The wind from the ocean blew up the dunes that sunny Sunday when I was twelve and my mother sat beside me under an egg-blue sky on morning-cold sand that lay under the stars the night before and now formed to our bodies if we wiggled back and forth to make little troughs for our legs and butts. “In the Name of the Father,” the priest began, his voice muffled by the wind rushing up the dunes and carrying his words someplace else away from us, but we knew the drill and made the sign of the cross sitting in the sand with sixty other kids and the chaperones who cooked our food these past four days and made sure we didn’t get into fights in the tents. We were like happy dogs on the beach, running everywhere because you can run everywhere when you’re young and then sleep and run some more later. The tent was different.
Mom held my hand while we listened to the cool priest say cool things, and I wondered if she thought this was okay, having mass outside with a bunch of sixth graders when my dad said public schools had no business getting into the religion game. I didn’t know about that because dad was behind in his child support and the priest said things about nature being God’s temple and how cool it was to get outside to worship God, so why not be here in the sand thinking about Mark Sager in the tent the night before and Shawn Ayre who was mean but seemed to want to get close to me in his sleeping bag, moving inch by inch by inch until he was right next to me with his arm resting just where my side met the ground. I was sleeping on my side and his hand rustled against me and didn’t move even when he fell asleep and continued breathing deep and low, deep and low. I went back to thinking about Mark Sager with his shock of blond hair when all the rest was brown and his baby-faced smile. He wore V-neck shirts to school and his skin under his throat looked tanned, but we were poor so I wore one of my mom’s V-neck shirts to school one day. It was cut too low for playing four-square and the kids started to laugh even though I was better than them and could kick their butts in four-square. Mark Sager and I weren’t friends anymore after that but our tent requests were already made so he slept far away from me in the six-man tent that smelled like a wet dog, lined up next to ten other tents that probably smelled the same. He tried to switch when we got to Dillon Beach but they wouldn’t let him.
Mom held my hand as the priest said a muffled Gloria that was also carried away and then the readings began as I thought about the sea anemones we touched the day before, how Aaron Mills put his tongue into one after being told not to and had to be taken to the chaperone’s motorhome to make sure his tongue didn’t swell up too big. Mom and I sat in the cool sand under the white-blue sky and listened to the readings and then the homily, which was probably more about how the beach was God’s temple and we didn’t need walls to pray to God for whatever we needed, so I prayed that mom would forget what Arvelia Johnson told her over the chili pot, and she seemed to forget because she held my hand all the way through the mass.
The wind was warming up and the sun was on my back. I was no longer cold from the night in the tent next to Shawn Ayre with his closed eyes and arm on my sleeping bag right up against my back. I wanted to roll over to see if he would move but also didn’t want him to move at all, and then it was morning and the tent was cold and wet-dry, dry but the air inside was the kind that made your hair sticky. Beach air. Mark Sager told me not to look at him while he got out of his sleeping bag and that woke Shawn Ayre up but he didn’t move his arm away, in fact he moved it closer, further into the fold between my side and the ground so that I was caught a little. I could hear his breathing change when Mark Sager opened up the tent flap and told me again to stop looking even though I mostly wasn’t, and then Shawn Ayre’s arm was more under my side so I rolled a little towards him and onto his hand and I could feel his fingers through the sleeping bag move near my butt before he whispered “fag” so that only I could hear it, so I rolled back on my side and then he sat up and said, “Hey, look! Beckman’s trying to roll on top of me!” Suddenly everyone was awake and pointing at Shawn Ayre’s arm almost buried under my side, and he’s acting like he can’t get it out, like I wanted it there and he was innocent when I knew he wasn’t because I could see it in his low eyes. The kids laughed and said “Fairy” and ran out of the tent in their shorts yelling “Fairy” until a teacher told them the next word he heard was going to get twenty pushups.
I was alone in the tent until my mom came to get me and we walked up the sand dune to mass. Maybe she didn’t hear. Maybe they kept quiet around her because moms would never want to know what Arvelia Johnson told her and what they went yelling through the tents until they were told to shut up.
We sat in the sand until mass was over and the priest said “Go in peace” and a teacher stood up and started telling us about breakfast and how we would be leaving Dillon Beach after eating. “Don’t leave anything you don’t want the ocean to get,” he said. His sunglasses shined light back on us and we all started to laugh because kids were diving out of the way of the rays. Then I started to stand up but mom put her hand on my shoulder and we sat together until everybody else had gone to breakfast. She said, “You know, you don’t have to like them.” And I decided I didn’t like them, not even Mark Sager, but I still liked Shawn Ayre because he had low eyes and kept his hand there but then made me look like I was a fairy. I squeezed my mom’s hand and looked at the sand between my legs. She said, “I couldn’t wait to get out of school.”
Even though she probably heard, I became quiet and peaceful in the cool sand under the warm sun, and thought I didn’t care so much if she did hear because she hated school too and now all the kids thought she was beautiful and friendly and she was the most popular chaperone on the beach trip. We got up and walked down the sand dune and into the camp and left for home.