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Summer Camp

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There was somewhere in between The Palsy Shake I got when I first “rolled wheel” onto 36 Barkers Island Road and the first time I saw someone else drool into a plastic cup of lemonade unintentionally that I realized I was not alone.

This summer changed my life. You’re probably asking yourself why. I was at summer camp. Not just any camp. This was Southampton Fresh Air Home, acronymed SFAH, and this gave me some validation. I was at a camp for physically disabled children ages eight to eighteen.

The first day, I kept asking people what their condition was. A good amount had osteogenisis imperfecta, but statistically more than half of the campers had cerebral palsy, the condition that I have. Camp was really peculiar in that way. It was fantastic because it was peculiar. No one peered over at you as if you just murdered someone when you got juice all over the table or there was spit all over your joystick. Everybody knew what it meant when someone said put in on rabbit (which means go faster in your chair), and everybody was used to hearing someone say that they needed help bathing. People didn’t give a look of horror to you or ask in the unknown, “Why do you have those weird scars on your legs?” whenever you wore a mini skirt, because instead, they would take the cue and talk about each others tendon lengthening surgeries. They would occasionally comment on your G-tube hole right below your chest, but once you explained that you had a G-tube when you were little, they would stare at you confused or creeped on by the enigmatic incision.

Up until that point, all of my closest friends had always been able-bodied. In third grade, I remember endlessly searching for a disabled friend. I wanted a person that knew what it was like to be me. Around middle school, I kind of gave up on that want and put it on the backburner. June of 2012, I wanted it once more. I wanted it to continue because now I had it. I had met people with CP before, but since it’s such a spectral disorder, I often came to find that people weren’t going through the particular things that I was.

As humans, all we crave is empathy, whether admitter by us or not. Sure, we may be attracted to people who are different than us, but we are a sensitive species, and due to that delicate sensitivity, we all want to “blanket” ourselves in what we consider to be akin to us as almost acting as an inherent, yet latent survival technique. Saturday Night Live actress and screenwriter Tina Fey demonstrated this in the movie Mean Girls by tapping into the theme of “empathetic groupings” rather than cliques, as one of her characters holds up a seating chart of the school cafeteria saying, “Over here, you’ve got the cool asians, nerdy asians, drama geeks, best people who ever lived and The Plastics.” You may question if I support stereotyping after this, but I think people like to be with people like themselves. I’m still questioning as to why and I’d love to see a psychological study done on this. My best guess is a sociological protective mechanism that runs through all of us inherently. I figured this out because of one summer at camp. The first summer I did not feel alone.




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