Please enjoy this post where I tell you a story about an event from my life. Nothing more, nothing less. Today’s story: A surprisingly non-romantic lesson in genetics and magic.
I’m 14 and now I’ve easily passed beyond my awkward stage. I’ve turned in to something that makes me feel more grounded in my body than ever before but because I had joined my new school late this year I’d only really made this one friend all school year. I’m loathe to think that I’m so lonely I would do something stupid like go on a camping trip with her family but the truth is that I’m so lonely that sometimes I lay on the floor and wish I didn’t exist. Camping seems, at least, a little better than that.
I tell myself I’m doing this because I’m a good friend but I’m not. The reality is that this isn’t just camping but camping at a boy scout retreat that is filled with 13-18 year old boys. And the real truth is I’m very excited for people to fall in love with me. That’s probably the entire reason I agreed to this because I don’t even like camping. Or the outdoors. Or anything.
The drive to the camp takes almost a hour and I quietly read 1984 and stare suspiciously over the pages at everyone when the book gets intense. I already feel othered but when we arrive at the camp I am completely at a loss. I went to a sleep away camp just two summers ago but it had bunks that were already built, food already made, and schedules already decided and instead this is chaos. My friends parents have a camping van but we’re expected to set up our own tents, help cook food over the fire, and entertain ourselves for most of them time. It’s at once too much and too little freedom for me.
I’ve never set up a tent and despite my friend helping me, I snap the tent shut several times on myself. Eventually when I manage to get the purple monstrosity fully built, it feels like a hollow victory as I see people who arrived far later than us had their tents set up ages ago. After this feat though, things start to go smoother. I find out within hours that cooking outdoors is exactly like cooking indoors except that sometimes you have to yell at your friend to gather more sticks. I make an ugly but delicious approximation of food over a big fire pit that we manage to keep going the entire time and feel a certain sense of pride, like this long weekend won’t be as awful as imagined.
We wander down the trails after that and do some “sightseeing” that may or may not involve starring at boys. I am not just awkward and lonely but also that special type of creepy that only young teens seem to be. Instead of being social, my new hobby is starring at my peers and wishing they would hold my hand and tell me they love me.
That’s what we’re doing when my friend suddenly gets the bright idea to ditch that plan of just looking. She is going to make friends by talking to them. This is a terrible plan. Boys don’t want to talk to me. They’re weird and I’m weirder. Boys want tall girls with thin waists and a plethora of blond hair. Boys want shy, quiet girls who aren’t smarter than them. Boys want anyone who isn’t me because I’m the worst.
Why I worried what boys wanted, I have no idea. After all these are boys who are actively boy scouts in their teen years, they’re not exactly the world’s coolest or most macho boys. They’re not yet drowning in the soup of toxic thoughts about women and the two we end up hitting it off with like anime just like we do. John and Ryan seem like good guys. They’re both a year or two older than me and they seem impossibly smart and mature because of this. Ryan is a tall, lanky thing with permanent five o’clock peach fuzz on his face that threatens to be real facial hair any second now. His eyes are clear and he talks in what can only be described as an “announcer voice”. John is the shorter, rounder of the two. Muscled but soft, looking every inch like a gentle giant. He wears shirts with cut off sleeves and a bandana tied around his head, just like his favorite anime character. They’re jovial and fun and they show us around the camp, taking us to the lake, the archery range, and all the best trails. They don’t immediately fall deeply in love with me (to my eternal disappointment even though I don’t like them that much) but at the very least they’re a good way to pass the time.
At night I lay in my tent, starring up at the ceiling, with my flashlight and my book on my chest and I think about John. The thing about John is that his eyes are light blue with a thick gold ring around the pupil. When he looks up in the sunlight, the edges of gold catch. I don’t love John but I love his eyes. They look the way I think magic must feel. As adult I know this is just central heterochromia but at this camp, I simply think he must be special and magical. He feels like an echo of something beautiful I couldn’t have imagined before seeing it. His eyes make me hopeful about the promise of all the things I don’t yet know about. After I finish my musing I pick my book up and lose myself in the final pages of George Orwell’s 1984.
It’s nearly 3am when I finish the book, its words having cut deep inside me. The tent seems so small and I feel as if I am stretching outwards through every inch of it. I realize I can’t stay in the tent with my thoughts for even one second longer. I peek my head outside the flap. The campground is completely devoid of human life and so dead silent that I can hear my heartbeat rising. I feel the welling of tears down my face. I kick off the sleeping bag, root around in the dark for my flip flops and then as quick as I can, leaving behind everything and everyone, I run into the woods.
I can’t see anything and I don’t know where I’m going but when I get there, I am going to scream and never stop. I know that’s the only thing that’s going to make me feel whole now, make me feel alive. It hurts too much to think about humanity and how unfair and lonely and disturbing life is so I’d rather just let out my frustration in peace and then return back to society.
When I find myself on the edge of the water I should probably be less surprised but instead I just feel relief because I know my way back to camp from the lake. I pull my socks off and wade in. Maybe, I tell myself, I will simply drown myself instead of screaming. Maybe I will make my tears become one with the water and that’ll cure me of these feelings. When I’m up to my hips in water, I hear pine needles rustling and a snap of branches from up the hill. And there is John, backlit by moonlight, standing still at the edge of the woods, looking down at me.
In this darkness he is distilled down to a shadow. He says nothing, moving slowly forward until I can see the rings of gold in his eyes, beckoning me back into the world with their magic. And I suddenly want to believe so much, so I do.