Letter to Camp

Dear Buck's Rock,

Greetings from adulthood, which...sucks. I mean, I have to wake up on my own, I have to do my own laundry, and if I want homemade cookies at 3:00 in the afternoon, I have to make them myself. Ugh. I can't believe you left me here. Will you please come pick me up?

Like you did every ten months in the early 90's, like you did every time I showed up with my baggage, packed with angst built up from September to June. Like you did each time you reminded me that I wasn't "too sensitive" like my father always accused or "too serious" like my mother always criticized or "too weird" like my sister always mocked; like you did when you taught me that I am a sensitive, serious, creative individual with a dark side and a light side, so, you know: kind of like The Force?

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I mean, camp is where we spent days weaving on inkle looms that we made ourselves in the wood shop and spent evenings dying our hair with Manic Panic and listening to mixtapes dubbed from Seton Hall's Pirate Radio with some requisite Tori Amos sprinkled in. This is where we hung out with boys named Ua (not Josh) and Myq spelled M-Y-Q. Where we learned metalsmithing, batik dying, and bookbinding. Where I learned about Monty Python and Ani DiFranco. You know, the stuff that matters.

With this vast body of knowledge and bounty of highly transferable skills, I have actually managed somehow to craft an unlikely approximation of a Buck's Rock-inspired life: I live in the woods on a mountain with an artist-hearted farmer on the outskirts of a town where flower children, young and old, retire whether we can afford to or not and learn contra dancing and yoga and eat salted caramel and bacon-flavored everything. I teach when I want to, I write and edit when I want to, I perform regularly, and I make art just about every day. I even sell a piece now and then.

As forgone as this kind of conclusion seemed for each of us based on the dreamy smiles and passionate hugs in all of our pictures, for me, this happened against some pretty dodgy odds.

In spite of the immense privilege that afforded me my 3.5 summers to discover, the life that happened between summers, spent as it was with my malicious narcissist father and hopelessly codependent mother, was hard, to say the least. As I learned more about myself at camp, at home I learned that the picture-perfect privilege of being a Dysfunctionstein meant that, sure, I could charge whatever I wanted to my camper account, but I would spend my falls, winters, and springs repaying my father in taxes imposed on my soul. Dad paid the bill for my silver and leather and wood, but I paid the price in guilt, ridicule, and shame.

I came home from my first summer convinced that weaving was my passion. I begged my parents to get me a loom and promised that the first thing I'd make would be place mats for the whole family. I had not yet figured out the consequences of privilege, but when I got a weaving loom and some moth-eaten cones of pearl cotton for Hanukkah that year, and no warp board, lessons, or books, I started to learn that Dysfunctionstein privileges came with many warped strings of their own.

It became custom for my father to point out our placemat-lessness at dinnertime when there was nothing more obvious to chide me about. He would never forget that I was that one ungrateful child who begged for something I would never use. I schlepped that loom from city to city, apartment to apartment through my twenties and into my mid-thirties, never getting to use it, never forgetting the determined hours, the spiteful hours, the defeated hours spent trying to measure out and make sense of the tangled strands of knotted cotton.

By the time I would have been a JC, too much had happened, my soul couldn't afford another summer, my angst had turned to anger, and I couldn't bring that baggage to you.

Many people went on teen tours, took trips to Israel, and got jobs at home instead of coming back to be a JC, but I became a teenage runaway instead. I walked out of my parents' house on a Wednesday night wearing my pajamas and carrying my school books. I let my top GPA slip out of the top ten percent as I worked two jobs to survive.

I still see this as the more livable option even knowing that I ended up spending the last week of high school detoxing from a week of snorting heroin instead of getting signatures in my yearbook and labeling my underwear, overalls, and flannels to bring to New Milford.


Even though by Bastille Day that year, a man was kidnapped from his own front porch while I slept inside his house. Even though I saw my friend overdose in the backseat of a 1980 Mercury Cougar. That same week, I actually ran into one of you at a rave, and afterward, on my way to the after party at six in the morning, still high as a kite, I watched a man get murdered in the street over a parking space.

So, how did I get here?

I remembered something you told me, Buck's Rock. I remembered that there is a school in Rochester, NY where you can get a degree in jewelry design. And I remembered you telling me that the guys-to-gals ratio was 3:1. So I sent off my unimpressive transcript with a litany of explanations and applied. I brought the things that I made here to my interview and told the bearded man in the turtleneck sweater that I was a sensitive, serious, creative individual just like you taught me I was, and instead of accusing, criticizing, instead of mocking me, he accepted me.

You gave me my escape, Buck's Rock. You created that door for me, and even though I was on my knees when I went through it, I did.

I'm here because you were always there. When my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer two years later, and I transferred to NYU to be near her, I opened up my orientation folder and saw that my advisor was my house counselor from Girls' Annex Cabins.

You are what I saw in a small, Southern city, the one with a weekly drum circle in the center of town and murals under the highway overpasses and flannel worn both ironically and in earnest. You are what made me feel like I was finally home.

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You are still some of my nearest and dearest friends. You are characters in my stories. You are how and you are why I am here.

Yours. Truly.


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Vara Cooper2 Comments