I’m pretty sure being a camp counselor might be one of the best jobs ever. I really can’t think of a better way to spend your summer–getting paid to hang out with your friends while you play outside all day with kids who think you are an actual super hero.
My favorite summer as a camp counselor was, hands down, the summer I spent at Camp Stella Maris on Conesus Lake. I was offered the job a few weeks after the official start of camp because a number of counselors were unceremoniously fired after getting caught smoking weed in the woods (rookie mistake, kids). I was nervous going into a situation where everyone else had weeks to get to know each other and bond. But in the spirit of summer camp, everyone was super cool and welcoming to the new girl. But even with the best of jobs, you need a break from time to time. So on one of our weekends off, a bunch of us decided to go camping at one of the parks about an hour away.
It was a super fun weekend full of twenty-something shenanigans. The weather was great, everyone was in good spirits, the boy I had a crush on was being nice to me. What more could a girl ask for? My only problem was that I forgot my hair brush and needed to borrow my friend Emily’s (the boy I had a crush on was being nice to me, of course I needed to brush my hair while camping).
At weekend’s end, we returned to camp and got ready for the next batch of campers to arrive the next morning. That next morning, before the First Day activities began, we were called into an emergency meeting. Turns out that a couple of kids from the last session had come home with lice. Which meant the cabin they had stayed in needed to be sanitized immediately and all of the counselors who had been in that cabin needed to go to the nurse’s office. And while the rest of us were more than likely fine, we were encouraged to make a trip to the nurse’s office to get checked out. You know, just in case.
That session, I was assigned to a cabin of teenage girls. Oof. They were a lot. Made me want to call my mom and apologize for the 90s. Midweek, in a moment when those girls were working my very last nerve, I decided that it would be an ideal time to leave my co-counselor to handle the situation while I hopped over to the nurse’s office to get my head checked. I knew damn well I didn’t have lice; my head didn’t itch in the slightest. I was just looking for a reason get away from the shrieking, giggling pile of emotions and insecurities in that cabin.
Sitting in the nurse’s office that afternoon was like a day at the spa. Peace and quiet and someone combing my hair. “I don’t know why you think you’d have lice, you’re hair is so clean and soft,” she said while parting and inspecting my hair. I will admit it; I felt a little proud of how clean my hair was, considering that we basically lived outside. “You don’t even have dandruff, it looks good…Oh, wait. There it is.”
Pump the brakes.
“There what is?” I asked, honestly unsure of what she was talking about.
“Yeah, honey, you’re going to need to go back to The Big House. You can’t be around anyone right now,” she said as I started to fill with confusion and shame. “But don’t go inside. Just sit out on the porch until someone comes to get you.”
I walked outside in a bit of a daze. What the hell just happened? I had walked in the nurse’s office a clean-haired slacker and I’m leaving a pariah. Banished to the porch, like a bad dog.
I did the Charlie Brown sad walk back to the Big House (the main building and residence for the counselors) and walked around to the back porch. I was sitting there, retracing my steps and wondering where I’d gone wrong in life to get lice as a college graduate, when who comes busting up the stairs but my friend Emily.
“Dude, I have it, too! They told me to come sit here with you,” she said. Well, of course she had it! Not only had she been staying in the infected cabin, but she was just bragging over the weekend that she hadn’t washed her hair in over two weeks. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if she gave it to the kids (and yet I was still willing, lies, no I asked to use her hair brush).
We sat quarantined out on the porch while all of our clothing, bedding, and towels were washed in scalding hot water and dried on super high heat. After dinner, someone made a trip into town to buy all the RID lice-killing shampoo they could get their hands on. Emily and I were summoned back to the nurse’s office to begin the painstaking process of combing the lice eggs out of our hair. If you’ve never had the pleasure, let me walk you through it: you and your shame sit in a chair and using a super, duper fine-toothed comb, someone literally picks bugs out of your hair. Like a couple of gorillas (I’m sorry; is it too soon to be joking about gorillas?).
And now let’s talk about my hair for a second. Because I’m going to level with you: I have curly hair. I play a good game with the blow dryer and flat iron, but make no mistake: my hair is curly and fluffy and frizzy as hell. So when you wash it with chemicals meant to kill living creatures and skip the conditioning rinse, we’re headed for disaster. Unmanageable is putting it mildy. The nurse really had to put her back into it to get that comb through my hair. Raking would be a good word for what she was doing to my scalp. And because it was taking her so long to get through my hair, it was starting to dry faster than she was combing it. And all you curly girls out there know what I’m talking about. She’s combing the curls. Repeatedly and in different directions. She’s making it bigger. I’m slowly, but surely turning into a fluffy fuzz ball. By the time she was done, my hair was the consistency of brown cotton candy and my soul was sad.
Once declared “cured”, I was sent back to The Big House and was instructed to go about business as usual. My co-workers didn’t have that same open-armed welcome for me this time around. For the first couple of days, people kept their distance. One of my girlfriends flinched when I reached out to touch her. I’ll tell you what: there are a lot of ailments and afflictions a person can have and still be welcomed into society. Lice isn’t one of them. Lucky for me, it was the last week of camp. So even if being an outcast was my fate, it wouldn’t be for very long (spoiler alert: everyone was cool a few days later).
On the very last day at camp, while preparing the place to be closed up for the fall and winter, I was called down to the nurse’s office. She wanted to do a double check, to make sure that they had found it all the first time. Once again, I sat in the chair while she again combed through my hair. And once again, I heard her say, “Oh, there it is. Again.”
Again. Those tricky little bitches were back.
“Honey, you need to go home.”
Banished. Again. And on the last day, no less. An awesome summer ending on a somewhat unceremonious note. Let’s be real: no one wants to hug you goodbye. I mean, they will. But you can tell, they’d rather not. They really want you to just get your ass in your car and get the hell out of there before you get your bugs on them.
That night, I sat on the floor of my mother’s living room while for the second time that week, someone had to pick bugs out of my frizzy, fluffy hair. And it was the very next day that I packed up and headed to New Jersey to start my “grown up” job on Monday (I mean, who didn’t have lice two days before starting their first job out of college?).
The job that took me to Harrisburg and started the wild adventures in employment (and life) that eventually led to my recent retirement. In a lot of ways, that was my last summer before becoming a grown up (though, I use the term “grown up” loosely). And while I’m a city girl to my core, I do miss playing outside. A lot. And while I usually have no problem doing things on my own, I do go out of my way to not get murdered. So that being said, if anyone wants to go camping on a lake, I’m so down.
And don’t worry. I’ll bring my own brush.