Once you reached the sixth grade at our school you got to go to camp. It was a sleep-away event in the local mountains for a few days. Campfires at night, swimming and hiking during the day, the usual camp stuff.
I was in the same cabin as the tall girl. She read a lot. I remember some of the girls giving her a hard time about the book she was reading. It was called A Man and a Boat or something like that. No the Sea. The Old Man and the Sea. That was it. I read it once I got to high school and thought it was kind of a slow, quiet book with not a lot of action. Well, they teased her about it. They were all reading Judy Blume books, which were really good. Maybe she had already read them and moved on to something else. But we never asked her if she had read them. Maybe I should have.
The counselor lady who was also tall and assigned to our cabin was nice to her. I remember we all wanted to borrow the counselor lady’s rockin’ yellow Nikes with the turquoise swoosh. We begged and pleaded. But no. She loaned them to the girl for the duration of the camp. That was kind of cool because the girl didn’t have Nikes, which come to think of it was surprising considering she ran track. She had some cheap old boy’s tennis shoes that were fine, but they were definitely not cute or girly. So she got the Nikes, probably because she had the same size foot as the counselor lady seeing as they were the same height and all. I’ll bet she felt like she could run faster in those shoes. They looked fast.
On the last night there was a dance. They put all the girls and all the boys and all the counselors too in a big hall with a creaky wooden floor and an unlit fireplace at one end. The middle of the room was empty and there were benches along each side of the room. Guess what happened when we were all in the room? Yep. Boys on one side, girls on the other. Except the teachers who mingled together at one end of the room.
There was music playing, there was lots of nervous giggling and hair flipping, but no one was dancing. The teachers made their way out into the middle of the room and started pairing up boys and girls. When the girls figured out what was happening, they took matters into their own hands, the braver ones anyway, and went to choose their own boys rather than be embarrassingly paired with someone they didn’t want. Pretty soon the only two kids left were this girl I knew and a boy named Perry Sanchez. Even most of the counselors were dancing.
So, I have to stop for a minute and explain Perry Sanchez. He was, well, different. He was almost as tall as the girl I’m telling you about, but he was pretty heavy. I think he may have even shaved. The other kids would call him Baby Huey and he would get mad and run away crying really loudly. He was a little slow when he ran and also when he spoke. He had really big, rubbery lips that always looked shiny with spit. Perry Sanchez was in our class, but he also went to some other classes at school with some lady that no one really knew.
Back to the camp dance:
Eventually, the only people not on the dance floor were the girl and Perry Sanchez. I watched as it all happened in sort of slow-motion. The girl was standing on one side of the room observing the counselors talking to Perry Sanchez. She watched as they spoke to him and then gestured across the room to her. They made happy, jazzy gestures with their hands as if to say, “Come on Perry Sanchez! It will be fun! Go Ask the Girl to dance!” I watched as two counselors began to walk with Perry Sanchez across the floor toward the girl, one on each side of him. He stopped and said, “No”. A bunch of us kids stopped dancing to watch what would come next. The girl was standing quietly on her side of the room. She didn’t look horrified. I was surprised by that, because I would have been completely freaking out if my teachers were going to force me to dance with that boy. But she just looked kind of tired, like this was something she had seen many times before. I even saw her sigh.
The counselors spoke in low voices to Perry Sanchez and tried to get him to keep walking. He took a few more steps toward the girl. And then? You would have thought those counselors had stuck him with a pin. He screamed NO! NO!NO!NO! and tried to run away, but they held his arms. NO I DON’T WANT TO! NO!NO!NO!. Some people were still dancing, but most of us had stopped to see how un-glued Perry Sanchez might become. I held my breath and looked over at the girl wondering how she would handle this. But she was gone.
The counselors took Perry Sanchez out the back door and back to his cabin, I guess. The rest of us kept dancing for a while longer until we got tired. I went out to the deck to get some air and there was the girl. She was sitting on a bench with our teacher and the cabin counselor lady. The three of them were chatting and laughing like old friends.
That night was the final campfire complete with s’mores and songs like Kumbaya and a really lame round of Row Row Row Your Boat. I looked for that girl and saw her in the front row staring into the fire, singing along with the songs. Two rows behind her her girly girl friends held hands with the boys they had danced with and later I saw some of them sneak away down a trail toward the creek.
When I got back to my cabin, the girl was alone lying in a top bunk, banana yellow Nikes propped up on the bedframe, reading her book. I looked around for something to read or do until the rest of the girls got back. There was nothing.
“Hi”, I said to the girl
“Hi” she put down her book and smiled.” Want to try on the Nikes? They make you run fast.”
I saw that girl downtown the other day. She walked right by me and didn’t see me. The funny thing was she wasn’t tall at all. Her giraffe legs no longer dominated her walk. She was a pretty average height, just a normal girl really. And she was wearing heels.
© Susan Bush 2010