In 1982 I spent the summer in Indiana working with the maintenance crew at a Christian Summer Camp. Not on the weekends, no, on the weekends I stayed with my step-sister and her family. I was fourteen, angry, alone, frustrated and with almost no communication skills what-so-ever.
You see, unbeknownst to me, my mother and her husband had somehow managed to get me signed up with an interstate youth work program. So instead of spending the summer with my pals riding dirt bikes, camping, partying and awkwardly fumbling around girls in the hopes of some deeper meaning to the male-female relationships, I went to work.
I went to work with college kids. Yup, I was a kid and everyone else I was around day in and day out were pretty much of legal drinking age. They had no use for me hanging around them, they had their own lives to lead. I spent a lot of time reading alone in my cabin, or on the mini-putt-putt course or just swimming in the pool by myself.
On the weekends when I was “in-town” I stayed with people I didn’t know, didn’t trust and didn’t know what to do with me. So I’d hide in the basement, or attic or just go wander around town where I’d usually end up in the arcade. I’d spend my hard earned cash on Mrs. Pac-Man, Tempest and Robotron 2000. I’d gorge myself on hotdogs and ice cream from the shop next door and eventually I’d made a friend or two.
When I say “friend” I don’t mean a permanent or even life-long pal. Hell, I can’t even remember the names of the kids I met up with. But I do remember them. At any given time we would be three to seven strong. Our common link was that we were all outsiders who didn't have anywhere to go. Didn’t fit in with anyone else. And we damn sure didn’t like being at home with quite parents or guardians who never seemed to be able to connect with us or us with them. So we found our home at the arcade.
At the beginning of July I discovered my step-sister had a moped and I sheepishly asked if I could use it. Shockingly enough she said yes. This is of course after I assured her that I did know how to handle a two wheeled vehicle. I never told her about tearing up the dunes back home on Kawasaki 125 cc dirt bikes. I think that would have sent her head spinning. Instead I just pointed out on the moped the controls and how to start it. She seemed satisfied and handed over the keys.
That was the first time I rode that little scooter to the arcade. My town pals were in awe, after all, they were on bikes and prior to this night I had to either ride on the handle bars or run along side them. Now, they had to fight to keep up with me. We didn’t play games that night, nope, we toured the town and all the great hiding spots that only kids know about. Places where no adult would ever think to look for a kid who didn’t want to be found.
Places like the tool shed by the public pool, or the sand and gravel mounds in the public works lot and even under the river gully bridge where everyone would spray paint their name on the i-beams and lastly, the boarded up colonial house three blocks from the high school. A place where teenagers took dates and held parties and everyone was welcome… that is if you stay within your own age bracket. Can’t have juniors and seniors mixing with freshmen and sophomores now can we.
Those weekend nights were great. Even if I did have a curfew. I managed to live more in those three or four hours than I did the rest of the week. That is until my step-sister took away the keys to the moped. I’m sure it was my fault. I probably did something, said something or even worse, I didn’t do something. Who knows.
The repercussions were severe. Sunday’s were spent at church. I don’t mean for just an hour or two. No, no, that I could have handled. Instead we would get up at seven on Sunday morning, arrive at church by nine and then leave around six in the evening. It was exhausting.
So exhausting that when we got home I’d just crawl up to my bed and read and sleep. I’d try to forget that I would soon be back at work surrounded by Christians and ministers and cleaning out clogged toilets, mowing grass and eating dull cafeteria food.
My solace during the week was that I could read as much as I wanted to and I could sit behind the equipment shed and smoke. Or I could just go down to the river and soak my feet in the stream and read. I didn’t have to try and make friends, I didn’t have to talk and I didn’t have to try and fit in. After all, I didn’t understand half of what my co-workers were saying. Although I did listen to their morning after stories all the time.
You see, being on maintenance we got to eat before everyone in the camp. We sat at these long tables, usually with me several chairs away form them and they would talk. I’d try to eat and get out as fast as I could. After all, their morning stories were not much different from my Friday and Saturday nights in town. Only they had cars, more money and the ability to stay out later than I.
I was jealous. They were doing everything I wanted to do and they had no supervision. They were free. Well, at least in my eyes they were. So one morning, instead of eating and leaving I stayed and tried to fit in.
It took a few days but eventually I was accepted into the fold.
By the end of July all my coworkers showed up at my step-sisters house and threw me a birthday party. I was surprised and for the first time that summer I actually felt like I fit in somewhere on this planet. All the women I worked with kissed me on the lips. These were not friendship kisses either. Nope, they were full blown make-out kisses. Kisses that left me confused and awed. Kisses that I had dreams about for months after. Kisses that made all the loneliness and strife of the summer disappear. Kisses that made me wonder if I would ever truly find someone who would make me feel the way they did that night.
To this day, I can’t remember a single gift I received from any of them, but I remember those kisses. Those will never be forgotten.
So, as I sit here, just days before my half century mark, I wonder, will I get another birthday kiss that will stick with me for the next five decades?
Have a great week.