I'm not even sure what to call this.

When I was a kid, I was sent off to a summer camp. I was nine years old, and I was excited to go. I was going with two of my cousins; they'd both been before, and would continue to attend after this particular year.

The problem first became clear when I was shown to my cabin. From the start, something didn't feel right. There were six cabins for the campers, split evenly between boys and girls. All of the girls' cabins, and two of the boys', were situated around the camp's open central area. Boys and girls were separated, on opposite sides of this area, but no building was more than fifty feet or so from another building. The recreation center, the lake, the swimming pool, the administrative building, the kitchen and dining area... it was all right there, except for one building. Robinson Cabin--my cabin, the third cabin for the boys. Even the name suggested isolation, and the cabin itself was located more than a hundred yards away from the closest neighboring building. Moreover, it was in the woods that surrounded the camp, whereas the rest of the buildings were in a clearing.

You couldn't see anything from Robinson Cabin. There was no phone in the cabin, and this was in the late 80s: there weren't any cellphones.

From the start, everybody in Robinson Cabin felt isolated. In hindsight, it's pretty obvious. I can't remember exactly how many of us there were; I want to say there were about 8, but I only had close interactions with four of the other campers. I remember the rest as a "bunch" of boys, without any clear differentiation between them, or an obvious count of "how many." I'm guessing 8 due to the arrangement of the bunks in the cabin, which I remember much more clearly. I remember that we all immediately buddied up. Over the next few days, I started wetting my bed again. This is something I had done as a small child, but I hadn't done this for several years prior to my two-week stay at summer camp. 

After the second time it happened, the two young male counselors in my cabin made me lie in it until it was time to get up. The other boys were encouraged to mock me for it, together and openly. I don't blame them; we were all going through hell. The counselors were young men, but beyond being legal adults I can't say how young. I want to say early to mid 20's, but through the skewed perception of looking back almost 30 years to something that happened when I was nine it's hard to say for sure. They might have been a little younger than that. 

One of the boys, a large boy, coped with things by becoming a bully. He didn't start that way, he was nice at first, but he was a bully by day three. I remember the time that the counselors trotted him out into the woods in the middle of the night. They forced him to stand on his toes, and pulled his right ear over a metal hook that was protruding from one of the trees. I don't know why the hook was there at all, but they'd worked out that this particular boy was tall enough to be able to reach the hook with his ear, but too short to pull it off easily by himself. Then the two counselors each took a can of shaving cream, and started to fill his eyes, ears, and nostrils with it. He was crying, and yelling, until they put some in his mouth. He started to spit and gag, but the yelling stopped. 

I don't remember how that ended. There's a lot that I don't remember, much of it is blocked out. Some of the worst of what went down I only know by inference. 

I went swimming a lot, at camp. I loved to swim, I always have. So, I went swimming, but the thing is, I can't remember what I wore for a bathing suit. I don't remember putting it on, or what color it was. This is odd, because I was always pretty worried about how I looked in a bathing suit when I was little. You might say that I obsessed over it for a while. I can remember specific details about my bathing suits from summers going back two years before this--to when I was 7--and for several years after, until sometime during my teenage years I finally stopped worrying about what I looked like in it. There's nothing from that summer camp, though. I couldn't even tell you the color--even though I know exactly what color it was. 

Towards the end of camp, the counselors were charged with making sure that any stray belongings went back home with their owners. At one point, they pulled out a bright red bathing suit. It was torn, and had holes in it--a series of small holes, like thorn holes, along one leg. It was stained with at least two different colors of stains, and it reeked of urine. They kept snickering, and asking who the bathing suit belonged to. I very vividly remember looking at it, and feeling bad for whoever owned it, but genuinely not recognizing the bathing suit. I felt like whatever boy that suit belonged to had had a worse experience in camp than I had. 

When my parents came to pick me up two days later, give or take, they asked me where my red bathing suit was. I remember feeling like my mother was angry that I'd lost it, but every boy worries about that. It might be a case of misperception. At any rate, the red bathing suit evidently belonged to me, but even in that moment I didn't remember ever owning it. I tried to remember what the bathing suit I'd been swimming in had looked like, but I couldn't remember. I was scared that something was wrong, that I had done something wrong, so I simply said "I don't know" when asked what had happened to it. 

The day before, I'd been eating breakfast in the dining area. I remember being pulled away from a bowl of the sort of cereal that I wasn't allowed to eat at home, and brought before the camp administrator. I remember feeling like I was in trouble. He told me that boys who make up stories about other people doing bad things go to Hell when they die. I can't recall if the camp was specifically a religiously affiliated one, though given my parents' and my aunt's life choices at the time it's quite likely that it was a non-denominational protestant affair. I was in the administrator's office for a while, and I remember not being able to look him in the eye, and feeling ashamed as he recounted things I'd apparently told other people about what was happening in Robinson Cabin. 

I don't remember telling anyone anything, which isn't to say that I didn't, because by the time I left camp I'd blacked out a lot. For almost 15 years, until I finally started talking about the experience and going to see a therapist, I thought I'd only been at camp for one week. It was my father who told me that I'd gone for two, when I finally mentioned some of what went down there to him. My parents were both appalled. Looking back, I don't understand how they didn't connect the dots at the time--but that's from the point of view of someone who had a lot of direct memories, memories which were starting to return, post-therapy, in nightmares and daytime flashbacks. 

I remember locking myself in a bathroom stall and wiping myself down with a washcloth I'd wet in the sink, because the only shower there was shared, and there were eight of us. The counselors forced us to shower later at night than the other boys did. With what they were doing to some of us, at least, there were boys who started to undertake these sorts of activities of their own accord when the counselors weren't around. I remember boys in the shower urinating on each other, performing oral sex, and forcing each other to lick the drains. Thankfully, I don't have any memory of that myself, but something happened early on that compelled me to wipe myself down in secret in lieu of showering properly for the remainder of the two weeks, and throughout my teenage years I had difficulty with shower. I couldn't stand to set foot in something with a drain, or to touch a drain. I still have trouble forcing myself to get into a shower today.

There was a boy who tried to write home to his parents about what was happening to him at the camp. I remember our counselors trying to stop him by telling the rest of us to chase after him and grab his letter away. I'm ashamed to say I took part, and I'm the one who found his letter, though I managed to conceal that at the time. Eventually the others gave up looking for it. I remember reading about him telling his parents that the counselors beat him, and touched him in places that made him uncomfortable... sometimes with "things," whatever he meant by that. I remember reading about how he said that only two people were nice to him. I was one of them, but then he went on to write that I wet my bed sometimes. I felt my cheeks burn, and I tore up his letter. It's hard to describe how ashamed I am of doing that. 

I'm rambling a bit. I'm going to come back and finish this another time. I don't know what else to say. I'll probably come back and edit this a bit, clean it up, some other time. I feel a little better than I did before writing this, though things still aren't particularly clear. It's been a long time since I've seen a therapist; I might go back to one now, and see if I can't make a little more progress.

User Comments

I'm glad that you're feeling better! It sounds like you went through something pretty horrific. I'm so sorry that nobody was there to help you at the time. I hope that you're able to work through the memories that are returning to you, and find some peace in your life now.