Tuesday, September 13, 2005

sometimes i feel like i can't even sing

When I was thirteen, I went to summer camp for the first time. It was really "geek" camp of sorts. Really, it was called "Creative Scholars." I'd taken some test for creativity and scored incredibly on it so I got a scholarship to go to this camp in Natchitoches, Louisiana. It was the first time I'd been away from New Orleans for over a week without my parents. I was there about two weeks in the dorms on Northwestern University's campus. For those who are not in the know, Natchitoches is where "Steel Magnolias" was filmed. Go ahead and quote away if you are also a native Louisianian woman. Otherwise, be my guest and mock me, but I will still love you more than I love my luggage. I loved camp. I ate nothing but tinned peaches and rolls; the food was so bad. But I ran wild and giggled incessantly, distracted by boys, but mostly in love with my roommate (who was an equally happy yet serious girl) and our incredible friendship. I joined musical theater on a whim and realized I had a good voice. I wrote endless stories, braided hair, flirtingly teased the boys, walked on fences and went to Burger King in order to get the paper crown and wear it upside down.

I came home tan, lean, incredibly happy and with an address book full of new friends. At camp, I discovered my (now characteristic) love for meeting new people and embracing new situations.

The residential advisors at this quirky camp decided entertain themselves by making a radio show out of the intercoms. I still don't understand how they managed to do this, but they did. You could write in requests and leave them at the info desk at the front of the dorm by lights out the night before the morning show.

One morning, my roommate Missy and I were shocked to hear that a boy dedicated a song to me. He said he was too shy to tell me how much he liked me, but this song summed it up. The song was REM's "You are the everything." I stood in front of the intercom with a slack jaw for the duration of the song. Curly redheaded Missy looked on in the kind of shock and shared joy that only unkissed 13 year old girls can appreciate and enjoy for one another.

I never found out who dedicated the song to me. Was it the really cute blonde residential advisor about to be a freshman at Trinity College who would always talk with me and later danced with me to "Hotel California" (I've forgotten his name and that along with the photographs of him are six feet or more underwater in my house in New Orleans) at the final night dance? Was it the cute boy who was the same height (5') as me? Was it the suave guy from Baton Rouge? I'll never know, but that song always reminds me of the exquisite perfection of unrequited affection at an age when everything was an unknown pleasure waiting in the balance.

We would harass our residential advisor, Doris, to tell us stories about the boys she liked. We were too young for our own stories so we craved those of older girls. Doris told us about the guy who danced like Michael Stipe and didn't know she existed. We were all rapt at her stories at how he loved literature and flung his arms around while dancing as if there was no greater joy in the world than a good book and the abandon of dancing.

Four years later, I watched Doris get married to this very man in a chapel on Louisiana State University's campus. Now she lives in Kansas with him and their two kids. We're still in touch. Now I have stories to tell her as well.

(Thank you to whomever sent me REM: "Green" off my wish list. It revived this delicious memory that needs no photographs or clothing to remind me of that wonderful moment of youth and exhilaration.)


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