When I was a kid, I spent some babysitting money on Pringles and Snickers, but most of it I saved. I gave it to dad who put it in his safe and occasionally brought it out for me to count. Camp money. I spent the year adding $5s and $10s, looking forward to that week over the summer. The week of intense friendships. A week where I could shrug off my chores and obligations and just be.
On the last day of camp every summer, I signed the back of my friends’ shirts with a Sharpie. The grass was always dewy, I remember. “Keep in touch,” we instructed. That week was life-changing. We would be friends forever. Until we weren’t. We returned home, crying in our parents’ sedans. We did the dishes, homework. We told our brothers and sisters about our week, but they didn’t get it. Couldn’t. You had to be there. I sent letters to my best friends from camp and they wrote me back. Pen pals. We stayed friends as long as we could, but real life and camp didn’t have any crossover. We couldn’t recreate camp. We lapsed back into our lives, unsure of which self was real.
That’s what residency is like, but with life crossover. It’s a week of intense friendship. There is constant camaraderie with people who get you, people like you. “Our tribe,” we call it. We spend a lot of our time in lectures and readings in this conference room in the Lied Lodge. In the center of the room, above the fireplace is inscribed a quote by Thomas Jefferson: I never before knew the full value of trees. Under them I breakfast, dine, write. read, and receive my company.
We do just that. We eat jiggly eggs and we workshop each other’s writing and we scribble notes during lectures. We laugh and we cry at readings. We get rowdy and obnoxious on the terrace with
a lil vodka. All my best friends are there. Imagine writing your heart and sharing it with people and them doing the same. There is nothing like it, no greater vulnerability, no stronger bond. Like on the last day of camp, so many summers ago, I cried yesterday in the car ride home. I thought about Chad Christensen’s poem: People cry in cars. The guy who holds the stop sign during road construction knows this.
We will wash our laundry and unpack our suitcases and order our books and real life will slam its way in. Our cock tattoos are gone now, but we are bonded nonetheless.
Unlike camp, we come home, knowing we will do this again. We will send each other our writing, our hearts, and we will respond, delicately but honestly. We will be pen pals. We will write and we won’t quit. Those kids I went to camp with were campers. But we are writers. We will never stop writing.