Monday, May 18, 2015

The Long Silence, Part 2: Confessing Secrets

As my last post illustrated, I kept a lot hidden from my parents. I could tell Dad a little, but there was still a limit to his ability to understand me. As for my mother, forget it. Over the past few years I have slowly begun to tell them about the emotional and mental turmoil I experienced as a teenager, especially in terms of trying to navigate crushes. It is not much different than the coming-out process that LGBTQ people go through, confessing feelings and thoughts that most people think are "wrong". Even today it is still awkward telling my parents about things that I had kept from them for so long, because I am so used to being told that my feelings are "wrong" and that my actions are "immature." This operant conditioning is a result of what I heard in my formative years, over and over again: I was too old to be a tomboy and that I should like typically feminine clothes; that I should have crushes, but not so intensely; I shouldn't feel devastated if someone hurts me, because I probably brought it on myself or am just misinterpreting them... and so forth.

This blog post has two confessions about the summer of 1998, when I was in the CIT program at Camp Negev. On the first day, the head staff broke the shocking news to me that I was not allowed to work with the kids. I also developed a crush on one of the counselors, Omri. Although the summer was mostly good, both of these aforementioned circumstances caused me a lot of stress. When I was hit with the bombshell that I was not going to get to work with kids until possibly 2nd session (and fortunately they did let me work with them 2nd session), they essentially had told me, "You made your bed, now sleep in it." Had I made some really stupid mistakes in the past that they were right to be concerned about? Yes. Did I have some growing up to do? You betcha. But both then and now I felt their concerns were hypocritical because these people were guilty of their own appalling inappropriateness: smoking weed on camp premises, leaving kids alone in cabins, yelling at kids who were a little "different"... But just imagine the stress I felt, with little sympathy from most of the staff. In fact, I was expected to repress any frustrations I felt and keep a Wendy Wright smile plastered on my face. How could anybody be expected to work under that kind of pressure?

This is where the secrets come in. Mom, Dad, I have something to tell you. Two somethings, actually. I vaguely alluded to the second one at the end of the summer of 1998, but I refused to elaborate because I knew I would be lectured about how I couldn't blow up and I had to keep my cool... even under that horrible pressure. Now you will finally know these secrets, and I'm sure by now you've figured it out: The Monster visited me that summer, twice as a matter of fact.

The Monster's First Session Visit:

During first session, I did the math and figured out that the only reason that I even got into the CIT program was because my friend and mentor, Jonas (who that summer was working at one of Negev's sister camps in upstate New York), persuaded the staff to let me in. One day, Jonas came to camp to visit with the sister camp he was working at. As soon as I saw him, I ran and practically jumped him as I gave him a hug. I said, "It's so good to see you!" Then I said to him, "I figured it out-- you talked them into letting me in." Jonas gave a non-committal shrug and laughed awkwardly.

And then the pieces fell abruptly into place. Think we Aspies can't read between the lines? I concluded then that I had misunderstood-- Jonas didn't fight to get me into camp, but rather he made sure I didn't get to work with kids. When I realized what had happened, I felt shocked and horrified, and that my friend had stabbed me in the back. This was the guy who I thought understood me and who was always there for me, only to betray me in one of the worst possible ways. In short, I felt humiliated. I said, "Wait a second. You didn't want me to work with kids. Some friend you are!" And I stormed off.

I tried to keep the tears in because I knew I couldn't be visibly upset-- after all, mature people don't have emotions, right (yes, dear, that was sarcasm-- you see the ridiculous standards people held me to?)? But one of my counselors could see that I was upset and forced it out of me. I cried and screamed because I was in such horrible pain. She tried to calm me down, but neither she nor anybody else understood what this was doing to me. They just saw the superficial behavior of having an emotional outburst, not the devastating buildup that had led to it, with my realization about Jonas being the catalyst.

I tried to find Jonas again but he was nowhere around. Turned out he was taking his kids tubing on the Delaware, so I had to wait for him to get back. When he finally did get back, we sat and talked. It turned out that I was right the first time-- he had fought to get me into camp because he knew it would damn near kill me if I couldn't go to camp that summer. And while I may have jumped the gun about him making sure I didn't get to work with kids, it wasn't entirely unfounded. He agreed with them that I wasn't ready yet. After he explained this to me, I felt somewhat better. But of course I was still hurt that for months he and others had known I was not going to get to work with kids and that I didn't know until the first day of camp. I was still very upset that he had kept this from me for several months. But the bombshell? He thought I had known. He thought the camp director had told me months ago.

I also told Jonas that I didn't like one of my counselors-- we'll call him David-- and that I got the feeling he didn't like me and had no sympathy for me. Jonas, naively, said that David cared about me-- cared about me so much that he had driven down to the river to tell Jonas what was going on with me. Sorry, I call bullshit on that one. David had had it in for me then. He was nasty to me on several occasions, and I don't think by driving to the tubing site to talk to Jonas he wanted to do anything except rat on me.

So there you go. The first visit from The Monster. And of course nobody forgot it, and it was just another mark on my Chalkboard of Mistakes that prevented them from hiring me as a counselor the following summer.

The Monster's Second Session Visit

Mom and Dad, you probably don't remember this. But I had vaguely alluded to getting "a little upset" on a three-day, twenty-mile-hike camping trip during second session. I refused to elaborate, and you kept unsuccessfully trying to force it out of me. This is what happened:

The night before we had left for the camping trip, I was in the shower... OK, I admit it; I was just standing in the girls' shower because I knew that my crush, Omri, was showering with some guys on the boys' side (it was a bathhouse-- girls' and boys' showers were separated by a wall). So of course I hoped to accidentally/on purpose run into him when he came outside. What happened? I overheard my name being dropped a few times. When Omri came out of the shower, I asked him what was said. He said that he and others had said that they were tired of hearing me "bitching", complaining about things. In some cases some things that I had said as a joke were misinterpreted as me complaining-- and sadly that still goes on with me today.

 Omri and I had a very tense talk, and I knew that he was done with me and that he was tired with me (another note-- it wasn't that I couldn't  pick up on these cues, it was more that I didn't know what the fuck to do with them!) and that with only a week of camp left I still had a lot to do to prove that I could come back as a counselor the following summer. I went to bed that night, crushed that Omri was tired of me and crushed that my chances of being hired as a counselor the following summer were essentially zero. I may have been given kids to work with 2nd session, but I knew damn well I wasn't out of the woods yet.

The next day I was very quiet until I confronted one of my close guy friends who had been in the shower the night before when my name was dropped. He said that someone had made a passing reference to me "bitching", but my friend also had told others that I wasn't given enough credit for the good things I did for the campers I was in charge of and that people seemed to only notice my mistakes. Would have been nice had Omri told me about that part.

The rest of the day, walking mile after mile, was quite a bit tense for me. That evening, as we set up camp, I accidentally knocked over a box of cereal, its contents spilling on the ground. The other CITs who were around said, "Julie!" Of course it was probably a momentary thing, something they would have laughed about ten minutes later. But I was like a soda bottle that had been shaken over and over, with finally someone taking the cap off. I snapped. My emotions, which had to be put on the back burner in the name of "maturity", spilled out along with that cereal. Another visit from the monster, screaming, crying... I hurled someone's flashlight across the clearing, and the damned thing broke (fortunately its owner forgave me-- the kids in my group were generally very accepting and nice and understanding towards me). My counselor-- the one I liked, not David the Dickhead-- was trying to calm me down, just as she did first session when the incident with Jonas happened. But I was in hysterics. I was hurting because Omri wasn't my friend. I was hurting because I couldn't be a counselor. And I knew that my outburst was the nail in the coffin, and that I absolutely wouldn't get hired the following summer. I was right.

Nobody, nobody, nobody understood how devastating it was to have strong feelings for someone only for them to want nothing to do with you. Nobody could understand the confusion I felt that things had turned out like this after Omri had treated me like a friend in the beginning of the summer. Nobody understood how hard things in life were for me that everybody took for granted.

And back then nobody knew the name for my condition. I was simply a "behavior problem" and I was "immature". My visits from the Monster were seen by others not as overwhelming frustration that I could no longer keep bottled up, but as childish temper tantrums. Needless to say, these two incidents were the most cited when Camp Negev explained why they wouldn't hire me as a counselor.

Nobody understood me, and I didn't even understand it myself. So Mom and Dad, why would have I told you about these things back then?

No comments:

Post a Comment