On the road trip up to Michigan my first summer at camp, my family stopped at a quirky chocolate shop. I bought two souvenirs: a tiny tin suitcase, and a chocolate hedgehog wrapped in foil—about the size of a quarter.
Food wasn’t allowed at camp, but I didn’t want to eat my new friend—not so fast. I kept it in the tiny tin. The first year was a little scary. New friends and being homesick. My counselor asked about the lil suitcase. “What’s in it?” she asked. I didn’t respond. My cabinmates chirped, “What’s in it! What’s in it!” I just blinked.
Why did I have the hedgehog? Not to eat, probably ever. I likely never did based on the way I hoarded candy as a child. I liked to look at it when I was alone. The tin kept it cool, so I would touch it.
My counselor knew my brain was spinning up there on the top bunk. I would hear all the cabin sleeping around me, but she would keep reading Mick Harte Was Here because she sensed I was awake. She dropped the tin subject, but the rest of the girls didn’t.
It felt good to have a secret. Something that was mine in a shared space. At the end of the summer Slou asked, “Okay, okay, can I know what’s in the suitcase? Is it chocolate?” I said, “Yes.” My counselor gave a peppy squeal, “I KNEW it was candy.” She wasn’t mad. She, I think, was happy to give the kid who cried when someone squished a spider a reason to live. (Lord.) But it wasn’t about the candy. It was about the secret and the freedom I had to keep it.