by Jack Kaulfus
All summer, I’m confusing the two of you. One with the other. You come up behind me on the bridge when I’m throwing ragged summer leaves into the dry creek bed below. Nobody walks there. At first I think it’s the sweat in my eyes, the sweat sliding off the tip of my nose and down onto my uniform shirt. It’s you and then it’s not you, and I have to think fast, to lie into the mouth of one to preserve the memory of the other.
That night among the evergreens, behind the fire circle, I’m trying to explain this face blindness to Jules when you show up again. I see you through the branches and hope you are not coming for me. But then we are talking about what it might mean to forget the idea of only one option, and later, after everyone is asleep, I let the two of you lay just one arm across my hip.
I go ahead and roll my back against your front and shut my eyes. In my memory, there’s the smell of one of you and the feel of another. Maybe it’s obvious that I only have one kind of love to give, and maybe you don’t care that it’s not for you.
The new kids never even met you. They know the story of you. They will have it by heart by the second week and include the gruesome part in a letter home. They don’t know about the about the blue veins in the backs of your hands, calcium deposits flowering your front teeth – the things you can’t help. In the picture on the wall in the Mess Hall, you lean against the giant dusky boulder in the middle of Senior Quarters. A group of kids pass the framed picture and one of them makes a frog face, aping your on-duty posture. Something about your presence there makes them defiant.
This whole camp is haunted – by campers who never belonged anywhere else, by girls who drowned in the lake or broke their necks beneath horse hooves, by women in their thirties who loved a counselor one summer and then never loved anyone else. Those women send their kids here. Those kids ghost the grounds looking for things that don’t exist anymore.
I am lying beneath the trees and the sun is setting on an interminable afternoon. The longest night of my life is about to happen. Later, I will try to recount the chemical story of sex, of tomato leaf and vanilla, and the strength of your wrists, but I will use numbers instead of words, and it won’t work. Later, I will say that we guessed together, guessed correctly, and so felt bound.
The next morning is suddenly late August, early fall. You are leaving, and I’m staying, and there are lies being told, though that hardly matters. A mosquito stings my upper lip sometime in the night, under the cold trees, and I can’t quit running my bottom teeth over it in the morning. The sting blows up like a tiny red balloon. You are gone, not coming back, and the colors of my body match the colors of the camp. Red lip. Red leaf. Red boat straining against its ties in the wind.
Today there’s a white sky, and a light rain. The tree canopy is so thick I can walk down the path toward the bridge without getting wet. Beneath the bridge, the leaves I’ve dumped are beginning to float downstream. Again, there you are. This once, I am hoping for you both.
You show up at the staff meeting, a blandishment. I work at ignoring you, but then you sit in the chair beside the fire, looking at nothing. I can’t tell if we are doing this together. All your stories took place here, on these grounds, in these wooden buildings, and I am trying to remember things that happened to you, not me. I feel a hot hand on top of my head, and Jules drops heavily onto the couch beside me. You there, she here, somebody counts down. We always start with a song.