My memories of summer camp are a lot like my pictures from that time: fuzzy and yellowed with tattered edges and wrinkled corners. They are painted with emotion, altered and skewed by a hazy appreciation only time, distance and age can bring.
My summer camp memories are like a Monet painting. They are heartbreakingly beautiful from afar.
Camp occurred in the wonderful, ambivalent time which defined my childhood summers. Leisure-filled velvety soft days of scorching heat and sunshine, laughter and friendship. Each day was an in-between-day, a day without a date, as my teenage self anxiously awaited the next phase.
In the summer of 1990 when I was no longer a seventh grader and not quite an eighth grader, I spent my first week at Camp Emmaus in Mount Morris, Illinois. I was an anxious child, still afraid of the dark. The idea of sleep-away camp terrified me.
The idea of a sleep-away Christian summer camp terrified me even more. I envisioned cult indoctrination and vowed not to drink any Kool-Aid.
However, Camp Emmaus was warm and safe. It was tucked between farm lands, nestled in a forest, cocooned with rustic possibilities.
I fell in love my first summer, not only with the camp, but with a real-live boy. At 13, I was a jumbled mess of lanky limbs, harsh angles and pointy elbows and knees, more daddy long-legs spider than girl. But that didn't deter Adam. We exchanged addresses and briefly held hands on the last day of camp.
I kept his first letter and school picture underneath my pillow that entire eighth grade school year. For on the back of his school picture, he had penned a big plus sign and written our initials into each square C.S. plus A.F. He signed the picture "Love You Always, Adam."
And, oh, how I loved him! I eagerly practiced kissing other boys, perfecting my technique while picturing his face and imagining our first kiss.
I counted down the days until we could be together again.
The next summer at camp arrived and so did Jennifer. Beautiful, blonde, big-boobed Jennifer with a sassy mouth and curvy behind.
My year of chest exercises and chanting "I must -- I must -- I must increase my bust" had failed to work. I stood tall and flat next to Jennifer and disappeared into the tree line, cursing Judy Bloom.
Sure, I was jealous that summer of 1991 and every summer until 1995 as I watched Adam sample his way through the buffet line of girl campers with boobs. But, then, I remembered his picture tucked under my pillow and his promise, "Love You Always, Adam." I could wait.
The summers passed and the magic of Camp Emmaus remained. Camp Emmaus was my safe place, a place of discovery, where an anxious, awkward girl could test ideas, experiment with artistic inclinations, take risks, and exchange soft, sweet kisses with boys-not -named-Adam beneath the stars.
I remember my 6 years of camp in superlatives. It was the best camp. Those weeks were the best weeks of my childhood. All of my best childhood friends came from camp. I was the best I could be at camp.
Until I wasn't. Until I had to grow up.
Gradually, camp became less about Adam and his sweet youthful eighth grade face and more about the words he wrote on the back of that picture. Those words reminded me that I was loveable during times when it seemed like I was anything but. Those words gave an awkward, anxious, neurotic girl hope.
And when I was neither a child nor an adult, a recent high school graduate who was both terrified to leave home and counting down the days until it was time, I finally kissed Adam in a dark, abandoned cabin.
And it was awful.
So we stopped. And hugged. And he held my hand as we walked back to our large, loving group of friends.
We were destined for other people.
Adam married the love of his life, and they have a beautiful family.
I married my best friend, the love of my life, and we have three amazing children and an expanding menagerie of pets.
Camp Emmaus was the womb in which I truly developed.
Those in-between days at camp connected my adolescent in-between years, which ultimately bridged into adulthood.
Crystal Intini Alperin was born with romance in her heart and poetry in her soul. And even though her kids tell her not to, she still believes in magic and unicorns, pixie dust and happily ever-afters. When not day-dreaming, she writes for her blog, Parenting Without A Parachute.