Oh the People We Meet

One of my favorite classes back in undergrad was my creative writing course. This is a piece that ended up as part of my final portfolio at graduation. It’s a mix of reality and creativity, but it contains the essence of every summer I spent at camp.

 My eyes are burning. Why is it so bright? What is that sound? I can’t move, everything feels different.

*****

 Growing up, I spent every summer at camp. Every day was a new adventure, and every night was a different prank. Camp was my getaway. Back home there were seven siblings, five older than me. Home was where I never wanted to be. My parents worked hard and provided for us, so life was good. We had everything we needed and wanted.  But I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes “everything” wasn’t what I wished for. I longed to be seen.

*****

 I hear something, but I can’t place it. I know it’s early, I always wake up at six in the morning. 

*****

 Back home, school starts at seven, so my body is internally set to rise on time. For some reason, today, six feels odd. There are only four more days left of camp. I can’t believe the summer went by so fast. I’ll miss Jessie the most, who’d of thought we would end up being best friends?

 The first day of camp, six years ago, I walked into my cabin and there she was. Jessie was sitting on her bed crying. Not tiny tears, the kind of crying that makes your shoulders jump up and down and your throat makes that deep sucking noise when you try to breathe. I laughed at her – really loud. After all, I had a reputation to keep. 

 Jessie became my target. If I found her hovering in a corner, I’d call her out. When she was taking a shower I made sure to flush all five toilets. Somehow, she came through it. After two weeks she stopped crying, stood up straight, and flashed a smile as my friends and I tormented her. I remember thinking, who is this girl?

*****

 I don’t feel different. But then again, I haven’t moved. If I stay still no one will wake up. Ten extra minutes of sleep are precious these days.

*****

 Family isn’t a word I use too often. I write letters to my “real” friends from the summer and talk to them on the phone each week. School is okay, I typically only have one other sibling in the same building so I can achieve separation most of the time.

 When my mom dropped me off at the bus for camp in May she said, “no trouble this year, Chenon.” I smirked and ran to the bus. Me, trouble? Well, how else am I supposed to get their attention? But I don’t get into trouble.  I just have fun. Since when did fun become a crime?

*****

 I don’t hear anyone else yet, just that sound. It is familiar, but not to the cabin, and certainly not to this time of day in the cabin. I’ll just lay here a bit longer; someone is bound to get up soon. 

 I wonder what we’ll do for evening program tonight. Last night was amazing, I’ll never forget it. Wait . . . is that water?

*****

 Last year for my speech class I did a presentation on summer camp. It was the best day of the school year because I got to talk about my favorite time of year. I also learned that Shane, the hottest guy in my class, goes to camp too. I wonder what he does at camp. He said his parents send him to Texas for five weeks each summer. 

 I remember the first time I went to camp. I was six and scared. There were so many kids, some older than me. I unpacked, made my bed, and went for a walk. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by kids introducing themselves and giving me a tour. For once, people were flocking around me. I had no idea what was going to happen, but I was ready to go with it.

 That summer went on to mark fantastic beginnings. I made hundreds of friends, realized I could live without my mommy, and learned that I could be somebody. I had no idea that I’d be the somebody I am right now. Everyone knows my name, they run to my table at meals, and I’m always first picked for relay races. Maybe school could be like that this year, but I won’t hold my breath.

*****

 I don’t sleep near the bathroom, and the lake is on the other side of camp. It can’t be water. I’ve been coming to this camp for 12 years and I’m sure . . . oh wait, it could be raining. No, I checked the weather. I’m supposed to take my cabin on an all-day hike today, so I made sure we would be prepared. The radio said no chance of rain, pure sunshine. 

 I guess it’s time to get moving, the girls will be up soon. Wait, I can’t move, what is going on? Why am I outside? Oh no! They got me! But how did they get me and my bed on a floating dock? And how do I get free?

*****

 I’ve learned a lot over the years. Coming to camp helped me learn who I was and who I am capable of becoming. That summer I met Jessie was the year I figured out that being mean doesn’t make you a winner and it won’t always make your popular. Most importantly, I learned that best friends come in all shapes and sizes. Jessie turned out to be the coolest person I’ve ever known.

*****

 Help! Somebody help! 

 I have to pee. Wait, is that a box of tissues? Well, well, well. Jessie strikes again. Every time she pranks me, she leaves a box of tissues. As a reminder of what I didn’t give her on the day we met.  Here come the campers, it must be time for breakfast. I guess I’m on display. 

 Payback for years of pranks has finally come full circle. I love summer camp.

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Where Do I Belong?

Going through files I came across this gem. I took a course a while ago that pushed me to explore creative writing. I loved it and this week I’m going to share some of those goodies!!

Walking through the doors on my first day of junior high I was speechless. Even though everyone around was familiar, something was different. The new building gave the impression that entrance on its own changed you from the inside out. Classmates that used to be my friends were merely acquaintances now. Apparently, growing up meant that you had to start all over. As the first days of junior high grew into weeks, something happened.  Everyone had to belong to someone else. Suddenly, we emerged from grade school with the inability to be alone. I have learned over the years that this realization became a way of life from that moment on. We all need to feel wanted and want to be needed.

 When in time did this desire to build cliques begin. Looking back through history I found instances where individuals came together in their own sects. In Biblical times the disciples were a group; the Pharisees and Sadducees were together; even the priests had their own inner circle. The United States was founded on the beliefs and dreams of an inner circle. Through these recollections it has become clear to me that as a race, we need to belong. We were born different, raised different, taught different, and matured different. But those differences bind us together in some form of social interaction.

 I find it interesting how social we are as a human race. The need to find a group feeds this longing. Even a hermit is needed by someone or something. While the majority of the world seeks out a group of likeminded and commonly grounded foes, the average hermit finds solace in four walls of shelter. After all, there is no part of history that dictates who or what we must belong to . We all scoff when reports surface of an old lady with 500 cats in her house. She longed for fur balls and the soft purr of a friend that enjoyed her company. Who are we to judge?

 This idea of finding a place to belong began way before junior high. But the lasting effects of this desire surface around the ages of eleven or twelve. Friends become more than someone you see at school or play with on the weekend. Friends become your guide and, in some cases, your moral compass. The groups formed in junior high have a fifty percent chance of surviving the social pool that is high school.

 Entering the doors of high school offers a similar experience to junior high. The difference is that we’ve had two or three years of practice. The halls are bigger, the teachers are meaner, the lines are longer, and the expectations are much higher. Suddenly we realized that finding a group needs to happen immediately, this can’t wait. All around groups are forming like a mass exodus to the only remaining ant hill in the field. Where do we belong, why must we belong? Do we stand out or fall in line?

 Even Aristotle and Plato had an inner circle. They were the brilliant minds of our past so, they must have had a heads up on this “belonging” business. Now that high school has taken over our lives the social need is greater. If we don’t belong to anyone or anything the days get longer, the tasks get harder, and the end feels like it may never have a sunrise. Once we found a place, a people that understood us, or so we thought, life became easier. These groups and cliques helped us navigate through struggles and life lessons hard fought. But were they the right guides? Did they genuinely care about us? 

 This innate desire to belong lives with us forever. We feel great relief when the diploma lands in our palm and the pomp and circumstance plays its last tune. The survival of the fittest has come to end and now, growing up wasn’t so hard to do – or so we thought. Life moved on at a quick pace, but suddenly we realized that this longing hasn’t gone away. Not only has it grown, it has become more complex. The things and people we need are more sensitive, their needs are greater, their lives are evolving, and most importantly no one stands still for long. If you take an extra minute to fix your hair in the mirror you might miss their departure.

 Now we must find a new belonging. The stakes are higher, while the formation of the school ground is in the rear-view mirror, the gathering of more sophisticated means is a figment through the windshield. But what do these groups look like? How, in a world of millions of adults, and things, do we find where we belong. Suddenly the need for guidance is lost, but the need for reassurance is much stronger. We are not growing into people any longer, we are trying to maintain what we have grown.

 This longing, this deep desire, is it required. Can we manage on our own? According to God and his followers, absolutely not. But what about those people that don’t believe in a higher power, why do they congregate? I have come to believe that no matter what or where we put our faith, the desire to share and have common ground is stronger than any self-disciplined individual. For that matter, even animals survive in groups. Walking through the zoo, nine out of ten residents have company. So, what will come of this odd inner struggle to find a place?

 Everywhere we look there are options. We can become athletes, join a book club, become communication Rembrandts, or simply fade into the collections we have created to fill the void. Whatever we chose, a selection is made. Life is about belonging. Beginning new jobs, joining new clubs, and becoming a member of a bigger family all raise that familiar feeling and universal question of “Where do I belong?”

 I have found that this simple question can be traced back to some of the memories and events of our past. Inevitably, at some point we chose the wrong group or person to belong to. Choice were made that took us down a path not so bright. I find it ironic that, while this longing is bread into us, the decisions aren’t always positive. Something we must do carries the weight of being completely wrong and life altering. Ask the guy in cell 453 at the local prison. He’ll tell you he belonged, but that belonging was built on progress not sustainability. How can such mere desire be backtracked and filled with disaster? I guess you could ask Adam and Even the same question. They are the ones that got us into this mess. They needed to belong to wisdom. Now they, nor us, know what to do with it.

 As a child we longed for the days of making our own decisions. As a teenager we would daydream of the moment our lives would become free and full of adventure. As new adults set free in a magic world, we begin to realize that not much has changed from our days on the recess yard. The view is bigger, and the needs are greater, but the outcome is still inevitable. Do we join the geek table? Or maybe the cheerleaders well accept us. Worst case scenario, the band cluster always has room for one more. The faces may change as an adult, but the need to belong will never go away. It just becomes more sophisticated. length;d