9.18.2012

Throwback Tuesday ; Camp Joy

You know how you live your entire life thinking that you grew up completely normal until BAM! A memory smacks you right in the face and you think "man that wasn't normal".

I had that moment today. And I feel the need to share it. You're welcome.

When I was in the 6th grade my elementary school went on an overnight trip to a camp. This trip was the envy of all other grades. Next to sex ed, this was the biggest milestone to hit my elementary career (admit it, the whole pad/tampon conversation was the highight). Anywho... I'm not exactly sure how long we were at said camp or exactly when/what time of year this trip took place, but I do remember 2 things quite clearly.

One. The ropes course that was deathly terrifying. I mean you are about a million feet in the air hooked by a carabeaner (aka KEY CHAIN) swinging to your death with about a 20 minute "lesson" on safety. Of course I was scared to death. I was 12. Hormonal, immature and awkward, I'm not sure those harnesses were made to stay on bony legs. Regardless I lived to tell about it, and although that was an uncommon event, it wasn't the weird part.

The second and most bizarre event of camp (top 5 most bizarre in my entire life, yes I rank them)  were  I think meant to be the most "educational" , but it ended up being the most terrifying. We had been studying slavery and the horrible mistreatment of  african americans in American History. This was why we were there. This role play was why we came to Camp on the first place. The buildup and suspense was extremely thrilling and when the time came I didn't know at all what to expect.

It had to have been fall or winter, because it was super cold. We were under strict instructions to wear old clothes and bring a coat, hat and gloves. When we got to a clearing in the woods we all recieved a bandana with instruction to "wear it if you get scared because it will tell the actors that you want to be 'invisible' and that you have no interest in playing along". Mine was purple.  At this point I was scared to death. Then the crazy began. I understand that the purpose of this exercise, was to understand  the struggle that the slaves and those who helped them along the underground railroad and to really feel like we were escaping for our freedom. Looking back on it, I feel like it was straight up verbal abuse. We were yelled at, fake "spit" on and had mud thrown in our direction. Kids acted as though they were being beaten and we screamed (well I screamed) and sang songs about escaping. Others were pretending, but I was scared. I remember that we had to hide in small dark spaces and in an attic where I think or at the time thought that I saw a mouse. This was terrible. I mean I was already scared to be away from my parents, and I was also perturbed because we had to share showers. I was dirty and cold, and to top it all off, our teachers were a part of the skit, so you really couldn't rely on them for anything. I was truly fearing for my life at one point. My crazy overprotective parents were right, I was being lured by a school trip into the woods never to be found again ( cue eye roll:;;;; this was actually a fear of theirs that they had admitted to me upon my leaving for camp, no wonder I was deathly afraid of everything). Darn those parents and their planting their worrysome notions in my brain. With every step  came the fear not only from the drama unfolding (and being murdered in the woods), but also the fear of getting lost in the pitch black dark where dozens of 12 year olds seemed to be on their own. Let's face it, we were no 'Lord of the flies'...we wouldn't have made it 24 hours let alone long enough to survive in the wilderness.

 I remember at some point during the crazy one of the actors made us all go around a campfire and put our heads down while he prceeded to  holler and call us borderline inappropriate names.  He came up to me and was literally yelling his face off, which was not only scary, but totally annoying. My first instinct was to start waving my purple bandana wildly as if to say  " I surrender...I'm freaked out, I want to be INVISIBLE", but he was so into yelling with his gross breath (just inches from my face) that he didn't notice, so I did the only thing that I could think of and I smacked him in his face with my only form of defense yelling  "Bandana!" Needless to say the guy was thrown out of character and totally P.O.'d. Next thing I knew, I was removed from the event entirely  I got a talking to by my teacher about not resorting to violence (hello pot, my name is kettle) . This was my one and only time being in trouble (other than for talking) but it was 100% worth it.  I felt totally liberated. Little tiny Jess that never said a word and was scared of everyone "stuck it to the man" if you will. I remember thinking "wow THIS must have been how the slaves felt when they stepped foot on the banks of the Ohio flipping their owners the bird across the river. Welcome to freedom.  Free at last. See ya later suckers."

Now that I am older, I realize the lesson behind that horrible skit. Understanding. The teachers wanted to make history come alive and immerse us into the reality that once was. They wanted us to understand the terror that people had to endure not so long ago, just because of their skin color.  They wanted to make sure that it would never happen again from my generation, and that we would understand that treating others the way we want to be treated is the most important part of life. I do think however they could have taught us the same lesson in a much less abusive and terrifying way.  I also know that when you are little EVERYTHING seems big and real, so honestly I'm not sure if this experience was really that terrifying or if my mind has just embelished the memory (now cue denial).

 Regardless of what happened at camp one thing that I do know that it was obviously traumatic for me because this memory had been repressed  in the deepest part of my brain, until a man on a motorcycle drove by today with a similar looking purple bandana almost identical to the one that had caused me so much trouble years before.

I have yet to meet anyone that has a similar experience (besides my former Fairbrook Foxes). Thus explaing my realization that "SHEESH that was not normal".

The funniest part of it all... The camp was named Camp Joy (Is that Alanis Morrisette 'ironic' I hear in the background?).

 I would have gone in the other direction had I been involved in the camp's naming process.

Camp from Hell paints a much clearer picture.



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