I never went to summer camp as a child, but I went to a few day camps. The difference is you don’t spend the night at day camp and there’s nothing like fishing or archery, it’s essentially just daycare at a park. I never wanted to go to a summer camp because I just didn’t like the idea, and I knew sleeping there would’ve meant I wouldn’t be able to get away from bullies and people I didn’t like. Luckily I’ve never been bullied too badly, but there’s definitely been a few mean people in my life.
At one camp in particular, there was this girl named Valerie. I don’t know why, but we couldn’t stand each other. Teasing and mocking and literal sneering, we just absolutely did not get along. Maybe we didn’t like how we looked so alike, we were both short pudgy white girls with freckles and poofy hair. There were occasional days we weren’t at each other’s throats, but we never tried to become friends.
Valerie never physically bullied me but I remember a couple times she made me feel bad. One time a bunch of us girls were in a circle chatting about whatever we were chatting about, and I chimed in with my attempt at being part of the conversation beyond just nodding and laughing at what the other girls were saying. Valerie laughed condescendingly at me and loudly stated “Heather, you’re so stupid!” The rest of the group laughed briefly and went right back to chatting. I turned silent and just sorta sat there until snacktime was over. I tried to stay part of the group and half-heartedly laughed as the girls talked, but the truth was I wasn’t actually considered part of that group of friends and Valerie’s words made me realize it, and they stung.
It’s really easy to make a child feel bad, they haven’t had much time to develop mental defenses and they rely on other people’s opinions while trying to fit in. Now that I’m an adult, if someone were to call me stupid for no good reason, I’d probably just laugh at their attempt to hurt my feelings. But when Valerie called me stupid, even though I didn’t actually care how she felt about me, it cut me deep and that was made worse by the fact that not only did nobody defend me, but they laughed at the insult.
I know I’m not stupid, I knew it back then too, but being called stupid as a kid and having everyone laugh is essentially being told “Nobody likes you, we all think you’re annoying.” I never really did have a group of friends at that camp, though I do remember a brother/sister team who seemed to like me just fine. Their names were Richard and Sarah, and I just thought they were both so adorable. They were mulatto and had super curly light brown hair, and their eyes were light brown too. Even back then, I knew they’d both grow up to be really good looking adults, I always loved their features. They were both really sweet and funny, and most importantly, they were nice to me. Sarah would make sure she said hello and goodbye to me almost everyday, and Richard probably had a crush on me, he always spent a lot of time around me too. I’ll admit it, I had a crush on him too, though back then I had no idea because I was just too young to understand what a crush was.
I remember telling Sarah what Valerie had said and how the other girls laughed, she gave me a really serious look and said “You’re not stupid, those girls were just being mean.” Her words didn’t really sink in at the time since I still felt bad, but I did appreciate that she tried cheering me up. Now that I look back on it, remembering her expression makes me feel really good, she really wanted me to know that had just been a baseless insult. She’d repeated the story to her brother later that day and he gave me a really big hug, the goofy full-of-energy kind little boys tend to give so I couldn’t help but laugh.
Being bullied sucks no matter how minimal the bullying is, but it’s important to remember that sometimes people are just going to be mean for no reason.