By Emily Jean
The other day I fell in love with a dress I knew I couldn’t afford on one of the overwhelmingly delicious racks at Urban Outfitters. And after experiencing the back and forth battles of joy versus angst and I-Cant-Live-Without-This versus Broke-Ass-College-Kid, I realized that the dress represented more than just floral, cotton, and my entire paycheck. It represented a Friday night on a beautiful peninsula in Middle-of-Nowhere, MO. The dress represented too many posey photographs taken in front of the mural outside the dining hall, hairy Shabbos chicken and dry chocolate cake, checking for daddy long legs on the chapel benches at services before returning to sitting after the Mourner’s Kaddish, and lots and lots of clapping, dancing, and cheering out random words in Yiddish. Camp’s Shabbat was all up in that dress, because plainly and simply, thoughts of camp are always all up in my mind.
I slip into two pairs of leggings and jeans before walking outside my Chicago apartment and wish a pair of Nike shorts could survive the negative windchill and judging eyes of stylish hipsters. When John Denver or Joni Mitchell shuffles into my iTunes library, I can immediately smell that distinct dining hall funk and the staining scent of campfire and smoke.
I rely on camp. Those summer months of escape and adventure always linger in the back of my mind, motivating me to get through the ten months of real life because a rich reward never fails to await in the place where I grew up. Camp is fantasyland. And knowing it’s in my future seems to put everything into perspective.
I’ll wake up early for class and be out late for dance rehearsal and know that I still didn’t experience the near 18-hour productive day I live every day at camp. I subconsciously monitor my diet, knowing that I can’t get away with consuming egg loaf and pizza bagels, or chicken patties and waffles for dinner in the real world.
Doesn’t my employer understand that asking me to take off my friendship bracelets is no small thing? Doesn’t my roommate who insists we blast the heat know what it’s like to sleep in a hot and humid cabin full of sweaty bodies? My friends don’t get why I dismiss the pursuit of an internship. My dance teachers can’t believe I don’t stay to train over the summer. My real life just doesn’t understand. They don’t understand that camp shapes my mind; that that fantasyland peninsula is more real to me than any aspect of my urban lifestyle. This is true for a reason of permanence: I can depend on no other place to guarantee me a time full of authentic friendship, priceless adventure, and a retreat from the black and white world in which I reside. No other place. Only Camp.
Camp is the only place where eating ten soggy and buttery grilled cheeses for lunch can earn you a shout-out in the announcements. It is the only place where you can get away with wearing tie-dye every day, and your hair balled up on top of your head. At camp, people compete for the best sandal tan line and no one judges your sunburnt tomato face when you come back from the river trip. Only at camp do you slip ‘n slide down a tarp of shaving cream. Only at camp are you able to shove fistfuls of whipped cream in your friend’s face and squeeze chocolate syrup on their head without them holding it against you. At camp, how cool you are is determined by the amount of bracelets and lanyards that swallow your arm, and the fact that you were able to convince people to make them for you. It is completely normal to snuggle with somebody at the table during breakfast, and not at all weird to start massage trains over dinner. Dollar stores solve our every problem, and non-kosher foods appear in our dreams. Getting mail at camp is like finding money. Getting soda on Saturdays: a thrilling privilege. And everyone begins to believe that there is no tension an icy pop can’t ease. It’s acceptable at camp to live life in a bathing suit, and to show up everywhere with lake-watered, knotty hair. People share anti-itch cream like they lend out pencils, and share drinks like no one isn’t family. Only at camp do we cut up shirts religiously and find any excuse to design and order new ones. Everyone is in on the inside joke. People you live with still always hug you good morning. You become incredibly close with someone in a matter of hours, and by that same time next week you’ll call them your best friend. In a single day you wear an average of three outfits, shower twice, and consume enough carbohydrates to feed a family of four. It is uncommon to still have your voice after a cheer session, and common for dance parties after lunch to leak into rest hour. You start to consider ninety degrees a cool day, and learn to never travel without your best friend the Nalgene. Only at camp do we miss our friends after a day. Only at camp are we never alone. Camp is the only place where you are not judged by your snorting laughter at the opening camp fire, nor the embarrassing amount of tears you cry at the closing one. At camp you begin to understand the meaning of community, the importance of relationships, and the truth about who you really are. The days go by like weeks, the weeks like days, and no matter how hard you try to savor the moment, it never seems to last long enough.
Back at the Outfitters, I lifted the hanger of that beautiful dress off the rack and tucked it safely under my arm. It deserved to come home with me. And by home, I think it’s pretty clear where I mean.
Emily Jean is a guest writer for Tumbleweed Diaries. She is a current senior at Columbia College Chicago working towards a Film & Video major and a double minor in Dance and Fiction Writing. An artist passionate about story, Emily finds inspiration in a variety of creative concentrations and draws from each to construct engaging characters, compelling relationships and authentic narratives. In addition to generating screenplays and short stories, Emily has a strong acting background in both live theatre and independent filmmaking and is a proud member of BoomCrack! Dance Company, a performance-based hip hop company in Chicago. Emily hopes to continue collaborating and developing her creativity as she pursues a career in the arts.