My first summer. I step on the bus that’s pulled into the stretching parking lot in front of me. I take an empty seat and put my duffell down next to me as my companion for the trip. I look out the darkened window and see my parents; their faces filled with sad smiles. Before I know it, the bus is trailing down the highway. I fall asleep and wake up to about 20 girls of all ages shrieking with joy. We pass a sign that says “Camp Wayne for Girls turn right”. Everyone is standing now and my 9-year-old self is thoroughly confused. Why, I think to myself, why would they all be so excited to be torn from their parents and spend the summer with strangers? I step off the bus and am greeted by the camp’s director, Adena. She pulls me into a tight hug and says how happy she is to have me here. I am then directed to a woman named Caren. Caren would soon become one of the best people I’ve ever met to this day.
Fast-forward three weeks. I hate camp. I still can’t understand why all the girls in my bunk are so okay with being away from home. Why are the cool older girls so excited to have been forced to go to this place for so many years? Why do they all have matching clothes that say “UG ‘12”? Camp was feeling like a prison.
Week four. I’ve started to befriend some of the girls in my bunk. I have almost become acquaintances with them. We’re sitting in our bunk one day as it’s raining cats and dogs outside. I’m on my bed, explaining how much I love Disney World to my counselor, Ash. All of the sudden, the wind starts to pick up. The trees are shaking and a loud BOOM sounds throughout the connecting bunk. The girls who share a hallway and cubby/bathroom area with us come running in and the girls from our bunk run to them . We turn to look into their bunk and see what’s happened: a tree has fallen through the roof. One of the camp owners, Matt, comes running into our bunk and instructs us to get into golf carts as he drives us to a safer place on campus.
After a few days, the bunk is repaired. I am scarred from this experience. I can not help but think how dangerous this place is and how I will never ever go back. Yet the next summer, I find myself back on that bus.
Although I had not realized it then, this experience made me brave. It taught me to stay calm and be alert because things can change in a second. I cherish living through this dangerous dilemma because it has made me a stronger person and I am grateful for this characteristic.
Skip ahead to my fourth summer. I once again find myself getting on the familiar coach bus that will take me off to Camp Wayne for Girls. I look next to me and notice a big difference from my first year: I am sitting with a person, not my bag. It is my friend Nicole. Nicole is my family friend and became my camp friend in 2012. I smile an unconvincing smile because, for the fourth time, my mom has convinced me to give Wayne “one more try”. Once again, we’re veering past the Camp Wayne sign and pulling into the upper basketball courts. I step off the bus like a soldier going into war. I am greeted by Adena and sent off to my bunk. I am now well aware of the other girls I live with, having been with them for three years prior. We are seniors, now in upper camp. The summer of 2015 changed everything for me. I finally started to really love camp. I became unimaginably close with everyone I was with and I began to understand camp and the excitement everyone felt about it. I thought it couldn’t get any better. I thought.
Now I’m at my sixth summer. 2017. I’m terrified. This summer, I am supposed to combine my bunk with the two other bunks of girls who are also my age. There will be 31 of us living under one roof, sharing one bed area, one bathroom, one closet, and one summer. The night before I get on the now thrill-inducing bus, I have a huge panic attack. What if they don’t like me? What if they think I’m weird and want nothing to do with me? What if I have the worst summer of my life? I suppress these feelings as I arrive at the bus stop. The girls’ bus and the boys’ bus are both here and I see so many of my friends who take the same route as me. I see the boys from my age group, who I wave to, as I know I will see them in a matter of days. I run to my bunkmates, new and old, embracing them in a huge hug as we slam together. I think to myself, in this moment, how I have never smiled so wide in my life. As we see the Camp Wayne sign, I am screaming. I’m standing and cheering and laughing with my friends, thinking about how we have finally made it back. We got through the year and we are finally back. I look to my side and see not only my friends, but also a small 9-year-old girl, nervously awaiting her first summer at this place called Wayne. Little does she know what’s coming. My 30 new and old bunkmates and me run to our bunk. We all laugh as we unpack our things and get settled into our bunk. Throughout this summer, I do all the things that I questioningly watched the older girls do my first summer and that I am doing now. I dress up in insane costumes for all-camp evening activities. I stand up on my chair in the dining hall at every meal and scream and sing until I can’t use my voice anymore. I stay up late on the porch, pouring my heart out to my best friends as they do the same to me. I sit in circles at socials with the boys and talk for hours about the most random things. I climb and ski and draw and dance and cheer and run and do everything I would never do if it weren’t for Wayne. And then it’s over. I set my burning candle out on the lake at night and allow myself to be held by my closest friends as we all cry in harmony. Once again, another summer comes to an end. I wake up in the morning and I am expected to leave and pack the rest of my things. I hold hands with other girls as we walk dejectedly to the buses. I hug my friends like I’m afraid to let go. I leave.
These girls are my best friends. I can be my true self with them and them with me. Camp is my safest, happiest place and I am forever beyond grateful to have met them all. I cherish every moment I’m with them and that I’m at Wayne.