Текст книги

Jennifer Yu
Four Weeks, Five People


“I’m done, I’m done, I have to be done,” I say, and I’m so happy I can barely think straight, but then Mason fills my glass and shouts, “To not being a pussy!” and the four shots I’ve taken already are enough for that to actually force me into action.

The really stupid thing is that I know exactly how this ends. I’ve been to enough therapy sessions and sat through enough boring health classes to know that I really shouldn’t drink like this, especially here, with people who now probably think I’m a total dumbass, for the first time ever. I’m not fun. I’m not anywhere near cool. I’m pretty much the last person anyone would invite to a party. In the fifteen minutes during which I am feigning sleep after we sneak back into our room, I realize that a) I have been an idiot, and b) more urgently, I need to throw up, now.

It’s hard to describe the emotional sequence that follows, not least of all because I am excessively inebriated for most of it. I make it to the bathroom in time to spend the next half hour alternating between puking, feeling all the positive feelings gradually drain away from my brain, and wishing, wishing, WISHING that I could feel like I’m inside a movie again like I did on the first day of camp, that this entire disaster didn’t all feel so capital-R Real. I hate alcohol, I think. I hate alcohol, and I hate that it did this to me, and I hate myself for being stupid enough to drink even though I knew this would happen, and I hate myself for being ridiculous enough to be crying right now because of something so stupid, and I hate Stella for bringing the alcohol, and I hate Mason for calling me a pussy, and I hate myself for proving him right. I had one chance and I fucked it all up—

“Yo,” Andrew calls from outside the bathroom. “Are you okay? Dude, open the door!”

“And can you quiet down?” Mason adds. “I’m trying to sleep.”

“I’m fine,” I shout, but I must not sound particularly fine, because Andrew opens the door and barges in. Pathetic, I think. He must think you’re so pathetic.

“Dude!” Andrew says. “Are you crying? Ben, what’s going on?” He pours me a cup of water from the faucet and hands it to me.

“What’s going on,” I repeat. I take a drink from the cup and then dry heave. “What’s going on? Our dissolute camper, once so filled with hope and youthful energy, is paying the price for his impulsivity, for the belief that he could ever—“Well, I feel terrible,” I say after catching the look on Andrew’s face.

“You have to stop doing that,” he says.

“I can’t,” I say. “And I drank too much.”

“Yeah, that happens sometimes,” he says.

“And they taught us in health class that alcohol is a depressant,” I add.

“Yeah, that happens, too. But I don’t think that’s what that actually means. Like, I don’t think alcohol actually makes you depressed, if you know what I’m saying. I think it just—”

“And I hate myself.”

Andrew shuts up.

“Oh, God,” I say. The nausea is beginning to fade now, into a constant, throbbing misery—the sense that I would be better off anywhere else, anyone else, or perhaps not at all. To make matters worse, Mason chooses this moment to walk into the bathroom, clutching—I kid you not—an issue of Playboy.

“I thought you were trying to sleep,” I say.

“I gave up,” he says.

I stare at him, speechless, before deciding that the best course of action is to pointedly ignore him.

“I shouldn’t have let myself do this,” I say, turning to Andrew. “People like me can’t do drinking.”

“‘People like me’?” he says. “What does that even mean? Depressed people? People who have emotions? People who do stupid things? People like us, Ben. Now shut up and drink water.”

“People like us?” Mason replies, not looking up from his magazine. “People like you guys, Andrew. Leave me out of it.”

I stumble out of the bathroom and climb into bed, thinking that camp so far has been far, far worse than Wet Hot American Summer.

CLARISA (#u85ce315e-2639-5880-bef7-3e6507af0eb5)

THE SUNDAY SCHEDULE says we’re supposed to be up by 10:00 a.m., but waking up at a time like that is practically asking to have a terrible day. I set my alarm for 9:31 instead, and I’m feeling surprisingly well rested when it goes off. It’s going to be a good day, I think to myself. I’m going to get out of bed and brush my teeth. I’m going to write my mom a letter. I’m going to try to make friends. I sit up, open my eyes, and—//

—Freeze. There are four shot glasses pushed into the back corner of the room, definitely unwashed. Pieces of paper that Ben and Mason had been scribbling on all night, now crumpled up on my desk. Somehow, Ben managed to forget his shoes in our room. It’s not even the clutter that gets to me, which isn’t as bad for me as people always think it is—it’s the fact that everything is wrong; the sense that that’s not where those things are supposed to be, not on the floor, not on my desk, no, no, no, and then I’m up and throwing away Ben’s nonsensical scribblings and putting Stella’s shot glasses back on her desk where they belong. Equally horrifying is the fact that it would have been this easy for us to get caught: the shot glasses are inconspicuous, sure, but all it would have taken was one careful walk through the room with a flashlight to notice them. And what if the counselors realized that the pair of flip-flops in the middle of the room wasn’t actually mine or Stella’s? //

By the time I’m done cleaning up yesterday’s mess, I barely have time to finish my morning routine before we’re supposed to go outside for breakfast. “You do this every morning?” Stella asks as I’m in the process of checking my covers for the fifth time. They haven’t moved at all since the last time I checked them, and I know that they haven’t, but I can’t rip myself away before I’ve made sure. “Do you really have to?” Stella says. “Like, what’s the worst thing that can happen if you don’t?” “Okay, first,” I say, spinning so that I’m facing her. I’m wasting precious time, I know, and Stella’s offhand remarks aren’t worth getting riled up over, but something about her tone—smug, more bemused than anything—really gets me going. //

“Yeah, I do this every morning, thanks for asking. And second, you’re being pretty rude, you know that? Believe me, I don’t want to be doing this any more than you want to be watching me doing it. But I just...have to.” I stare at her, defiant. This, I think, is exactly why I didn’t want to come to this stupid camp. It’s bad enough when it’s just my mom thinking that I’m a total nutcase. //

But Stella surprises me. “You’re right,” she says slowly, like she’s just coming to the realization for the first time as she says the words. “Sorry, Clarisa. And sorry again about not checking with you before inviting the guys over last night. I guess I just didn’t anticipate these things—you know—being...problems.” “Well, that’s me for you,” I say. “A barrelful of unanticipated problems.” //

“That’s not what I meant,” Stella says. But it is. Trust me, I’ve been in this situation enough times to know. “Yeah,” I mutter, and grab our room keys and a jacket from my closet. The bed is fine. The room is safe. I’m ready to go to breakfast. //

* * *

I don’t end up making it through very much of breakfast because Jessie comes up to our table pretty much the moment I’ve set my oatmeal down on the picnic table between Ben and Andrew and asks if she can see me in her office. It takes me approximately three seconds—between the time I finish processing her words and actually get up to follow her—to conclude that we’ve been caught, and that I am totally, totally doomed. It doesn’t help that she doesn’t smile at me a single time while we walk from the picnic tables outside to the counselors’ offices by The Hull. By the time Jessie clears her throat to start talking, I’ve come up with six ways to apologize for getting roped into Stella’s awful plan, all of which sound ridiculous. This is it. I am definitely getting kicked out. My stomach sinks as I imagine how disappointed my mom is going to be when she finds out that her latest plan to convert me into a normal human being, just like all the other ones, has crashed and burned. //

After a few seconds of torturous, torturous silence, Jessie finally speaks. “You started sertraline three weeks ago, correct?” she says. I stare at her for a second, unsure of how to answer. Is this a prelude to the inevitable lecture? Is she trying to terrify me before kicking me out? “Um,” I say. “Yes?” //

“Are you experiencing any negative side effects? Any difficulty sleeping? Changes in appetite? Increased feelings of depression or suicidal ideation?” she asks. “No,” I say. Jessie writes for a few seconds on the clipboard. I start to think that maybe I’m not totally busted, after all. //

“What about positive effects of the drug?” Jessie continues. “Decreased anxiety, easier time focusing...?” This is when I sort of start to hate this conversation. When I start to almost wish that we had been caught, and that Jessie was giving me some stern lecture about “trustworthiness” and “camp values” as opposed to asking me about whether or not my meds are finally, finally working. Because no, they’re not. And now I feel like I’m letting her down. “Not really,” I admit. //

“Well, it’s quite normal for sertraline to take four to six weeks to fully take effect, so I’m not too concerned yet,” Jessie says. “I’ll check in with you again in a couple of days and see if anything changes. In the meantime, please let me know if you start experiencing any new side effects. Is that clear?” “Yes,” I say. I resist the urge to apologize even though I know she doesn’t know that I’ve done anything wrong. Then, before she can tell me that my skirt is too short or try to fix my posture, I bolt for the door. //

When I get back to the picnic tables, most of the other fifty or so campers have come out and started eating. I make my way over to our table and slide back into my seat, only to find that my oatmeal has gone lukewarm and my biscuit has been colonized by a family of ants. “Lovely,” I mutter. I push the plate away and turn to Ben. “Do you know when we’re having lunch?” I ask. “Because I’m actually kind of hungry, and I can’t—Oh, jeez, are you okay?” //

Ben looks exhausted. Half-dead. Like a different person from last night, when he seemed, well, just as energetic and happy as you’d expect someone who had taken, like, four shots of vodka in quick succession to be. “I’m fine,” Ben says. He gets really into his scrambled eggs. “Did something...happen?” I ask. “I mean, last night, you seemed really happy, and now...” //

“I’m just an idiot,” Ben says. “Unfortunately for me, I don’t think there’s really anything anyone can do about that. So, I’m fine.” There’s a part of me that wants to push further, if only because now everyone at the table is staring at us. But then I remember how I felt yesterday in the car when Mom wouldn’t stop asking me how I was doing. And look how that turned out. So instead I say, “Okay,” and turn my gaze to the camp ground around us. //

As a permanent resident of New York City, where your line of sight extends approximately fifty feet without hitting a skyscraper or a wall of smog, I’m not used to how beautiful it is here—how clean the air, how far we can see. There are mountains rising and falling in the distance, gray and jagged against the light blue of the sky. We’re sitting at a cluster of picnic tables between the cabins and the volleyball court. On the other side, I can see all the way to the other side of the lake. The lake, the cabins, and the rec area are all situated in a field of grass that’s almost entirely enclosed by trees. Before I can stop myself, I’ve forgotten all about my cereal and started counting them: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. //

My mind goes into autopilot: start, count, stop, repeat. 7, 7, 7, 7. A part of me thinks that I can somehow count all the trees that form our perimeter—if it’s not a safe number, will they let me cut a few down? I wonder. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6—//

“Clarisa?” a voice says. “Did you get that?” I realize with a start that I’ve completely zoned out, and that Jessie and Josh have joined us at our table. Jessie is clearly midlecture. “The expression of sheer panic on her face would indicate that she had retreated to the warm and welcoming—often too welcoming, I might add—recesses of her innermost thoughts,” Josh says warmly, as if that’s a perfectly normal way to describe someone who isn’t paying attention. “No need to worry, Clarisa. Why don’t we just repeat the last part again, Jessie?” //

“I was going over our weekend policy,” Jessie says, sounding significantly more annoyed than Josh does. And who can blame her? She’s right—I should have been paying attention, instead of getting lost in my head like I always do. “As I was saying,” Jessie repeats, “our weekends kick off every Friday night with Art by the Fire Fridays.” I don’t know what Art by the Fire Fridays is, but it must not be great, because Stella takes Jessie’s pause as an opportunity to groan loudly. “What were you expecting?” Mason drawls. “That in the last year they’d eliminated all the therapeutic camp activities at a therapeutic camp?” //

“Stella, you clearly have a lot of opinions about Art by the Fire,” Jessie says. “Would you like to explain to everyone what the principles and procedures are?” Stella scowls at Jessie but remains silent. “Thank you. And, Mason,” Jessie continues. “While I appreciate your willingness to, ah, help us counselors out, I assure you that Josh and I can handle it. Now, on to the important part. //

“Every Friday night, all of the campers at Ugunduzi come together. We light a bonfire, we make s’mores, and everyone across all the different groups has the opportunity to share something that he or she has written. It’s a great exercise. I know you’ll all be amazed at the things you share with each other. It can be a poem, or a journal entry, or stray thoughts about the week—anything you feel like sharing with the group. You guys should start thinking about that and maybe even writing, if you want to perform a poem or anything like that. Any questions before we move on? //

“Great,” Jessie says when no one speaks up. “After Friday night, weekends at Ugunduzi are fairly relaxed. It’s always been important for Dr. Palmer and the rest of the team here for campers to have time to explore and enjoy this beautiful area on your own terms, and we want you to know that we trust you enough to let you do that. Accordingly, we’ve left this time relatively unrestricted—with the provision that you stay on the main grounds and remain supervised at all times, of course. Ordinarily, at this time after breakfast, you’d be able to do an approved activity of your own choice. But because it’s our first full day together, we thought it would be a good idea to introduce you to your camp-long project and give you some time to start thinking about it. And so, if you’ll follow me...” //

“Isn’t it cute how they consider ‘boxed in’ and ‘supervised at all times’ to be ‘relatively unrestricted’?” Stella mutters to me while we stand up and file into a line behind Jessie. I choke back a laugh. Not because she isn’t kind of totally right, but because getting in trouble twice before it’s even eleven in the morning doesn’t seem like a great way to start camp. The five of us follow Jessie and Josh away from the picnic tables, in the opposite direction of The Hull, up to a small, unlabeled cabin by the water. Josh takes out a key and unlocks the door. “It’s...empty,” Mason says as we all step inside. “Totally empty,” Andrew echoes. //

Mason’s right. Not only is the cabin completely devoid of tables, couches, and decorations, but the walls are also unpainted, the windows bare and curtainless. “Exactly,” Jessie says. Solitary confinement, I think immediately. I picture being locked in here for a full day with nothing to do or look at or sit on, with no one to talk with and nothing to listen to, free of hiking, Stella’s sarcastic comments, trees, spontaneous episodes of youthful rebellions, shot glasses left lying on the floor all night... It would be like a dream come true. I resolve to get myself as committed as soon as possible. //

“It’s your Camp Project,” she says. “Oh, no,” Stella groans. “Not again. Wasn’t last year bad enough?” “The Camp Project,” Jessie presses on, over Stella’s groan, “is a Camp Ugunduzi tradition. Each team of campers every year is assigned a project that facilitates creativity, resourcefulness, and, most important, teamwork. Stella’s group last year, for example, took photographs and wrote articles for a camp guidebook for their friends and their parents.” //

“It was propaganda,” Stella says. “Forget friends and parents—Hitler could have learned a thing or two from that guidebook.” Mason snickers. “This year,” Jessie continues, her voice rising a few decibels, “we’ve decided to do something a little different. We’ve had this cabin built with the intention of turning it into a safe space for campers—a place where they could come to find peace, where they could clear their heads, to be surrounded by quiet, to reflect or write or play music. As you can see, we’ve left it completely undecorated. And that’s where you guys come in.” //
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