Gimp Camp

September 27, 2006 at 8:10 PM (vacation) ()

There are so many good things to say about it for me…

Our local “gimp camp” was not disability specific…

So it wasn’t as easy to snipe at the Special Ed kid, if you helped them with their bedmaking.

Excluding the quadriplegic from games wasn’t quite so simple if you fed them their Froot Loops.

Lots of bonding, camaraderie….And the same batch of people went when you were eight, and many still attended up to the last year, their 21’rst birthday.

The most amazing morning was the time, just after sunrise that a boy with cognitive impairments thought nothing of going to breakfast without his clothing…and ran around the whole place smiling with his hands outstretched…the male counselors trying to snag him with a robe were the ones we laughed at….The naked guy was just happy, and in his element and having a good time…The harried counselors were terrified that if they didn’t get some coverage on the guy it would mean their jobs…

The counselors were trained to guard against the slightest sign of not doing absolutely every task that the child should be capable of…For my friend Becky who had not been able to achieve a single roll over in her 17 years, the day she managed that roll, to assist those who dressed her was as big a celebration as any Special Olympics medal.

I had not yet learned to tie my shoes by the age of eight, and the counselors had been told that this was of some concern…so one morning I was forbidden morning activity…no restraint or cruelty, no punishment, physical or emotional…they just let me simmer there until I figured it out. Took me about three hours.

Romance, I found, was difficult…since the counselors followed and physically stood between myself, and the awkward boy that would become my husband, many years later…

The good I took away from that place was this: For one week, I did not have to explain myself. I was not dismissed, disrespected, laughed at. No one pointed. No one stared. (At least not in that “look at the poor impaired kid” way).

One summer as the busses pulled up, everyone else was sad or weeping because they would miss a friend or a counselor they had become close with. My favorite counselor came to my place in line and asked me why I was crying.

“Because I have to go back…this is the only place I’m not different…and it’s not *fair!* To have to go back to fifty more weeks of living with *them!* “

Somehow, I always had a serious hate on for the able when I had to go back and live among them again, that took about two weeks to wear off. They had privilege. They had respect. It was all so *easy* for them, I thought, just to be themselves. And here, I found this place where I could be *myself* that was not less….and I was only allowed to stay a week…

Others will differ, saying a ‘segregated’ camp experience for only impaired children didn’t do enough to prepare us for life and hardship and independence. Maybe so. But I *needed* a break from being the local ‘freak,’ and that’s what I got.

Or, maybe I just liked the fountain.

It was July 1976….I was fourteen…and was beginning to connect with my boyfriend…

I had made the mistake, early in the session, of beating him and his cronies at poker….I didn’t know it, but that really stuck in his craw some…

We were told we were going on a five mile hike…He and I resolved to take the trip together, but neither of us felt we could walk the entire five miles unaided, so we appropriated an E+J camp wheelchair…He would push me for the first two and one half miles, and I would push him on the return leg.

So he did very well and we had quite the chat until we stopped near the fountain that would be our spot for lunch…I was thinking of a drink and a sandwich and got taken by suprise when the chair tilted forward and I did an unplanned bellyflop…right into that fountain.

“Payback for the poker game, sweetheart,” the insufferable culprit said.

Hampered by the slick surface and the water I shrieked, sloshed and dripped, and slid and yelled and fussed and only succeeded in getting myself more soaked…I got some help, and got out…

And I *still* had to push the brat 2.5 miles back home, because my crutches were back at our basecamp, and the chair he occupied like some snotty conquering king was the only thing I could hold onto while walking…

So I sloshed, and dripped and cussed all over his head, for the entire afternoon and sometime in that trip back, he said, was the moment he decided he was in love with me.

Men!

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