Even my A-cup boobs feel like headlights in this sea of teenage boys. No push-up bras for me this summer; I've heard enough references to "camp goggles" to know that even the 200-something-pound girl teaching the fingerprinting merit badge is going to start looking pretty sexy by week three or four. I've got chicken legs and a flat chest, never really felt much trouble fitting in with boys before, but I can already feel the eyes on me. It's probably just that this is the first staff meeting of the season and people are always surprised that there are any girls at all. Around all these startled prepubescent boys I feel very much like a woman and, even though that's not necessarily a bad feeling, very much out of place. I'll blend in better when we're all wearing matching uniforms, feeling sexless. The hot pink of my t-shirt isn't doing me any favors there tonight. I can stand in the back during this meeting and introduce myself to the staffers I don't know when we move in next week.
When we're dismissed I suggest ice cream to the staffers I do know, and a small handful agrees, so we drive down the street to a little stand that must be what Dairy Queen used to be, when the very first one opened, a shack with a window to order at and nowhere to sit. Of course it starts to rain as soon as we get out of our cars, so we stand under the awning, licking our cones and shivering. We were all sweating not ten minutes ago. Conversation turns away from the summer ahead of us and towards the week we have left before it starts. I'm daydreamy, nervous for camp, unsure what to expect, both anxious to get there and regretting that I'm going at all. When I tune back in, Pat is on the phone talking in codes and slang I don't understand, and it takes me a while to realize he's trying to track down weed for tonight. Josh is talking about the dumb things he's done while high, things he thinks are funny that are only amusing enough to make me smile slightly, probably just because he's a good storyteller. These are the kind of stories that end in "you had to be there," leaving you with only a courteous smile to reply with and a disconnect that silences you both.
One of those silences is happening now. Josh breaks it with, "I don't think I told you about that time me and Dan and Steve got high cause I think it was while we were dating," and a sheepish grin.
"I could slap you," I think, but I laugh a little and roll my eyes because there's just no other way to respond politely. Of course, polite is the last thing on his mind. He takes my eye roll as his cue to go ahead with the story, so I suck in an anxiously patient breath and turn my ears to the rain, which is letting up now. The streets are wet and headlights look surreal in the watery night. It's pretty, but the neighborhood is awfully dark, not like home, not the kind of place people want to raise their kids. I turn back to the guys, laughing about something I tuned out, and suddenly feel safer. They're big and they think they're tough, think they can take anyone. I guess I think they can, too.
Josh is talking about how to handle police officers to get out of trouble. I've never had the opportunity to talk my way out of an arrest, myself. Not that I'm looking for a chance. Looking up at him, it occurs to me that he never smiles, only grins. He's a 6-foot-tall imp, offensive, mischievous, impossible - but that grin is endearing nonetheless. Still, I wish he would shut up.
Pat's off the phone now, everything set up for them as long as they can find someone to pay. Apparently none of them have money, even though they all just bought ice cream. I'm just finishing mine now, thinking about going home to curl up on the couch with my dog at my feet, watching TV with my brother and texting silly cheesy things to my boyfriend, my new boyfriend who doesn't drink or smoke or sweet talk the police. Who is only really intolerable first thing in the morning, and not because he's hungover; who doesn't pick fights just to entertain himself; whose parents still believe in him and whose life does not need repair (except for maybe his awful haircut).
Without the rain the night's grown empty and shiny and we've all gotten quiet. Gazing out at the fog rising from the ground, something in each of us is stirring. I know Pat feels the darkness around us seeping in under his skin as purposelessness and I know I feel that fog rising like a timer urging me to get back home before it's too hard to see the way. Josh, though, I can never read, but when I look at him, and he raises his eyebrows as if expecting me to say something, I suddenly understand like I never have before. Loneliness. I see it in his face, filled with hope and expectation suppressed by defeat. And instead of sympathy or pity, I feel anger, for his unwavering insistence upon wallowing in his almost-ness.
I look away. We all look away. I make an excuse to leave, and as I drive away I see them standing there, not two people but one person and one person, each utterly alone and hardly alive, and I know that I will not be a sexless staffer hiding my gender in a uniform at camp this summer. I will be a woman, fully human and fully myself, however I may be judged, and I will be alive, and I will leave the nearly lifeless boys to wait in the glistening night for a dream that makes them believe for a moment that they are still breathing.