I stood near the campfire ring as the evening summer camp activities wound down and the other campers started their procrastination routines – putting off going to back to their cabins for just a few more minutes. I usually joined them milling about the shower house and strategically pretending to forget my toothbrush back at the cabin. I would go looking for one last round of good night hugs – it was going to be a whole nine hours before we all saw each other again. It was bedtime, but we were juiced. The sugar and caffeine that had not worn off from canteen combined with a surge of adolescent hormones made the idea of going to bed sound ridiculous, even though it was nearing eleven o’clock. We would chase around the shower house hoping not to get caught by the camp director, hoping to play a lot and at the same time somehow appear to be getting something necessary done. It was an unstructured, yet highly ritualized, part of youth camp – a part that I never missed.
But tonight was different. I didn’t do any of that. Tonight I waited for Helen.
The embers of the campfire were still orange, but a darker orange. The festivities of crazy campfire had long passed and echoes of the whole camp singing silly songs faded into the shadows of the pine and birch forest. Smoke wandered out from the charred wood and slowly rose into the darkness. The last bit of color had left the sky and the stars were staring down in anticipation. I tried sitting on one of the logs that circled the fire ring as I waited, but couldn’t find a comfortable way to sit. I paced back and forth, but never too far from the fire. Besides the intermittent mercury light by the old craft house, which was no off, it was my only source of light. Once again, my flashlight was somewhere else. The lake was only about 20 yards away, but it looked like complete blackness. The lake was beautiful, my favorite part of the campground, but night had sent the lake to bed. I looked around for Helen, hoping to see her, but also hoping she would stand me up. I knew that an important conversation was about to happen, but I still didn’t know my lines. The spotlight was about shine and I had not rehearsed.
This was a conversation that I should have had a long time ago. No, it was a conversation that should never have had to happen. It was a Hail Mary pass in hopes of a miracle - the kind of miracle that would release me from the all of the social and romantic responsibility I had found ways to avoid over the past six years. Desperation, as it turns out, is the necessary experience of prolonged avoidance of the inevitable. But how was I to know that? No one told me actions and inactions were boomerangs. I thought when you avoided something you got away with it. It was a clean break. Each day was a new day. I had an intense loyalty that that which was convenient in the moment, even if it had no semblance of truth. That was one of my major flaws - I kept believing things that were not true. Experience, however, was merciless in its reminders of the realities of world in which I lived.
I heard the crunch of footsteps on pine needles and sand. Someone was coming. A shadowy figure was emerging from over by the girl’s cabins. Backlit by the dull purplish mercury light, which had flickered on at some point outside of my awareness, I could tell the person was female. My stomach squeezed and I wanted time to stop. Like a log to the buzz saw, I was about to be shaped into something more useful – through pain.