Camp friends are there for each other.
I mean this seriously, and I don’t take saying this lightly, either. Other friends are there for each other, too. “Being there” for your friends is a consequence of friendship.
But the way camp friends are hard wired to “be there for each other” stretches deeper than the typified ideas of friendship in contemporary America.
Friendship might be defined as putting someone else’s needs before your own, perhaps, but the sort of mentality that embodies camp friendships doesn’t separate that friend’s needs from your own. The friend’s needs, wishes, desires are your own. Getting your friend a slice of pizza is as second nature as buying yourself a slice of pizza.
And if your best camp friend happens to be vegan, then you order the cheese-less pizza. You don’t even think about it, you just do it. Pizza is still pretty good without cheese.
Maybe it’s because we lived together, because we became ourselves together. I always used to think of it that way: that my camp friends knew me before I was me. I still think this is true to an extent. They knew the rawest version of me, the twelve-year-old who hadn’t yet discovered social pretense and the eight-year-old who only wanted to play soccer or play with her action figures.
The people who meet me today will never know these things about me. I’m too good at hiding them now.
I do think, however, there’s something to be said about knowing why someone is the way they are. It’s a deeper kind of love, one that doesn’t place any restrictions on knowing someone. I’ll never forget the first time I saw my bunkmate Rachel cry. We were eight, and on an out-of-camp trip to Old Orchard Beach at the end of the summer, a tradition that persists at Mataponi even today.
Rachel was crying because she lost all her money, and seeing her cry broke my heart. Her green eyes were bulging and tears were pouring out of them, and this was all from someone who was usually so strong (as strong as you can be as an eight-year-old, but my perception is obviously different now).
It broke my heart, it really did, I’m sure that’s why I still have the memory with me, and I also remember that we all shared our money with her, chipped in to buy her an ice cream cone and a pickle on a stick. I’m sure it must not have been much, we probably had about five dollars each, but it was enough to get her to stop crying. It was even enough to get her to smile.
Knowing someone the way I know my camp friends is wonderful because I’m able to love them not in spite of their imperfections but because of them.
I do think growing up together helps, especially growing up in as nurturing and vibrant an environment as summer camp.
Case in point – as I type this blog post I’m texting with two camp friends. One who was my counselor for my three last summers as a camper, and one who was a camper two years ahead of me. We were also counselors together and color war captains together.
I just found out today that I was picked for a new job, and these are the two people I told because I knew that these two people wouldn’t just be happy for me, they’d enter into that happiness and make it their own. The only other people who are this happy as a result of my success are my parents and sister.
I talk to my former counselor, Dorrie, pretty often even though we’re both much older than we were during the time when she was my counselor. We still tell all the same stories, I still beg her to tell me the hilarious stories of her time as a camper, and even more fun is to recount the times we were at camp together.
Maybe Dorrie is just a great storyteller.
This past fall, one of my campers was a contestant on “The Voice,” a television show on NBC.
Ten of my camp friends and I have a “Camp” chat in GroupMe, an iPhone app, and we all relied on this chat while watching Caroline on TV. We’d all be at it the whole time, messaging back and forth breathlessly, saying things like, “Oh my God can you believe what Adam just said about Caroline,” and, “WOW, she nailed it,” and the like.
Two of my friends, Amanda and Anna, even created a Facebook group where Caroline’s fans could gather in a single nexus. My Facebook newsfeed was overrun with statuses about Caroline, and I posted in my sorority’s Facebook group with pleas for anyone, everyone, to vote for Caroline. All my friends did the same in their respective Facebook groups. Social media was abuzz with Mataponi girls proudly announcing that one of our own rose to stardom. Don’t even get me started about what happened on Twitter.
The point is this: it wasn’t that we were happy for Caroline, the point is that our fates were so intricately entwined with Caroline’s that we were able to be happy with her, and because of her, we love her and we love each other.
A “lifer,” in camp vernacular, basically means exactly what you think it means. Someone who dedicates a large chunk of her life to her summer camp.
And by “life,” I don’t just mean time. I mean emotion. I mean that when a “lifer,” laughs deeply it touches a reservoir of good feelings that were, for the most part, built by summer camp.