You Can't Go Back

Miss Porters Summer Camp for Girls accepts campers from age seven to seventeen. You can enjoy ten summers there, but no more. Those are the rules, and they are immutable.

Miss Porter led me to believe that there might be a place for me at the camp once my days as an attendee were over. As one of the older girls, I had been given responsibility for leading some of the activities of the youngsters. Of course, most girls did not spend even the full ten years at the camp. Girls who started young found the place trivial as they advanced through their teens. Most teenagers never attended as youngsters and so the experience was new to them. For many activities, girls were not classified by age, but by how many years they had attended. On average, few stayed beyond four or five years. In fact, there wasn't much programming or things to learn after five years. Most of the time during those later years, I acted as a counselor for younger girls or was left to my own private study.

In my case, there was no other choice of summer activity. My parents both taught at the Mystic River School and spent their summers doing research in areas that were not appropriate for minors. If I did not go to Miss Porter's for the summer, I would have had to stay at Mystic River, and by the end of the school year, I was sick of the place.

So I had hoped that for my seventeenth year on this earth, I would be an exception and Miss Porter would allow me to have an eleventh year at the summer camp.

When I showed up at the camp, Miss Porter said that I could not stay in one of the cabins, but, if I must stay, there was a wagon I could use. It was a plain box on wheels with a door on one side and small windows all around. Inside were two wooden benches opposing each other. As a coach, it would be both unstylish and uncomfortable for travel. I accepted the deal and entered the coach.

And found myself locked in for five hundred years. And not in the camp. The wagon was deposited in the town green several miles away.

The first hundred years were the worse. First it was the humiliation. Then it was the jeering of folks who'd come by to tease me. There were a lot of them at first. But with each succeeding generation there were would be fewer as the novelty wore off, and the wagon in the green became more of a fixture than a totem. After that, hardly anyone knew or cared that there was someone living inside. I made curtains through which I could watch, but it took a strong willed individual to be able to look in.

I had a lot of time to think about what was important and how I would spend my life after that. Indeed, it would be a good experience for any teenager on the cusp of adulthood. I watched families be made, children grow up to be adults, parents, grandparents. I watched birthdays and funeral processions. I saw good people and bad. It was often boring, but strange as it may sound, I don't regret it.

Eventually, Miss Porter came back to the wagon and let herself in. She was unchanged. I looked the same on the outside, but I was a different person. The summer was over, my parents were back at Mystic River and it was time to go back to school.