Summer Camp Secrets
Judith Duckworth hates her name. “It thounds like I’m lithping when I thay it,” she complains. So she can hardly wait to get to camp where nobody knows her. She can tell everyone to call her JD instead of Judith.
But she doesn’t just need a new name. She could also use a complete personality makeover. At camp, maybe JD can finally be the type of girl who gets noticed. All she has to do is put on a new act. And then keep it up for the whole summer.
Sunday, June 15
This was it. I was about to leave my past behind me and start my new life. All I had to do was say good-bye to my family and get on the bus.
My mom clutched my arm. “Promise me you’ll wear your headgear,” she said, loud enough for twenty people to hear. Was that the most important thing she had to say to me before I left for a whole month?
“Mom! I told you I would. Stop asking me.” We were in a huge crowd of parents and kids, all hugging and saying good-bye.
I looked around at the girls near me. One girl had on a ton of eye make-up, and she kept looking at her nails. They had that stupid white line painted across the top. The girl beside her was chatting away about something. Another girl stood with her parents, not saying anything. She held a unicorn backpack in front of her like a shield.
“We’ll email you tomorrow to see how you’re doing, but you’ll have to write us back by snail mail, so I packed some envelopes and stamps for you,” said Mom.
“Okay, thanks.” I tried to sound grateful instead of annoyed since she’d told me this three times already. She had her arm around me, and she wouldn’t let go. It wasn’t her fault she was being so clingy. This was my first time away from home.
“Gimme a hug, darlin’.” Dad grabbed me away from Mom and squeezed my guts out. A couple of the other dads looked up at him. He’s six foot four so he’s easy to spot in a crowd. “Have a great time. And don’t worry about us. We can take care of ourselves.”
I nodded but didn’t say anything. I wished he hadn’t said not to worry. How could I not? But maybe I’d have a break from worrying about my family for a while.
Then Adam hugged me. “Have fun, Munchkin. Don’t get eaten by a bear.”
“I won’t!” I laughed and hugged him back. He’s fifteen, and he’s already six foot one. I was going to miss being called Munchkin. I felt small around my dad and brothers, but most of the time I felt like a giant freak since I’m so tall for a girl. “Thanks for coming with us,” I told him, but then I wished I hadn’t said it. It made it sound like I was mad at Justin because he was still in bed when we left. I’d had to say good-bye to him at home.
“I guess I should go,” I said. The bus engine was rumbling, and stinky gas fumes filled up the whole parking lot. Mom hugged me one more time and then finally let me go so I could get in line. I looked at the sign on the front of the bus. CAMP PINE HAVEN. Cool. My new life was about to begin.
I stood in line, smushed between girls in front of me and behind me. I kept my tennis racket pointed down so I wouldn’t bop anyone in the knees. Somehow the girl with the unicorn backpack had ended up in front of me, only now the backpack was on her shoulders and pressed against my stomach.
I looked back at my family and waved before going up the steps. Mom smiled but she was blinking a lot, so I knew she was about to cry. Dad and Adam waved back.
We all shuffled down the bus aisle. Girls were cramming pillows, backpacks, and other junk in the overhead storage bins and holding up the whole line. By the time I made it halfway down the aisle, all the front seats were full. So what? I wanted to sit in the back anyway. I walked past the eye make-up girl and her friend, past the unicorn backpack, and was about to sit next to a girl with a long brown ponytail when she stuck her hand over the empty space and said, “It’s taken.”
The girl in the seat behind Ponytail said, “You can sit here.”
“Thanks.” I shoved my tennis racket and backpack in the overhead bin and plopped down in the seat next to her. She smiled at me. She was African-American, and she had on little wire-rimmed glasses, a yellow tank top, and daisy earrings. She was really tiny. She probably didn’t weigh more than seventy pounds dripping wet with rocks in her pockets.
“Hi,” I said. She glanced at me like she was waiting for something. The bus was moving now, and the driver was trying not to mow down all the parents still standing in the parking lot.
“What’s your name?” she asked finally.
That was an easy question. Ordinarily. Most people know the answer to that by the time they’re two. I almost gave her the wrong name, out of habit. But then I remembered who I was supposed to be.
“JD. That’s what everyone calls me,” I heard myself saying.
It felt so strange to say my new name out loud. Now that I’d told one person, there was no turning back. I’d have to stick to my plan.
“Nice to meet you, JD.” She cleared her throat. I could tell she was a little on the shy side, but I still liked her. “What does JD stand for?”
I stared at her like I was in a trance. What was I supposed to say to that? I thought I could just tell people to call me JD and they would. Did they have to know my whole boring life story?
I tried to think of something funny. “Just Dandy!” I said. It wasn’t that funny, but it was better than the truth. Natasha looked at me like I was speaking Portuguese.
“Okay, I’m kidding. That’s not what it stands for.” I stalled, trying to think of a better answer. The bus made a wide turn and I gripped the seat in front of me to keep from sliding over and smashing Natasha against the window.
“You want to know what it really stands for? It’s pretty embarrassing.”
Natasha’s eyes got bigger. “Oh, you don’t have to tell me.”
“No, I don’t mind. My first name is January and my middle name is December. Crazy, huh? I have really weird parents. You know, the New Agey type. It could’ve been worse. At least they didn’t name me Apple.”
Natasha smiled which made me feel bad about telling her such a goofy story. But it was part of the plan. I wanted to make sure no one at camp ever knew my real name.
Judith Duckworth. I’ve always hated my name. It thounds like I’m lithping when I thay it. Mom named me after her grandmother. She was crazy about her grandmother, and she thought naming me after her would be a great way to honor her. Too bad my great-grandma’s name wasn’t Ashley.
I’ve never told anyone to call me JD before, but that was about to change. I’d tried to come up with some kind of nickname for myself, but I didn’t want Judy—that sounded old to me—and Ducky was even worse. I figured initials would be pretty good. And I liked the way they sounded. JD. That was sooo much better than Judith. Already my life was improving.
Natasha looked at me. “Are you nervous about going to camp?”
“No. Why should I be? I think it’ll be fun.”
She smiled and scooted her glasses up on her nose. “You’re braver than I am. I’m nervous. About meeting a lot of new people.”
“You know what my dad said about going someplace where nobody knows you? He said I should think of it as a fresh start.”
Natasha nodded like that made a lot of sense. My dad also said camp would give me a break from all the stuff our family has been through, but I didn’t mention that.
A fresh start. That was what I was most looking forward to. Going someplace where nobody knew me.
Fifth grade was when I first realized how boring I was. That was the year Chloe Carlson came to our school. You’d think being the new girl would be hard, but it wasn’t for this girl. From Day One all the boys were in love with her and all the girls wanted to be her friend. Part of it was her name. How could you be anything but cool with a name like Chloe Carlson? Her parents obviously knew what they were doing. They didn’t name her something random like Bernice. Or Judith.
This year, in sixth grade, I tried to act like Chloe. I made funny comments in class and I tried to be everyone’s friend, but it didn’t really work. Everybody stared at me and said, “Why are you acting so weird?”
So when my dad said camp would be a fresh start, I figured it was time for a personality makeover. Then I had this great idea. I’d borrow Chloe’s personality while I was away at this summer camp in North Carolina, and she’d never even have to know.
While I talked to Natasha, I tried to think about what Chloe would do if she was on this bus right now. She’d say something funny loud enough for everyone to hear. I just wasn’t sure what that funny thing would be.
“Do you have any brothers or sisters?” asked Natasha. Now the bus was making a humming noise, and everyone was pretty quiet, talking to the people next to them.
I thought about it for a second. I could tell her anything—make up an older sister or a baby brother. But I decided to go with the truth. I didn’t want to act like Justin and Adam didn’t exist. “Yeah. Two brothers. Both older. What about you?” At least I could tell her that, and she wouldn’t say, Oh the football stars at Central High? THEY’RE your brothers?
“I’m an only child.”
“Really? What’s that like?”
Natasha shrugged. “Okay, I guess. It’s all I know. I think that’s why my parents are sending me to camp. So I can see what it’s like to live with other kids for a change. But I’m really going to miss them. The three of us are very close.”
“Hey, we’ve got a whole month without parents,” I said. “It’ll be great.” Then I did the craziest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I stood up and yelled really loud, “Hey everyone, let’s hear it for a whole month without parents!” Then I whooped, the way I would at Justin and Adam’s football games. “Woo-hoo! Woo-hoo!”
When everyone turned and stared at me, I smiled and waved, like I was glad to be making a fool of myself. Then I slid back down in the seat. Natasha’s eyebrows were way above the rims of her glasses.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to cause a scene,” I told her. I could tell she wasn’t expecting me to do that. I wasn’t even expecting me to do that. Chloe wouldn’t have done something that stupid. I hoped I wasn’t blushing. It felt weird being the center of attention—like I was wearing someone else’s shoes instead of mine. It didn’t seem to fit right.
“It’s just that this bus ride is pretty boring, don’t you think?” I asked Natasha, acting like I was used to being the life of the party. “I mean, look at everyone. They’re all half asleep. We should liven this place up. I know! Let’s sing ‘A Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall!’ Everyone loves that song!” Maybe the more I acted this way, the faster I’d get used to my new self.
“No, they don’t,” said the ponytail girl in the seat in front of us. “Why don’t you do us all a favor and shut up?” she said over the back of her seat. The friend she’d saved a seat for turned around and gave me a dirty look too.
I had no idea what to say to that. For one thing, nobody would ever tell Chloe Carlson to shut up while she was being funny. And if anyone ever said anything slightly sarcastic to her, she always had a quick comeback. Always. I tried to think of something, but my brain was frozen.
The ponytail girl had turned back around. She figured she’d shut me up for good. I did feel pretty silly. I wasn’t very good at acting this way. I felt like covering my face with my hands, so I did, but then I got inspired.
I sat there with my face covered up and pretended to cry. I let out these loud boo-hoo sounds. “I don’t have any friends!” I said, loud enough for everyone around me to hear. Then I looked up at Natasha.”Will you be my friend if I pay you a buck?”
That’s when the girls behind me started to laugh. “I’ll be your friend for five bucks!” somebody yelled.
“Twenty for me!”
Natasha shook her head and grinned. “I had no idea I was inviting a crazy person to sit beside me. JD, of course I’ll be your friend, and you don’t need to pay me a dollar.” She looked over the back of the seat. “I’ll do it for free!” she said.
“My first friend!” I yelled. “I actually have a friend now!” The two girls in front of us had put their pillows over the tops of their heads to cover up their ears. “And I’ve got some enemies too!” I shouted.
Natasha cracked up laughing. I could only imagine what my friends back home would’ve said. Judith, what’s wrong with you? You never act like this.
Maybe Judith didn’t. But JD did.
The first summer I went away to camp, I didn’t know anyone. And that was very intimidating to me. I would have felt a lot less nervous if I’d known at least one other person.
But then I thought, what would it be like if a girl LOVED the idea that nobody knew her? What if she could use camp as a place to re-invent herself? To try on a whole new personality?
I’ve had friends say that when they went away to college, they finally became the person they’d always wanted to be. And I wanted that for Judith, a chance to transform herself into JD, long before she left for college.
The good thing about camp is that it only lasts a month. It seemed like enough time to try on a new personality and see if she liked it. But I also wanted JD to have the experience of recognizing the parts about herself that she did like.