“Orphan Song” by Aaron Wolfe
When I was in 6th grade my parents sent me to summer camp for three weeks. Camp Kinderland, the Berkshires’ branch of the Arbeiter Ring — the Workman’s Circle — a Yiddishist Communist summer camp where the bunks were named “Joe Hill,” “Mahatma Gandhi,” and “Chairman Mao – Boy’s Six.” I went with my new friends Dan and Josh because my best friend was busy on a quest to crack the riddle of country-club popularity and couldn’t be bothered with a tag-along. I understood. We do these things at different times in our lives. I’m sure he forgives me for ridiculing his ignorance as to the proper way to “rip a bong hit” at 19.
There were two basic reasons I was sent off to camp that summer. The first was simply that my parents were firm believers in all things funky, radical, and Jewish. Usually that meant they would hang out with their fellow freaked out Jewish friends, dress me up as a cowboy, hand me a beer bottle filled with water and have me parade around the living room as the night’s entertainment. Other times it meant sending me to a commie summer camp.
But hippy/radical goodness aside, the main reason I was sent to Camp Kinderland had nothing to do with my parents’ view of the dialectic. My parents were off to Bogotá, Colombia to pick up my little brother, and so I was off to learn about peace, equality, and the exact number of wedgies you get for crying when the bunk bully gives you a dead arm for the third night in a row.
Why they adopted is their story, not mine. I won’t begin to tell it except to say that there are reasons for adoption that fall in the Madonna, Brangelina category, and my parents’ were most decidedly not those. And I won’t go into detail about the endless meetings with social workers, case workers, adoption agency workers, photographers, etc. all in the years before the moment they sent me to celebrate “Hiroshima Day” on the banks of “Unity Lake.” There are plenty of adoption narratives that describe that somewhat humiliating process better than I can remember it.
I will, however, tell you this: I hated Camp Kinderland. I hated every second of it. I hated Dan and Josh for being there with me. I hated that kid Travis for being Jewish and yet somehow managing to look like an extra from a Def Leopard video. I hated the earnest counselors. I hated the dining hall. I hated the bugs. I hated my reaction to the bugs. I hated that one night we went on a “panty raid” and I got so scared that we’d get in trouble that I hung behind and got picked on for the rest of the week. I hated it. And most of all, I hated that my parents had dropped me there to melt in the heat of a thousand burning-men while they went to do something that was impossible to wrap my 12-year-old head around.
I spent the weeks brooding and lonely. The one respite came when Travis picked a pepper from the farm and gave me a bite of it in an offer of eternal friendship. I bite into it heartily. Then started sobbing. It was a habanero. Everyone thought it was very funny. I thought it was par for the course.
Finally the three weeks were done. My dad picked me up, soothed my war wounds with ice cream, and drove me home where, waiting for me, was the new addition to my family: Jesse Hernan Wolfe. His name a combination of a student that my dad loved (as is mine) and his biological name: Hernan Mehecha. He was two months old. Which is also, coincidentally, the age that he was circumcised in the worst timed honoring of Abraham’s covenant with God in the history of suburban New Jersey.
Two days after his dick was snipped we piled into our Ford Taurus station wagon and drove five hours to Cape Cod where we camped in the sweltering August heat. The whole time, my poor Colombian brother was bleeding from his two month old penis, wondering on some cellular level why in the fuck he had left the fleshpots of the orphanage outside of Bogotá to suffer at the hands of the heathen Yids of Teaneck.
I was thinking the same thing… except without the fleshpot parts. All I could think of that summer, and the following school year was “how the fuck was I going to explain this one.”
Middle school is horrifying for the most adjusted, self-satisfied pimple of a kid out there. I was on one hand: nervous, unpopular, smart, nerdy AND on the other hand anxious, dorky, and now identifiable (at least in my mind) as the kid with the weird family. That same summer, my old best friend (he of “romancing the homes of the sons of dentists”) also had a new brother. His was biological – a distinction that 99% of you have never had to make. His brother looked like him. His brother didn’t have a funny name and crossed eyes. And six months later when brothers start doing cute things like sitting up and crawling, his brother didn’t go to an Early Intervention Program to see if he had, as everyone suggested, cerebral palsy.
When my brother was finally diagnosed with CP my folks wanted to send me to a sibling support group. I told them that I’d love him no matter what, and then slinked off to get stoned with my buddies trying to forget my rage at God and the Universe for being so cruel.
There’s no end to this. I’m not even quite sure why I’m writing it. It’s just another part of the web of my life that I’m desperately trying to untangle.
We become frozen in times of crisis. There is, inside of me, a 12-year-old chubster with a bad attitude that wants the world to fix his problems. He acts out in ways that I’m not always aware of…like writing columns about summer camp.
I recently spent a weekend alone with my brother, now a DJ, living with my folks in Boston. He’s owning his biological identity and working on owning his neurological one, which is often more than I can say for myself.
Tonight’s song is a song I wrote a while ago. It’s childish, petulant, and obnoxious. It’s amazing what middle school and cerebral palsy can do to you.