Ribbon barrettes. Tube socks. Flip-flops, which a girl in your bunk calls zoris for some reason; you’ve never heard that before, but she’s from a small town at the very western edge of the state and maybe things are different there. Small tins of lip gloss that will liquify in the heat. Round brushes and hairspray. Bain de Soleil for the San Tropez tan, which you’ll regret years later. Gimp for friendship bracelets. In a few years you’ll have to bring sanitary napkins, but right now you’re still young enough to be fascinated by the tampons that older girls, in previous summers, wet in the sink and then threw at the rafters. They are still stuck there, and when you crane your head up to see them, you wonder how exactly you fit them inside you, and how exactly you get them out.
Your tennis racquet and softball glove. A sticker album with lots of puffies and scratch-n-sniffs for trading. Cassette tapes and a Walkman. Pages ripped out of Teen Beat and Tiger Beat that you’ll tape up on the wall near your bed. A scratchy gray army blanket even though everyone else brings soft pastel comforters because your parents don’t want yours to get ruined and there’s no arguing with them about it. Your very favorite stuffed animals, including a unicorn named Gunther which will get strung up the flagpole late one night and everyone in your bunk will get in trouble, even though it was your stuffed unicorn and you are the victim here.
Clothes with name tags sewn inside, each pair of underwear, each sock, because your parents are worried that none of it will make it back home otherwise. Your father bought your mother the sewing machine one Mother’s Day early in their marriage and she never forgave him for it, so he is the one who learned how to use it, he is the one who spent hours sewing in those labels, squinting through his glasses at the tiny rectangles of fabric. Next year he’ll buy a personalized stamp and ink-pad and use that instead. Your short-sleeve collar shirts are obviously off-brand with a lion or a turtle embroidered on the chest, because your mother thinks it’s ridiculous to spend all that extra money on Izod or Polo and there’s no arguing with her about it. A nice outfit for attending Shabbat services each Friday night and Saturday morning. A nice outfit for socials with the all-boy’s Jewish overnight camp. You can wear skirts or culottes to Shabbat services but, for the socials, by unspoken consensus, it’s pants only, pegged and rolled to expose just a small amount of ankle above your sandals. You don’t question the logic of this at the time. It’s not until you have a daughter of your own that you begin to wonder about the statement all you girls made, walking into the social with your hair shellacked into place and your pants preventing any wandering fingers.
At all-girl’s Jewish overnight camp, the woman you will become is superimposed over the girl you are like a classroom transparency. You are two people at once, and you spend the summer knitting yourself together like Peter Pan and his shadow. You listen to Dr. Ruth on the radio at night, giggling into the dark, and in the morning you play jacks, scraping the pinkie-edge of your hand against the gritty bunk floor while sweeping up sevensies. You trade stickers and dirty paperbacks. You stare at the kitchen boys, and then you walk arm-in-arm with your friends across the field, linked together in a beautiful chain, matching your steps like some glorious, peacock-colored army.
You cannot afford to send your daughter to all-girl’s Jewish overnight camp. But you wish that she could sit shoulder to shoulder with her bunkmates in the pine grove on Friday nights, when the setting sun glances through the trees and bathes everything in a thick, syrupy light. You wish she could sing the versions of Shabbat prayers that you only sing at camp, the only versions that ever made something stir inside your young, strong heart. You wish she could have that anchor, that bridge, right when she needs it most.
In your imagination, your daughter sits next to you at the long table in the camp dining hall. You are the same age, with the same smooth clear skin, the same slim body that is just beginning to erupt and swell into womanhood. Her long arm, pale from a lifetime of sunblock, brushes against your tan one as you reach for the cups of grape juice on the table. You feast on knishes that are only served twice a summer, the kind of knishes you’ve never been able to find at any restaurant or deli since. After dinner, we sing the long blessing that follows meals. When everyone else sings “asher asher bara” you and your daughter sing “I swear I share my bra,” and you both collapse into giggles. The voices of hundreds of girls rise and weave around you, harmonies that fill the dining hall up to its rafters. In your imagination, your daughter smiles at you, and her face is open and bright and unguarded, and together you say, Amen.
JENNIFER HUDAK is a writer and yoga teacher living in Upstate New York. Her fiction, creative nonfiction, and personal essays have been published in HYPERtext, Literary Mama, and TueNight. She’s currently working on her first novel. (@writerunyoga)