Coming of Age Funny

I slap my thigh in a futile attempt to murder a mosquito. It survives and moves on to suck the blood of another unsuspecting camper. Chatty teens line the hand-carved—so they say—wooden benches that face the lake. Everyone nervously introduces themselves to each other in this first hour of the first day of our high school summer camp.

The two campers on either side of me have their backs to me, finding intrigue elsewhere, I guess. For the first time ever in my life, I envy the buzzcut on the guy sitting next to me, as I peel my thick black ponytail from the back of my sweat-soaked neck.

The sun welcomes us and mocks us, all at once. I give it a rude glare then immediately squeeze my eyes shut in pain and regret.

A man of indeterminable age with a foot-long auburn beard and guitar strapped onto his shoulder—which I will soon learn he is never without—bounds to the center of the concrete stage. He strums his guitar once, twice, as campers’ heads begin to turn.

“Welcome to Camp Chapawonga!”

Everyone cheers and Beard begins a tune. “Ooooh… Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?”

To my shock and horror my peers respond with the answer loudly, as if they knew this were coming, as if they got an email I didn’t. How old does Beard think we are?

Beard plays three songs in total, and honestly, even though I don’t clap or sing along, I have to respect that this man has found his calling—I have never seen a happier person in my life.

As bum-shaped sweat stains form beneath each of us, Beard introduces his cohort of camp counselors, who each run onto the stage with what can only be described as pizzazz.

Becky: motherly, with a great smile and cute haircut.

Jasmine: super fit, would not be surprised if she jumped into the splits.

Charles: Dwight Schrute meets Bear Grylls.

And Zane: who looks exactly like you think he does.

Then, just when I think introductions are over and we might be allowed to escape this sauna and go jump in the lake, Beard throws us a curveball.

“And I am elated—” he really is “—to introduce your counselors-in-training, your Junior Chaps!” He gives his guitar a strum then says, a là Bob Barker, “JCs, come on down!”

A dozen young, beautiful people appear (from where? the trees?) and bound onto the stage. What happens to me next is a feeling I have never experienced before.

The sweat on my skin turns ice cold. Time slows, my heart pounds in my ears, and my stomach twists into a knot. It’s a heart attack. That is the only explanation.

So, this is how it ends for me. Fifteen years of life, and I die many miles away from my family on an allegedly hand-carved bench in front of one hundred strangers, a gaggle of models, and a guitarist I've named Beard. Great.

But as I sit here, dying, I take a second look at the JCs. One in particular. He is smiling up at someone (me?) and clapping slightly off-beat from the rest of the crew. I can tell (how?) that he is thinking beyond this moment; his eyes contain multitudes. He is not like the rest.

I am not like the rest.

Oh. My face flushes in realization. It’s not a heart attack. Well, not that kind of heart attack.


The rest of the day is a whirlwind of icebreakers and games whose rules are too incredibly complicated for someone who is recovering from a medical emergency. The JCs bounce about, spreading excitement like little energy Santas, but he—he—is always with another group, in another room, always out of reach.

And I, well, I have never been so distracted by another human being in my life. It’s like we’ve met before? In another life? It’s all I can think about. Well, that, and how I wish I’d tweezed my eyebrows before I left home.

I lose game after game, mostly intentionally, so that I can sit and think. And listen. And let me tell you, there is a lot to hear, because I don’t know if you know this, but all teenagers do is talk.

Here’s what I learn:

The JCs have just graduated high school, so most are 18 years old.

They have all attended this camp before and are either here this year because they want to “give back” or because they “can’t let go.”

They have to apply and are approved by Beard himself.

Finally, and most disappointingly, they all have crushes on each other.

After dinner, the entire camp gathers where we began the day on the benches for music and small group assignments. Becky, Jasmine, Charles, and Zane each lead a nighttime small group, while, I imagine, Beard pops around and surprises each group with a few chords at just the right emotional peak.

Within each small group are subgroups led by, you guessed it, the JCs.

Each camper is called by name and sent off like little ducklings into their small group with a mama or papa duck and three of the JC swans.

I have never wished for something so hard in my life. I sit on my bench and hope with such focus I think I pop a blood vessel in my eye. But under no circumstances will I miss this chance of a lifetime by leaving to see the nurse. Unless he is also the camp nurse, in which case I will steal a knife from the camp kitchen and slice off my pinky finger.

Beard stands at the mic and continues the group assignments, randomly strumming his guitar for dramatic effect. I watch as the counselors and JCs leave with campers to go to their designated areas. Hope bubbles in my chest when all that remain next to Beard are Zane and the last three JCs, one-third of which is him. “So—” strum strum strum “—that means the rest of you are with Zane! You can follow him, and you’ll be divided into your subgroups with one of these lovely JCs!” Strum strum strum.

Minutes later, I have my first out of body experience. We sit in a small pavilion where the moonlight presses in and lands perfectly on his face. Crickets chirp around us like a drum roll. Zane introduces him as Merritt. It is at once a name I have never heard before yet always known in my soul. Moments later Zane calls my name to be in Merritt’s subgroup.

Then my skeleton exits my body, floats up, and dances atop the pavilion.

For a week, Merritt sets a safe space for eight of us. The daytime camp activities fold into a blur. I live for the night like a vampire. I will the moon to rise during swimming and kickball and crafting. I glare at the sun like I did on Day One, imploring it to fall away.

And each night everyone lets loose. Everyone laughs, cries, overshares.

Except for me. I hold back more than the rest. I am not like the rest, I refuse to be. I curse my age, my attitude, my eyebrows. I pick off my black fingernail polish. I hope he sees me, the real me, the future me. Who I am becoming as I step into young adulthood.

I see him. I see us. We. All of it.


I leave camp with more questions than answers and trudge through the next week.

I hug my family, have dinner with them.

My mom says, “You seem distracted.”

I tweeze my eyebrows.

Then, seven days after arriving home from camp, I check the mail.

And it’s there. A letter from Merritt. I tuck myself under the covers like a giddy child and tear it open. It reads, in part:

I am lucky to have met you. I feel like I already knew you?... No, I didn’t send this letter to anyone else in our subgroup… No, I don’t have a crush on another JC… Call me in three years. Meanwhile, write me.

I smile for the first time in seven days. Then I grab a stamp, my favorite pen and furiously write.

May 27, 2023 02:02

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Zack Powell
16:05 Jun 05, 2023

Super fun story, Robin! You nailed the voice of this character - the teenage butterflies (or heart attack, in this case), the hyperbolic overdramaticness (that "slice off my pinky finger" bit, which was my favorite line of the story, totally sold me on this narrator), and the general coming-of-age feelings (to sing the Spongebob theme song or not to sing it - that is the question). Had a big smile on my face the whole time I was reading this. Also, really great verb choices throughout, which I always appreciate. Critique-wise, I think the s...


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Amanda Lieser
19:19 Jun 19, 2023

Hi Robin, Oh my heart sings for this protagonist! You manage to capture young, love so beautifully and yet, I felt a little bit nervous for this character right at the very end I think the way that you added that line about waiting three years just really solidified the dangerous game that people can end up playing when they’re young and can fall in love so quickly. I think it’s commendable that this piece was a shorter piece because I think that you still manage to capture all of the really intense things that you wanted to for it. I also r...


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Michał Przywara
20:55 Jun 08, 2023

Great! An amusing and charming story :) The big strength here is the narrator's voice, which perfectly fits a teen navigating this part of her life. She uses a lot of humour, right from the title. The ending is sweet, though I do wonder if it was a little sudden. Admittedly, 3k words vanishes surprisingly quickly, but I'm inclined to agree with Zack Powell, in that a scene with her and Merritt would be a good way to expand this. Particularly if there's some ambiguity/stress in it, it could add tension and conflict. Otherwise, a fun sto...


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Kate Winchester
03:52 Jun 05, 2023

This is cute and funny! You nailed the giddy feelings that come with having a crush! I loved the “heart attack.” I just wish we got to see an interaction between the MC and Merritt at camp. Maybe a little dialogue? I liked the letter at the end. It fit well with your camp theme. Great job!


Robin Owens
16:07 Jun 05, 2023

Thank you! I agree, I should have added some dialogue between them. Glad the giddy feelings came through!


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John Siddham
11:30 Jun 01, 2023

Beautiful story and a lovely ending, I can visualise you character receiving that mail from Merritt and opening with an air of excitement. Well done!


Robin Owens
00:34 Jun 05, 2023

Thank you, John!


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Mary Bendickson
21:45 May 27, 2023

This merits a smile.😊


Robin Owens
19:27 May 28, 2023

Ha, Thank you 😊


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