When I was a Girl Scout, Troop 330, from North Bergen, New Jersey, we would take these amazing trips out of the city. We’d go to places that seemed worlds away. The Scout Leaders and the Scout Moms would throw us in the cars, sleeping bags, just enough clothes shoved into one backpack, and anything else we needed that would last us from Friday until Sunday. The weekend never seemed long enough for me, I wanted to scream out campfire songs until I lost my voice, I wanted to talk to my friends who were from other schools about who has finally kissed a boy and I definitely wanted to finish the bags of snacks each of us neatly packed away for our late night talks.
After the city lights faded, then the passing cars disappeared, the pavement would turn to bumpy, uneven gravel and mud. Finally, we would arrive at these amazing campgrounds. Some had giant totem poles greeting you at the entrance and others, kayaks and rowboats. Once you made your way inside you would come across the Trading Post. If we were lucky, we’d get a few dollars from our parents to splurge on some unnecessary merchandise branded with the campground name.
Once the cars came to a stop, the doors would fly open and a gaggle of girls, myself included, with sleeping bags in one hand and backpacks slung over our shoulders would run. My friends and I always needed the tent farthest from the chaperones. I can assure you, if we didn’t win the tent fair and square, we would barter for it, money may been exchanged at one time or another. We were a diverse group, where one lacked in athletic ability another would make up for it with book smarts, there was the funny and entertaining one, the careless and reckless one, then the quiet but responsible one that every friend group needs (even as adults).
These giant lifted canvas tents are exactly what Brooklyn Hipster dreams are made of, under the stars in the woods, just us and nature. These tents were just warm enough at night, cool enough on a hot day, damp but never wet and they had a distinct smell, like wet mossy wood. They were safe, despite hearing animals roaming around our tents all night and seeing the path of destruction they’d leave for us to clean in the morning, it was clear we weren’t alone out there. I can assure you; I was never attacked by anything worse than a spider.
As we would sing along to the local station barely coming in on the one radio, we all shared, we would start the process of making that tent our home for the weekend.
We would stand up our flashlights, one in each corner and then the brightest flashlight would stay right in the center. There would be a proper sleeping area. We would take strict instructions from the “interior designer” of the group on how to get the sleeping bags zipped together, creating one big bed. We would all pull out that one stuffed animal we snuck in our bags just if we needed a little dose of “home”. There would be a decent size dancefloor and then a social area. That spot was reserved for the snacks and great conversations, hair braiding and ghost stories.
As the hours passed, we would fight our sleep, then when it was completely quiet and we would gather together, with the only flashlight that wasn’t dead.
With my flannel pajamas keeping me warm, I would press the hot clear plastic of the flashlight under my chin. From this angle, only my lips, nose and eyes were illuminated. With my four friends as my audience, I would start with the first “Ghost Story” of the night. I always went with the classics, “The Dog Lady” or “The Lady of the Park” but that night was a “Johnny I Want My Liver Back” kind of night. You remember that one right?
In my 10-year-old “adult” voice, I whisper… “Back in the 1950’s, there was a young boy named Johnny.” Everyone began to quiet down, “This is a true story” I would assure them. “That day, when little Johnny got home from school his mom sent him to pick up meat for dinner.” Everyone squirms in closer to one another, they know this story all too well. “Johnny’s mother hands him two shiny nickels” I hold up two fingers. Now I squint my eyes and scowl, “come back with the liver right away” I yell. I look around at everyone and take a deep breath. “As Johnny was walking to the butcher, he saw a brand-new arcade”, I sigh, “Johnny couldn’t resist the urge” all of us now shaking our heads, I continue, “So, Johnny walked into the arcade and played his game.”
I continue “Johnny decided to take the long way home while he thought of an excuse to tell his mom, he realized this path led him through a cemetery. That is where Johnny found his solution” shrieks and groans filled the tent.
“Johnny made it home with a liver in hand, he watched as his mother cooked it up and served it to everyone. INCLUDING HIM”, I say with disgust. “As his family ate the liver, they commented on how fresh and juicy it was. The best liver they ever had”. There were audible gags at this point.
“When Johnny went to bed, he was happy that his plan worked out”, I lean in and they all gather closer together. “Johnny was awakened by a faint sound in the distance”, I whispered.
“Johnny I want my liver back, I’m on the first floor” I spoke soft and tiny.
“Johnny I want my liver back, I’m on the second floor” again, only this time a little louder, more than a whisper.
Followed by a long eerie silence.
“Johnny I want MY LIVER BACK, I AM AT YOUR BEDROOM DOOR” I would SCREAM as I flopped into the arms of all the girls huddled across from me. This making them both scream in fear and laugh in hysterics.
After ghost stories, we would lay there as one by one we would drift off to sleep.
Lying there in silence, staring up at the old, scarred canvas above reading names of love birds past. Lists of friends who thought they would be BF4EVER, initials of people who wanted to leave their mark and forever be remind those after them that they were there. Where are Ericka, Pam, Lizzy and Samantha ’84”, and more importantly, are they still best friends? I will never know.
Before I fell asleep that night, I declared that we, the girls in this tent, would undoubtedly be best friends forever. You feel like you have lived so much life when you are ten, then you are 40.
With our thumbs pressed on our pinkies holding three fingers high we would recite the “Girl Scout Promise”.
“On my honor, I will try, to serve God, and my Country, to help people at all times and to live by the girl scout law.”
I will admit, I was embarrassed to say I was a girl scout when I was young. It seemed like it wasn’t what the “cool” kids were doing but my parents insisted and I am glad they did because I met people from other schools all over town. It was a totally different group of people, there were my cheer friends, my school friends, my Scouting friends, and I liked that. I needed a place where we were all getting dirt under our nails and being kids. Everywhere else I felt rushed. Like being a kid wasn’t cool. At camp, it was encouraged. Of all the girls I bunked with, there was only one that was faster, more “grown” and had more life experience in 12 years than I had by 16. Jennifer M. was her name. I am sure we all have a Jennifer M. in our childhoods.
Jennifer was slender, taller than most of us and she had the darkest brown hair that hit right at her shoulders. She was pretty, in the sense that she was confident and that made me admire her. I can’t speak for everyone but I am sure there was a few of us that had some level of adoration for her.
It was Sunday, we just had breakfast, a meal we each cooked for ourselves over a small open fire on a coffee can with holes. It was a cute and clever way to teach us all to be resourceful, not to mention, it was a hot meal after a cold night.
I am headed to pack up my stuff, when I walk into the tent and see my friends. Jennifer in the center, “we are all gonna leave our initals” she declared. The way she said it, I knew she wasn’t going to cast a ballot and tally the votes to see if we wanted to do this. It was declared and so it was. As she started writing I accepted the fact that I was about to participate in something that I knew was wrong but for some reason I didn’t care; “J.M. was here”. Black ink now soaked into the canvas; it was there for good. Jennifer M. turns her head, her long black hair brushes against her shoulders, confident, as if she didn’t just commit a crime. I am pretty sure graffiti would get us sent to prison. But, one by one, we got up. Cheryl grabs the sharpie, pale blue pajamas are bunched up everywhere. She is tugging on the fabric and she writes. I realize, this hardened criminal is wearing what appears to be little sheep, little sheep and moon pajamas. “CS was here”, in her most adult handwriting impression, she says nothing and hands the marker to KH, who hands it to DL then over to TL.
There it was, never to be removed, for all to see who lie on this wooden floor to admire in their sleeping bags.
“JM, CS, KH, TL, DL were here”,
*wait there’s more.
“JM, CS, KH, TL, DL were here”, but now we’re gone, we left our souls to carry on, those who knew us – knew us well, and to those who didn’t CAN GO TO HELL. 9-19-88”
Yes, we wrote that whole entire thing on the side of a tent. It was long, sloppy and wrong on so many levels. We got carried away. Obviously.
I am not sure what we thought would happen, but I can assure you, when we started doing it, we were all pretty scared but as we kept on, it just seemed like fun. We were drunk, but not on alcohol, we were drunk on the fresh air, the freedom, the excitement, the escape from the real world. We were UNDER THE INFLUENCE of NATURE and it was intoxicating to say the very least.
There is a beauty in such innocence, there is something to be said about a group of girls who break the law together, The Girl Scout Law. Knowing that if one of us folds, we all go down. It was our secret and it brought us closer than ever. This was a trip for the books.
The ride home from camp was always less exciting. We would quietly sit and listen to our Walkman and trade tapes with each other. This time, when I said goodbye to my friends that were going back to their schools, or being home schooled, there between us would be a secret that only we knew. I felt bold.
Sure, the story should technically end there, right? Well, it is just getting started.
Yes, we got caught. We left behind some damning evidence. We couldn’t even cry our way out of this.
We were accused, charged and found guilty all within one conversation. We were even sentenced to 25 cents a letter, which totaled $ 25.75 and that was divided by the five of us, so we each left a donation to the Girl Scout Camp of $ 5.15 on behalf of our troop.
Girl Scouts had the LAW and the GOLDEN RULE, and I realize that I broke BOTH.
What’s The GOLDEN RULE you ask?
“And when one leaves a place, it should be left better than she found it.”
So, I accepted my part in the crime, wrote a letter of regret to all those I let down and one way or another I am sure I earned the money to pay that fine. So, I certainly “paid my debt to society”. It taught me a lesson and before you judge me, how many of you can admit your first crime was “vandalism”? Damn it feels good to be a gangsta.
Now, was it worth it? Absolutely.
What if I told you that story you just read was a factor in me making the biggest and boldest decision of my life? Would you believe me?