The summer before I started the 6th grade, when I was 11, I went to overnight camp for three weeks in [Nowheresville], Indiana. The prior two summers I'd gone to overnight camp for two weeks at Camp [Very Small Town] in North Carolina, close to our home in Knoxville, TN. The camp in NC was run by a Quaker family and my mother thought I should go to a Jewish camp instead. She'd gone to a Jewish camp in upstate New York for most of her childhood and she'd loved it. She hoped I would have a similar experience. I loved my small town NC camp and I wasn't happy about going to the Jewish camp, but what could I do? The Jewish camp was pretty much a total and complete nightmare.
This is a picture of me at the old camp. I'm in the upper right hand corner with the dark brown hair and the wide open mouth.
At the old camp, there were only thirty kids and we ate vegetables we picked in the garden and fresh-baked bread. There were only five girls in a cabin (see above) and we slept in rudimentary "platform" tents. I even had a little boyfriend who I held hands with each of the summers I was there. And there was a Nigerian counselor who I had a crush on.
The Jewish camp was much bigger than the old camp and there were many more campers. My cabin housed twelve girls with a little room for our counselor. The cabin itself was a real building and the bunks were lined against the walls. The cafeteria was huge and the food was terrible. I had no friends and I was even the wrong kind of Jewish. I was Reform but most of the campers were Conservative. There was a Friday night service and it contained prayers in Hebrew that I had only learned in English.
Attire was very important at the Jewish camp and I didn't have the right labels or brands. I also did not have a bra. The other girls teased me and said I needed to wear a bra. I told them that I didn't and the idea that I did was ridiculous--there was NOTHING there. They kept on. "Fine, someone loan me a bra and I'll wear it." They claimed that sharing bras was the equivalent of sharing underwear and therefore disgusting. How could I suggest such a disgusting thing? I said, "Look, it's obviously not the same thing at all. It's your idea that I wear a bra and I'm willing. But if no one will lend me one then I can't wear one. So stop giving me a hard time about it." I think that ended it. I was astonished at their rudeness and embarrassed by my lack of sophistication. Even though I was born in New York City, I'd lived in Knoxville since I was five. I became famous at camp for my Southernized swearing, which consisted of "crud" and "gosh-dangit."
At Jewish camp, prior to the Friday night service, there was a ritual called the "Shabbat Walk." All the campers dressed up in their nicest, whitest clothing. (It's traditional to wear white on the Sabbath. We never did this at my house.) The campers walked through the camp, starting at the boys' section. Every girl wanted a boy ask her on the Shabbat Walk. When the walk got to the girl's section, you would walk next to the boy who asked you.
There was one boy I liked (Morrie) and one girl I was friends with (Naomi). I hoped Morrie would ask me on the Shabbat Walk. A lot of my energy was spent trying to get him to pop the question, though I knew there was a good chance he would ask Naomi instead of me. The three of us were out by the swings and Morrie took me to the side and said, "I like both of you. You're the smart one. She is the pretty one. I'm going to ask her." I thought, "I'm the smart one AND the pretty one." Naomi dropped me immediately after Morrie asked her on the walk. Either she'd been using me to get to him or she was embarrassed. After that, I was totally alone. I gave up on having friends, gave up on the walk and I resigned myself to a completely miserable summer.
Yet, there was more humiliation in store.
There was a boy at camp, John, who liked to tease me. Like all little girls, I'd been told that when a boy was mean it meant that he liked me. I did not think that John liked me. (In retrospect, he probably did like me. Or he was a sadist. The teasing he threw my way was relentless. Even if he liked me, it in no way excuses his behavior.) John was the boyfriend of one of the most popular and prettiest girls in the camp.
John loved to harass me about my sneakers. I wore yellow Addidas running shoes with dark blue stripes. I loved those shoes. Everyone else wore white Nike tennis shoes with a light blue swoosh. I loved my shoes and no one in Knoxville wore Nikes. John would say, "What are you, a runner? Why are you wearing running shoes?" I would say, "I like them." He would say, "Don't you know they are running shoes? Don’t you even know what kind of shoes you're wearing?" I would say, "Why do you care? You don't have to wear them." Then I would try and ignore him, but he would persist. That scene was repeated many times. I hated him.
One day, at dinner, I was sitting two tables over from John and we were facing each other. He started gesturing to me and pointing to the boy sitting beside him, a boy I had never met. I tried to ignore John. I knew only pain and horror could come from anything connected to him. He continued to gesture and make eye contact--so openly and broadly that the girls at my table noticed. They said, "Jamy--is John trying to talk to you?"
Jamy [Thinking, "I hate John."]: No.
Girls: He's pointing at Danny. Ooo…Danny is really nice.
Jamy: Who is Danny?
Girls: Don't you like Danny? Everyone loves Danny.
Jamy: I don't know Danny. I've never even seen Danny.
Girls: Oooo….I think John is saying Danny likes you. He wants to ask you on the Shabbat Walk!
Jamy: I don't think so.
In fact, it was obvious that John was suggesting that Danny wanted to go on the Shabbat Walk with me, but the girls wouldn't let me ignore him. No one seemed to know that John had it out for me. I never complained about John. John's girlfriend was in my tent and was very popular. I knew I had to keep my mouth shut. Not having any friends made it pretty easy--there was no one to talk to.
After dinner there was a social activity scheduled. My group and John's (and Danny's) group met in the social hall. The girls asked me if I were going to talk to Danny. I said no. They said that Danny was really nice and I should go and talk to him. I said no. Danny was looking at me. A couple of the girls pushed me up to Danny. I found myself standing in front of him looking directly into his hazel eyes. I said, "Hi." Before Danny could say anything, a girl popped up in between us like a jack-in-the-box and said, "He's taken."
I didn't I say anything. Just stood there with my mouth open. I backed away to the corner of the room. John had planned the whole thing. The room of campers witnessed the entire of drama and, of course, I was at fault. One of the girls whose two little hands pushed me up to Danny came over and said, "Didn't you know that Danny had a girlfriend?"
I said, "How was I supposed to know? I've never even seen him before. Why did you push me to him if he had a girlfriend?"
"Well, I thought they'd broken up."
"Um, well, I guess not." I hated her too. I hated everything about that place.
The next day, Danny's girlfriend said she realized that I didn't know that she and Danny were together. She knew that John had cooked up the whole thing and even though she didn't come out and say it, she knew that John had it out for me. She felt bad about being implicated in John's scheme and asked me to join Danny and her on the Shabbat walk. I did. It turned out that Danny was a nice guy. I remember the three of us sitting all by ourselves in the cafeteria for Shabbat dinner. I was far away from John and I didn't have to talk to the nasty girls. That was my last year at overnight camp and I never wanted to go back.
This is why when Jeff asked me out in public, I ran away. Even though I knew I was pretty and smart I wasn't used to boys noticing. Maybe it's time for me to get over this. It was a long time ago and I'm all grown up now. Sort of.
This is a picture of me and my dog on the stoop of our house in DC when I was 12, less than a year after the Jewish camp. (I'm wearing one of my favorite shirts, a hand-me-down from Mom.)
Grateful for: camp.