On the basketball court, a dewy lacquer coated our skin. The ball slapped between their palms and the floor. I was merely an observer. I followed the ball with my eyes, not my feet. Every bounce, every word, reverberated from the far wall of the empty gym, creating in our ears and in our minds a concurrent game, a second delayed. I envied their motions, their assuredness. Two of my friends collided over the ball, falling like waltzers over a trip wire. For that eternal moment (and aren’t all moments so), they were held in the air by our collective gazes. The collapse was not as graceful as the collision.
My general failure as a basketball player was not helped by the fact that I would turn my eyes away from the ball every minute or so, glancing over to the entrance of the gym to see if he had been the one to slam the door or cough by the water-fountain. Of course, it never was.
I don’t remember the first time I met Brian. But I’m sure when I did, I also learned the various random facts you’re always forced to share during the first few days at a new job. We were both working as RAs at a summer camp for gifted children. He was 21, an English major, and if he could have any superpower, he would choose the ability to fly. I didn’t really notice him until we ran an evening activity together. While twenty kids were crammed in a room playing the “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” board game, he and I traded glances and sat a little too close together. The next thing I knew, we were making plans to watch a movie together (something I have learned to be college code for hooking up).
A few nights later, we went to sit on a patch of yellowed grass and watched the stars. When we sat down, there was a respectable distance between us, but that did not last long. We were soon kissing and intermittently looking around to make sure no one was watching us.
Somehow, as our limbs were tangled in the dead grass, the subject of our favorite body parts came up. Brian said that while he favored different parts on different people, on me he preferred what I thought to be a rather plain place. He touched a point on my chest between the ridge of my clavicle and the swell of my breast. It wasn’t until a few days later, after we were over and done, that I realized he had been resting his fingers atop my heart.
It was there, on that yellowed grass, that we began our camp relationship. I’ve spent every summer since I was 9 at a camp, so I’ve learned all of the intricacies of those fleeting, sun-baked, romances. Most of the relationships I’ve observed have lasted until the end of the summer, with a few continuing on after camp. Not mine.
One night, after our campers were asleep, we lay on a grassy field and tried, through a haze of clouds, to find the stars that had been so bright. I was lying perpendicular to him, with my head resting on the perfect pillow of his stomach. Suddenly, he stood up.
“Dance with me,” he said, as if the idea had floated down from the hidden stars. There was a certain amount of sense to his suggestion. We couldn’t dance together at the weekly dances we threw for the campers, but that didn’t stop me from asking,
But dance we did, to a tinny rendition, coming from my phone, of “Alone Jealous and Stoned” by The Secret Machines. As we danced, he tried to sing along to words he didn’t know. When the lyrics slipped out of his reach, he began to kiss me.
I began to form a list of excuses and explanations for the peculiar marks on my cheeks, chin, and neck. His beard left my chin and cheeks red and raw, which I blamed on a new face wash. I covered the marks he left on my neck with band-aids and claims of irritated bug bites. Brian did not make this artifice easy. He would suck at the base of my neck as if he were desperately trying to find something. Sucking, as I once had, on an orange slice after a particularly satisfying dinner of vegetable lo mein. He moved very slowly, which I tried to convince myself was a good thing. Sometimes I wondered if he had pulled me closer because he was simply cold. Instead of the expected moves made by other college-aged boys, he let his fingers explore the crevices of the mussed braid trailing down my back.
While he moved slowly physically, he was a speeding train emotionally. He asked if he could come home with me on my day off, knowing that it meant spending time with my formidable parents. He also remembered that I had once said that I would prefer to adopt children. He shared this memory after a particularly deep kiss.
I used to look into his eyes and think I saw promises. Once it was the promise of a kiss. Later, the promise of nights spent sleeping tangled together. I thought I once saw the promise of an eight-hour car ride and an ecstatic reunion. When I catch a glimpse of his eyes now, I search for a new promise. His lips are the same; his nose and his brow haven’t changed. His eyes are even the same shade of blue. But the promises are gone. I wonder now if all I had seen in his eyes was a reflection from mine.
Perhaps the hardest part of camp relationships is that your campers can, or should, never know. My campers spent the time before, after, and during, our relationship trying to set me up with every male staff member in a twenty-mile radius, except Brian, oddly enough. After we were over, I couldn’t explain to them why I was irritable or why I now paled when they nagged me about not having a boyfriend. I’ve had my heart chipped before Brian, and it will certainly be chipped at again, but there was something about being surrounded by twelve year-olds that made me revert to that age. I never dated in middle school, but I suddenly knew how it would have felt. It was a time where relationships last either three days or three years. The plans we made were the kind that can only be made before the future becomes scary and imminent.
My body hasn’t yet caught up to reality. If my eyes land on the curve of his back or the corner of his jaw, I am instantly reminded of how nice my lips felt against his beard or how well my hand fit against his back. I remember his hands on my waist happily, forgetting (or willfully ignoring) his recent cold features.
Six of us sat on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay. He wasn’t there. The breeze that dragged the waves onto the beach pulled the smell of the bay with it. It smelled like my breath when I find myself awake at 3 in the morning. Stale, sour, and entirely my own. The dark wind raked that odor through our hair and over our skin. I kept imagining what it would have been like to lay on the ashy sand with him. The night he broke up with me, a week previous, I was waiting at my car for him, wrapped in a pink fleece blanket. I was going to kidnap him, “in the name of fun,” and take him to this small beach. He walked up to me and told me that it was over, while checking the time on the screen of his cell phone. But on the beach, without him, my co-workers and I sang a hopelessly off-key rendition of “Stand By Me”, despite the fact that many of us didn’t actually know the words. Instead of philosophizing and pondering the future, we tried to stand on our hands and made up names for stars that could have been planes.