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It was the first day of sixth grade camp. All 135 sixth graders of West Reading Elementary had boarded multiple buses with duffel bags, shower caddies, and backpacks in-hand, to descend upon Camp Conrad Weiser for three full days.

This was a rite of passage.

On one weekend in May, a couple of weeks before the school year ended, the entire class would go camping, to savor one last moment of true childhood fervor before crossing over into the big building: the one that housed grades seven through twelve.

We had gotten somewhat of an orientation on activities we were expected to complete at camp: orienteering, crafts, teamwork exercises, and everything else we’d do, which eventually culminated in a talent show. The infamous talent show was rife with drama over how many times you could participate, who was going to be in which performance, and if certain boys would be able to tell that certain girls had crushes on them.

Arriving at camp, we placed our possessions in dirty bunks and tightened our shoelaces. I had grown up cabin camping with my family, so I wasn’t thrown off by the setting, nor the notion of its shared bathrooms. Sunscreen was applied liberally, bug spray inhaled, and I’m sure the body odor was noxious.

To start off the day, the campers gathered to play outdoor games. Scattered throughout an open soccer field, lined by a few volleyball nets, we played a little game called Pairs Tag. Basically, one person was “it,” and everyone else was paired up and had to run together away from the tagger, while linking hands.

Tag was never one of my strongest games.

I wasn’t the fastest runner, and I would often come down with a case of the giggles while being chased. Honestly, this says a lot about me, considering I cannot take the dating chase seriously—I often come down with a case of the giggles in any sort of romantic situation.

After being paired up, my partner and I evaded our captors for awhile. Then, the tagger came for us. I faced the tagger straight on, my partner facing the opposite direction. I pulled my partner towards me as I ran backwards as fast as I could. The tagger was closing in, and I was frantic, using every ounce of strength I could to pull us away, giggles starting to form in the pit of my stomach. My face contorted with laughter, I could feel the sweat on my palms and forehead as they got closer, closer, closer, closer, and then—THWACK!

I yanked my hands from my partner’s and felt the pain which had shot through the back of my head.

Temple throbbing, I noticed there was blood on my fingers. I turned to see what could have been the culprit, to find I had run backwards into a volleyball pole, which also had a few thick, rusty screws sticking out the side.

“Infirmary!” said whichever one of my teachers was running the event. “Go, right now!”

I walked down the dusty path through the woods to the infirmary, which just looked like a little house in the middle of the woods. I was sent bleeding and alone, while the other campers just kept playing. I arrived at the infirmary and got my cut cleaned out in the hazy, beige morning light.

No stitches were required, and I had an up-to-date tetanus booster. I was sent back on my merry way, to find whatever activity I was participating in next.

It was barely eleven in the morning on the first day of sixth grade camp, and already I had made a visit to the infirmary. For all of the hating I do on summer, I look back on sixth grade camp in such a positive light. Maybe that’s because of the head injury, but I still have no regrets, even as an over-competitive tag player who was the first to break in the infirmary.

Erin Vail

Erin is the 2003 West Reading Elementary Geography Bee champion, a TV obsessive, and never not thinking about Buffalo sports.

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