Continued from yesterday’s post, Camp Muddy Stream: Part 2…
As luck would have it, my best friend, Sarah, and I were assigned to two different tents upon our arrival at Muddy Stream. She was assigned to Tent 4, and I was assigned to Tent 3. If this were a TV show, I’d now show you an image of Sarah’s tent as it appears in my memory: bathed in golden light and surrounded by butterflies, with the sound of girlish laughter filling the air around it. Then the camera would swing to show you my tent, which was basically Dracula’s lair, if you were comparing the two. Although the two tents were right next to each other, her tent was a lively place right in the sun, and mine was dark, depressing, and cold, because it sat in the shadow of a large, spooky tree that might as well have had buzzards in its branches.
My tent-mates in Tent 3 were a motley crew of forgettable misfits (which I only really say because none of them were nice to me). Our counselor was a humorless English bitch named Janet, who had stringy hair and pointy cheekbones. Janet took an immediate disliking to me, and I’m *pretty* sure that it’s because I was the only Jew at Muddy Stream. (I guess I had missed the fine print in their informational literature that said, “If your last name is something like Greenbaum or Nierman, go to one of those other summer camps, where you can eat your gefilte fish and dance to your klezmer music somewhere away from us.”)
In Tent 3, and at Muddy Stream in general, my fellow campers didn’t get my sarcastic jokes or want to gossip with me about the other campers (I mean, come ON). In fact, the hardest I ever saw the other girls in Tent 3 laugh was when one of them put a pair of underpants on her head and did The Running Man for twenty minutes straight. This simple routine had the rest of the group in absolute stitches, which angered me greatly. Who the fuck did these bitches, with their flat stomachs and strong appreciation for shitty slapstick, think they were? I was from New York City, for crying out loud. I was supposed to be the coolest one there! Instead, I was getting an eight-week-long glimpse into what it was like to be Robin Williams’ character in “One Hour Photo,” and I was beginning to realize that it didn’t really matter where I was from if no one even wanted to talk to me.
Sure, I guess it’s possible that Janet couldn’t stand me and no one wanted to be my friend because I spent most of my time running to the bathroom cabin – yes, that’s right, the bathroom cabin – to sit in a stall and bawl while writing crazy-person letters home to my parents. In these letters, I would make wild, dance-with-the-devil promises to them, assuring them that I would never misbehave or complain a single time ever again if they would just immediately get in the car the minute they got this letter, drive the 8 hours to Maine without even stopping for bathroom breaks, and then immediately take me back to New York City. That was all I was asking for. I would cry onto each letter, then circle the watermarks and write “tear” underneath each one. I probably sent two or three of these letters home every day for the first four weeks I was there, because another little fact that we’d overlooked when my parents signed me up to go to Muddy Stream was that campers at Muddy Stream were not allowed to call home even once the entire summer, even if one of the campers was a weakly-constituted urbanite with separation anxiety and heatstroke.
The first night, as I lay in my bed (which was a military cot) feeling homesick and trying to fall asleep, I was suddenly jolted awake by the bloodcurdling sound of a woman screaming repeatedly. The sound was coming from the dense woods right behind my tent, which I’d have to walk through if I wanted to go to the bathroom cabin before sunrise. I was too scared to even speak, and spent the rest of the night shaking and having heart palpitations while I listened to what sounded like an audition for “Saw” going on mere yards away from where I lay. Strangely, the screams stayed consistent, both in pitch and volume, for the entire night.
At my first breakfast the next morning, I discovered that all of the campers ate at long, communal tables with girls of all different ages mixed together. Shortly after sitting down, I turned to an older girl at my table, a complete stranger with long blonde hair, and tried to ask her what the fuck I had heard last night in the most casual way possible. “Hey!” I chirped in a high-pitched voice. “Weird question for you! Did you hear anything…weird…happening last night? Like, a lady screaming in the woods?”
“Oh,” she snorted in response, laughing at me condescendingly as she rolled her eyes. “Those are the loons. Their calls sound exactly like a woman’s screams.” Then she turned away from me abruptly and dismissively, like I was the fool for not having known what the fuck a loon’s call sounds like.
“Fuck you, and fuck this place,” I thought to myself for the thousandth time already, despite only being 9 years old. (What can I say? You can take the girl out of New York City, but as I was quickly learning at Muddy Stream, you sure as hell can’t take the New York City out of the girl.)
The only good part of an otherwise very bleak first week at Muddy Stream was when I got to go horseback riding for the very first time. Horseback riding felt like flying, and I had a kindly, old horse named Cloud as my companion and partner in crime for my lesson. Together, we made our way leisurely around the ring, and during those few minutes with Cloud, I actually felt like I was accomplishing something worthwhile. I decided that I didn’t need friends at this god-forsaken camp if I had Cloud.
Fast forward to the following week, the morning of my second horseback riding lesson, when the head of the camp stood up after breakfast to make what she described as a ‘sad announcement.’