We ride in the back of your parent’s car, watching the buildings get farther and farther apart. Our parents think we’re friends. I never said so, but I haven’t been your friend since sports camp last year. We had to hold each other’s hands in single file, and you held mine. The whole day after that, my fingers smelled like crotch.
You try to talk to me, but I give one-word answers. You say, I wonder if we’ll sleep in cabins or in tents. Which would you rather sleep in? I say cabins. You say, I don’t know, I think the counselors sleep in cabins. We’ll probably sleep in the tents, if we don’t have a choice.
It starts to rain. The wind gets stronger. The wind makes the rain run sideways, turns the sky gray, tilts a long black line of pine trees. I don’t have a raincoat. I just packed warm weather clothes. My mother didn’t help me pack.
She says, it’s okay. You can wear my sweater. I don’t want it though. The sweater is a hand-me-down from your older sister. It still smells like basement. I’ll bet if I leaned in closer it would also smell like crotch.
It rains the whole first week. I think the rain makes the mosquitoes hatch. We see them swarming out of ditches, streaming through the air like waterfalls of whining sound. They fly up underneath the net I put around my bed. I couldn’t figure out a way to make the net stay down. I can’t sleep. You say, come up here and sleep with me. I hear you eating chips. I hear your lips go pop from where they close around your fingers, sucking off the salt. You’re just like a mosquito. You suck. I feel kind of sick. I tell you thanks, but no thanks, but I really mean no way.
The day it doesn’t rain we all go swimming. It’s not warm outside, or sunny, but we have to go. There’s no place to change, so we take off our clothes on the beach. I ask the counselor, do we really have to? She says yes, unless you have a note. I make a mental note to get a real note, next time.
I take my shorts off and my underwear. I wriggle my bathing suit on underneath my shirt. The shirt bunches up and for a second you can see my crotch. I freak out. Then, I notice everybody else is naked. I freak out about that too, of course, but in a different way. You are the nakedest of all. You have weird puffy rubber ducky looking nipples. We have to wear rubber caps too. The caps are red, yellow, and green to show how well we’ve learned to swim. My cap is yellow. Yours is red, so I don’t have to be around you.
Yellow caps swim in a section that is 5-feet deep. The sections are marked off by a slime-covered rope. They don’t let you leave the water til they blow the whistle, so I have to tread non-stop for half an hour. 5-feet is just too deep for me to stand in. I can touch down with my toes, but the water flows into my mouth, splashes into my eyes.
The red cap water only goes to 3-feet deep. The water leaves a line across your swimsuit, just below your rubber nipples. Someone compliments your suit. She says, that’s cute, where did you get it. You say oh, it was my sister’s. She’s 18. The girl looks at you like she is impressed. She calls her friend over to meet you. Whatever, I think. You are all wearing red caps.
One night just when I finally get to sleep, just when I find a cloud of sleep in the cloud of the endlessly buzzing mosquitoes, someone jerks me from my bed, blindfolds me, and pushes me out of the tent. My nightgown’s riding up. I want to fix it, but the strangers hold my hands behind my back. They are probably perverts. Even if they’re perverts, I don’t want them to notice I’m wearing my period panties.
I get jerked around in my bare feet through muddy ground, through all sorts of leaves and bushes I can’t see. I will probably get poison ivy. I’ll get poison ivy in my crotch. The reddish poison ivy bumps will ooze out clumps of period blood. When the perverts try to rape me, they will get it too. It serves them right.
I smell the scent of wet pine needles. Ouch. I smell the damp earth, which envelopes me in strangely darkish steam. Then I smell you. I smell the smell of crotch, sweat, and potato chips. You did this. First I want to strangle you. But then I think about what this means. Cooler and older kids hazing the children. I feel both the warm and cold sweat dripping. We come to an ash-scented bonfire. I can see the smoky haze beneath my blindfold.
I smell your hand, which doesn’t smell like crotch when you pull off the blindfold. A group of pretty girls are wrapped around you, laughing. Were you scared, you ask. I don’t respond. I can’t think of anything to say. You were, you say, I’m sorry. We just thought it would be funny. You hand me a stick with a marshmallow on it. You say, it’s ok. When you’re ready. Someone starts to laugh at that and puts her hand over her mouth. When they’ve all gathered around the fire, I look away, look down, and cry.
The night before we leave, I see a spider on the wall. I don’t know how to tell if a spider is poisonous or what. This one is small and brown and fuzzy. He looks friendly for a spider. Spiders eat mosquitoes. When they buzz around my bed, I see him try to catch them. Go spider, go. He keeps getting really close. It’s like the mosquitoes are taunting him, buzzing close enough to make him think they’re in his reach.
He almost caught another one, I tell you. You say, cool.
Eventually, he catches one. It takes another hour. I say, look, he got it. You’re asleep. I watch the spider drinking the mosquito’s blood, the blood that’s filled with bits of me and you. I wonder what it tastes like.