Summer of 1970: Postcards from Summer Camp by Marcia Heath

I worry about what will happen to the kids in my cabin. They are my little lambs, nine years old, and I am their shepherd. They have fears I can see in their eyes. They’re scared of the dark, of spiders in the shower, of me. I have anorexia nervosa, but no one says it. I am nervous all the time, it’s true. I wear a thin smile for my kids. I weigh 98 pounds, and I’m 17 years old. I hate the camp food, I write in my first postcard home. My mother writes back with news, all cheery, and tells me that I should enjoy the s’mores.

I’m a sailing counselor, which places me higher than Louisa, who teaches arts and crafts, but lower than the head counselor, buxom Betsy. She’s related to the Christian Scientists who run the place, so we laugh extra hard at her lame jokes. She puffs out her chest when she sings the camp songs, on key and from memory. She likes her biscuits piled high with butter and makes constant fun of the boy counselors on the other side of the lake. She may have “done it,” I’m just guessing.

Sometimes she watches me at breakfast when I cut my scrambled eggs with a knife. My butt is bone against wood, and my frizzy hair is falling out in clumps. I can’t stand a mirror.

I write home about the sing-alongs and what fun it is to teach kids how to hoist a sail. My little brother sends me a postcard about his new blue bike. I prop it on the pine shelf over my cot, right next to my giant bottle of Prell shampoo.

On rainy days, the kids sit in a restless circle in the boathouse. We tie knots with pre-cut lines that smell like mud from the bottom of the lake. The bowline (pronounced bowlin) is my favorite knot to teach. It’s easy to tie and untie after bearing a load.

My camper with long black hair, Natalie, sobs at night. I worry about her the most. Her rich Parisian parents told me she’s here to have fun and learn English, but she mostly speaks French. Behind her back, the other kids snicker at the French way she says poo. Natalie’s parents pay me to give her piano lessons on the old upright in the dining hall. When I ask Natalie to play a D scale, one sharp, no flats, she keeps her hands in her lap. I don’t know what to do with her. She’s already sad enough. She just stares at me with her dark eyes, set wide. She’s going to be a knockout.


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