Oranges – Gwen Hilton
February 10, 2023
“Pretty good, not bad, I can’t complain
But actually, everything is just about the same.”
– John Prine
It had to have happened the second year I went. The second year I went I had time to screw around. Year one you basketweave, shoot black powder one day, rifles if you want to use shotguns by First Class or next year. You work with leather. You hike. You go to ceremonies. There’s a specific track for everyone. All the Troops meet up once or twice. You can’t appreciate how large the campground is until you drive out. Until you see everyone else getting ready to leave. Ten to fifteen minutes past other campgrounds. I didn’t realize we had it so good. Got in so close.
I went twice. I went to this camp, Champaign, Eagle Cave, and some other places. I didn’t do it for long. Not Boy Scouts at least. Cub Scouts all the way. My mother was Den Leader. One of the only women to fill that role. She always had an interest in improving the youth. In first grade she taught an art course where we drew the flag and never got invited back. She was routinely disrespected by the men around us. She only let me go on trips if the off duty EMT was coming. He wasn’t an EMT anymore. He was the man who cleans guns in his underwear, but he was an EMT once. Regardless, he was the safest of the bunch. Otherwise you were stuck with the Kraut or Ed Harris. Ed Harris’ kids hated me. The Kraut didn’t have kids. I don’t think so. It was always strange that he stayed on. His son may have made Eagle, but why stick with the Troop after that? Your commitment was done. Either way, the Kraut was a hobbyist outdoorsman and fraud. I learned that year two when he got me lost as punishment for not taking merit badges. Ed Harris had fit sons that fought. He propped them up as the nicest boys around, but I remember listening to them fight about where the lighter and cigarettes were stashed. I remember everything shifting. I was stupid, loud, brash. Aware and unable to cope. I was solipsistic to a fault. Some would say I still am.
I saw so many things in those weeks and I didn’t know what to think. Alone in the woods men and boys don’t feel so different. Most people follow a leader, accept help to pick a path, or stick with some kind of program. Independence in these spaces is fostered at face and then shut down in reality. Year one I got a few merit badges. Less than most. I thought it was a camping trip. Year two I said I’m just taking a week to relax. I was asked what happens in my life that merits me needing time to relax.
Something had changed by the second year. I didn’t want to be there. I don’t know if I was already First Class by that point and had lost the Troop leader elections. Scouting starts in fifth grade. We were told the scouts would govern the scouts. I said “Like Lord of the Flies” and the leaders said yes, ascribing naivete onto me.
I was a troublemaker both years. I won’t try and paint myself as the hero. I was a ringleader. A firestarter, twisted firestarter. I picked fights. I lashed out when harassed. I told a kid I was going to kill him in front of his father and his father in front of his troop. I started pulling out multiple knives. I found the kid walking to a porta potty. I pushed it over with him inside. Another scout pulled one knife on me. I pulled out two. I killed a snake and put it in his sleeping bag. I put a fish in his sleeping bag. I found another one washed up and put it under the floorboard below his tent. He was older, higher rank, got better sleeping accommodations. I killed another snake and put it under his tent. I found another snake and put it in his sleeping bag. I cut holes in his mosquito netting. He was caught screaming outside of my tent with a knife as I was napping. He found a ski pole with a blade at the end and tried to swipe me.
We had fought on the submarine, but like comrades. I washed his face in the snow. He whipped water bottles at me all night. People put things in long underwear and recreated scenes from Full Metal Jacket. I was planning the killings of stronger men while cowards played Risk by the fire.
I was out young. I came out young because I was told this was a different world. We had learned a lot from the murder of Matthew Shepard. I asked the Troop leaders if they would kick me out. I asked why they don’t enforce some rules and use others to break us down. I was told I take things too seriously. I’m precocious. I brought up Robert Baden Powell’s extensive nude photography of young boys.
The counselor who hosted the independent outdoor overnight program was burned into my mind. He was 17, maybe 18. He had played naked guitar live. The other leader chastised him for bringing this up in front of the scouts. We were making horny jokes nonstop by that point and he neither wanted to acknowledge our budding sexualities nor encourage the constant tittering and interruptions. I sought out his facebook page and his profile picture was him in the buff with an acoustic guitar censoring the important piece. He had red dyed liberty spikes. I don’t know how he maintained them at the camp. He was a real man. He must have had a big dick to confidently play naked. He could’ve been proud of his little dick.
When I describe him he’s buff. He’s larger than life. That’s how he felt. At that age the comparison would be to Kratos. He had bleach blonde hair. Kratos mixed with Brad Pitt from Fight Club. I’m 26 now. He was 16. At least that’s what I thought. I still think of him as Hot Patrick. I feel him as Hot Patrick. Not just Patrick. No last name. Hot Patrick. The prettiest man to ever give me attention. Do you know how mad you go looking for Patrick on Facebook? The moment you didn’t need a dot edu email I was searching. I remember the first time I saw him. It had to be the second year because I was doing the advanced merit badge. It was the only one I wanted. I wanted to prove I could spend a night alone in the woods. The merit badge requirements involved building an adequate shelter and camping under it for a night. I didn’t bring my sleeping bag. My shelter was the lowest form of adequate. I got the badge.
I tried to sleep in my friend’s shelter well into the dark. I couldn’t sleep in the woods. I barely could in the tents. I was waiting for dawn. I started to wander. I was looking for more materials to stop the breeze. That’s when I met him in the night and he kicked my ass while his friend held me down. He knocked down two of my supports against the tree.
I got my merit badge and committed to relaxing for the rest of the week. I did what I came for. No one could ask me what I’ve done now. They did. They wanted me to do more. I always had to be doing. Is being not doing?
My last great act was an orange fight in the woods. I got my crew together and we all snuck five out of the mess hall. There were 30 to 40 oranges in play. Others saw what was happening. Kids from other troops did too. Things were getting out of hand. I had felt the eyes on me then. The pinewood derby when I got chased into the bathroom was the first time. People were always looking at me. From before I could remember I’ve been told people were looking.
We walked by the shore. There was the shore and the trees to the right of the swimming area. That’s what it will always be for me. To the right or down from camp. I wasn’t a good scout. So I turned around and whipped the first orange. I connected with someone. I don’t remember who. Then all the oranges were in play. I had one in each of my cargoes and a few in my left arm like the Heisman. I lobbed one orange up back to the public area in front of the mess hall. I heard sounds of confusion.
The older boys that smoked scooped oranges off the ground. They had long term vision. I felt one crush against my side. Another against my back. I felt it squish. Wetness on my soiled shirt. Dirt and grime and citrus blending in a potpourri of life au natural. The fighting went on for five minutes, maybe even ten. True warriors casting their shadows against thin trees as the sun loomed over the lake. We ran. We fought near the bonfire that was being set up for the final night. Staff shooed us away.
The day after the bonfire was finished I was alone around the shore. Scouts were not allowed out without another scout and two adult supervisors. This rule was not well enforced. There were not enough adults for anyone to have more than one supervisor at best. The men did not spend time with each other unless it was to shoot guns or play pinochle.
The details are hazy. Patrick found me again. There’s a myriad of reasons why this happened. I get why he did it. I’m up against a tree. He’s fucking me. I hurt. It’s the last time I was ever picked up in my life. Unless you count stretchers.
I walked back to camp and the muscles in the back of my legs hurt. My stomach hurt. I was dirty and bloody. I got norovirus. I remember the puking and the shitting. All over my tent. All over the man who elevated me to First Class. All over the walls of the 7/11. I was forced to go to camp. I wouldn’t have done this on my own volition. I had tried to quit time and time again. This was supposed to make me a better person.
I think I saw a friend. When I’m explaining what happened in the firehouse I’m nervous. I was taken to the firehouse because it couldn’t be discussed in the middle school. It’s a sensitive issue. The Kraut and Ed Harris were there. There were no police officers. My mother is a judge, once an attorney. She was there. My dad isn’t there. He’ll kill me if he finds out I’m fucking guys. He’ll kill me because it’s my fault. I’m no man for letting it happen. They said this is a serious accusation. Why would I want to lie about something like that? Do you know his whole name? How do you know some of his name? Why would a guy you describe as fit and attractive be raping you? Why would he rape you when he could date girls? He sounds like a young man with a future. Are you doing this for attention? Why’d you wait so long to tell anyone? Did he really see you? He said he didn’t. He said he doesn’t remember that at all. Maybe it was another person? Do you want to try again? This won’t look good for you if you’re lying. Why can’t you remember more? Against a tree? Have you seen Deliverance? You like movies.
Then I was the liar. Every time I told the story I was the liar. The first time I wrote it I read it to a class. I was the liar. Now I’m telling my lie again. I’m telling it for the last time. Now that it’s here I can forget it forever. I can forget the days of trying to forget. The days where I wonder if it ever really happened. I can forget the days where I tried to remember. Maybe I remembered so hard I started lying. I can forget it in the shower. I can forget it in bed. I can forget it when something is against my chest. I’m letting go, because life is easier if it’s a lie.