June 16, 1897
First night at Camp Schelsen. Underneath my top bunk, as I write this, Herbie Willenberg is looking at naked pictures of women with names like Helga and Ute. I loathe his very existence, but at the same time the sight of the women without their clothes fascinates me. Herbie breathes heavily. He struggles ambiguously underneath the covers. The counselors, with their muscles and their short shorts, giggle knowingly. They don’t care. That’s what boys his age do. They look at me with much heavier gazes. My existence perplexes them. Throws off their sense of the universe. I understand how they feel.
June 18, 1897
I’ve spent the past two days lost in the woods, on what my counselors call a hike. The concept seems ludicrous and they were brutally unsympathetic to my concerns. The first few minutes are bearable, but I begin to sense that we aren’t going anywhere, that our destination is the same lonely, rat-infested hut where we begin. I wonder aloud about the necessity of it all, asking why we couldn’t just stay in the cabin and cut out the middleman.
“It’s called a hike,” they say.
“But why are we doing it? What’s the purpose? We end where we start. We start where we end.”
“You can look for birds and flowers and stuff,” a counselor says.
“I don’t understand what you are saying.”
“It’s nature!” The counselor roars. “Stop being such a freaky weirdo.”
I ask questions to get closer to some unknowable truth. The distance just seems to grow.
July 1, 1897
My Birthday. I have not told anyone and now that it is approaching midnight, I will not have to. The days are nothing but struggle. Struggle to survive. Some boys had to be stripped down. Whipped in front of everyone. They did not understand how wonderful Camp Schelsen could be. They spit on people. They threw rocks at squirrels. I could not look away. The cruelty was too beautiful. It opened up the universe.
July 7, 1897
I spend most nights writing. Postcards home. Letters to my girlfriend, Laura, who before I left promised that she liked me, but could never promise that her liking me would ever become like liking me. I can’t escape the memory of the night when she allowed me to touch her breast over her shirt for a count of five. Exhilaration. Wonder. Despair. Guilt. A dark, long-beaked bird circled over our heads, squawking threats of death.
Does Laura have pubes yet? Will she let me see?
July 10, 1897
In Arts and Crafts, that humid hut, the teacher stops. He looks down. I look up. I am working on something intricate, something simultaneously nothing and everything. It is made of paper.
“I always wanted you to admire my origami,” I say.
“I do. I do admire it.”
“Well, you shouldn’t,” I say.
“You’re a weird little dude, Franzie.”
July 13, 1897
Every morning I wake up, after wet and uneasy dreams to the same horror, a giant bug crawling up my chest, daring me to kill it. One morning, it speaks to me.
“You cannot smash me,” the bug said. “I am you.”
I go to Counselor K. He is sick of my complaints, sick of having to be creative with his response.
“Franzie! You’re not on trial here,” he said. “It’s camp for chrissakes. Have fun.”
July 17, 1897
Today we walked deeper and straighter into the dark forest then we had ever been before. My dread and despair reached immense levels until we came to a clearing. There we saw a single tree with a ladder nailed to the side. On the tree was a long, thin rope that stretched for what seemed like miles until it hit another tree.
Counselor K called it a Zip Line.
As I slid across the line, countless times, I felt as if I was flying through the forest, suddenly changed from a child who feels the pressure of every pound of gravity on my body to a weightless bird zooming through the forest. For a moment, even my writing seemed unimportant.
Everyone alive should fly.
July 20, 1897
My writing is nothing but a lost echo into the chasm of literature. I have been working on stories that I want to capture the essential vacuum at the heart of human existence, but I keep inserting scantily clad girls and 14-year-old boys with dark complexions and beaky noses.
Story idea: A beautiful, witty actress wakes up one morning to find that she has been transformed into a giant iguana.
Can it go anywhere? Can I make it sexy?
August 5, 1897
The response from those who listen to my stories as I read them aloud is puzzling. At lunch, in the cafeteria, they laugh uncontrollably, especially at the iguana story. The reaction is so disturbing that I end up being pleased by it, and half way through the story, I am laughing almost too hard to continue.
Herbie Willenberg laughs so violently that milk comes out of his nose. He cries from the pleasure of the pain.
This is what existence is. A perpetual emptiness, with a few good jokes thrown in the mix.
August 8, 1897
Tomorrow I go home. Camp Schelsen closes for the winter. After our talent show, at which I juggled and received silent, puzzled response, I walked around aimlessly. In the middle of the camp, where we had spent the summer roasting marshmallows at the bonfire, I saw a giant contraption, intricately assembled, reaching towards the moon. Next to the machine stood a man, beckoning me.
“That’s a curious device. What is it?” I asked.
“You should know what it is,” the man said.
“Yeah. I’m just messing with you. It’s scaffolding. We’re hanging a goodbye banner.”
I turned away from the man and walked back to my bunk. I tried to write something that even touched the depth of my confusion, my despair. All I had were stories of kids making out in the woods or learning about life on a canoe.
One day, I will destroy everything I’ve ever written.