Thursday, July 19, 2007

Camp Long Point

*Quick update before I get to the post today - I'm still a bit shaken from yesterday, but not stirred. I'm one of a few people who made it in and the place is on high alert. Never fun. I also have a huge lump and bruise on my arm, probably from all the pushing and shoving this one woman was doing on the subway yesterday.*

The Salvation Army was a force in my town. “Give me your tired, your weak, your souls longing to be free” has nothing to do with America, but everything to do with the Army. Everyone knew about them. But, while many saw it as the place to get free food or clothes, I knew its philosophy that to feed the soul you need to feed the body. Many hours were spent at the Salvation Army. I was one of God’s Sunbeams – then later a Girl Guard. I played coronet in the band, sang with the choir, and learned how to play the timbrals. I abhorred the timbrals, but it kept me out of the house. I still remember some of those moves to this day.

During the summer the Salvation Army has camps with ‘scholarships’ going to the poorest of parishioners – as in – most of us. It was two weeks where we would be free from our homes, given three meals a day, and at least the hope of compassion. Granted, the workers were just as damaged as we were as they came from the same pool, only with more years of abuse under their belt, but for two weeks there was some freedom and fun.

At night we’d go to the shore and skip stones by the lake, attaching a hope and dream to each one and praying we could toss it deep into the enveloping night and far away from us. Every morning we’d have to go to the center of the camp and sing as the flag was raised. We went to church services at least twice a day, thrice on Sundays. The day was filled with a mixture of play, arts and crafts, bible study, and choir. There were different sections of camp – ones for the sunbeams, for the choir, for the boys club, for those whose parents were in prison, etc. I usually went to the first two.

When I was old enough I fought against my mother and into a job at the camp to provide the whole summer away from my family. It wasn’t easy there, everyone was so used to distrust that there was no attempt made to connect. We sneered at the one girl whose mother worked there and was kind to all of us. Jealousy easily dominated. There was another who dreamed of being a singer and we, those who had already died, hated her for her hope of a life beyond the inevitable suffering. While what we did to her is one of those moments in my life I wish I could take back, or apologize for, I do recognize that we were the living dead at that point.

I suppose there always has to be a balance, a yin and a yang, to everything. There are a lot of memories attached to that camp. Heck, it could probably be a book – Memories of Camp Long Point. There was one man, Cliff I think, who was a lifeguard. Ever girl wanted to be with him. He had dreams too, but we didn’t hate him for them. I remember one night he and I sat up late talking, philosophizing mostly. We ended up past curfew in the musty cafeteria breathing in the mixture of decay and harsh cheap bleach used to clean the place.

Perhaps refection is its own end to the means. Those times were, I was, and now I am. As I think about Long Point all the scents and emotions come back. There was excitement that night I spent talking to Cliff. There’s remorse for what we did to that one girl. There’s fear and trepidation and just downright uncomfortableness. There’s also some freedom, happiness and laughter. I remember one night I spent sleeping on a picnic table outside under the stars, the gentle lapping of the lake my lullaby. There was one girl who always ate onions and the joke was, she ate so much that she only had to breathe on the spiders that made our way into the cabins and their legs would curl under their bulbous bodies as they die. I learned how to blow bubbles there. 14 years old and could never blow bubble gum. I remember when the girls were first teaching me, I spat the gum straight across the room and on to someone’s bed.

There were other memories too – nice bookends perhaps. Something had happened and I didn’t want to stay. There was a lice outbreak, but I don’t think that was it. The burden of being surrounded by people but still alone probably had me dreaming of the mother I wished mine was. I remember calling her crying, asking for her to pick me up. Her answer was that unless I had been raped she wouldn’t come up, and even then she’d have to consider it. Thus, it was kind of fitting that in the end she had to come and pick me up, called by the camp as I ended up in the emergency room three times. It was hives. No one could figure it out – was it something I touched in the cafeteria? Or perhaps some unknown allergen to nature. There was a fruit grove nearby, and I was allergic to the fruit but could the pollen have caused such a reaction as well? When my mother came into the hospital room she walked right back out crying. I must have looked a mess, completely swollen, tubes in and out, the hives had gone internal and I couldn’t even speak.

She came back in after I got my antihistamine shot (every hour or so) and could talk. The hospital was nice – it was small and everything was home cooked. I remember sharing the meal with my mother. It was a biscuit with chicken and gravy and some lemon cake. She took me home and was instructed to wash everything. Apparently she didn’t as that night I ended up in the ER again. Turns out she didn’t bother to wash my pillow. For that summer I broke out in hives every time the temperature got above perhaps 70 degrees F. It was horrible; I was stuck in malls all day. The doctors couldn’t quite figure it out, some diseases were thrown about, something about my cooling system needed to rebuild (I still break out when the temperature changes drastically, like going from an air-conditioned environment to outside or vice versa, but not bad), but nothing definite.

It’s amazing how it all swirls back now once I open the gate. There was the wilderness camp and cooking food in tinfoil over coals. I remember having to walk back and forth for, I think, 25 laps because I had walked between the tents. Then there was the time Tiffany fell through the cabin floor. There was a song I created to get through the long hours of washing tables, “When Mr. Frown has got you down try- pep,pep, peppep-pep pep!” I was just playing with jingles. Per kangaroo court I was banned from singing it the rest of the summer.

Truly, what would I have done without the Salvation Army? And now, as I remember this, I feel my mood shifting so much, it’s weird. I was told that dizziness and disorientation are part of the anxiety/PTSD, but it’s amazing when it hits. I feel like Jello as these memories flood in and fight for their time, time I don’t have right now as I am, technically, at work. But there are a lot emotions of loss mixed in there. Along with smiles, I loved the arts and crafts, the greenery. I have had so many dreams about Seneca Lake, even recently. It does feel like one day I need to go back and confront that lake again.

*note: All photographs taken from the Salvation Army site. Donations can be made here. It's through such donations that kids like me can get a chance to experience a different type of life, at least for a week.


Shrink Wrapped Scream said...

Good old Sally Ann, eh? I know, I went to the equivalent (and for the same reasons) over here. The sods never saw fit to send me away though - Hmph.

Victorya said...

Yeah! another one. They never sent you away though, huh? Maybe they liked you. I was two weeks at that one camp then a week at another of their camps that was deemed more 'prestigious' whatever that means.

Amel's Realm said...

Ahhhh...such a mixture of memories. You've got such a RICH life, Vic!!! Even though sometimes it's too much to bear maybe??? But still SO rich with memories...

Too bad I don't know much about PTSD so I can't truly relate to what you've been experiencing. However, I just want you to know that you're a BRILLIANT woman, Vic!!!

I admire you. :-))))

Victorya said...

Amel - good point! I'm slowly gathering stuff to beef up my links. But I think a post about PTSD is definately in order! I'm writing one up for tomorrow.

Yeah, I do have so many memories swimming around and it can be overbearing. Hence me writing them out - let them live outside of me for a while :)

Amel's Realm said...

That'd be GREAT - a post about PTSD.

Yeah, I know it can be overwhelming to have the flood of memories and emotions. And yep, it's GOOD to let them live outside of you. :-)))

Amel's Realm said...

Hi, Vic!!!

Claim your Courageous Blogger Award here:

PB said...

Hi Vic. Just found your blog as a result of a google alert and recognized the Long Point reference. Glad it was a pleasant experience. Lots and lots of kids still getting an opportunity to "escape" every week ! My daughter is a counselor and loves the whole process. Thanks for sharing ... and the PTSD post was very informative as well. Gives me some more things to talk with my counselor about. Blessings!

david mcmahon said...

Lovely shots. And what a gripping post.