German Camp When I was 16, I went to German Camp for the fourth and final time. "German Camp" is one of those phrases that never ceases to make people laugh, or, if they're Jewish, to wince*, but it is essentially summer camp where you learn German. Concordia Language Villages run a huge number of them, for languages from Japanese to Finnish to Russian to French, all of the camps being named "Lake of the Woods" in the language that they speak. "Waldsee" was the name of mine, and it was in the center of Minnesota.
* Depending on how their mind works, I tend to get either jokes/comments/concerns a) involving the Hitler Youth and/or invading Poland and maybe something about how awesome a song "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" is, or b) the inadvisability of taking a shower at camp and the amazing weight loss opportunities there-in. And asking me if I had fewer relatives after camp than I did before camp. The answer is yes. Asshole.**
** I can't really criticize. I am, after all, the guy who wrote both thesetwo posts, and I've admitted to having a weakness for any joke that involves Mengele in any way, shape, or body part.
And but so I went to German camp for two week sessions for four years running. If I had continued with the German instruction, I imagine that I'd probably be a pretty good German speaker by now, but I slipped off in college and when I was traveling in Germany and Austria found I didn't really need to speak German; in fact, if I tried, people would respond to be in English anyway. Either my German was so bad by that point or they wanted a chance to try out their English***, but either way I was given less of an opportunity to practice my German when I was in Germany than when I was at German Camp in rural Minnesota. I don't know if this counts as irony, or just garden variety globalization.
*** The only place where speaking German was a real asset was in Sarejevo. Sarajevo had been cut off from most of the world for awhile in the 90s, and the people who gave them the most help were Germans, so much so that they wound up using the German mark as currency for much of the siege, because the newly minted currency put together by the government wasn't able to be delivered from where it had been printed in London. Anyway, German was very useful for ordering food and getting around the city when I was there back in 2002.
Waldsee was like any camp where you get a bunch of teenagers together, except with spaetzle and Toblerones. And so it was at German camp my fourth and final time there, that I had my first kiss. I met a lovely girl, and we got along, and pretty soon we were spending all of our free time together, and holding hands, and hanging out. She was smarter than me, and more worldly, and that, I found out, was totally my type.
Also, she was two and a half years younger than me. That I found out fairly late. That's a minor detail when you're thirty, but it's at least a bigger deal when you've just turned sixteen and she turns out to be thirteen. In my defense, I was an extremely young sixteen, and she's a mature thirteen. That I'd grown up in Fargo and she'd grown up in Chicago probably had something to do with that. I realize how this all sounds, and I think it's mostly because you're imagining me dating a thirteen year old now. Thirteen going on thirty. But I'm not, I swear.
So I had my first kiss, and then we left for our respective hometowns, and proceeded to write letters to each other for years. At least three years, regularly every couple of weeks. This is before email, and it's a good thing, too. Otherwise they'd all be lost.
Only a couple of you know this, but I'm a voracious letter writer, pumping out ten single spaced pages in my horrible tiny handwriting. I do it with email as well, bludgeoning people with long digressive messages filled with parenthetical comments (and now footnotes), notes that are almost unanswerable due to their insane length and fundamental randomness. "Write me back, and take some of the time that I took, and put something out there on a page about who you are in response to who I am," they say.
Not many people will do it. Some of the ones that do, I've wound up dating. It's possible why I've had so many long distance relationships over the years. It makes the distance almost an asset to the relationship rather than a deficit. And she was the first. She could do it, and wanted to do it.
I've since moved on. I can handle a relationship with a person over the phone, or in person, or over IM. Having one with someone in another state is no longer something I try for.
I don't know how we lost touch. It's not shocking, though. Three years is a long way to go in a mail based relationship, and even though I went to college near Chicago and saw her a couple of times because of that, we eventually fell off. College probably had something to do with that, more than anything. And after enough time had passed, it because seemingly insurmountable. We both moved many times, lost various email addresses, and both had a name common enough to make us unGoogleable.
As I was home recovering from my illness, I found the trove of letters from her, and a number of either drafts or unsent letters from me. And in glancing through them, I found enough biographical evidence (in the form of what high school she went to, mostly) to make it the simple act of plugging her name and info into Facebook. And lo, there she was.
And so we're now Facebook friends. We're not the same people that our old friends knew. But it's something, at least.