Summer Camp Secrets
Jordan Abernathy wants to show everyone that she’s brave enough to jump her horse this summer. It helps that her best friend Molly is cheering her on, but she wishes her older sister Madison wasn’t constantly judging her every move.
And then there’s that blue sheet of paper Jordan keeps hidden away—its announcement makes her excited and nervous at the same time. Will she crumble under all the pressure this summer? Or learn to face her fears head-on?
Sunday, June 15
There was really no reason why I should be nervous, but I was. And whenever I got nervous, I always felt it in my stomach. I kept reminding myself that today should be no big deal.
Mama, Eric, Madison, and I were outside in the driveway, packing the car with all our camp stuff at the ridiculously early hour of 6:30 a.m. Who knew that the sun would even be up this early? It was—barely. But the whole world was draped in a soft half-light that made everything seem slightly unreal.
All of a sudden, I felt that cold sweat I’d felt so many times before.
“I’ll be back in a sec,” I told them. Luckily, the garage door was open. I raced inside to the bathroom and stood there panting for a few seconds. My upper lip was all broken out in beads of sweat. I had to concentrate really hard to keep my breakfast inside my stomach where it belonged, but at the moment, my Cheerios and apple juice were trying to rebel against me.
I grabbed a washcloth off the rack and ran it under the cold water. While I was wiping my face with it, Mama called to me through the closed door. “Jordan, honey? Are you throwing up?”
Did she always have to know every single disgusting detail of my life? “No! I’m washing my face!”
After a couple of seconds, I actually felt better, and the sick feeling passed. But when I opened the door, Mama was standing there, holding up the little bottle of Dramamine. “Do you need to take one of these?”
I frowned at her. “I don’t know. Do you think I should?”
“Well, you know how windy those roads get really close to camp.”
I sighed. “Okay. Don’t tell Madison I almost threw up, all right? Tell her I was washing my face.” I had a dream. A simple dream. I wanted to keep my stomach issues from becoming the viral video of the week. Was that asking too much?
“Ah, honey!” Mama rubbed my back. “Don’t get so nervous! You’re an old pro this year! It’s not like last year. You’ve got a lot of friends at camp now. And Molly will be with you, and Madison. And of course Eda, but try not to bother her today because you know how busy Opening Day is for her.”
I took the pill Mama held out for me and swallowed it with a gulp of water. Having her tell me I shouldn’t get nervous made me feel even worse.
She was right. This was going to be my second summer at Camp Pine Haven, so why was I on the verge of regurgitating?
Mama has always said I have a “nervous stomach” because it doesn’t take much to make me regurgitate. Of all the words for throwing up—vomit, puke, barf, hurl—I liked regurgitate the best. It sounded more . . . medical.
“I’m not nervous. I’m just . . . stressed,” I told Mama, looking at my fingernails so I wouldn’t have to see her concerned look. “You know—making sure I packed everything, all this rushing around . . . .”
Madison and I were going to camp for a whole month, so there were five thousand details I had to worry about. Any time some major event was going on—when we were leaving for a trip, or if it was the first day of school—it was like you could feel the stress in the air, crackling like electricity. At least I could.
“Well, if you’re feeling okay now, Eric and Madison are waiting for us.”
When we went outside, Maddy was leaning against the car with this know-it-all look on her face. Not quite a smile, but almost.
The first thing she said was, “Did you throw up?”
“No.”I brushed past her and climbed into the back seat.
“I swear, Jordan, you’re the only one I know who gets carsick before you even leave the driveway.” She scooted in next to me.
“I did not throw up! And excuse me for not being born perfect like some people.” I stared out my window at the snowball bush by the driveway so I could avoid looking at her.
“You’re excused!” She said it all perky. She was always in a good mood. I slightly hated her for that personality flaw.
Being too perky and perfect were just about the only personality flaws my sister had. She was sixteen, she made straight As, she was the star of her field hockey team, and about thirty-seven different boys were in love with her. And nothing made her nervous.
Perfection in older sisters has been known to cause regurgitation issues in younger sisters. I was fairly sure that medical studies had proven that.
Maddy fished through her purse, pulled out a stick of gum, and offered it to me. I shook my head. She unwrapped it and shoved it under my nose, but I ignored her. The snowball bush had my undivided attention.
Eric and Mama were climbing into the front seat.
Eric turned the engine on and peeked at us in the rear-view mirror. “Ready, ladies?” My stepfather was the sweetest guy in the world. It drove him slightly crazy living in a houseful of females, but he always put up with it.
“Ready!” yelled perky, perfect Madison. She’d given up trying to get me to take the gum and she was chewing it herself. We started backing out of the driveway.
We didn’t have far to go, just down the street to my best friend Molly’s house. She threw open the front door and raced down her steps the second we pulled in the driveway.
“Finally! I didn’t think you’d ever get here!” She had her sleeping bag under one arm and her pillow under the other. Her parents came out, carrying Molly’s trunk by the handles.
“Think we’ll get all this gear in?” asked Molly’s father when Eric opened our already full trunk. The two of them shifted the duffels, trunks, and bags around while Molly gave her mother one last hug.
Molly squeezed in between me and Madison. Good. We needed a barrier between us. Too bad the Great Wall of China wouldn’t fit in the back seat.
“How many times did you throw up this morning?” she whispered.
“Zero! And I slightly hate you for even bringing it up,” I whispered back.
Molly laughed. “See, you’re getting better. I’m glad you didn’t get sick. I almost called you to ask.”
In lots of ways, Molly and I were complete opposites. She has brown eyes and super-straight brown hair cut really short and parted in the middle. I have blue eyes and my blond hair is past my shoulders, with a little bit of curl to it. She’s short and stocky; I’m taller and slimmer.
The fathers were finished packing the trunk, so they slammed it closed, and Molly’s parents leaned in the open car door and took another ten minutes saying good-bye. Finally, we were ready to leave.
After he got in, Eric turned around in the front seat and smiled at all of us. “Next stop, Camp Pine Haven for Girls!” He was the only one in the car who hadn’t made a comment about my regurgitation issue. I loved him for that.
We backed out of Molly’s driveway and headed down the street. My stomach felt completely normal now. Hopefully, it wouldn’t turn on me later. It’s truly sad when you can’t even trust your own organs, but my stomach has betrayed me many times. I’ve learned the hard way to be suspicious of it.
Mama glanced over her shoulder at me. “Feeling okay, honey?” she asked with her forehead crinkled up in worry lines. “We’ll turn the air conditioner on and get some cool air blowing on you, all right?”
I leaned my head back against the seat and closed my eyes. “I’m fine.”
I hated the way everyone had to pay so much attention to me. But that was partly my fault for being so abnormal. I have never been good at dealing with new experiences, and it had been a really big deal for me to go away to summer camp in the first place.
At least no one had said anything about the “major meltdown” summer. That was one of the worst experiences of my life.
Two years ago when I was ten, I was all set to go to camp for the first time. Eda Thompson, one of Mama’s best friends, is the director of Pine Haven, so how could my mother have two daughters and not send them to her best friend’s summer camp?
Madison had started going to camp when she was eight, and she loved everything about Pine Haven. So of course, everyone expected me to be just like Madison, but I didn’t want to go when I was eight. Or nine.
Finally when I was ten, I felt this huge amount of pressure to go. I didn’t want to, but I knew Mama, Madison, and Eda were all expecting me to go and they all kept saying, “Just wait till you get there. You’ll love it!”
But about fifty different things worried me. It was for a whole month, so I knew I’d be homesick, even with Maddy there, and with Eda looking out for me. I’d be sleeping in a strange bed, away from home. I’d have to swim in a lake that was really deep with water that was dark green and you couldn’t see the bottom of it. There would be all these strange girls I wouldn’t know. Maybe my counselor would be really mean.
So about a week before camp started, I had a slight meltdown.
Actually, it was more like a major meltdown.
I started crying and I didn’t stop. I cried for about two whole days. Major, major waterworks.
Everyone tried to comfort me in various ways that did absolutely no good at all. And yes, there were some regurgitation episodes. Eventually, Mama said, “Fine, you don’t have to go. You can stay home and miss out on all the fun.”
So I stopped crying and immediately felt better, but I could tell she was majorly disappointed in me. Half of me felt so incredibly relieved that I didn’t have to go to camp, but the other half felt like the biggest failure in the world.
So last summer when I was eleven, I knew I couldn’t back out of it again. Luckily, Molly had moved to our neighborhood at the beginning of fifth grade and we got to be best, best friends. She wanted to go with me last year, and she was so excited that she made me feel a lot better about camp, but I was still nervous in the beginning.
Molly elbowed me and grinned. “Just think, tomorrow we’ll actually be riding horses again! I can’t wait to see Merlin. I wonder if he’ll remember me.”
Molly and I loved horseback riding more than any other activity at Pine Haven. Listening to her talk about horses made me excited. Camp really was fun, even if I did get nervous about the first day.
“I wonder if Amber will be in our cabin,” said Molly.
“I don’t know, but Eda promised she’d put you and me together.”
I felt a sinking feeling inside me when I said that. Eda probably thought I would have another meltdown if Molly wasn’t right by my side. Once you’ve had one meltdown, people keep expecting you to have additional ones.
Mama was always telling people, “Jordan is a little more cautious than Madison. Jordan needs a little more encouragement than Madison does. Jordan is more sensitive than Madison.”
Translation: Madison is perfectly normal. Then there’s my abnormal daughter.
Last summer I had managed to get through the whole month of camp without having a meltdown. But like that was a big deal.
This summer I had to do more than just survive camp. Last year, the day we got home, I heard Mama on the phone to Daddy, giving him a report of how things went. They’ve been divorced since I was five, but they still get along really well.
“Jordan survived!” I heard her telling him. Her voice sounded so relieved. “Yes, she made it through the whole session. I honestly thought Eda was going to call me and say we’d have to come get her, but she made it! She survived! Maddy? Oh, well, you know how Madison loves camp. She thrived, just like she always does.”
After I’d overheard that conversation, I went to my room and locked the door. I cried for an hour. Jordan survived; Madison thrived. It was a horrible rhyme stuck in my head that kept repeating itself over and over and over.
This summer, I couldn’t just survive.
This summer, I wanted it to be my turn to thrive.
I know from personal experience that sometimes your fears hold you back. Sixth grade was the year when we could join the school band. But when it came time to pick what instrument we wanted to play, I was afraid to admit that I wanted to play drums.
It sounds silly to talk about it now, but at the time, I thought the drums was a boy’s instrument. My friend Lisa wanted to play flute, and so I went along with her and signed up for flute too. That definitely seemed like a girl’s instrument. I was already a tomboy, and sometimes I worried that I didn’t act enough like a girl. Playing flute felt like a safe choice. But I didn’t really like the flute. I wished I chosen to play drums instead.
As a mother, I saw my sons sometimes letting their fears hold them back, too. I told them my flute story, but at times they still backed out of doing something I could tell they really wanted to do, just because they were unsure of themselves.
And that’s how I began working on Jordan’s story. I wanted to show her struggling to face up to her fears. I also wanted to allow her the chance to find an activity that she was truly passionate about, and not one that left her always in her sister’s shadow.