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Camp Howit

Chapter 16

SUNDAY

0

Again, I was woken up by the leaders along with all the others, and again I was naked and alone. I hated that feeling, but the memories of last night crushed that awful aloneness for a time. Until I remembered that it was Sunday, and I was going home in a few hours. I hurriedly tore down my tent and ate breakfast, anxious to head back to spend what time I could with Robert before I had to go home. I again made mental notes to ask him if he would like to stay in touch.

The march back was torture. Every step seemed to take me further away from the camp and Robert instead of closer. Eventually we came to the familiar path, and then the field, and then we saw the academy and the woods beyond it hiding the cabins. Everyone shouted. Even I did. You had to fit in to not be noticed.

As we approached, it was obvious that parents and guests were around, as usual on weekends. The place teemed with buses and people, like my first day, and last weekend.

As we arrived at the log cabin, Greg was out front with other cabin leaders, waving us over out of the group of returning hikers. He told us our parents were either waiting in the academy cafeteria, or would arrive there to pick us up shortly. We had to unpack and return all the equipment from the OS class and any other classes first, laid out on the porch there at the side to be checked out. After he checked our equipment off his list, we were to head to our bunks and pile our blankets at the foot of it for laundry, like always on Sunday afternoons, leaving or not. We were to put all our own stuff in our dresser or in our luggage under our bunks, then shower, return to the cabin, and if we were going home, to pack our own stuff up, check with him, then head up to the cafeteria where our parents would meet us. He said that new kids were arriving and taking what bunks were empty, and anything left out was impossible for the camp to be responsible for.

My equipment checked off, I dashed inside to follow his directions: I had other, more important business, too. I stopped in my tracks just at the base of my own bunk.

Robert's bunk was stripped down and bare, the drawers in his little dresser next to mine were all open and empty, and his suitcase wasn't under his bunk.

He's gone? I thought in horror. I never asked how long he was staying, I thought it was all summer. Damn it!

The awful, new emptiness and the old, familiar loneliness came back with a vengeance, ravaging my mind and body at once.

I worried that he had gotten caught on his way back from seeing me last night, and had been sent home. I couldn't bear the thought that I had been the cause of him getting into any trouble. I remembered he had said his father was likely coming to pick him up, and I fervently hoped that he would be back before I left.

James' bunk was also stripped for laundry, but his dresser drawers were all closed and his suitcase was under his bed.

James. He should know. I'll wait for him while I pack up. Then look for him if I have to.

I pulled up the blankets and sheets and pillow. I decided to wait to shower at home, even though I really needed one, so I wouldn't miss James if he came back through and left again. I started unpacking the dresser. Slowly things went onto the bare mattress from the dresser, ever so slowly.

I dawdled, as Gran would say.

Greg came through, checking out other kids' gear and their checklists. I busied myself as he neared.

I pulled the suitcase from under the bunk and onto it, opened it, and threw my flip-flops, towel, Dune, and a few other things that had been in the middle dresser drawer into it. I opened the locked drawer, and threw those things into the suitcase, followed by the contents of the last drawer.

He asked if I had everything, and I knew that I did. It had all been in my dresser, and now it was all in my suitcase. I checked for a couple of things that were on me, and they were there. I would leave nothing behind to mark my passing. Except some soiled linens, and they wouldn't bear any sign of my passing by tomorrow.

"You did hear me say your parents were up at the main cabin, waiting, right?"

I nodded.

I wanted to ask him if Robert had gone. I couldn't believe I had never asked him how long he was staying at the camp. Again, I hadn't looked ahead, or thought something out, and had failed to anticipate the obvious. I wanted to ask Greg about Robert, but I didn't have the guts.

"I'm just making sure I didn't leave anything behind," I said, comforting myself that I wasn't really lying.

"Well, head on up there, you're checked out. Let me have your key and you can take off when you want."

I handed it over, almost feeling like I was going to miss it.

"Good having you here. Think you'll come back?"

I shrugged.

"Well, have a good summer, and good luck in high school, Alex."

"Thanks."

He left and oversaw things at the front door again. I waited, hoping against hope that Robert returned soon. Or that at least James did.

Mom and Dad arrived.

"A boy in a camp shirt told us you were back and getting ready, and if we wanted to head out to the cabin you were in, we could come pick you up here instead of waiting around any longer up there."

Why hadn't they stayed up there in the air conditioning?

"We could stop at White Fence Farm on the way home. But we should be heading out soon, if we do."

It had always been a favorite place, so I had to seem happy and pleased. Normal. Nothing changed.

"And aren't you eager to see your room?"

My room. Sure. The whole reason for coming here, beside to learn something helpful in my future. And meet my future classmates. And to make friends. And to learn how to not be gay.

I'd made friends, but not of any of my future classmates. They were no one I ever wanted to be friends with. But I had learned something. Indexing notes that way was handy, orderly, and I expected to be using it. And I'd learned that I didn't look ahead enough. I got blindsided easily by things I should have seen coming. And that boys messed around, sometimes. And that I was surely gay, and being gay wasn't all bad, as long as I wasn't alone.

But now I was alone, again.

I grinned emptily at them and walked toward the front of the cabin. Greg reached out and I had to shake his hand.

"Your son was a pleasure to have with us, Mister and Misses Raymond. Honestly. I do say that often as a pleasantry, even sometimes when the camper wasn't, not even close, but Alex was, honestly."

He grinned at them, then down a little at me. I grinned back emptily.

"I hope I see you again next summer. We have a two week program for high school students, working on advanced study skills and more advanced physical skills. It's challenging, but you can pick and choose as much or as little to do as you like. And if you like, you can spend your time much as you did these last two weeks. We also have longer camps, for special study of the major branches. Physics, math, biology, geology, gemology, astronomy, which, by the way, goes to the Adler, once a week, for all four weeks. And goes to the Dearborn at Northwestern in Evanston on a weekend camping trip."

He had hooked me, deeply, and he knew it. I could tell by his grin aimed at me. All I had to do was swallow.

I looked at Dad. He shrugged and asked me, "What do you think?"

I shrugged and said, "Sounds nice. Got a pamphlet? Seen James?"

He told us where the flyers were and that he hadn't.

The flyers were in the main cabin, where we were getting the bus to the academy and the parking lot. Mom and Dad asked questions, and I paid them enough attention to answer. Like everything was normal.

As we walked to the main cabin, I furiously searched for James or anyone I thought might know where James was. I couldn't think of anyone he had spent any time with, other than Danny and the twins, and I didn't see them either.

At the main cabin, I took my time finding pamphlets and flyers on classes I could take over the next summer. I found the ones I actually was interested in, and pretended to look at others, while really looking for someone. I gave up there, asked for a snack or something from the cafeteria before the ride home. They reminded that they had other plans that I otherwise would have been glad of. I pretended to be pleased. I was upset, though, as they were impatient to leave, due to those plans.

White Fence Farm had always been such a pleasure to visit. It was nearly a parody of farming and country styles, with a petting zoo and other touristy attractions. The food alone was reason enough for an hour of driving time. And it was only down the road a bit, almost on the way home. But it meant that we should be going, soon.

We got onto the bus. At the academy, as we walked around it to the parking lot, I saw Grayson. Perfect name for the fucker. One of the two most elitist asses going to my high school in the fall.

I told Mom and Dad that I would be right back and ran toward him calling his name. I asked, but he just sneered.

"The guy in the bunk next to me?"

He shrugged and grimaced.

"Okay, look, can you give this to Greg? You know who he is, right?"

"Yeah. Fine. If I get the time. No guarantee."

I knew I couldn't count on him, or his type. But it was all I could find.

I wrote my phone number down in a notebook, tore it out, folded it, and handed it to him, while I pleaded, "Please. This is so important! He has to call me. Okay?"

"Okay. Sure. Fine. Whatever. Guess I'll see you around later. Be a stranger."

He sneered and turned away.

It was all I had, unless I saw someone else very soon. I rejoined my parents and we headed toward the bus. The ride was quick. The crowd at the academy was large and constantly moving. I couldn't spot anyone familiar in the tight crowd. We broke out of the throng near the building and the buses and into the parking lot. The crowds thinned and the car loomed huge and threatening.

As Dad opened the trunk and I put my suitcase in it, I couldn't believe I was going to leave the camp and I hadn't seen Robert since Friday in the astronomy class. It was stunning, and painful, and made me angry and upset. I tried hard not to take it out on my parents. They had no idea, and I couldn't tell them. I climbed into the car, pamphlets in hand. The high school special studies camp looked nice. And I would love to see both telescopes. And I wondered where they camped at to visit the one at Northwestern.

But not even those awesome temptations could hold my thoughts for long.

I wondered if I would ever see him again. Or James. Or the twins. I doubted it. I wished I had asked James for his address, or phone number as well. My only hope was that Sean Grayson gave my phone number to Greg, and that Greg didn't rotate out or away. And did call me.

I had never asked Robert how long he was staying. I hadn't considered it until too late. I didn't know for sure what town, or where at all, he lived. I hadn't looked ahead. At all.

And now I had to pay the heavy price of my lack of preparation and forethought. Just like many of the classes warned about. I really hadn't learned that lesson at all, at least, not until it was too late.

I'm such an idiot, I thought, feeling lower than I had for a very long time. Since what hadn't happened hadn't happened; either of them.

You're supposed to be so smart! Skipped fifth grade once you stopped stuttering and lisping like the faggot you turned out to be. And your folks moved so you could go to this fancy high school with such a reputation and shit. So smart, but don't think ahead at all. And you couldn't even learn that simple lesson until it was too fucking late. Idiot!

You even repeat an old mistake, and a big one! You let someone know about you. And you promised it wouldn't ever happen again.

But it had happened again, and this time it had been as if it had never happened as far as anyone else was concerned. Only Matty, Danny, and I know about that. But even bigger, and better, and more important, only Robert and I know about us. And it didn't hurt to remember it, only that it was over and I wouldn't ever see Robert again.

If I had kept my wits about me, if I had thought to look ahead and at least offer him my phone number or address, if only I had, if only...

Candy and nuts, I thought sadly.

I had the slim chance that his number was listed, and a Simon in Hinsdale would answer the phone in a German accent. I would call every Simon in Illinois if I had to.

We stopped at White Fence Farm, and I only cared to order and eat. The petting zoo and other things to do had all already been done.

As we sat down, Dad asked, "Not going to the zoo?"

I grimaced and shook my head.

"Might be the last time we get here before you're too old to care, you know. Go check it out. We know what you want, anyway. Right?"

I nodded, and grinned, because I always ordered the same thing. I liked most of the menu, but stopped ordering the kids menu long ago. And most of the adult menu was tried and dismissed over time. But the one thing they did perfectly was the one thing they did perfectly. I waited for the soda, answered their questions about the camp, said I wouldn't mind going back next summer, and how short it seemed now it was over, got half the awesome root beer down, then took off with the rest of it.

The place changed from time to time, but not much and not often. And it always had some kind of petting zoo. In the summer Sunday sun, there were plenty of people walking in both directions through the usual places. I watched as the younger kids ooh'd and ahh'd, and remembered how I had.

But not any longer.

I'm past this kids' stuff. I'm not a little boy anymore. Not even a boy. Here I am, gay, and there's nobody interesting out here. They're all boys. I'm not. Like the whole place. I've outgrown it. It's a neat place if you haven't been here, for sure. And when you're small, sure.

I bet Robert would have liked to have seen it. Someplace he's never seen before. I bet he would like it. And the food.

But now the food was all that interested me. I walked through the place, seeing others enjoying the place and enjoying the kids enjoying the animals and the place.

I found my way to the bathroom then back to the table. I wished I had showered. The baked mostacciolli smelled as good as ever, but I wasn't very hungry at all. I picked it apart and forced some down.

"Not hungry?'

"Ate at the camp, I guess."

It forestalled other questions at least.

White Fence Farm now only meant great food, and stuff for kids. And the summer camp, and finding and having and losing Robert.

Leaving there felt as bad as leaving the camp.

Changes, I thought. Like in health class. Things change a lot now. They had no idea.

The drive home was a buzz of tires on concrete, and I answered the few questions my parents asked. Back at home, it seemed almost like a strange place. I couldn't believe I lived in the large, fancy house on the tree-lined street, in among the mansions and estates.

I took my bag inside and upstairs. My bedroom was empty. Mom and Dad grinned from the hallway. I grinned a little and headed up to the third floor.

The first things I noticed were that the door at the bottom of the stairs was missing, that the walls along the stairs were patched and sanded, and in places where I hadn't done any damage - many of them - that the steps were now carpeted - like the rest of them in the house - that the door was now at the top of the stairs, and finally, that my entire bedroom was up there. Bed, dresser, shelves, beanbag, stands, the rest of the models, and all where I had drawn them on the plan. And the footlocker. And it was still locked. Even the boxes I hadn't unpacked yet, everything. And it was cool, not hot and somewhat stuffy, and the windows were all closed and had curtains now.

My upstairs room was completely transformed, unfinished, but there. The bare wooden floor was now covered in a warm, deep gray carpet. The side walls were now much closer. The new walls cut the room down to nearly half of its original size, and the room seemed so much smaller.

It felt far better, no doubt, and not just the fact that it was cool and comfortable. The walls were still bare, finished drywall, but it felt more like a room. It was cool, most importantly, even though the windows were closed. The air conditioning was clearly making it up there. A fan with several lights hung from the center of the flat ceiling. Now only three large windows filled the room with light front and back, and none on the ends.

It was just as my plans had planned. The only difference were two doors in the new wall to my left, instead of one, like in the other new wall to my right.

In that new wall on the left side, with two doors, the right-hand door led to a small room, the wall dividing it from the other room serving to hide the pipes that had formerly been so obvious. The floor was carpeted and the walls ready for paint, like the main room. Vinyl blinds covered the two windows. A light was overhead with the switch on the new wall.

The left-side door led to a nearly full bathroom. A sink, a mirror, a toilet and a shower stall, vinyl floor, all white and gray. Beautiful. Even with the walls and ceiling bare and unpainted. There was overhead lighting, and a switch and outlets on the new wall between it and my bedroom.

Across the large bedroom, something like sixty feet, the single door in the other new wall led to a room wider front-to-back than it was new wall to outside wall, making it seem almost shallow though it was large. Finished but unpainted, and with the same carpet as the other rooms. Down the middle, where the pipes were, the wall was floor to ceiling, but lower down was a half-wall with a wide shelf built out into the middle of the room. It hid the pipes, floor to ceiling, as if they weren't there. It made the room into a single, split space. With plenty of windows, it was open and spacious, and a decent bedroom space all on its own. Alone, it was bigger than any room in the old house. The inside wall had an electrical outlet on either side of the door. The four windows let in plenty of light through the open blinds, and an overhead fixture would fill it with light at night.

In the main room, my things were where I wanted them, though now it was reality, I saw that I wanted things moved around a bit. It was wonderful, though.

"You got the bathroom!" I said, amazed, as they made the top of the stairs.

"The guy I had do it, said it was a challenge. Usually, he says, these spaces get divided into two with a hall to the front and back windows. But making it one big room, and hiding the plumbing, meant the outside windows were in the corners. So, we made that end two small rooms. But then he mentioned the plumbing would be no problem, as it ended a few feet away anyway. He could get to it right downstairs in the pantry at the end of the hall. And they pushed pipes upstairs, connected them, fastened them down, and upstairs here, tied in, fastened them down, and put the bathroom over it. Took them longer to build the wall framing around it into the wall between the bath and other little room. The other room, the big one, we came up with that divider and snack bar to cover those pipes."

"But the bathroom probably cost more than the whole rest of the work."

"Not without the painting. Then it was manageable. So you have a lot of painting to do, young man."

I really was thrilled. It was different, a change, and I liked things to change. I just didn't like all of the changes. But his one I did, a lot.

***

That evening, as I looked out the third story window beside my bed, watching the sun set over the trees, I wondered where Robert was, and if he was looking westerly, and thinking of me.

I knew that soon, Greg would be bringing in the stragglers from the academy and the large cabin, and that James would be among them. And James would have two new bunk mates. One new bunk mate, and another new person in the corner on the far side of him. I wondered what they would be like. If they would get along with the windy James, or not. Or the twins. Or even if the twins were still there, though I was sure they had mentioned being there all summer.

I hoped Greg was still there. I intended calling the camp tomorrow, and seeing if I could have Greg notified to call me if he had a chance and didn't get my note, which I was sure he would never see. I knew I would if I had to.

The next day, I grew sure that I had lost the best thing I had ever had.

The camp and the school, and Greg, had the same answer: never give out any information about any student, camper, or staff. I'd get nothing.

There were thirty-seven Simons in the phonebook in and around Hinsdale. It took almost all day to call all of them. None of them were from Germany, or had a boy named Robert that went to high school in the fall, or had just returned from summer camp.

I was a realist, even that young. I knew he was gone, and I had missed him because I hadn't thought ahead.

The sadness lasted for days. Weeks, really, until one day I found myself out on the roof over the driveway again.

I didn't hear any voice, this time, as I sat there, thinking.

I was gay, and I knew it, and there wasn't any arguing to the contrary any more. It was no phase, I wasn't going to grow out of it, I was destined to be gay. I knew I was different, not like everyone else, but now I knew there were others, too. And I knew that others felt like I did, and that some of them looked like and were as nice as Robert. That meant more to me than I could put a price on.

I knew that I could get by, in the shadows or not, but I could get by, gay and all. It might be painful at times, unbearable at others, horrible, wretched, and frightening at times, but there would be good things, too, great things, wonderful, beautiful, exquisite things, too.

I would survive.

Alex - Camp 1 - -16