I'm 17 and it will be my last trip to a summer camp. At 18 one is considered an adult - able to buy alcohol, cigarettes, have sex. Of course, most of us have had relatively easy access to the first two vices for a couple of years now, but not so at a summer camp, under the watchful eyes of the counselors. (Although, to be fair, some of them do not mind bumming a cigarette or two off their 16-year-old charges, or making a side trip with a few trusted ones to a local brewery; although they will stop you after a pint or two.)
I'm very much looking forward to it. These camps have become much better in recent years, partly due to our ages: those 15 and older are separated from the younger kids and go to different camps. No longer in school buildings vacant for the summer, but in camping cabins or large, military-style tents. These accommodations may be a notch less comfortable, but it feels more like vacation and not a weird extension of school. We also have considerably more freedom: to swim whenever we want; to go into town on our own; to have summer heartbreaks. These are co-ed camps, and although girls are separated from boys every night, there are plenty of opportunities to make out during the day, as long as it does not go beyond holding hands or kissing. No camp director wants to have a girl knocked up on his watch.
There is another reason I'm so fond of these camps now - I discovered the secret to popularity. It is writing. High school Polish classes combined with my voracious reading have boosted my confidence in my writing abilities, to the point where I try writing short stories and poems. Strangely, that turns out to be a very valuable skill at a summer camp. I start by writing short, funny stories featuring other campers, and reading them at night to a small audience of whoever can squeeze into our cabin. Every day they demand another installment.
I write a script for hosting the camp's talent show, and volunteer to play the host. After that I am a celebrity. Two pretty girls ask me to write a dedication in their journals. After I couple of hours I produce two short poems. The next day there is a line of girls outside our cabin, each wanting a poem. I'm in a flow, so each gets one. I don't consider these poems good enough to preserve for myself, but I manage to commit one to memory:
A teraz idź i rzuć się w trawę,
taką pachnącą, taką świeżą.
Niechaj się wszystkie polne myszy,
ze swoich smutków Tobie zwierzą.
Posłuchaj ich, a potem zaśnij,
pchnij myśl w tę otchłań gorejącą,
i niech się stoczy księżyc jasny,
by Ci pogłaskać twarz gorącą.
My translation into English, without bothering with rhymes:
Now go and throw yourself onto the grass,
so fragrant and fresh,
and may all the field mice,
confess their sorrows to you.
Listen to them and then fall asleep,
push your thought into that smoldering abyss,
and may the bright moon tumble down,
to stroke your feverish face.
Come to think of it - not too terrible for a 16-year-old. Alas, I have no idea how to exchange that currency into kisses or even holding hands with girls. Perhaps I'm too deep into playing the part of a lone artiste communing daily with muses; girls want down-to-earth guys who will pay attention to them, make them feel pretty, and smart, and special, and not some navel-gazing poet fretting over the right rhyme.
My last summer camp is an opportunity to switch tactics, and I enlist the help of Bogdan - a 17-year old so obsessed with girls as to be completely oblivious to anything else. He is everything I am not: good-looking, dark-haired (for some reason women seem to prefer dark hair in men), with a hint of a mustache, athletic, bold, and so desperate for making out that he will stop at nothing. His drive is contentious and I agree to do things I normally would be too scared to do, like sneaking into the girls' tent at night.
He sweet-talked some girl into letting him into her cot at night, but he doesn't want to go alone, and so I tag along, like a teenage Sancho Panza. It's way past the curfew when we crawl out of our tent, dash along the camp's perimeter to the girls' section, and crawl into one of their tents. It is as big as ours, with at least a dozen girls sleeping inside. It's almost completely dark, with only a faint moonlight seeping through the canopy, but Bogdan, with a dog-like sense, has no trouble finding his paramour. Some girls stir and wake up, asking what's going on. We shush them and they go back to sleep.
I find myself, purely by chance, sitting at the head of a cot occupied by a pretty girl who caught my attention during the day. Her name is Hania and she has a small dimple on her chin and bit of a gap between her front teeth - a combination that makes her look different and cute. Of course, I can't see her face, but I recognize her voice. She is half -awake and in that dazed state she embraces me and we kiss. It is a long and lovely kiss, although Hania likes turning her head from side to side, making it difficult for me to keep our lips in contact. Perhaps this is to prevent me from probing her mouth with my tongue - not that I would know how to do that and what for.
Despite being nearly intoxicated with the smell and warmth of Hania's body, and focusing all my attention on her lips, some animal instinct alerts me to a faint shuffling noise outside the tent, and I dive under Hania's cot, just a second before a beam of flashlight sweeps inside the tent, and a counselor's voice asks, "Are you girls OK?" The girls stir and I hear Hania's voice right above my head, faking sleepiness. "Yeah... I was sleeping.... What's going on?" "Nothing. I thought I heard something, so I wanted to check. Good night."
The beam of light leaves the tent and Bogdan whispers that it is time for us to get the hell out of here. The nosy counselor will continue checking other tents and will eventually get to ours, where he will likely discover our absence. When he does, we better be as far from the girls' tent as possible. Getting caught drunk would not be as bad as this.
Sneaking back into our own tent is nearly impossible, with the flashlight-equipped counselor on the prowl , so we choose to jump the fence instead and walk to the beach. If our absence is reported, we can (truthfully) say that we went to see the sunrise. This in case they torture us.
It is a cloudless night, with stars and moon illuminating the world enough for us to cover the mile to the sea. I'm shivering, partly because of the nighttime chill, but mostly because I realize how close I got to getting caught and thrown out of the camp in disgrace. When the sun comes up a couple of hours later, it is spectacular, but I'm too tired and shaken to appreciate it.