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Dirty gravel road to home
6 weeks. It’s a small period of time that can make your life or break your heart. Or both. Unfortunately, I’m not going to tell you some inspirational story about our combined high school sports team making history and going to state. I’m not going to tell you about my mom having cancer, or me falling in love with nothing more than a look. I’m definitely not going to tell you my regrets about not kissing my grandpa goodnight the night before he died. Instead, I’m going to tell you about a small, dusty theatre camp, located near the Podunk little town of Snowden, Washington, and how it changed my life.
CGST. Short for the Columbia Gorge School of Theatre. My mom first told me about it when I was 8. During an all school play in kindergarten, I realized that the way people’s faces lit up when I sang made me feel like an angel. Let me just tell you, I’ve never thought of myself as beautiful, and I was definitely not a good singer. But when I sang those words, the entire gym just lit up. It was the most…liberating feeling. From that moment on, I knew that I loved theatre. Not to mention, I was a ham. Not literally, that would be a little freaky. But I loved to be weird, I loved being in the spotlight, I loved all that. When my mom said I should check out this theatre camp up in Snowden, I thought to myself, ‘Sure. That’s really close to home, and since I’m so young I’ll only be gone a week. That sounds like fun.’ Then she told me about the money. Our family has never been poor, per say, but we’ve definitely never been rich, either. We’ve been borderline middle class. Once she told me what it would cost, I was automatically persuaded otherwise.
Missoula Children’s Theatre first came to my school in 7th grade. My school is a tiny public school with a Guinness worthy 50 total. K-12. The play was Wizard of Oz, and I got the lead as Dorothy. I’d been lead in all of my school plays, but this was different. I felt that rush. So, by fate [sorta] I heard about MCT’s summer camp. I was so excited to go! I couldn’t wait. But it was so far away. My mom told me to look into CGST again, just for good measure. They had a two week program, and it was much easier to get into. I applied, wrote a scholarship essay, and sent in the money I’d made from babysitting the pervious summer. It was NOT very much for me working the whole summer, but it was my own hard work, and I wanted to spend it on something worthwhile. When I got my letter back, I was baking snicker doodles. I always baked, and it was a half day of school, so I thought I would just waste some time and bake some cookies. My brother came in with the mail, and said I got a letter. From CGST. I was shaking. And guess what? I got accepted! I know, big shocker! So I went outside and screamed as loud as I could. I wanted this so bad. This was going to be so amazing. I’d meet kids from around the world! I’d get better at theatre! I’d get an agent! I’d get cast in a movie! I was on my way!
When the time came, I wasn’t ready. I was freaking. Hardcore freaking. My ‘friend’ had filled my head with all these ideas that I wouldn’t be accepted, that they were all just rich kids and I would be alone for two whole weeks. The day I had to leave, I started crying. I’m not a big crier, but I was bawling. What if they didn’t like me? What if I wasn’t talented enough? Was it going to be just like school? Would I sit alone everyday? My mom told me not to be afraid, that they were 20 miles away, and nothing bad would happen. So I sucked it up and walked out the door.
First seeing CGST, it didn’t look like much. It was much grander than church camp, but I’d expected Harvard. I know my expectations were high. I tend to idealize a bit too much. But getting out of my car was the hardest thing I’d ever had to do. I couldn’t move. I was so scared I couldn’t tell whether the clattering I was hearing was my teeth or my knees. I trailed behind my parents the whole 200 feet or so to the basketball court. I was greeted with a ‘Hellooo!’ and a hug. Again, I’m still trying to keep control of my bladder, and they are hugging me like I’m a long lost friend. I’ll skip the boring and lonely details and give you a basic overview: For about 30 minutes, I sat in my new bunk and doodled. No, not even that. Doodling would have been fun. I just scratched at paper. Then, I was offered Swedish fish. I was told I couldn’t leave the dorm until I had finished my Swedish fish. I was scared. Swedish fish were good and all, but I’d never been forced to eat candy before. Especially not from some random girl I didn’t know.
From that point on, I was encouraged to try new things. I believe my classmate’s exact words were, ‘If you can walk. you can dance, if you can talk, you can sing’. My first two weeks at CGST could be defined as my birth. The falsities were washed away to reveal my true self. I was independent, I was happy! I became a whole other person entirely. I realized that CGST was my home. I’d felt at home at home, but I’d never really given it much thought. I made friends there! Never again would I be alone in anything!
The next year, I jumped on applying. I had told everyone I was going to be a 6 weeker, and by golly I aimed to do just that! I wrote a phenomenal essay that described my brief stay there, and I told Jan I was going to go back, no matter what. My bluff worked! I was going to be a 6 weeker, but I needed more money. I had $600 from 4-H sheep, and I still needed more. They had given me a partial scholarship, but my family didn’t have any money to compensate the difference. I wrote to the local businesses [all 13 of them] and asked them for help. I needed to get back. This camp was the only placed I’d ever belong, and without this camp I was dead. I would fade into the abyss, I would lose my soul! Those words may seem like an exaggeration, but they were all true. I could only be sane at CGST.
Going back to CGST for 6 weeks was the best thing I’d ever done. I was nervous, sure, but only to see my family again. Only to see my home again. The second I stepped onto that dirty gray gravel, I felt the surge again. The fire in my body exploded. I was home. Finally! After 11 months, after losing myself, I was back. They called me by name and said, “Mariah’s here!” My answer was “I’m home!!” and running [with my full camp luggage] towards the basketball courts. My friends were there, waiting for me. I was a 6 weeker. My dreams had come true, and I couldn’t believe it. I would get 6 more coffee houses, almost a hundred new friends, a wedding. I would write on the walls again, I would take pictures, I would sing! I was beaming.
If I could put my time at CGST into simple words, this wouldn’t be so long. But I can’t. Nothing is simple. Nothing is plain. CGST wasn’t all happiness. There were times of hardship, no doubt. For me, the worst times were thinking my town was on fire, or seeing what my best friend was going through. I can’t get into details, because this isn’t about her. Or me. It’s about camp. To someone who has never experienced CGST, the following memories may seem stupid: A polka-dotted bra, Twin day, ‘I love you Henrietta!’, ‘Ahh, Muffin!’, Mad Man, the mole, Tali and Nicole’s wedding, moshing at Gorge Games, Rudy’s proposal, tap tap Musical chairs, fart tag, snappity-snap snap, and ‘HOW WE DOIN’!?!?!?!?!’ To you this all may mean absolutely nothing. But if you were someone who has even the faintest clue of what I’m talking about, those 13 things made you smile and tear up.
CGST is not nothing. It is most definitely something. Never has it been insignificant. The writing on the walls, for instance. First looking at it, you feel a whirlwind of emotions, going from intimidation to awestruck, from envious to terrified. You cannot know what these people looked like, what they had been through, sometimes even their names. But the one thing that you can be absolutely sure of: they loved CGST with all of their heart and soul, and they would give anything in the world to get back.
Some people know what a coffee house is. A talent show, of sorts. Every Thursday [or Friday in some cases] CGST held a no-talent talent show. The last full day of CGST, Saturday, August 9th, I read my scholarship essay aloud, as a monologue. My friends even pitched in some soft guitar and piano accompaniment. When I was finished, I got off stage, as everyone did. I was bombarded with hugs and tears, thanks’ and good-jobs. They loved it. It described CGST so well. I didn’t know what it was; I just wrote it from my heart. Jesse, the artistic director, always told us, “CGST is not magical. It’s intentional”. I contradicted him on several occasions. It’s the magic of CGST that makes it intentional. People are the way they are there because of some unseen force. After 8 whole weeks there, I finally understand something: CGST is not perfect. It’s not heaven, even though I think of it that way. CGST isn’t just a camp, it’s a lifestyle. And it’s not just a lifestyle, either. It’s my lifestyle; and it always will be.