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We're all cookies here - you'll fit right in
Cookie– n. a physically disabled person, esp. a SFAH camper.
butterfly – a SFAH camper or staff member, but especially a camper
When I woke up this morning, it was a very strange feeling not to have to see plastic flamingos hanging from the ceiling of my bedroom. Being able to see blown-up versions of playing cards that were stuck to the wall everywhere I turned was a regular occurrence for the past three weeks or so.
It was an even more strange feeling to not see my friends looking like zombies when they had an "I wasn't drinking at all last night, but I stayed up way too late talking to my friends and eating food filled with sugar, so now I seems like I have a hangover." moment. To not see them, all 14 of them jolted up by songs in resemblance to "Your Love is My Drug" by Ke$ha, as Audrei,with her sweet, yet loud and authoritative voice yelled, "C'mon OGs, let's head to Flag!"
I feel a sense of loss knowing that until next summer, before each breakfast, I won't chant or see an American flag being hoisted up a pole by someone in a wheelchair. I won't be hearing the question, "Is someone getting your food?" jetting out of people's mouths left and right under the sound of moving silverware. That I won't hear Moe say that she wants Lucky Charms and orange juice. That I won't hear Nate, everyone's favorite ginger, and his voice booming through a microphone: "Gooooooood morning EVERYBODY!",and then after the whole schpeil, "Dominic the Christmas Donkey" would start playing, as you could hear Missy singing her heart out. Lord knows why we listen to that song in June and July, Can someone please tell me why? No, but seriously, did I miss something?
Rest hour is per usual: I spot Moe, Angelique, Emily, and Sarah in their usual spot, which is a little seating area right next to the a building called the "schoolhouse" (sort of a long story), so I go over and join them. They're chatting about everything from how they remember Brittany Spears' music being played at all their birthday parties to college plans to Disney movies to Moe telling Becky what camp used to be like. Becky is usually on the wooden ramp behind the usual possy of girls, always looking down to listen in on the conversation and always raising her hand like she's in a classroom when she wants to chime in and say something.
Usually either Meghan or Elonna (OG counselors) would come over and ask if we've all had sunscreen put on yet. Most of us all say "no" at this time of day, so they procede to lather us in SPF 50.
Sarah had been reading a book over the course of camp called The Toy Campaign. She liked to have Moe read to her and Moe loved to read to Sarah back. Sarah handed Moe the book each morning and each night, as we all sat around the two, and observed how Moe took on a very maternal role in the OG bunk to all of us, but especially towards Sarah. They were like mother and daughter when they read. Of course, no one could replace Mama Audrei as our true camp Mommy Dearest.
Now, let us rewind. I was 16 years od in 2012. During that summer (June and July), it was my first year at a camp called Southampton Fresh Air Home. To say the least, this camp changed my life for the better. Now, I know as you are all probably thinking, “How could time at summer camp for three weeks change a person's life?”
From 10 days old, I've had a little pesky and malevolent condition called cerebral palsy. For those of you who haven't heard of the very common disorder, it's basically when the part(s) of the brain that conttol muscle coorodination, posture, balance, and other parts (usually involving movement) get damaged in some way during the first few years of life.
Not only did CP take a toll on my physically, it alsoo took a toll on me mentally, emotionally, socially, and even academically to some extent. I always felt very alone my whole life and felt like no one understood me. I had met several people with cerebtal palsy before, but since CP is such a spectral disorder, I often felt like the people that I met weren't going through the particular things that I was.
Thus, when my physical therapist, Molly found out about the camp from her dear friend and former patient (or whatever you would call it), Anastasia Somoza, who is an alum of the ptestigious Georgetown University in Washington DC and a graduate school student at The London School of Economics and Political Science, she couldn't wait to tell me all about it.
The camp is located in the notorious area called The Hamptons. The Hamptons are a cluster of affluent resort villiages on Long Island, New York. Due to this, alike to what one might think, the camp “campus” is drop-dead gorgeous with scemic views, masses of green blanketing it, and not to mention with an unfathomable abundance of beautiful hydrangeas. Can you say absolute paradise?
Although I do live on Martha's Vineyard, which does have a camp appropriately tilted The Cerebtsl Palsy Camp (it does host other disabilities though, such autism and Down's syndrome), affectionatly nicknamed Camp Jabberwocky, on what many people might consider paradise, I can't help but feel just a little bit jaded from time to time and in need of a change of scenery, as well as people, due to the fact that I live there year-round.
When I first arrived at camp, three cheery young women came to greet me in the big and white wheelchair van. The first one out of the group to introduce herself was Audrei, who was soon to become one of my favorite people, as well as my head counselor for SFAH 2012. I've been known by my closest friends and family to have extremely good intuition, especially when it comes to people. I knew these were my people, from the minute I “rolled wheel” on 36 Barkers Island Road, which was to be my Home for the next three weeks.
After my family left, I went in the bunk to meet my fellow Older Girls. the first one I met being Becky. When we shook hands, it was the most cool thing to realize that she had “The Palsy Shake” as I call it. Something as simple as the physical awkwardness of the person's handshake can be markers for doctors, patients, therapists, and anyone who is around it.
One of the biggest things that a person has to know about SFAH is four measley little words: Bunk rivalry means chants. Of course its a friendly rivalry, but we do try to beat and mock the other bunks. For example, a chant of the OG bunk based off of Gwen Stefani's “Hollaback Girl” goes a little something like this: “Said the Older Girls are runnin' this place, so ya better not get in our face 'cause there ain't no better bunk, yeah, there ain't no better bunk yeah, said the Older Girls are runnin' this place, so you better not get in our face 'cause there ain't no better bunk, yeah, there ain't no better bunk, yeah, OBs are bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S, OBs are bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S!” I overheard some of the OG counselors remarking about how they had to change .their pronunciation of the word “bananas” to blend with the overall American pronunciation.
However, despite the fact that those counselors felt like they needed to blend with the American accents, this is debatable. The reason I say this is because contrary to the counselor conversation above, the bulk of the staff at SFAH is from the UK. At SFAH, not hearing English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh accents would have everybody thinking it was the apocalypse. I like it though. My mum is English (hence the word “mum”), so I felt “at home” in some strange way.
At home was exactly how I felt. Like this place called Southampton Fresh Air Home was where I belonged because these were “my people” so to speak. Camp was really peculiar, but great. It's peculiar because I'd never really been used to people being used to my disability. I'd never really been around people who wouldn't look at you as if you just murdered someone when you spilled ice tea or pink lemonade (the unofficial SFAH drinks) all over the table. I'd never been around people who knew what you were talking about when somebody said, “Put it on rabbit!” or people that said, “Hold on, lemmie just get her dressed, and then I'll get you.” It was if I was in an alternate reality or something, and the sheer empathy got me on such a “high” that cannot be fully explained. We all got the “What's wrong with you?”, the patronizing “Hi sweetheart!” even though the people in my bunk we're all in our/their mid to late teens. We would have conversations about our surgeries, verified by the deep scars on our legs and feet. All of it wass surreal and amazing and life-changing, from splashing in the pool and not feeling like I was going to drown to chanting my head off to not feeling depressed to every single night feeling like a giant sleepover to see wheelchairs, walkers, and crutches baking in the sun. That was what it was. I was with my butterflies. They were my cookies, and we were all in a pocket full of sunshine called Southampton Fresh Air Home.
Campers for SFAH Session 1 2012: (OG sisters)
Raquel • Amanda • Sam • Kiara • Victoria • Moe • Emma • Jojo • Sarah • Jerica • Emily • Paige • Becky • Angelique
5 things that remnd me of camp that no outsider would ever guess: