She didn't think she was brave enough to return to sleepaway camp that year. But she soon realized that she was exactly where she needed to be.
- Posted on Jun 25, 2020
I stared at the unpacked suitcase. I’d gone to the same summer camp in Wisconsin since I was little, and I was set to return for my first year as an actual counselor. Counting down the last days of school before summer break, I was bursting with excitement. Now we were officially free from our studies, but after what had just happened I wasn’t completely sure I wanted to leave the safety of my house and my family in Indiana.
I went downstairs to the kitchen, where my mom was making dinner. “Mom, something happened today. Something really bad.” She sat down with me at the table.
When I’d arrived at school that Friday morning I’d found a note in my locker from a senior boy inviting me to his house for lunch. My friends and I all had a crush on him, and I was thrilled he wanted to hang out with me. Me! I hoped to run into him after first period, but when I went back to my locker to exchange books he was waiting for me. “So, what do you think? Can you make it?” he asked.
I looked into his handsome face. “I’d like to, but I’ll have to ask my parents first.”
“Why? My mom will be there the whole time. She goes home for lunch a lot.”
I hesitated. I knew that his mom worked at the school, so if he went home for lunch, it made sense that she would too. And I was pretty sure my mom would be okay with it, since an adult would be there. I smiled, hoping I looked pretty that day. “Then I’d love to.”
By lunchtime, my heart was pounding. I still couldn’t believe that he liked me. We met up at his locker and walked to his house together. Right away, I noticed how quiet it was inside. “Where’s your mom?”
“She’ll be here any minute now. I usually beat her home.” He grinned a heart-stopping smile. “You know, these long legs.” He shook one playfully and I laughed. “Come on, we can hang out in the living room until she gets here.”
I followed him into the other room. A hefty buff-colored cocker spaniel lay on the floor. “Oh, I love your dog,” I said, plopping down to pet her. I looked up to ask what the dog’s name was, and he was standing over me. Before I could say anything, he put his hands on my shoulders and pushed me onto my back. He climbed on top of me and started kissing me. When his hands started to wander, I got nervous. Pushing his hands away, I tried to sit up. “What’s taking your mom so long?”
He grinned again, but this time it stopped my heart in a different way. “Don’t worry. My mom always goes out for lunch on Fridays.”
He pushed me back down. I fought against him, but he was stronger than me. He put his hand between our bodies and tried to unfasten my shorts. “Please, don’t do that,” I said as I started to cry.
The noise must have grabbed the dog’s attention because she began forcefully licking our faces, squirming in between us so I was able to break away. I jumped up and ran out of the house and all the way back to school. I immediately darted into a restroom and got sick.
For the rest of the day, my hands shook and I was too embarrassed to say anything to anyone. Finally I’d gotten up the nerve to confess to Mom. “I was so dumb to think he liked me and that I could trust him.”
Mom was supportive as always, acknowledging the trauma, telling me it wasn’t my fault and promising to have a frank talk with the boy’s mother, at the very least.
“I don’t think I can spend the whole summer at a camp so far away.”
Mom stroked my hair. “Let’s pray about it, honey, and give yourself time to decide. You’ve been so excited to go.”
The next few days were tough. I couldn’t sleep, and when I did I had nightmares. By the third night I’d had enough. There’s no way I can leave home, I thought. I’ll tell Mom in the morning and we’ll call the camp to say I can’t make it.
I went back to sleep, relieved. And instead of having a nightmare, I dreamed I was at camp, where I was the counselor of the Chippewa cabin, my favorite cabin growing up. A cluster of little girls sat in front of me, listening intently as I told them about the great week we were going to have. When they scattered away, I noticed one girl, with blonde hair, sitting alone, not joining the others. I took a seat next to her. “What’s wrong? Can I do anything to help?” I asked.
She looked right at me. “You have to come,” she said. “I’ll need you.”
I started to ask why, but the dream ended before I could get the question out. When I woke up that morning, I had changed my mind: I was going to camp. My mother was glad I was going through with my plans and let the camp director know our concerns.
When I arrived, the camp director pulled me aside. “Your mom said you were dealing with some tough stuff. If being a counselor proves too much, or if you need a break or want to talk, just let me know. We’ll take it from there. Meanwhile we have you slated as the counselor for Chippewa cabin. Go get settled before our campers swarm in!”
I carried my suitcase to the cabin and unpacked in a hurry. As I put my clothes in the dresser, I prayed for the strength to be the counselor these girls deserved. Cheerful. Fun. Ready to take on any adventure. Not someone who was struggling. “Help me, God, to be just who they need,” I whispered and watched the first campers enter our cabin.
Minutes later I was surrounded by 11 little girls. Many of them knew one another from previous summers and were excited to be together again. They chattered and hugged, swapping stories and catching up.
One girl hung back by herself. She had blond hair and was sitting on the bottom bunk, alone. I went and sat next to her. “Hi, I’m Diane,” I said in my perkiest voice. “I’ll be your counselor this week.”
She looked up at me with the greenest eyes I’d ever seen. “My name is Angela,” she said softly.
“Is this your first time at camp?”
She nodded. “My mom thought it would be good for me.”
“I’ve been coming here since I was your age, and it’s always been good for me,” I told her. I prayed that would be true again this summer.
Angela shrugged. “I guess I needed a break.”
“We all do sometimes. Later today you and I should take a break in the snack bar. It’ll be my treat.”
That afternoon, over chocolate milk shakes and Kit Kats, Angela told me about her home life and why she needed a break from it. Her new stepbrother had been abusing her. “I didn’t want to tell my mom because my stepdad makes her happy,” she said. “But I’m glad I did. My stepbrother won’t be at my house when I get back from camp. He’s going to live somewhere else.”
I grabbed her hand. “I know it’s hard. Something like that happened to me too. We can help each other through it.”
That summer, I wasn’t the perfect carefree counselor I’d wanted to be. I didn’t always feel cheerful. I wasn’t ready for every adventure. But I was exactly the counselor that Angela— or Angel, for short—needed, and Chippewa cabin was the perfect place for me.
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