Season of Love

Issue 8 | Summer 2022 |

 

 

My biggest fear at the start of each summer is the required swim test. I can’t swim for the life of me, nor do I want to. Anyway, the closest I will ever come to swimming is standing in waist-deep water in Lake Michigan.

I arrive for the test with every orifice on my head plugged or covered: earplugs, nose plug, goggles. Because I refuse to put my head underwater, I flunk the test. I’m not concerned, though. This is hardly what I came here for.

 

A week earlier, my mom packs two pink duffel bags as though I’m moving indefinitely. My bedding, day to day clothing, a couple of leotards and multiple types of dance shoes fill the bags to where I can barely unzip them. I’m only at camp for a few weeks, but a few weeks here is a lifetime.

It is my second year at camp and since the last, I have changed in ways only puberty can define. My Limited Too training bra covered with sparkly frogs has been replaced by a neutral one with cups the size of my elbows. The leap from 12 to 13 hasn’t been outwardly great but is more than noticeable to me. I have become womanlier than I know how to be and have been released to the lakeside of Wisconsin for the summer.

 

Theatre camp is a place made largely for the school year outcasts. In seventh grade, my noticeably progressive physical disability and general social awkwardness kept me from feeling comfortable at school. Rumors about me swept from the girls’ bathrooms and through the hallways until they reached my older brother’s ears. He later confronted me in our shared bathroom. “Well? Is it true? Are you?”

At camp, there are no accusations. Although drama blooms, as it does wherever teenagers exist, it is a different kind, one that usually results in laughter and mutual understanding. At camp, I can be all the things I am afraid to be at home.

 

This year, friends from the previous year return and I make new ones as well. Some of us want to grow up to be Broadway stars, professional singers and actors, but most of us just want to perform. We are happy to share the stage. We spend our days perfecting musical numbers, dances, scenes.

Our cabin, which is actually just a dorm at a local college, is full of caffeinated teens with exceptionally loud singing voices. In our two-person rooms, we hang up posters ripped from teen magazines and draw hearts in silver Sharpie around our favorites. No one bats an eye when I tape up a picture of Megan Fox.

We talk about our crushes at home. We talk about friends who are not here at camp, who likely go to regular camp where they do things like canoe and play sports instead of memorizing every line from “La Vie Bohème.”

One afternoon, I borrow my bunkmate’s copy of Running with Scissors and continuously reread one scene in which the author witnesses sexual relations between his mother and the minister’s wife. I don’t fully understand it, yet it becomes fodder for a curious mind.

 

During rehearsal for the summer’s musical, we assess the boys’ cabin and obsess over the only confirmed straight camper. His hair is shaved into a mohawk that has been dyed devil red. All anybody talks about is how badass his hair looks. When Mohawk takes his shirt off during dance class, our group dissolves into a giggling mess.

After lights out, my roommate and I sneak into our next-door neighbor’s room, where we spend the next hour sketching the imagined penises of the boys our age and crack up over our artistic abilities. None of us has ever seen one in the flesh. I’m not convinced that I want to.

 

In the mornings we have group vocal lessons, where we sing through the show’s set list. The lessons are long and monotonous, led by a 90-year-old woman and her pianist. I find myself dreaming of a certain brunette’s perfect coils. I imagine losing track of my fingers in them. By far the most developed person in our cabin, she struts around the dorm in her Victoria Secret PINK push-up bra.

When my thoughts move to below the collarbone, I stop myself. I’m not completely uninterested in the on-going conversations about Mohawk’s abdominal muscles, which are really just the product of him weighing around 100 lean pounds, but I find myself contemplating someone else. But I silence my thoughts.

I watch her as she not-so-secretly smacks gum between her lips during a song. When she notices me, she pulls the chewed piece out of her mouth and stretches her hand toward me, inviting me to take the gum, to chew it. It should have been gross, right? It isn’t. I accept the gum and slip it onto my tongue. It tastes sweet, just a hint of strawberry.

 

On weekends, we take trips to the town’s pitiful monuments: arcades where half the games are broken, the movie theater, the mini golf course. After day trips to the beach, we pack two by two into the dorm’s single showers, where brunette and I share soap and lathering hands. I think I am the only person at this camp to know that God is a thirteen-year-old girl who has curly hair and listens to Fall Out Boy. Afterward, we smell of the same soap and shampoo: grapefruit Dove and berry Herbal Essences. At camp, nobody is bothered by this; elsewhere, maybe, but not here. Here, we are golden.

 

The weeks of the second session fly by faster than they arrive. We prepare for our performance, this year a production of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat. I am given the role of the narrator, and I skip around campus rehearsing my solo that happens at the end of the first act. At the last performance, our parents watch from the audience, roses in hand, ready to buy us Frappuccinos from the auditorium’s Starbucks and tell us how good we were.

My time at camp will be not completely problem-free. I am tortured by bouts of anxiety and what I don’t yet know is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Frequent phone calls between the director and my parents remind them that I am not burden-free. Still, there are more unbothered moments at camp than at school, and that in itself is reason enough to celebrate.

That summer, I learn the word bisexual and think it is something I could get used to saying. My bunkmates think my shaky hands are a fun party trick rather than something to be mocked. My counselors, once campers themselves, have returned as adults to share with the new generation the same peace they found here as teenagers. I think that maybe I’ll come back someday and be one, too.

 

At the end of the summer, we cry as we have never cried before. On the last night, we travel from room to room, raiding stashes of candy and soda, playing truth or dare, and doing each other’s make up. In the space under the first-floor stairwell, I have my first real kiss, a mouthful of strawberry and tongue that stays with me for years. Despite my fears, I didn’t drown. I carry with me what I have learned, what is not yet ready for revelation, and what may someday be.