Alice was quite the character at camp. She was a girl who talked to everyone, whenever she pleased; a girl who hotly contested any result that said she had lost.
I was Alice’s counsellor; she was in my cabin with four other girls. We all lived together in a tiny, stuffy cabin that smelled of pine and sweat.
On the first day, our cabin set up the dining hall for dinner. We let her choose which cabins could come in first. With sharp command and one wagging finger, she quieted the crowd of rowdy campers, and jabbed that finger in the direction of the first cabin, then the next, and the next, until everyone but our cabin were lined up. Afterwards, at the back of the line, she turned to me with a wicked, delighted grin on her face, and told me that she loved the feeling of power. It was like listening to a Game of Thrones character.
That was my first impression of Alice. We had a wonderful week, full of campfires, swimming, and even a helicopter landing, just to name a few.
Alice was nothing but fun-loving; she was kind and charismatic with everybody, and the first to put her hand up for every activity. She loved every minute of that week.
But all weeks at camp must come to an end. On our cabin’s final evening together, one camper suggested that we should sit in a circle, and each person should go around the circle and say what they liked about everyone in the cabin. The other girls jumped onto this idea, and the evening quickly descended into a heart-warming blub-fest as they confessed that they thought of each other as sisters.
We got to Alice. I never would have guessed what she would tell us. Despite her outgoing, smiling self at camp, she was bullied so badly at home that she would be
homeschooled when the next term started.
She told us how lonely she always was. How she went through days without saying a single word in school. She said she wished she could stay at camp forever.
I was caught nearly in disbelief. In my mind, I could not connect this person she described with the Alice I knew.
It reminded me of a former camper, who had returned for 7 years. He said that he used to have his ‘camp self,’ and his ‘other self.’ Each year, his other self became more like his camp self. He became more like who he wanted to be; who camp gave him the confidence to be.
That is the most special part of summer camp to me; that campers have somewhere, even for just a week, where they feel safe enough to be themselves, and to thrive.