Heartbreak at Camp Mariah
Acting classes, Nurse Cinnamon with her chihuahua, autographed photos of Ms. Carey herself – Camp Mariah was special. But AJ’s happiest moments were the secret times he spent with Damon.
“We’re just playing around. You know that, right?”
That’s what he asked me, immediately after we started kissing. We both stood in the dark, damp cabin, barely able to see each other in our unlit meeting spot. We relied solely on touch and sound; moist kisses and heavy breathing letting us know how the other felt. From the first kiss that night, I could feel the apprehension on his lips long before he posed his question.
I had met Damon two years prior, when we were bunkmates. Our first interaction did not stick with me, and at the time I was way more focused on my predicament for the summer. At the end of that school year, my mother had decided to ship me off to camp. “You need something to do this summer, you can’t just sit around the house,” she said, as if that wasn’t appropriate for a 12-year-old only child.
As a kid, I was never a social butterfly – I dreaded the thought of being sent away to upstate New York to live with a bunch of strangers I’d have to befriend. It seemed way too stressful. I wouldn’t have the one crutch that I could always lean on: my mother. Whenever a kid said something mean to me at school or I didn’t get what I wanted, she was always there to fix it. Now I would be miles away from herat the mercy of pre-teens in an unfamiliar setting.
Camp Mariah was special for many reasons. It was named after its founder, the one and only Mariah Carey. As one would expect from anything associated with a superstar diva and queer icon, the camp was eccentric in certain ways. The cabins had electricity and air conditioning, our laundry was done for us, and we received autographed photos of Ms. Carey. Unsurprisingly, it was a performance arts camp or as they put it, a “career awareness camp.” My mother certainly picked the perfect camp for a sexually confused 12-year-old. Camp Mariah was one of those Fresh Air Fund camps. The fund, an organization whose mandate was to give city kids access to “fresh air” and time away from the city, was situated among the Catskill Mountains. We were expected to swim in the often freezing lake, roast marshmallows, hike, and even do a high ropes course. Other unique relics of Camp Mariah was our resident nurse, Nurse Cinnamon, who brought her chihuahua wherever she went. There was also a fitness day where the kids were personally trained by Equinox gym instructors bussed in from the city.