At Lutheran Summer Camp
The Last Summer I Was a Kid, Before Developing a Heavy Obsession with Goth Culture at Age 12
I was a shy girl. The threat of competitive spectator sports loomed, day after sunshine, clearwater day. I never wanted to go when it came down to it. The mess hall served wiggly mystery desserts and once my feet brushed what felt like slimy tendrils at the bottom of the lake. Sometimes, because the sensation of scent passes through the hippocampus, composer of memories, I smell what can only be that decades-old cafeteria. We sang songs there: religious hymns, nursery rhymes, summer camp ditties. One year the counselors curated a talent show; the girls who danced with feather boas to That Don’t Impress Me Much by Shania Twain won 1st prize.
Leah and I, bearers of the same last name by coincidence alone, convinced the other kids that we were sisters. We looked nothing alike. We were maybe 7 months apart, which our mothers pointed out, but the significance of which we didn’t understand.
I was befriended by Mel:
top-bunk cabana campfire princess,
wearer of coconut-scented lotion
and a genuine 34-b cup.
The boys in swim trunks, pale and hairless, beheld with gaping mouths her swollen woman’s body. As we tie-dyed t-shirts and spare socks, as we surveyed the massive slip-n-slide the counselors had built with garbage bags from atop Lakeview Hill, they said:
“She can’t go down on her stomach, not with those things.
Won’t it hurt?”
“My ex-boyfriend asked if he could stick $10 down my bra and fish it out.”
“You’re not the only one in a one-piece suit, that girl is wearing one too
and believe me,
she needs it.”
The year I was 12, the last year of camp, we hiked to a grassy meadow at the edge of the site and set up sleeping bags beneath the open sky. Leah crouched, scrambling to paint her toenails a powder blue before the last of the August sunlight vanished behind faraway hills. Drops of polish spilled, the chemical scent intermingling with that of roasted hotdogs and s’mores.
The sun was gone and we saw that Rosie, the head of Miami cabin, had spoken the truth—the stars were lovely, though we didn’t know any constellations.
Quiet Time, Lights Out.
Mel, a sleeping bag away, whispered that blue was definitely my color. She suspected that my pubescent body was a burgeoning apple shape. I wound a lock of straw-colored frizz between two fingers, pondering women as produce
and whether Rosie was a virgin.
The camp counselors looked like soap-opera stars. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, they used fables and props to depict wholesome Lutheran living, to implore us to invite Jesus into our hearts made of lace.
But the year I was 12,
I thought of the girl I’d admired from across gray middle school corridors:
her tight, tight jeans
and jutting bone-white clavicle,
her strawberry wristcutter scars
like a map of her
She was flanked at both ends by boys
who looked like men.
She was full of sex and death
I was 12. I preferred whatever strangeness made my blood rush, made me giddy in evening light, to the God of the Lutherans now.
It was the last summer of childhood:
Firefly, Capture-the-Flag, Honeysuckle Bloom.
Shadows were flickering, crickets singing,
The campfire crackled with tiny embers that glowed and popped.
Lily Forrest is a writer of poetry and prose from Cincinnati, Ohio. A diarist who writes often into the wee hours, she is a slam enthusiast who performs at local open mic nights. She owns no matching dishware, can usually be found daydreaming, and has lost everything she’s ever owned at least once.