While at A-Camp, I started writing about the people I met. Little snippets of something that had happened would pop into my head. I didn’t know what the point of them was, just that I had to write them all down.
Every story I am about to tell you is true. They may be slightly embellished for the sake of good literature. Names have been omitted, because queer people need protection now more than ever. But these are our stories – even altered, even nameless.
Every one of these is true, and every one of these mattered.
S had never been to America before. She didn’t know how cold it was when we complained about the temperature, just that it was cold. Her mother, she said, probably expected her to find a wife here.
“It’s happened,” I said.
G set up a “sex tent” outside their cabin. The entire camp saw it every time they passed by, but no one was entirely certain of its purpose, despite its descriptive name.
The tent was three feet tall.
I was told to bring tissues to the staff readings, but I didn’t.
C wore a T-Rex costume for Family Feud, though I didn’t know it was her until the next day. Every time T-Rex was up, they had to unzip the front of the suit and put the microphone through the hole to talk.
The whole room chanted in unison on their turns. “T-Rex! T-Rex!”
It was the first time I’d felt the family part of Family Feud.
When I finally learned it was C in the suit, I asked if she’d really brought it all the way to Wisconsin in her suitcase.
“Yeah! It folds up surprisingly compact.”
I was walking down the path when I overheard a heated phone discussion. That in itself was strange; cell service was spotty and mostly nonexistent. I tried not to pay attention, but it was hard not to. There was no one else in the area but me and the person on the phone.
I sped up, passed them, and kept going.
Later in the weekend, we happened to sit by one another at lunch, which is where I found out they were being unlawfully evicted.
I didn’t catch their name or where they lived, but I did tell them to look up their state’s laws about recording conversations and get as much as they could in writing.
“Is it OK if I put my hand on your hip while we dance?”
T and I met at the “Klub.” She was cute and funny; kind of my type, but I felt I wanted a friend in her more than anything else.
D, who shared a cabin and number of planned activities with me through sheer coincidence, met T the same way. She wanted friendship too, but she developed a crush. Like I said, T was cute and funny.
E sent a series of letters to anonymous campers – handed them to the mail delivery with instructions to give them to anyone who asked if they had mail but didn’t have any. E got one letter back. It was from T.
E told D about the letter. About how she wanted to meet T. About how she thought she might be able to form a real connection with someone.
“Come on. I’ll introduce you!”
I wonder if they’re forming that connection as I write this.
I wonder at how D is so much more selfless than I am.
I was late to dance practice because a drink exploded in my bag. I’d been frantically cleaning the drink off the floor with someone else’s towel, which they’d given to me without a second thought.
“Sorry I’m late!” I cried. “There was a LaCroix incident.”
“Only at A-Camp,” someone quipped, and they were right.
“I don’t want to be by the fire too long. A girl in my cabin is sensitive to smoke.”
I casually expressed interest in a panelist while talking to someone during one night’s Klub. We were all a little drunk, whether on alcohol or the atmosphere. Both, in my case.
“I dunno,” I yelled, trying to be heard over the music. “I just feel like they could tie me up and know what they were doing.”
“Oh, honey,” my conversation partner replied. “Love yourself. Make better decisions. You can do better.”
I decided not to inform the panelist of my interest in their kink knowledge.
“Hey, does anyone mind if I spray a hair product in the bathroom?”
Her father died when she was fourteen years old. Mine didn’t, but I listened to her talk about how she coped with trauma, heard her telling me about myself, and cried.
I tripped and fell in the bounce house. It wasn’t a bad fall; there were a lot of people bouncing and I overbalanced.
Except I fell into the wall and pulled down part of the ceiling.
A hand reached out of the mass of people and pulled me back up. I don’t know whose hand it was, blinded as I was by the collapsed ceiling. I was fine; the ceiling returned to its rightful place above our heads.
“I don’t want to die in the bounce house!” someone wailed.
Between giggles, someone else replied “What a way to go, though!”
The situation with T, D, and E resulted in a non-zero amount of drama. I was reminded that even at camp, life and people are the same in a lot of ways.
I hope they all at least managed to form real friendships. I hope I get to find out one day.
I didn’t catch their name, but they were scared, shaking on the climb up to the zipline.
“I’m totally going to scream,” they’d warned us, before they started the climb. We’d reassured them that it was no big deal.
They stopped halfway up, and the cheers and cries of “you’re doing great” and “you can do it” were louder than their eventual scream when they did, in fact, do it.
When they ran back with the rope, the verdict was “that was awesome.”
I think they were pretty awesome, too.
“If you’re not interested, that’s totally fine. And it’s no problem if you say no, but I’d really like to kiss you.”
On the last night, I gave in and informed the panelist of my interest in their kink knowledge. I was less than sober, and all I recall is telling them they were hot, then drunkenly dancing off into the mass of campers on the dance floor. The panelist might remember how they responded, but I don’t.
Their response wasn’t important anyway. I just thought I could let them know, and still love myself.
A Siren sang me onto the rocks. She wasn’t trying to, but she caught me nonetheless. I guess that’s how Siren songs work.
I got to watch her say she wanted to kiss somebody else.
I’m not sure if I’m hurt, or if I expected it, or if I’m relieved.
Maybe that’s how Siren songs work too.
“Do you know that person? You seemed a little uncomfortable and I wanted to check on you.”
R didn’t want to be touched. She pulled away, fear in her eyes, the first time we held out a hand to bring her into a group huddle. We apologized and didn’t try again.
She brought herself into the huddle a few days later.
K and I met in a crafts class and bonded over shared hobbies and cat photos. She was worried, she told me, about her cat getting into her crafts at a new apartment. She didn’t want the cat around dangerous tools or fumes, and had never had to worry about it before.
Her parents had just kicked her out of their house after she came out as trans.
I’m so proud of her.
I’m so scared for her.
I completely panicked on the platform for the zipline. I don’t know how long I stood there. Two minutes, maybe? Three?
I was freaking out enough that I almost missed that everyone was cheering for me, just like they’d done for the person who panicked on the way up. The cheers didn’t drown out my scream – it was from my own mouth, after all, direct to my ears – but not for lack of trying.
When I ran back with the rope, I concurred – it was awesome.
The night after the staff readings, no one went out. We stayed in our cabin, subdued and quiet. Some of us talked. Some of us cried. We all went to sleep early.
I was awoken by whimpering. I thought I was dreaming the sound at first, a continuation of my nightmares, but then there was the scream.
I was afraid to speak up and ask if she was alright. I was afraid to put a name to the fear.
I don’t know who screamed.
It could’ve been any of us.
“I know this is a lot to handle. Do you want to go outside? I’ll go with you.” I heard that over and over during the weekend, said from one stranger to another. I saw strangers give each other condoms, tissues, hugs, hickeys, support, advice, help, love. I felt connected to a group of people I’d never met before, in ways I never imagined I could’ve.
I was there to have fun, make friends, and be surrounded by people like me. I wasn’t there to find a family, but I did anyway.
If you were there, or if you weren’t.
If one of these stories is yours, or if none of them are.
I was there, and this is my story.
I’ll go with you.