I'm going for the pussy badge. It's my last one left - I got the midnight rendezvous by the tire swing over the water; the getting caught running through the girls' cabin with underwear on head; the sneak a beer on top of the roof of the mess hall. All I need is the pussy badge - and you know what? - I'm going to get it.
We are allowed personal calls on Sundays - and mostly I call Steven to check in on the restaurant, and get an update on my kids from my wife, Susanna. When I call I talk like a thirteen year-old (required (for the "full experience")). I say: "Hey Susanna, how's it going? (Then I pause like I don't care) and then say: "Yeah, Yeah, I love you too, Sue, got to run." And then I hang up the phone and run over to my new best friends by the dock. When I run, I run like a thirteen year-old over to the pond (legs flailing out at the sides). I was taught in orientation to jump from time to time for no particular reason - this is like the spontaneity of being thirteen. I got the running like a carefree kid badge real early on here.
At the dock, they're all wearing swim trunks circa early seventies, and the girls (women) have their hair in that era's style, too. Scooter (Dr. Phillips) hasn't done well in completing badge missions and he's still working on push a new best friend into the water badge. Me, I've got my eyes on Betsy (Professor Stevenson from the small college in the city). She's going to give me my pussy badge - and I'm going to give her her penis badge. I shove her in the water, tell her she looks retarded, and then ask her to meet me back here after lights out. She giggles and says eww gross and no way and I know she'll be there.
It's a catch-22 in a way. When you get all the badges, you're done - so you can't stay, but until you get all the badges you haven't fulfilled your lost childhood - so, you see? I have mixed feelings as I skip whimsically (for the full experience) in the shadows down to the water. I know that I have to get the pussy badge, and Betsy needs the penis, but then it will all be over.
I remove my sandals and throw away my lollipop and dip my feet, up to my knees, in the cool pond water, making ripples in the moon's line of white on the black satin. Luckily no one is around when I break character and remove my oversized baseball cap and stroke my graying hair. I catch myself and put the oversized cap back on (askew of course). My camp-issued-t-shirt, bearing the logo of my favorite sports team (a team I've never heard of anyway) hangs over my nylon shorts, covering my gut (supposedly making me look like a fat kid, not an overweight restaurant manager). I wait, trying to think about capture-the-flag and shaving cream on my best friends' hands, and warm water to make them piss - but I keep thinking about where I will go tomorrow after I get Betsy's pussy badge. Sue, the kids, my job (nine-to-five). And the thought of a wife and kids, a job (my wife, my kids, my job) hurts. So I continue to think about batting for the baseball team on my shirt, hitting home runs and playing for the rest of my life. I think about building giant Lincoln-Log cabins, snow-forts, tree houses and living in them with my best friends forever and ever. I skip a stone and picture ladybugs and sharply dream of catching fireflies, blocking it all out for just one more night - then I hear someone step onto the dock behind me.
She doesn't say a word. She looks around, glances behind her, appears nervous about getting caught (she's good at this). I try to try to look cool (in the frame of mind of a thirteen year-old) and don't say anything either. Betsy sits down next to me, leaving a foot of space on the dock in between our wrinkled bodies and youthful attitudes. She knows it, and I know it - I'm getting in her pants, and she's getting into mine. But I don't want to leave this camp. I want to fail this mission. But I can't tell if she does.
"You got some gum?" I ask, looking at the water.
"Yeah, here you go." She reaches into her pocket and pulls out nothing, mimes removing gum from a pack and then hands it to me (she's really good).
"No problem." She laughs a little then sighs and swings her legs, skimming the top of the black pond with her toes. I like the look of her thigh all of a sudden and reach around her waist and kiss her on the mouth, pull back, remove the gum, throw it, and then push my hand up her shirt and get red in the face. She takes her shirt off, and I am blown away. I've never seen boobs before and I reach down her frayed jean shorts, undoing the button and pulling on the zipper. This is so new, so scary. What is down there, under her shorts? How will it feel? What should I do? Then I touch it - it feels so unclear - and before I even notice that I have finally graduated, I remove the badge from her shorts and lean back nervously, allowing her to pull down my nylon shorts, and see my superman underwear. She pulls out the penis badge and we hug. We sit there, still, a little proud, a little foolish. We realize we have to leave this place and we hug. Hug and cry and get scared for the future.
About the author:
Mark Polanzak reviews books for magazines and teaches creative writing in Boston. He recently grabbed an MFA from the University of Arizona. He is working on a novel. He lives in Southie, with his girlfriend, India.