13: Hang In There

13: Hang In There

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

Hang In There

You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.

~Alan Alda

In my nine years of life, I had some brief nights away from home at my girlfriends’ sleepovers, but I had never been subjected to the snores of total strangers. I was infected with excitement as I read about all of the sports and activities I would encounter at Camp Rippowam in upstate New York on the flyer distributed at school. I never dreamed my parents could afford to send me to this heaven in the woods or that I was grown-up enough to spend two weeks in a log cabin with unfamiliar peers. In any case, there I was, my world vanishing in backward motion as I rode in the third seat of our white station wagon. I had ample time during the two-hour ride from Connecticut to change my mind but, as the baby of the family, I felt the need to show my parents my strength and maturity.

Upon our arrival, we were given a complete tour of the camp, which was as picturesque as the brochure had portrayed. Following some juice and home-baked goodies, my father gave the director, Dan, his overly firm handshake, kissed me goodbye and assured me of his return in one week.

My first week at camp proved my strength and maturity a delusion. Thank goodness the blond, snooty cabin queens I shared sleeping space with could not see the tears I shed each night. I had developed a severe case of homesickness within the first two days that would not even subside during the archery classes I enjoyed so much.

Each morning I awoke, cringing with fear that was accompanied by the screeching melodies of native birds and the aroma of wet, dewy pine needles. I survived the required morning sessions, but during daily “free time” between 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m., while the other girls ran down to the lake to learn water skiing and ogle the camp counselor who taught it, I would return to the cabin to be alone with my sorrow. I began to count the minutes until my parents would return.

When my parents arrived for the mid-session visit, I pleaded with them to take me home. I explained to them how sad I was and how I was unable to make any friends. They did not say yes or no, only strolled with me over to the pavilion to get the attention of Dan, who was speaking with other parents. While Dan was putting his arm around my shoulder and drawing me near, my parents told him how I was feeling. Dan and my father offered a compromise. They asked if I could “hang in there” for just three more days. If, after these three days, I felt the same sadness, then Dad would come and retrieve me. They convinced me with their confident and encouraging words. I trusted my father and wanted him to be proud of me. I truly wanted to be mature enough to follow this through.

At the end of each two-week session, the campers performed a recital of Pocahontas for the parents when they came to pick up their children. The preparation for this event was a part of the daily curriculum. Some of the campers would audition for roles in the play while others would offer their artistic abilities creating stage props. I cowardly volunteered for the stage crew.

It was no surprise when the most popular camper, Christy, was awarded the role of Pocahontas. Her ever-perfect golden tresses held together with butterfly barrettes and her child-star charisma was irresistible to nearly everyone at the camp — except me. I was more than certain she had been chosen because of her status rather than her talent. It was on day one of the three-day agreement, as I was miserably slapping green paint on a prop tree while the actors rehearsed, that Rachael came over to me and whispered in my ear, “I think you should be Pocahontas.”

From then on, Rachael and I no longer whispered our childish opinions of Christy, who we both agreed, did not possess the smarts or talent to carry out her title role. Every day at lunch, Rachael and I would giggle loudly about our award-winning versions of Christy’s Pocahontas lines, which we knew by heart. Tall, lanky Rachael, with her messy, long, red hair and broken sneaker laces, would turn out to be the best friend I ever had.

It was on the night of the performance, with fifteen minutes until curtain, that I realized an entire week had passed and my camp session was almost over. Backstage, in the scurry to accomplish last-minute improvements with the other prop artists, I overheard Christy crying to Dan about how sick she was and how she could not perform. Oh, I couldn’t wait to tell Rachael about this latest tidbit! But as I searched for her, Dan found me. In as close to a whisper as he could muster, he asked, “How quickly can you get into costume and be Pocahontas?” With little thought and a great deal of excitement, I jumped at the opportunity and blurted out, “About ten minutes.”

I felt my insecurities disappear as I recited each line perfectly. I could see my own shining performance reflected in the faces of my father, mother and Rachael in the front row. I can still smell the aroma of the bouquet given to me by Dan at the end of my performance and whenever it is necessary, I can still hear my father’s voice on that night saying, “Aren’t you glad you hung in there?”

~Sandy Bull

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