Blisters dot my feet like translucent buttons. The flesh on my shin has been ribboned. A laundry list of aches and pains add the sky and the grass to my injury painting. I hate hiking.
I hate camp.
Should have stayed in for ceramics, the nurse chides as she bandages my leg.
I skip volleyball and laze around by the lake, wondering what I’m missing back home. And do I even really miss home? And does anyone even really miss me? I worry that my best friends will now be each others best friend and my bedroom will be rearranged by my mom and she’ll smoke out my diary and read about my illicit fantasies involving my math teacher and molten candle wax and in my absence my tennis coach will discover a spark in someone else and they will end up turning pro while I amount to nothing more than someone who wipes the sweat from her brow in between sets.
But I know that I will be doing this same thing, only in reverse, when I get home: Crying over camp counselors I thought I would hate, the phone numbers of new friends I didn’t take, crafts I deigned too gay to make.
But I hate camp.
In the mess hall, I sit with the same group of kids every day and complain even when nothing is really wrong, because I’ve made myself addicted to the snarl of my voice. Over soggy tuna sandwiches, we (I) plan pranks that never pan out and groan just thinking about the camp perv groping us at the upcoming dance, but we all secretly hope we’re one of the groped because it will serve as an affirmation to our desirability. We engage in requisite gripes about our bodies — I’m fat I’m ugly I have a harelip I have braces— and take solace in the fact that there is always someone in the room with bigger thighs, a wider nose, a face more repugnant and teeth like a hillbilly. I love camp.
I wince at the sporadic crunch of celery between my teeth, the small slivers had hid inside the congealed wad of mayo and tuna between the dry bread, ruining my lunch. There are no food fights, but in a move drenched with cliche, a younger camper disposes of his retainer in the garbage.
I leave a pile of celery on my plate.
I hate communal showers.
I have several bunkmates at camp, at least nine, but I like Abby best. She doesn’t snore or misplace the cap to my toothpaste and she’s generous with the candy sent by her grandma in boxes scented by potpourri. She is short with frizzy black hair that is infrequently visited by a brush and she teaches me Yiddish words like kibitz and shmeckle and mensch. Abby’s dad left her mom for his nurse but Abby (and her mom) are positive that he’ll come back someday but I know he won’t. She keeps his picture next to her bed and tells me a different story about him each night. I don’t talk much about my own family, but I like hearing about hers.
The boys don’t like Abby because her eyebrows are overgrown like a neglected garden and her lips thirst for a balmy massage and, worst of all, she’s flat-chested. The girls don’t like her because she is smarter than them, she listens to Barry Manilow mixed tapes made with love by her mom, and she wears second-hand jeans even though her family has the money to dress her in designer.
I wouldn’t be friends with her if this was junior high. But it’s camp, and here I’m a different person.
She makes me look pretty.
Crickets chirp. Leaves rustle. Frogs ribbit. A nearby owl makes his presence known. Everything is louder at night.
Abby and I stay up late, mostly at her command. I don’t mind; I don’t want to be alone. Possessed with an undeniable gift of gab, she sits Indian-style in her bunk, folding paper cranes and talking about topics currently arresting her heart, like space travel, hockey, Joey McIntyre. I feign interest, fingers lightly tracing serpentine patterns around the faint bruises on my knees — medals merited from boat house blow jobs. I let an occasional Mmm-hmm escape from parted lips, to assure her I’m listening. When it’s my turn to birth a crane from jagged notebook paper, I turn out a sloppy mutant ventilated by rips my clumsy fingers made — proof to Abby that I hadn’t been paying attention at all. I love camp.
I try to tell myself that each activity I perform, every goal I accomplish is another stitch in the tapestry of my budding character. But I’m too busy chasing the shmeckle.
I’ve never been to camp.