More fun at summer camp.
The just be a regular guy part was especially hard for me to work out. I honestly did not understand some of the things a boy my age was supposed to do without having to think about them. I went off dutifully to day camp that summer already knowing that I’d get teased for things like caring about what kind of snake that was, but I truly was not ready for the fighting thing.
Boys get into fights. Everyone knows that, especially those clean-cut, wholesome college boys who take summer jobs as camp counselors. What got me into trouble was believing that no matter what happened, I did not have the right to hit anybody. That’s what happened on the day about twenty of us had our turn at taking a trail hike a mile or so up old Chebacco Road from Beck’s Pond, where the day camp was. You could say that road should not have counted as a trail, since it was paved and a car came along every twenty minutes or so, but all along its edges the pavement was crumbling into little chunks of gravel stuck together with asphalt and the woods came right up where we were walking so you could reach out and pull a leaf off a branch any time you wanted to. It was the pavement that got me into trouble.
The game was that you were supposed to choose just the right piece…a chunk maybe just bigger than a good throwing rock…and kick it against the heels of the kid in front of you without getting seen by a counselor. I didn’t want to. The kid in front of me was my friend David, and I couldn’t help imaginging about a hundred different reasons any of the adults I could think of would not lecture me that you’re not supposed to kick rocks at your friends.
Ricky, the kid behind me, went to a different school and I didn’t know him. I took three or four good hits from rocks, but wouldn’t pass it on. When hissing watcha’, wierd, Kid? under his breath didn’t do any good, he started the thumb-and-forefinger ear pinging thing with me. After the fourth or fifth time I felt a surge of frustration, spun around, and confronted him. That was the moment both counselors were looking right at me.
It didn’t matter that he started it. It didn’t matter that the instant I had turned to face him the rush of anger was gone. I heard something from one of the counselors about being a poor sport, and if I wanted to fight so badly he’d give me a man’s chance,. and the next thing anybody knew Ricky and I were standing on some bare earth at the center of a circle of boys, wearing boxing gloves someone had produced and pushed onto my hands and listening as fifty voices chanted hit ‘im, hit ‘im, weak sister won’t hit back…
I couldn’t do it. The flare of anger I’d felt for about half a second was gone and I could not summon up even a pale ghost of its fire. I knew you were supposed to block the other guy’s punches so I put my arms up more or less the way I thought I should. Ricky took a couple of good swings at me. Maybe he connected, maybe not, I never felt anything. One counselor started yelling HIT BACK, HIT BACK in my ear… and then I had no idea at all what I was supposed to be doing so I dropped my arms and just stood there.
It never occurred to me that I was a couple inches taller than Ricky, and maybe stronger. I could not make myself do what everybody else wanted. As far as I was concerned, that just went to prove once more that I did not belong here, or anywhere else like this…but…what was I going to do about it?
I never did get that part figured out.