RETURN TO SUMMER CAMP
It was fifty years before I recovered from the summer camp they sent met to in 1943 - sadistic counselors who always had wet towel ready, a long line to the toilet each morning and the toilet would be inspected after you left and if you left nothing there it meant punishment - those wet towels that felt like rawhide. And they all made fun of me, not just the counselors, only one little fat boy getting it worse than me, and the place where we swam had bloodsuckers in it and you were not considered a manly 8-year-old man if you were upset that these creatures bit into you and hung on sucking your blood. And I was so afraid when I got sick that they would discover I was sick and I would be taken to the owner's house, which was the most fearsome place of all, the big dark house of Mr. and Mrs. Waddell, founders and proprietors of Camp Saugatuck, so fearsome that I bluffed it even though my throat was so raw it stung whether I swallowed or not, stung to the point were there was not much left of me except the pain, and my head felt like it was bursting, and I could forget where I was, I was so overcome by the waves of blackness and shivering. And I did something I could not understand. I sucked in my cheeks and bit down so hard it was like raw hamburger meat.
In the first 20 years afterwards I was not conscious I had ever thought about Camp Saugatuck. It did not come to life again it until a time I returned to America from Greece, leaving my girl there, convinced that my life was not, as I had thought in recent years, full now of companionship and adventure, but instead had been a trivial and false romantic construction. Even this lasts time, pausing for months in Slovenia and then Greece and then Africa the breadth of the continent, through the Western Sudan, Darfur, traveling in a shaky army convoy, so proud that no one had crossed Africa this way. A German guy had done part of it, overland, but he¹d turned back in Darfur, missed the Chad part - men with spears on the market trucks that wove through giant trees in the sand, and not even a hardy German had had anything like my experiences there and in the revolution in Angola, and on the Norwegian freighter from Luanda where I worked my way back to Europe and Greece, and then those books I wrote in Slovenia and Greece before and after Africa, novels that I'd thought would have a chance, but I had been dreaming, and now I was back, and I was staying in a family place, my grandmother's place on the Upper East Side - there and in the cramped little Connecticut house my parents had moved to which was like one little room, and no one cared about my adventures - not my family, and I did not trust my friends. The only thing everyone was sure to notice was how thin I was, which seemed to smack of my irresponsibility, and I had left my girlfriend in Athens, convinced that there was no such thing as romantic love - and now for the first and only time since burning with fever and shivering from chills at Camp Saugatuck I made it even worse, now in New York on a daybed in what would have been my grandfather's study (his Pulitzer prize certificate hung there) if he had lived, the place now making me feel as exposed as in the place with the leeches. I at four in the morning on a daybed in the study I sucked in my cheeks, as I had done back then, so that I could hold them from the inside with my back teeth, and I ground my teeth and pressed down and ground some more until the inside of my mouth felt like raw hamburger meat, and there was nothing left but physical pain.
And no one knew about this - either about the Camp Saugatuck version or the family place version twenty years later.
As I wrote I remembered, and knew that if I did not write it or paint it or sing it I would forever be by the bloodsucker pool, with a high fever and hiding form the Waddells - either there or in an old family place.