I was a brat throughout college, dealing with the pressure of a competitive academic environment and my intellectual inferiority. I didn’t have anyone to take it out on except my parents who I blamed for my retarded genes. Even though that summer was a blissful one, I treated my parents with the same disdain when they came to visit. I answered their questions with curt responses and constantly rolled my eyes. I felt awful until I watched in horror as the TA Sadie treated her parents even worse during dinner that night. “I don’t know why they came to visit,” she screamed. “I can’t stand them.” Thank God. It wasn’t just me. I wasn’t the only one who was rude to her folks.
But a well-loved child eventually gets homesick and I longed to return home before the end of the summer. I thought I could go ten weeks without leaving camp, but the feeling persisted as much as I wished it to go away. I started talking about it rampantly. “I really want to go home. I feel like if I go back home, then I can enjoy the rest of the summer. I just have this sick feeling. I miss home so much.”
A fellow campster came to the rescue. Doug lived in Berkeley and promised to take me back the following weekend. He had a two-seater with a commitment to take Jason back as well, but when he heard my cries, he resolved, “We’ll just have to make do. Even if we have to strap Jason to the back.” So the three of us squished contently into Doug’s car on a Friday for a weekend back home in the Bay.
Oh, yes, there’s the part about falling in love. True to hormonal form, I fell in love very quickly and easily with all the cute Berkeley boys who happened to be tree huggers: nerdy, athletic, nature-loving. Does it get any better than that? I’d already made out with another camp mate on an overnight Entomology class field trip the semester before. He broke my heart when he told me he was seeing someone, then proceeded to hand me a bunch of dandelions he’d picked. The gesture was so sweet (the flowers) and honest (the truth) that I couldn’t help but jump into his open arms and return his warm embrace.
It truly was the summer of love for a close-knit group of campers with shared interests, goals, and work ethic. Hookups and indiscretions played out among hollowed pine trees, darting deer, and gurgling streams. Several girls lost their virginity that summer. That was still another three years away for me, but I still got a piece of the action.
We were free to do our own thing on weekends. Mostly, we set off on camping trips. On one trip, I didn’t feel like sleeping on the moist grass. Neither did Paul. So the shortest girl and the tallest guy in camp slept side-by-side in the back of a pickup truck. Everyone was sleeping except the crickets singing when we started making out, continuing until the sun snuck up. We snuck kisses throughout the weekend when no one was looking. Our last night before heading back to camp was dinner at a local restaurant with red and white checkered table cloths. Paul placed his hand on my thigh while we were ordering. Extremely ticklish, I banged my thigh up and made a crashing boom on the dinner table. All eyes were on me. My face turned red in embarrassment. “Sorry, I felt a mosquito on my leg.” Paul placed his arm around my shoulder instead.
Most of the summer crushes ended that last day of camp. We learned of significant others back home. I found out when I walked into a restaurant to see Paul holding hands with his girlfriend.
The one guy who came to my rescue that summer, Doug, several years later, climbed into a dumpster behind Greek Row on Prospect Avenue in Berkeley and put a bullet through his head. It pains me horribly to write this. I started sobbing when I found out. My roommate asked what was wrong and I commented, “It’s so weird. I’m not surprised. Isn’t that awful? I’m not surprised.”
Doug didn’t love himself and you could see it in his eyes. Even among friends who loved him, he had this sadness about him—as if he were always alone. His funeral was a sad reunion of forestry camp friends most of whom I’ve lost touch with.
It’s strange. I didn’t set out to end this discussion with a suicide. I simply think of topics that come to my head. In my Facebook panel, I saw pictures of one of my forestry camp friends and I thought, “That’s it. I’ll write about my forestry camp experience and all the fun we had.” I kept writing and this is what came out—not always what you expect, but something deep, something important. That’s why I keep writing, every day, to explore the truth.
My blogs have centered around trysts, dating, falling in love, falling out of love, relationships. That’s not what it’s about. The most important thing is love for yourself. I don’t think I’ve ever directly written that until now. Never stop fighting.