I’m glaring at you in the middle of pine-scented nowhere. Did you know I won this trip by memorizing the most Bible verses? I thought one of my prayers had finally been answered.
My family wanted to vacation with the Steubens. Their son Kyle was my first gay experience (kissing boys doesn’t count). I didn’t plan it. It just happened. And I knew if I went Kyle and I would end up jerking each other off all over the Poconos.
So here I am.
I was looking forward to staying in a cabin, the whole nature thing. It’s weird how it’s clean but always smells dusty. Big enough for ten of us. I like that the windows are high on the walls, how they let the heat out during the day and cool breezes in at night, the way they slowly welcome the morning light. I wanted to enjoy falling asleep to the sounds of the woods.
Do you remember the first day, how you went swishing around the cabin welcoming everyone like we were checking into a spa? Our other counselor (we call him Li’l Abner because he’s big and beefy and from Tennessee — I know you don’t get the reference) said Don’t mind him, he’s just flamboyant. Seriously? When our eyes met you looked like you knew me. You don’t. You looked like we had a connection. We don’t. That night, while I prayed, I thought I should have gone to the Poconos because at least I’m attracted to Kyle.
I saw you watching me in the showers. I thought if that’s the worst of it, I could deal.
Then came the morning I woke up to you trying to jerk me off. Did you do that to anyone else? Li’l Abner was oblivious, the deep sleeper who has to be dragged from his bunk every morning. I trudged through that day wondering if anyone else knew, felt judged by every glance. You carried on like nothing happened, tending your activities and devotions and prayer groups.
The next night. Jesus. The next night. I made you stop and you went back to bed like you’d just gotten up to pee. I got dressed and walked across camp in damp mossy twilight, knocked on the lead counselor’s door. Said I needed to tell him something but I didn’t know how (because at Bible Camp you just don’t say things like blow job or even penis) and he said Well what? I said Jude was doing something down there and I pointed to my groin. He took a step back into the shadows. What was Jude doing? he said. I told him you had your mouth down there. He asked if I was sure and I said I wouldn’t be talking to him at four in the morning if I wasn’t. He said he would take care of it.
When I didn’t see you anywhere that morning, I thought wow, that was fast. I actually felt the day lift. Then at lunch, the weight of your arm across my shoulders. You said I know how you feel, Henry, obviously we have similar problems. I said I didn’t know I had a problem but you sure have one. You told me it was just cultural differences, that men where you come from do those things for each other all the time. Seriously? Do they have a different Bible in your country? I said I’m pretty sure if it’s wrong in one place it’s wrong everywhere.
And when — Jesus — when you said if I felt like I had sinned we could ask God to forgive me, I couldn’t talk. I just shook.
Now in the shifting light of the last bonfire, counselors are testifying about their camp experiences. You’re telling us how the Lord worked through you so much this summer, how you feel blessed to be able to affect so many lives. The campers are recommitting themselves to Christ by throwing sticks on the fire. Not me. I’m glaring at you, wood smoke burning my eyes.
Bill Merklee loves short stories, short films, and very short songs. His work has appeared in X-R-A-Y, Flash Boulevard, Anti-Heroin Chic, Ghost Parachute, Gravel, Columbia Journal, New Jersey Monthly, and the HIV Here & Now project. He lives in northern New Jersey.