The last time I went to summer camp as a camper, I was twelve years old. I'd started going around eight or nine, so by then, it was more of a comforting tradition then a new adventure. I knew it was my last year as a camper, but I also knew I could return the next year as a counselor's aide, and eventually as a full counselor. Quite the aspiration, back then.
The first six days went just like every other year, with the typical camp stuff. I woke up on the last morning on my back, in the woods, alone. I was bleeding profusely from two separate knife wounds, likely had a mild concussion, and couldn't hear anything. I still don't know if I was in shock and briefly deaf, or if it was just so intensely, perfectly quiet that there was nothing to hear. I don't think I knew the word rape yet.
The attacker was a fellow camper, who had lied about his age in order to slide under the below-13 rule. He was 16, and had gone with the specific mission of breaking a bitch in. He'd told me this during a lull in the night's activities, and I never asked whether this was an individual plan or a gang thing. I didn't care. I still don't.
I made it home with the help of an accomplice of his, an adult and a counselor at the same camp. He who said all the right things to ensure maximum trauma and minimum healing: don't tell anyone, he'll find you and hurt you again... your parents won't believe you anyway... it happens all the time, no one cares...
It was at a church camp. I don't know where God was that particular evening. I didn't tell my parents until I was fifteen. I left home for college a year early, at seventeen, and will always be grateful that I was smart enough to escape then.
It was many years before I could withstand the physical sensation of being in the woods at night, and I still cannot lie on my back and look up at the sun through the leaves. My physical wounds healed over the course of several weeks; my emotional ones closed up after about ten or twelve years, with a few raw edges still vulnerable to the right - or wrong - combination of statements and sensory input, even now.
And yet, in less than an hour, I'm leaving to bring my seven-year-old daughter to her own summer camp. We're three states away, and it's an all-girls camp. She is as excited as any human can possibly be, and Emily has a special gift for radiating just a little more excitement than the rest of us. I consider it another rite of passage, parenthood-wise; letting your kids do the fun and innocent things that somehow twisted around to hurt you, and trusting that your experience was a fluke and not a genetic predestination. I will put on a smile for her, knowing in advance that sometimes my smile will get a little ragged and brittle around the edges, and I will wait until I'm back in the car to cry.
And she'll be all right. I believe this because it's true, and because I have to. She'll be okay.