Tuesday, April 11, 2006

CHT Tuesday: Microscopic Trauma

When I was a budding young lad, my parents wanted to culturally indulge in sending me to a summer day camp. They thought it would be a good experience for me to see nature, interact with other little kids, and have fun. The thing was it was a French camp. I had been studying in a French immersion school for a full two years since grade one, being introduced to words like "tu" and "pomme" or "escargo", being able to ask "comment ca va?" and write it all down with my "steel-o" but it was difficult for me to understand what people around were telling me half the time, nevermind express what's on my mind. I tried to remember words, but they just didn't stick. It was like they floated over my head. As a result, I gained a knack for watching people who actually knew how to understand French. I watched them like a hawk, taking note of their facial expressions to try to read the conversation through their eyes. If I recognized words, then by putting them and the actions together like a puzzle, I sort of knew what was going on. Sort of. The smart people were like the bait though. If they didn't seem to know what to make of things, I was out of there.

I remember that every morning they rounded us all up on a big yellow schoolbus and headed out to a country farm, more than an hour away for the day's events. We would go on scavenger hunts, finding little bugs under logs and cutting and glueing lots of construction paper together with popsicle sticks in the main dining hall when it was rainy outside. There was something strange about the propane tank that was across the dining hall that made everything smell like rotten eggs. Maybe it was the water at that place. What is it that makes it taste like rusty metal?

I have no memories of friends or of nice counsellors from that time unfortunately. If someone was trying to be nice to me, it was probably blocked by the language barrier. At that innocent and uninformed age of approximately eight, this whole thing seemed like a strange abduction, like I was part of some experiment. There weren't parents but rather strangers leading us in tests and sessions, directing us down one mysterious hiking path or another, speaking, pointing and yelling in a foreign language. Of course they were our "friends". I tried my best to follow along, engaging in sports without knowing the rules, trying to figure them out by trial an error (which sometimes meant a skinned knee). Suddenly we would all be lined up, people in front and behind me but I would be lucky if I knew why. I can't remember now, but I picture them using megaphones to get our attention. A terrifying volume of indecipherable lyrics. What was going to happen to us next?

Then I observed that it was lunch time through the movement of the crowd. Today was a special day for an outside barbecue. I remember having to get my parents to sign a permission letter. That morning my mother had packed a hotdog in syran wrap for me to take to the occasion. One of the leaders got out the giant cooler that we had turned our hotdogs over to in the morning. There were probably about 300 different individual hotdogs, one from each camper. She handed me my dog, which was marked with a piece of masking tape that had my name written on it in purple marker. The hot dog itself was a bit of a comforter. I was homesick and my mother's writing and the familiar stick of the raw meat transported me back.

Meanwhile, two others were opening and closing what looked like a big metal tomb standing on legs. It had little doors that they looked inside and made strange faces of confusion over. My hotdog was cold and I was standing alone, unsure what was happening. I was also very hungry. I unwrapped the syran wrap and looked at the pink fleshy meat and thought about how soft it looked. People around me were caught in the process of sorting out whose hot dog was whose. I was used to cooking my hotdog before eating it, although I had eaten pepperoni's before without cooking them. Perhaps this was the same? I supposed we were expected to eat them like this. Time to fit in with the culture.

I took a bite of the cold hotdog and immediately felt disappointed or maybe not disappointed, but somehow wrong. I guess the language sets it up to be an oxymoron. It didn't taste very good, certainly compared to a hot dog roasted over the fire. Chewing slowly didn't make it better. I looked back at the tomb and they had opened it back up and there was smoke coming out of it. The lady who had been handing out the hotdogs was taking them back again and putting them into the smoking tomb. It was a barbecue!! I looked back at my sad hotdog with the missing chunk that I had bitten out of it and felt scared, ashamed, embarassed, unsure whether to give it to her now or hide it somewhere. Stuff it in my pocket. Before that could happen, the lady noticed and walked up to me with her hand out. Then it felt like she was demanding something back that I had stolen. I gave her the hot dog and when she spoke to me I understood what she was saying: "Aww, honey, you know we could have cooked it for you. Now you're gonna get sick from all the germs!" It surprised me that she could speak English, but even in my own tongue there were words that I didn't understand. I didn't know what "germs" were, or at least not the way a scientists knows what germs are, or someone who understands how people contract a cold. What I thought was "Oh no!"

I pictured little insects festering inside my body like maggots. Shapes that were "alive" even though they were invisible. "Germs" sounded kind of like "worms" so I worried that little snakes might just start growing in my belly until one day they were so big that they chewed their way out and attacked anyone that was nearby. That whole day the thought tormented me. They barbecued the rest of the hotdog for me and gave it back with a bun but I still thought about the "germs" that were going to get me. I ate the rest, trying to cover as much of it with ketchup as I could to hide it. How were they going to get me? I didn't know. I wanted to ask the lady but I was afraid. Was I going to get sick? Then everyone would stay away from me because they wouldn't want to get the germs. But what if it was already too late? Would they know? How was I going to warn anyone if I couldn't speak French?



Anonymous Anonymous said...

holy bug phobia...well i have to say i'm a clean freak so bugs aren't my fav....but maggots...ew and roaches...ahhhhhh....

dude i waited all day for the call, it's off again..i'll turn it on it abit. ok well ciao!

it's charging lol

7:18 p.m.  
Blogger Lavinia said...

That sounds like one kick-ass camp experience.

Its pretty hardcore that you remember all that trauma in such great detail after so many years.

5:53 a.m.  
Blogger Frap Gurl said...

I was immersed in the French language in 3rd grade and I didn't get it either.. for 4 years I had French and all I remember to this day is Sil Vous Plate.. a la plage .. come see com sa.. and don't know what the hell it means!

2:07 p.m.  
Blogger Cocaine Jesus said...

i think that, in one way or another, and as kids ourselves, we all have been in similar situations to this. young, naieve, unsure and then an adult, in all innocence makes a statement like that and it freaks you out.

must have been very traumatic for you though.

2:29 a.m.  
Blogger Jason said...

This so reminds me of all of my daycamp experiences. Forgot all about them until just now.

10:50 a.m.  

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