We marched down the hill to put our toiletries in our designated swollen wooden cubbies in the damp bathroom. The long, low room was already saturated with the colliding sweetness of various hair products and the ordinary thick odors of communal living. No one said, but I'm sure we were all feeling far too old for this experience. We were taken to the rehearsal barn and shown where to put our instruments and our music. Camp lore has it that in the 1880s the camp had been a sheep farm, and without too much strain I could imagine myself as one among the gang of Hampshires or Dorsets, waiting for my grain, adding my baaing to the chorus, and presumably safely grazing.

After our things were situated in the rehearsal barn, we needed, already, to escape back to the cabin. On our way we walked through the concert barn, where a tall, boyish young man was playing a Handel sonata for violin that had been transcribed for the string bass. It looked as if his instrument had been stitched into his side, as if a large, ungainly, deep-throated girl had attached herself to him, and what else could he do but make her speak tenderly? The notes of the accompanying harpsichord glittered along with the dust motes in the dim post-and-beam space that had one floor-to-ceiling panel of windows. In the distance the Green Mountains were a soft blue in the sunny haze. Jennifer, the cellist, said breathlessly, "I could go home happy right now."

Good idea, I thought—we could all go home happy at this moment! I had come to camp to be a good sport, but I did not really want to be there, I did not want to brush my teeth in the dirty sink in the steamy bathroom, did not want to sleep on the plastic-coated mattress, and I didn't much want to play the bombastic, silly Telemann overture.

Not so many years before, I had dragged my daughter to a wilderness camp in Vermont. She clung to me weeping as I'd tried to say goodbye, and although we later heard from her counselors and knew that all was well, she herself did not send us a single sentence for the month. When it was over, on the way home in the car, across Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, all the long way across Ohio and Indiana, through the congestion of Gary and Chicago, and finally into Wisconsin, she alternately sobbed and feverishly wrote to her new friends. I couldn't help remembering that feeling I'd had as a girl, the sense that you have left your very heart behind as your parents drive you inexorably toward your bleak town, back to your old gray life. There, it turns out, your family and your friends don't see the person you've become, the person you were meant to be all along, the you who emerged and was acknowledged and treasured at Camp X. What you have left of Camp X, besides the secret knowledge of your best self, is your worn list of addresses, the photographs, the water from the lake in a jar, the sand in an envelope, a few leaves from the tree, songs that matter to you past speech that you will sing to yourself for solace, and private jokes that are the funniest things that have ever been uttered, which no one at home can understand even if they would consider listening to the whole setup. Love, nothing short of love more real than you've ever known, has been seared into your being, and no one can tell this about you at home, and no one cares.


Next Story