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"Alright, Lizzie, I think you're set," the counselor in front of me declares. "Mrs. Buehler, thank you for registering. I'll take Lizzie from here, and you can say your goodbyes now."
Tears are already welling up in my eyes. Why did I ever decide that Camp Texlake would be a good idea? All the excitement that I thought a week of canoeing, swimming, and ropes courses would hold seems to disappear immediately. The nagging fears that I've been pushing to the back of my mind for months suddenly overcome me. What if I can't share a room with Celeste and Hailey? What if the food is awful? What if I hate it and want to come home, but I'm not allowed to? The last doubt is too awful to even imagine.
I don't want to cry while Mom is still here, so I push back the tears with great effort and am left with a lump in my throat that makes it difficult to speak.
"Bye, Mom," I managed to whisper. Words aren't enough to convey how scared I am, though, so I simply hug her. I don't even realize that I haven't let go until she gently pushes me away.
"I know that you're sad right now, Lizzie, but imagine all the fun things you'll have done by the end of the week. Campfires, roasting marshmallows, meeting new friends from all over the state. You'll still have Hailey and Celeste with you." Mom looks into my eyes and gives me a concerned smile. "I love you."
She turns and walks away before I can unkknot my throat to say anything. The registration counselor, whose nametag say "Becky", motions for me to follow her outside.
"Lizzie, by the end of the day, you'll be having a blast singing around the fire with new people you've met. I promise."
Yeah, sure, I think as we trudge (Well, I trudge. Becky is strolling rather cheerfully.) towards my cabin, Shell Lodge. This is a promise you'll have to break.
"You'll be staying in room 12, sharing it with two other people." Upon hearing this, new fears race through my head. Who am I sharing with? What if they hate me-
"Lizzie, Lizzie!" Two girls are running towards me, arms waving in excitement. "We're all sharing a room. Come on, we'll show you where it is." For the first time all day, although weakly, I genuinely smile. If I manage to survive camp, rooming with Celeste and Hailey, my two best friends, will be the reason why.
"Okay, okay, okay! I'm carrying a heavy suitcase, you guys. I can't run very fast." But beneath my facade of cheeriness, the realization that my mother is no longer here hits me like a rock in the pit of my stomach. Once again, I struggle not to cry.
From there, my day rolls downhill. The swimming pool is only open to those who pass a swim test, and I've arrived too late to be able to take it until Wednesday. My ropes course class involves, instead of zipping across wires suspended 50 feet in the air like the camp brochure advertised, excruciatingly boring teamwork-building activities such as standing on a log in pairs for as long as possible. Arts and Crafts involves gluing twigs together to make miniature tipis, and campfire singing bores me to tears- literally. I've never been so miserable before.
Just when I think that my day can't possible get any worse, it's time for dinner. My cabin mates walk down to eat in a group, chatting and getting to know each other. But not me. Even as Celeste and Hailey ask me questions about what I've seen so far and try to engage me in conversation, I look down at my feet, answering with only a word or two.
The outside of the mess hall is relatively harmless- wooden log walls, a metal roof- and gives few hints to the horrors that lay inside. Seemingly safe odors drift from the tall brick chimneys in hazy clouds that I later realize are most likely carcinogenic.
"Hey-" I stop talking as we go inside and the wave hits me. Humidity. Dust. Food smells- and not good ones. It's difficult to breathe. The air is probably more polluted here than near a power plant. I've heard horror stories about summer camp cafeterias before, but I didn't truly appreciate them until now. Bravely, I pick up a tray and move to the end of the line. It can't be that bad, can it? Thousands of girls had enjoyed summers here, and none of them died from the food. I hope. It'll be fine.
I'm wrong. As the line shortens and I approach the serving table, I can see that the steaming glop called food here is as un-fine as un-fine can be. The odors are becoming more unbearable by the second as they flood my lungs. The mush's color is very similar to that of rat poison. I cringe as a cafeteria worker- and yes, that's a painter's mask she's wearing- plops, well, not a pile, but an oozing puddle, of it onto a plate and hands it to me.
Hailey, Celeste, and I hurry to three empty seats by a window, our only hope for fresh air in here. My friends dig in immediately ("Food is food," Celeste remarks complacently), but I hold back. What is this? In horror, I realize that the honest answer is, I don't really know. I take a deep breath, or as deep a breath I can in this hellhole, and poke it with my fork. Nothing moves. Well, that's a relief. This doesn't comfort me much, though, considering that a plate of living greenish, watery goo isn't that much worse than a plate of greenish, watery goo. I scoop up a small piece with the side of my fork and bring it to my nose. Now, imagine a soup made of baby vomit mixed with mold from a rotting sandwich left in your locker and forgotten over summer break. The bite doesn't smell like that. It smells worse.
In the interest of not starving and only that, I close my eyes and carefully place the food- or whatever it is- into my mouth. Immediately, perhaps as a survival instinct, my throat closes up, and I gag trying to force the vile glop down. The solid chunks wiggle around, and I'm unsure whether or not I should just swallow them whole. The runny liquid they've been sitting in pools at the base of my tongue. It's only as it begins to cool that I can truly taste it- a sickening combination of flavors that bear a strong resemblance to wet dog food. Because of this, I shovel down the rest of the goop as quickly as possible while it's still warm, ignoring the rubbery sounds it makes as I chew. Warm animal byproducts may be disgusting, but lukewarm animal byproducts are even more disgusting.
I sigh wearily. One meal down. All that's left is congealed brown smears on the green melamine. The sight of my empty plate cheers me slightly, but only until I realize that I'm going to have to repeat this 17 times before my mom picks me up on Saturday.
It's going to be a long week.