Author Jalynn Harris (second from left) sits with cabinmates at Pennsylvania Christian Camp circa 2004. Photo courtesy of Jalynn Harris.

Have you ever had to pee in the middle of the night and, leaving your cabin with flashlight in hand, walked to the side of the tiny wooden house and heard a rustle? Over there, in the bushes, something loosening the leaves. You stop mid stream and cut your light – your eyes adjusting to the night. And, there so black with a streak of white, you see it – a tail. You creep back into the cabin as gently as any third grader would. Your friends sleeping deeply. A skunk, you think shivering with fear, I’ll have to tell them about in the morning.

Recently, I moved. Sometimes it feels like I live in different homes like some people get oil changes. But the worst part is sorting through all the things I’ve had and have had for years, decades. Like a personal essay I wrote when I was eight years old that says: I want to preserve the Earth not just on “Earth day” but all the days we have on Earth… I went to sleep camp for the first time when I was six years old and I hated it. But now that I am eight, I love it so much. I love sleeping in a cabin.

Sitting on the floor of my new apartment, I was really shocked to read this. I don’t remember going to camp when I was six. I do though remember going at age eight and loving it and every summer afterwards. But that first week? What happened that week? Why did I hate it so much?

A fictionalized account of that first week in journal entries:

Because Mommy and Daddy aren’t here, I’m crying. Today they dropped us off. We drove all the way here. Daddy drove while Mommy read the directions she printed off the night before. Justin and I sat in the back. He drew cartoons after he read his book while I read Magic Tree House.

In the car, I saw so many trees and mountains. Daddy said we were going to the Blue Ridge Mountains, but none of them are blue. They’re all just green. Green and very far away. But sometimes close too. Especially when we rode up and up, and the roads turned like how sometimes I turn the bubblegum I take out of my mouth to play with on my finger. We drove so far up that I looked outside my window and the mountains felt like they were on my shoulder. Whenever I’m in the car, I like to play this game in my head. The game goes like this: I imagine there’s a very tall rubberband man who can leap from light pole to light pole and I watch him grab the poles as we speed along. Sometimes it makes me dizzy to keep up with him. But this time he fell off a lot because I couldn’t focus on him because I kept looking at the mountains.

I miss Mommy so much. She says when we get back we’ll go to the library to meet one of my favorite authors, Jacqueline Woodson. I already got one book signed by her, but that was when I was five and I don’t remember it so much. I just have the note in the book that she wrote and signed and says, “hope to be at your book signing one day.” – July 7

I cried so much today they let me call Mommy. That is usually not allowed. We write letters because there are no phones. But they took me to a little office in the mess hall with a phone and I talked to her. She said everything would be okay and they would come back on Saturday. Today is Sunday and that is close to Saturday but in the opposite direction.

Daddy said we would be playing games and reading the Bible. He is right. That is all we do. The gong tells us when to stop and start. Today, I stayed after craft time to keep making my gimp bracelets. But then the gong rang for lunch. Today and yesterday, I spent the day with my counselor Miss Beth because all I could do was cry. The gong is ringing. Bye. -July 8

Everything is different here. Nothing looks like the blue house we live in. But I guess it figures Virginia wouldn’t be like Baltimore because they are very far apart. Instead, everything is green and brown and bugs. Today I played with daddy longlegs by the creek. And I even got in the boat you push with your feet. I was so scared and I cried, but everyone said it would be okay because I had on a jacket that could float. I’m not sure that because the jacket can float I can too. I’m starting to think crying won’t make Mommy or Daddy come back any sooner.

Today in Bible study they said we are all sinners. Then they asked us to think about a time we did something bad. The girl next to me raised her hand and said that she had been bad when her mother told her not to stay up late, but she secretly stayed up anyways. I thought about the time I did the same thing. One of the kids behind me touched my hair while the boy’s counselor preached. I told him to stop but he didn’t. It made me mad. But then I had to pray for forgiveness because that’s a sin too.

P.S. Oh and today I got to play with Justin because the boys side of cabins decided to face the girls cabins for games. We play games after lunch and after dinner. I wanted to be on Justin’s team but I’m too young. We are different ages so I faced the younger boys cabin instead. I watched Justin play when I got out of the game. He’s really good at everything. Everyone calls me Justin’s little sister. That’s not my name. -July 9

I learned a song to remember the books of the Bible. But I don’t remember what happens after Deuteronomy. Except I’m supposed to because there’s a test on Friday. Miss Beth says we will memorize some scripture too. Miss Beth wants us to call her Beth not Miss Beth. But I keep forgetting and I say Miss Beth instead.

My favorite part of the day is canteen. I never heard that word before but it means candy and snacks. I like Swedish Fish and ice cream sundaes and peach rings. I only get one candy a day though unlike the other kids. They always ask me why I never go to second canteen. I told them it’s because I want good teeth. But I know it’s because Mommy said she didn’t put much money on our account. -July 10

I am only six, but I know what I want to be when I grow up. I want to be in heaven, first of all. And second, I want to be a writer. I told the other girls in my cabin this earlier when we had night shower (they make us shower in groups because there’s not enough time to wait for everyone to shower). The girls in my shower ignored me so I didn’t repeat myself. I haven’t made any friends yet. I am journaling now so no one is talking to me either. They are all gathered on Sarah’s top bunk, giggling. I hate sleeping on the top bunk, because I can see everyone hanging out and everyone can see I’m not hanging out with anyone. Every night, I sleep real still because I’m afraid I’ll fall. One night, I fell and screamed so loud it hurt. No one came. But then I realized I was dreaming. -July 11

Today is the middle of the week. Which means Saturday is three days away. Finally no one pronounces my name funny anymore. Well, Mr. Tom still says my name like it’s two words, but most everyone else just says it normal.

I made a friend today. Her name is Clara. I met her because I was playing tetherball and kept winning until she came up and made it so hard for me to win. I lost my first game all week and now we are going to play every day.

Devo is boring, but I like the songs. Devo is short for devotional. Today we learned that God loves everyone, even the sinners. But in order for God to love you for always and into heaven, you have to get baptized. And then maybe, if you’re lucky, you can go to heaven. Baptized means Tom or the other director would take you into the pool and you answer a few questions and then they put you under. And when you come back up you have the gift of living forever. -July 12

Because it is Friday, we had to take the Bible test. I recited my verse for the week: Jeremiah 29:1. Then I sang all the books of the Bible song. Except I failed because I couldn’t remember the whole song. I had to re-do it. Twice.

Tomorrow Mommy and Daddy come back and I am so happy because I don’t have money for Swedish fish anymore. Tonight there is a going away dinner. I think I will have a good time because I like to eat and dress up. Luke asked Sarah to go to the dinner with him, so now all the girls in my cabin are hoping to be asked by the boys’ cabin. I don’t like any of the boys here. I just hope we have tacos for dinner. -July 13

I hate moving. Not because my inner child search follows me. The pictures, journal entries, and letters force me to make peace with who I am; what I’m made of. It’s nice actually – the skunks in those woods I know very well. But I hate moving. Because there are just so many boxes to pack and too many bags to put away, and even more memories lost like rubbermen I’ve tried to keep up with as I climb this mountain.

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Jalynn Harris

Jalynn Harris (she/they) is a writer, educator, and book designer from Baltimore. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in Little Patuxent Review, Feminist Studies, Poem-A-Day, The Hopkins Review, The...