Saving situations go like this: you’re all in the gym. It’s open-air with floors and walls sheathed in padded yellow mats, because it’s where people do gymnastics. But then evenings and on Sundays it’s a church where you can redeem your soul, because apparently all souls need redeeming.
If you’re a girl but really a boy, this is not the place for you. Know that, but be good at pretending. Wear the T-shirt that says “Sparkle for the Lord” in glitter instead of the one with the monster truck that you hide in your camp trunk.
Also this: cross your legs. Laugh in a soft way. Don’t make eye contact. Don’t sit in the first row. Don’t volunteer first. Look down for three seconds when someone asks you something. Wait. Don’t take up too much space. Be quiet. Wait.
When you sit on the floor and listen to Joe or Debbie talking about Christ and about avoiding an eternity in the hotness of hell, watch as a few small birds are pushed around by the wind just beyond the window frame. Watch the birch trees lean in through the openings where window glass should be but isn’t. Listen to people screaming in boats that dart over waves created by other boats on the lake down the hill.
When the girl next to you, Liesel--bottom right bunk, Cabin 8, the one who sweeps the floor when people are not fully awake in the morning--pinches your pinkie hard enough to break skin, you’re well trained enough in the art of silencing want and reaction to not even flinch.
She makes her way out of the back of the building, down the wooden steps, and you know she means for you to follow her. Her brown hair is smooth and center-parted. You wait until she is out of sight entirely before standing. You’re both thirteen, and while you know little about what comes next, each day feels like a potential border crossing that doesn’t happen.
This will be the day, you think, as you watch Liesel’s legs navigate the path in front of you. Up the hill, you can hear Debbie’s guitar and a roomful of campers, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart.” Why have we done this to the heart, you wonder. This dutiful muscle, infantilized by sentimentality and need.
It means nothing to you when Liesel holds your hand as the two of you look out at the water. Revise. It means everything, but you stop that. The water skiers look doll-like in the distance. No one sees when Liesel grabs what is the beginning of a breast you are wishing away. You won’t scream when she twists the skin hard. You won’t move even when she laughs and starts running back up the path, which becomes a tour of dust and shadow as she goes, the muffled bark of your heart soon the only sound.