When I was 16 I went away for the summer. I went to camp.
Not as a resident, as an junior counselor.
This was 1988, the same time that the movie "Precious" takes place. Harlem and NYC were tough. So was Detroit. They were neck and neck every year for crime.
Don't misunderstand me, I grew up in a suburb of Detroit. Roseville, off of Gratiot between 10 and 11 mile roads. (As you may recall from Eminim 8 mile road is the northern border of Detroit.)
So I got this great gig. From my all-girl catholic high school. Away from my parents all summer. Be a counselor an hour and a half north, just past Port Huron. An all-girl catholic camp for inner city Detroit kids. Yes, I would be making a whopping $75 a week. But who cared???
I was 16 and on my own for three months. My own person, my own adult. Who could dream of more?
Problem is that they couldn't staff the camp. There were supposed to be two counsellors and one junior counsellor to every cabin. That didn't happen. Each cabin had one counsellor and one junior counsellor...who pretended to be an adult. I purposefully wore my dad's University of Detroit sweatshirt often so the kids thought I was at least legal.
But I wasn't. As a matter of fact I was 16 and in charge of a cabin of 14 year old girls. And these girls were being sent away for a reason. They needed to escape, to get away, to get a new perspective. Lake Erie, walks in the woods, and camp songs helped. Anything to get out of Detroit for a little while. And only the charity cases. It was St Vincent De Paul after all.
Each group stayed for two weeks, and there were four groups. The cabins held 30 girls apiece. They cried when they arrived because they were homesick, and then they cried when they left because they didn't want to go.
There is only one girl I remember. She was difficult. Every step, every turn she fought me. A lot of kids can be defiant, but this child was abusive. All she wanted to do was make me cry.
She succeeded. I thought I hid it well. She finally said something that hit home, and I ran out to the lake to hide my tears.
That was when she stopped fighting. When I came back she apologized for making me sad. And behaved from then on.
Tonight watching the movie Precious reminded me of her. She was a person who lived a life full of troubles and abuses that I honestly could not and cannot fathom. She was probably shuttled off to camp to get her out of the way. Here I was a blond girl who was frickin happy all the time trying to cheer her ass up. About what???
So of course she worked hard to find the status quo. Bring back the anger and disappointment. Comfort. But I didn't react the way she knew. I only fought back so much. And she realized that she didn't want to be that person to make me sad. Honestly the other girls may have shown some disappointment in her effect on me as well. Since they all liked me they didn't want to see me cry either. But it wasn't peer pressure that made her sorry. Her reconcilement was sincere.
Yet watching the movie, I wish I could have done more. I was too naive at that age to understand what she may have been dealing with, to intervene or do something. Anything.
But I was also too naive to hold a grudge. When she let go and stopped fighting I celebrated her for every moment she was there, like the rest of the girls.
One wonders, did this camp help anyone? Did they become stronger or more confident? I don't know. But I hope.
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