leslie and Tanya. I threw my duffle bag under the bus, hugged my mom goodbye and found a window seat next to the girls where I would remain for the next nine hours.
The wheels spit rocks as the bus turned onto the gravel roundabout leading to the mess hall of the campground. There would be about 100-150 campers from all over the Midwest and East Coast. We would have one night here at camp before dividing into co-ed groups of about ten to twelve and heading out on our weeklong journey.
The focus became, finding our cabin, taking a long, hot shower – it would be our last for the next five days – and stuffing our faces as if we would never eat again. The camp directors kept reminding us to eat up, this would be the last “home cooked” meal for a while. We also met our group leader that night, his name was Buck – at least that’s what he was calling himself. We would later come to find this suitable to say the least. He went over guidelines for the week, canoe safety, the fact that we would be carrying everything, no ditching food because that would attract bears – simply put, a meal was to be eaten in its entirety whether you liked it or not, or we would be eaten by bears – and finally, bathroom etiquette. Peeing, no biggie, as expected – pooping, dig a hole and bury that shit – yep, because otherwise, we would be eaten by bears. Later that night, Leslie confided in us that she had gotten her period. She was the first of our trio, we all knew it was coming sooner or later, but like pooping in the woods, we’d never speak of it, and cross that bridge when we got there. Upon the confession, we riddled Leslie with questions: what did it feel like? Does it hurt? How long does it last? She had gotten her period the night before we left for camp. All I could think was – the bears, we’re going to be eaten by bears.
To be continued.
Sara Palmer is a an improviser-writer-storyteller based in the Phoenix, Arizona, area. Share your ideas for her next blog in the comments below.