I recently visited my old sleepaway camp from 20 years ago, and it all came back to me.
1990’s – The Poconos
While kids in camp were flirting with boys at canteen, dancing – shoulder width apart – at senior socials, or making -out beside the rec hall, I was either with fooling around with my girlfriends, or looking up at the stars, thinking.
When girls were down at the lake, spread out in their bikinis, on their towels, asking boys to lotion their backs and shoulders, I went boating with friends or sat reading paperbacks, like: The Thornbirds, Gone With the Wind, My Sweet Audrina, Evergreen and Acts of Faith.
I blame those books for everything, for with reading, came an alarming sense of desire.
Suddenly, I wanted.
At 12, 13 and 14, I pined for a certain British counselor. He was older than me; not sure how much older, but he got me. Like really got me. He wore his shoulder-length hair in a ponytail, had the bluest eyes I had ever seen, played guitar, and shared my love for the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and Elastica.
What more could a young girl want?
He paid attention to me.
He listened to me.
He asked me questions.
He sang me songs.
He wrote me letters in the summer.
He sent me Beatles memorabilia.
He made me feel comfortable… but,
I wanted more.
I couldn’t be bothered with boys my age who thought they were so cool, and thought they knew everything. Don’t let me lead you astray, I never fooled around with any of them, and I never really thought about it because a match was struck inside me.
My sense of innocence was slowly dwindling at each weekly campfire where he played guitar.
I hid it well, my longing.
I wanted to be seduced.
I wanted to have my hair tousled with.
I wanted whisperings…
I wanted tracings and circlings…
There was so much that I desired,
but he was good.
He never laid a hand on me.
Even though I wanted so much
Even though I wore a red bathing suit that skimmed the sides of my body
Even though I was always running over to him
So much of what I remember are the nights I spent:
sitting in the grass with him, talking
being told that someday I’d meet someone right for me
being told that it was okay to be different
being told that I was an ‘old soul’
One night, we got caught up talking on the fence by the rec hall and I got teary-eyed and over-emotional and he put his arm around me and made me smile. It felt good that he wasn’t some scrawny and twelve or thirteen year old boy . He smelled like a man and it was good . And it made me sad. And it made me long for what I wasn’t ready for but wanted.
As the lights of the canteen went out one by one, I knew we had sat too long. Campers were following each other down the dirt paths to their bunks. I didn’t hear any of my friends looking for me. I never heard anyone call out my name.
No one knew that he put his arm around me as we crossed the field that was wet with nightfall. No one knew the heat inside me.
I remember thinking: touch me.
We approached the stairs of my bunk. I heard the O.D Counselor calling “lights out.” I could hear my friends inside the bunk, behind the screen door, laughing and getting ready for bed.
They did not know how fast my heart was beating. They did not know the desire in my eyes, and they did not see him enfold me in an embrace beneath the porch light.
I was heartsick.
No one asked where I was, or why I returned so late. It was a secret that blossomed in my dreams.
I wish I could say thank you to him:
for respecting me
for never taking advantage
for talking to me like an adult
for giving me such flickers of desire
Yes, sleepaway camp was a place of kayaking, arts and crafts, swimming, inside jokes, pranks, hiking, tennis, bunk skit nights, MTV nights, sing-alongs, Sadie Hawkins dances, color war, Olympics and day trips to amusement parks, but for me, it was always about awakening.
about learning about my self
about learning about desire
about learning to enjoy my youth and to put my future on hold