As the session wound down, I found myself fondly thinking of you. The meals became the high points of the day because despite that noisy dining hall, I knew I’d see you there, and this made enduring the racket a joy. You were much more pleasant too. After your fall, you treated me as more of an equal, even offering that me fetching [Emmy’s] food, would be okay with you.
Did you notice that I’d always smile your way as we’d pass each other? I promise that this was totally involuntary; a sort of lovers reflex if you will. I was not faking. For the remaining time at camp, seeing you charged me up, and that felt wonderful. I’d seen the good side of someone who at first seemed so nasty.
Our First Dance
One complaint I’ve made about camp is that the counselors are usually too busy to socialize much with campers. Also, there’s that camp rule which forbids employees from romantically involving themselves with campers. I learned of this in the late 1990s, when I met a counselor who caught my eye. I caught hers too, so she said. But after a few days as I remember, the camp director himself called her into his office, warming her that she was not to spend so much time with me, and that she should not let me play with her pony tail besides. In fact, it was them seeing me twirling her locks in my fingers that triggered the summons. Understandably, she grew distant after that; fearing that most any further interaction with me would jeopardize her job. I understood. But seeing her every day saddened me; knowing that I couldn’t hold her hand. Then, she’d avert my gaze, which hurt even worse, and soon, I couldn’t tell if her coolness was because she wished not to lose her position, or because she simply lost interest in me. That goofy camp policy therefore, caused me much sorrow. Talk about systemic segregation! I mean, why would camp officials so underestimate campers’ adult autonomy by attempting to restrict their potential social experiences that way? Perhaps the biggest reason I came back to camp in 1995 was the hope to meet some eligible, main-stream ladies. Then, to learn that such interaction is forbidden by the camp suggested that the sort of segregation I’d come to camp to get away from, was just as strong there as anywhere else.
Fortunately however, there are times when the camp activity structure allows for and encourages campers and counselors to mingle together. Perhaps the best of these is the dinner dance which is traditionally held on the last night of camp.
That warm and hazy afternoon as I wheeled my speakers down the hill to the K pavilion, I passed you a few times; I had to restrain myself from saying hi after the first time. I would have uttered it at every encounter, you know, if I’d known that this would not have put you off. Heaven knows, I certainly wanted to say it.
Then, the dance part of the evening arrived, and I resolved to invite you to dance, no matter how scared I was to do it. I was scared too, but figured that the fact that I was the disc jockey for the evening might give me some pull with you. I don’t know if it did or not. But nonetheless, this thought bolstered my confidence as I walked up to you as the third song of the evening played; a slow love tune. You held my gaze and did not look away, and at that instant, all fear of asking you went away, for I knew somehow that you’d say yes, and you did. Then, we danced, and what a dance that was.
Now, ever since we met, I had marveled at your statuesque height. But this was the closest to you I’d ever been, and I must admit that you being so much taller, up-close anyhow, disconcerted me at first; what, with the top of my head barely reaching your chin and all. Looking up into your eyes felt just like gazing up into the stars, for more than one reason. But I also found having to tilt my head up and back more than usual, most exciting. Thus, only a minute into our first dance, I wanted to ask you for another, and another, and another, … I enjoyed your left arm, draped over my shoulder blades, and your soft and warm fingers of your right hand, intertwined with those of my left hand. In fact, I did ask you as each song faded off, and you said yes, every time! Thanks.
In fact, after three dances in a row, it was me who said, “Well, I hate to end this for now, because I’d better get back to [Emmy] (my date for the evening) and see how she’s doing.” Wishing not to press my luck, I figured I’d better stop before you did, because had it been you that proposed to end our dance set first, I think I’d have been a little hurt.
You agreed, saying, “Yes, I suppose I should dance at least once with my date too.” But you sounded as though you’d have really rather stayed with me. Encouraged, I felt the same of you. Indeed, I would have danced with you through each an every one of the nearly fifty pieces we spun that night. Like Cinderella’s prince, I’d have danced until morning shone through the trees with you, watching your eyes listening to you tell some of your life story, and holding you close all the while. I’d have led you around every path through the camp that the music reached, just as he guided her through the far reaches of his castle, into the wee hours. Of you, I felt just as the prince probably regarded Cinderella; totally captivated.
This new sensation of looking way up to see my dance partner’s face was unusual. It humbled me, and I’ve only ever experienced it a handful of times. But I liked it, and couldn’t get enough. As it happened though, we stopped dancing after nearly thirteen minutes; tradition and protocol had intervened because we had to do right by our dates after all. I offered to look you up for another dance later, and you said softly yet enthusiastically, “Sure!” Then, you walked away, taking my heart with you, where it stayed for the rest of the dance.
The Middle Dances, Apart
Now came the hard question: How soon would be soon enough, but not too soon, to ask you to dance again? This hovered in my mind until we swayed to the music once more, an hour and a half later, and in spite of the very beautiful young lady who was my “official” date for the evening, thoughts of you, holding me so close that I could feel your heart beating, occupied my head more than anything else. After enjoying your arms surrounding me, I was hooked, and had to feel it again.
As I played the music, I’d scan the floor with my eyes, looking for you; trying to tell what ditties you most liked by how often you’d appear, and watching for whether you smiled or frowned as you heard them. But you didn’t dance very much? Apparently, dancing was not a big passion of yours. Indeed, I only saw you out there a couple times with your date, and no one else. This was good because while on the one hand, I hoped you’d “cut the rug” more so I could see you more, on the other, I was understandably glad that you remained on the side lines, without dancing a lot with anyone else. I so wished to be the one you danced with the most at this event, and, as it went, I was.
When I did spot you on the floor, I’d steal frequent glances. If I happened to be dancing with another, I’d face her back to you, so that I could thus peer over her shoulders, to admire the prettiest girl in attendance. Hands down, that was you.
Nor did I dance very often myself; sensing that these interim encounters wouldn’t be as fun as the ones you and I enjoyed earlier, or the ones coming up that we’d planned. Good thing that I was the one controlling the music, because I could play the stuff I found the most uplifting, to keep the feelings of missing and longing for you at bay.
You seemed not to be enjoying yourself either; though you did say you were very tired earlier. This final social event gave me the same impressions. In fact, while I was grateful to have my date there to talk to, to me, this entire night, except where I danced with you, was essentially a bust. I was bored and frustrated at the prevailing conventions that separated us. Why were there always so many rules and norms that had to be followed? Though necessary (I know), they way more often keep me from the women I desire than bring them to me. Whenever I’d see you, I’d check the time, looking for some assurance that it would now be okay to saunter over and take your hand again.
Our Last Dances
Finally, at around 9:00 PM, the time was right to seek you out. I wanted this dance to last at least twenty minutes, and since you announced your intensions earlier to leave at 9:30 sharp, my urgency to reach you now was aptly placed. So I walked around the pavilion, searching, hoping that people would think that I was just checking the speakers, and wouldn’t see through my DJ technician disguise.
Shortly, I found you, amongst a bunch of campers, and approached you from behind. You being the tallest girl at the dance, finding you was a veritable snap. All I had to do was to look over top of the other campers and counselors. to spot your shoulder-length dishwater blond-clad head. In this way, I always knew if you were dancing, and with whom.
You must have seen me coming because when I slid my hand into yours without a word, you turned and silently followed me onto the open cement. You did not object to being led away, and no doubt expected that I’d be returning at some point. Nonetheless I worried a trifle, though you had agreed to this dance earlier. I thought that you might be put out at my audacity; given our history prior to your fall. But that little mishap changed everything between us; destroying all remnants of the vibes of condescension and conceit that I so often picked up from you in 2008, and early in this 2009 session. Had I known that all it would take was some genuine compassion and concern to soften you, I’d have offered it up much sooner; perhaps even in 2008. For the first time since knowing you, you genuinely respected me; talking to me with the same animation and interest that I was you. That made forgiving you for all the scolds and child-like, custodial-style treatment, quite simple.
We’d already begun slow dancing when I asked you if you wanted to dance, just to make sure that I hadn’t overstepped any boundaries. Yes, my timing leaves something to be desired occasionally; particularly when I’m a little flustered as I was then. Not nervous really; just happy in a giddy sort of way. But to be safe, I asked again, albeit belatedly. You smiled and said yes, though I’m sure that you were thinking, “Of course. I’m out here, aren’t I?”
As the music played on, we talked much more than I thought we would, and I was thankful that I could preprogram the songs list on the computer, so I’d not have to return to the DJ table as every song ended in order to start the next one.
You said you were studying to be a history teacher, and I replied that while I’d never been interested in history as a young student, I now find it more pleasing; particularly Civil War accounts and civil rights issues. You asked about my DJ business, wondering how long I’d been working it and whether I liked it. Then, you nodded knowingly as I explained that I wasn’t crazy about it overall because the pay is not that good and offers few advancement opportunities in this area. Also, hauling the equipment around worries me that I’ll hurt myself, and then have to pay a prized sum to some doctor to heal me. We talked of our mutual college experiences too; you appeared pleasantly surprised to learn that I hold a bachelor’s degree in computer science and that I worked as a software engineer for nearly fifteen years. We have more in common that either of us imagined.
But you really threw me when you revealed that you were but nineteen years old. Wow, I’d have never guessed you to be that young; thinking you to be in your late twenties or early thirties. It’s not that you looked that old. So perhaps it was the edgy and arrogant assertiveness I perceived from you in our early days, that made you seem much older. Why so? When you scolded me to turn down the music the first Sunday of this session, you reminded me of a house mother I had in elementary school. She was in her sixties, and ruled her students through intimidation, and lots of punishment threats and control tactics. Her and her husband scared me so much and so often that year, that I began associating this cranky behavior with older folks; wrongly so of course. But as an eleven year-old, I knew no better, and possessed few contradictory memories of similar folks. If they’re mean I came to believe, they’re probably old as well.
However, for the most part, at least intellectually, I’ve long-since overcome this wrong-headed thinking. But every now and again, when someone’s antics resemble that housemother’s too much, I catch myself thinking of them as old; just like her. So at first, right or wrong, I imagined you to be older than you were.
Yet learning of your not-so-advanced age enabled me to forgive you for the grumpy evasiveness I sensed from you the first half of the session. Though I’ll never completely dismiss your treatment of my friends and I as a mere product of childhood innocence (it was too mean for that actually), in your defense, maybe you had not yet learned to ask more questions before so harshly judging others. You appeared to assume all too quickly that we could not possibly possess anything you want, and thus were simply not worthy of your consideration, much less your kindness.
Though your initial attitude hurt my feelings a lot, recognizing that I might have behaved much like this at your age, quelled my anger a little. After all, this unjustified devaluation of others is an all-too-easy mistake for a young adult to make; especially if she has little experience probing and relating to us handicapped folks. I hope our conversations after your fall convinced you that people in general, handicapped or not, are in fact quite worthy of you. They care just as deeply, and require just as much caring themselves as anyone else does. When they get that, they feel more confident. With increased self-assuredness, they usually become the very sorts of happily engaging people of depth, that so many say they want to find. Indeed, would you not agree that once you deemed me as closer to your equal that our conversations grew much more enjoyable? They certainly did for me.
But then, maybe you didn’t see yourself as better than us. Instead, perhaps you doubted your ability to make others happy through kind acts; underestimating just how far a little compassion from you might go toward creating a welcoming atmosphere for the campers. Sometimes, people who think themselves unattractive behave as though not a soul would like them, no matter how nicely they behave. Then, they opt to dispense with kindness, since they believe it won’t get them anywhere anyhow. I hope though, that you recognize the powerful, positive effect you can have, and in fact, had. Indeed, after your fall, your change of heart where I was concerned, made the last half of the session so much more pleasant than the first part.
These realizations along with your subtle beauty, which grew more apparent each minute we talked, drove any hostility away that had accrued in my heart in the days prior to your fall. It could be, I thought, that as a young woman, you genuinely did not know how much a brash tongue can hurt, or how completely a kind word can heal. But once we got into our dancing this year, you seemed to understand this better, as I heard not one cross word from you since.
We danced the twenty minutes that I’d hoped for, and then some. In fact, as each song ended, I anticipated your pulling away. But you didn’t. I wondered with a hopeful edge how many dances you’d stay, and decided that if you weren’t going to leave, then neither was I. So, we kept going, and going, and going.
However, manners prevailed, and we saved the last piece for our respective dates. As before, I wanted that dance with you too, but knew I shouldn’t be so selfish. So, we parted; neither of us particularly happy to do it.
Without a doubt, after you left it wasn’t fun anymore. While I remained and played requests for the campers an additional hour, all the “electricity” had gone with you, and it was clear that the best part of the evening had already passed, and that things would all be downhill from that point on. That is in fact, how they turned out.
Thanks so much for a wonderful time. I’m so glad we could put our differences aside for one night because in your embrace, I found acceptance and respect, and not the usual rejection and aloofness I get so much from other girls. You acknowledged and esteemed me, and that pleased and excited me.
But, were you just being polite? Admittedly, I often mistake common courtesy from a lady for romantic interest. So did I do that here? I hope not. But if so, I wish you’d still be nice just the same! If we can’t get together in that way, tell me. Don’t just run away or cut me off without a word because, if those feelings aren’t in your heart, I’ll mention my interest in you no more, will interpret your good opinion platonically, and read nothing more into it. I will not campaign to “win you over” if you say you don’t like me like that. Absolutely, I can be good friends with women to whom I’m attracted, but who are not attracted to me. I don’t blame them for not wanting me, and I respect their wishes so long as they clearly voice them. Though I’d welcome additional benefits, I could be very happy if we were to be just friends. How about you?