When I graduated from my small, K-8th grade Catholic school, I won the not-coveted “Most Likely to Do Her Homework Ahead of Time” award. Obviously, there was only one way to celebrate this achievement before heading off to high school: summer camp.
I got to spend one final year as a camper before old age forced me to become a counselor. We campers mostly already knew each other from prior summers together, but that year, there was a new kid in the group I’ll call Dylan. It seemed strange that he would even be there, by the looks of him. He wore all black: leather jacket, black jeans, Converse All-Stars and a fedora over the long, greasy hair that fell limply over his birdlike frame. I was so used to the hale boys of eighth grade who played Bombardment with abandon that Dylan's rebelliously bony body was somehow exotic.
Most guys at camp were the usual suspects: the quiet dorks; the outgoing jocks (one of whom I accidentally punched in the eye when he goaded me into hitting him the shoulder to prove how weak I am); and the frightening misfits, who were usually sweet when they weren't bragging about how much trouble they got into with the police. Dylan, however, fell into none of these stereotypes. He was new, and new was intriguing.
What I did know about Dylan was that he was the bane of the counselors’ existence, largely thanks to his asking about the point of each campfire or hiking trip. At 14, Dylan, like many of us, was cool enough to question authority, but not enough to resist being packed-off to camp. Dylan pulled his usual routine one weekend when our group took an overnight tubing trip.
“Why are we doing this?” he asked once again.
“TO HAVE FUN,” Counselor Dave practically screamed.
We drove down to the river, dropped black rubber inner tubes in the water, squeezed our butts into the donut holes and sailed downstream. We paddled with our hands in the water, hurrying to catch up with friends. We floated in doubles or groups and sang songs, passing time in a way that I cannot comprehend now that I’m old enough to drink.
Unexpectedly, Dylan drifted beside me in his black swim trunks.
"Hey," he said.
“Hi,” I said. My heartrate picked up at this captivating line.
The current quickly pulled him away from me, so we grabbed onto each other's wrists.
I don't remember the rest of the conversation, but I still remember his hand on my wrist, just because the majority of boy-girl touching in my life prior to this was mandatory, like the square dancing in music class and even then some of the guys opted not to hold hands (they used a mysterious “force field” as an excuse.)
When our collective rear grew numb from the chilly river water, our group set up camp on the riverbed. I was lodged with two other girls in the group: Anna, the belle of the camp who boasted an enviable mane of curly red hair, and her cute friend Elsie. Elsie and Anna traded J Crew bikini tops and bottoms throughout the camp session, which filled me with envy.
After dark, Dylan crawled into our tent. While boys and girls usually visited each other's large, army-surplus tents back at the main camp, we now found ourselves in cozier accommodations. We spent the night gossiping, learning crude words and trading backrubs.
This was the closest and longest I'd been next to a guy in my entire life. And this was a new guy, a guy with issues. He talked about his parents' divorce and how he didn't like his stepfather and how he though Christianity was bullshit. We talked about dreams and music and God. Eventually, Dylan fell asleep in our tent. For a while, I watched him. I was amazed by his pale skin and dark hair, as I lay wedged between him and the tent wall. What a damaged soul, I thought.
The intimacy I felt while watching Dylan sealed my crush. It never occurred to me that maybe he used his tortured-guy persona to work his way into our tent. After all, we would have never let the rowdy jock or the scary violence-prone kid into our space, and the quiet nerd was too shy to attempt a break-in. We all fell for Dylan's perfect ploy.
In the following days, I thought that if I exemplified my own deepness to Dylan, he'd see that I too was sensitive, and that he'd want to hang out with me. However, nobody approached me as I lay on top of a bunk bed outside my cabin, listening to the Indigo Girls on my Walkman. I tried to appear poignant, possibly even sorrowful. Everyone probably just thought I was sleeping.
As our camp session came to a close, my feelings for Dylan grew more intense. We were starting high school soon, and who knew what that would bring? Who knew how much time I'd spend on homework and playing volleyball? And if I played volleyball, would Dylan still think I was deep while I ran around in kneepads? I had never cared about a guy like this, much less cared so much about what he thought of me.
On the last night at camp, I decided to proclaim my feelings to Dylan. I needed to show him that I was as serious about my life as he was. The unbearable tension of my camp crush, not to mention the mosquito bites, pheromones and dirty laundry, were all too much to handle. I had to make a move.
"Can I talk to you?" I asked when I found him. We walked a ways.
I went with the basics. "I think I like you," I said.
"Oh," he said. "That's cool."
I felt ridiculous. I didn't say it right, which was so important when it came to impressing somebody like Dylan. Mainly I wanted him to know that underneath my proverbial school uniform, I was a person who understood him--and perhaps he understood me too. I wasn't just Most Likely To Do Her Homework Ahead Of Time. I was Most Likely To Be Unexpectedly Deep.
Later that night, I saw Dylan kissing Anna. They weren’t exactly hiding it: they were making out while sitting on top of a picnic table. Then later on that evening, other campers buzzed about seeing Dylan stick his tongue down Elsie’s throat. Suddenly everything was clear: Dylan was perhaps more sensitive than the average teen boy, but not too sensitive to work it to his advantage. Dylan was a player, but just not in the typical skin. I remember hearing once that he would place a playing card in the band of his fedora to indicate his mood. I wondered which card could possibly represent this moment: "The King of Over-the-Shirt Fondling”?
I found out later on that a lot of other girls freshman year of high school liked Dylan too. This disturbed me on some level, because I realized I wasn't the only one to discover my esoteric diamond in the rough, the first to board the Teenage Angst train. By liking the guy who everyone thought was hot for going against the grain, I actually was going with the grain. This was my first taste of why everybody hates high school.