Mom becomes pregnant with twins. I really want at least one boy. But when Jewel and Liza are born, I adore them anyway, from moment one. Mom, and especially Seymour, seem somewhat hands-off with the girls. They are fine with Etta doing most of the heavy lifting, with an assist from Amy and me. I’m fascinated with my new little sisters, and I love being around them, looking at them, playing with them, feeding them. I do draw the line at diaper-changing.
Shortly after the twins are born, Seymour decides that I have to go to summer camp. I am not consulted. Seymour’s choice of a camp is bizarre; I am totally obsessed with playing sports, so Seymour determines that the best thing for me is a nature camp, where I will learn how to pitch a tent and identify poison ivy.
I arrive at the camp, in northern Minnesota, to discover that it is a hotbed of sadism; the counselors, who I had hoped were the kind of male role models I’ve never really had, are instead, monsters; the counselors put Ben-Gay in the campers’ underpants, which scorches our genitals, and they make us have boxing matches, with the losers forced to sleep outside.
The oldest boy in my cabin, Ronnie, is a serious sicko, with a penchant for torturing the younger kids. One day, Ronnie is giving a little kid a “Pink Belly”, where he slaps the kid’s stomach until it’s red and sore. The kid escapes, and dashes toward the cabin door. Ronnie yells for him to halt. When the kid keeps running, Ronnie grabs a dart from a dartboard, sprints to the doorway, and hurls the dart, which hits the kid’s leg, and downs him like a deer.
I become scared that Ronnie is going to target me next, so I become his henchman. On a canoe trip, while our counselor is napping in his tent, Ronnie takes me and a chubby kid named Pauly on a hike into the woods. Ronnie instructs me to tie Pauly to a tree, and we smear honey on Pauly’s face. Ronnie tells Pauly there’s a man-eating bear in the woods, then Ronnie and I hide, and watch Pauly freak out. After a while, we untie Pauly, and Ronnie warns him if he ever rats on us, he’s a deadman. It’s like a Jewish “Lord of the Flies”, and I’m decidedly not one of the good kids. What I’m doing is awful, and I know it, but I have to admit it feels liberating. Finally, I have an outlet for my intense anger, one that also gives me a rare feeling of power.
The single worst thing about summer camp, even worse than the sadism, is that we are made to write letters home each week to our parents. Unlike any of the other campers, I have to write two letters, one to mom, and one to dad. Not a single other boy’s parents are divorced. We have to write these letters sitting close together around a table. For me, this is torture. My parents’ divorce is a source of burning shame and embarrassment. I never speak about it. I don’t want any of the boys at camp to know. I worry that having divorced parents will make me look weak, and therefore, a more vulnerable target for the bullies. Little did I know, that in a few years, almost all of my friend’s parents would be getting divorced.