Tampons From Hell

I was incredulous. “Wait, you won’t let me in the teen section at the library, but you’re sending me to an overnight summer camp?” I pushed the camp brochure back across the kitchen counter.

     “It’s not just any summer camp!” my mother insisted, trying to show me the brochure again, as if fun fonts and group photos of shockingly un-diverse teenagers were going to convince me. “It’s a Christian summer camp that mixes Bible study with the thrill of the outdoors!” Yes, that was the camp’s slogan.

“I don’t want to go,” I informed her, knowing my opinion on the matter was unwelcome.

“Why not?” my younger brother asked. He’d been lingering by the door, trying to figure out what my mother was so excited about. “It’s a whole week, far away from here.” He winked at me behind my mother’s back.

I ignored him. “Mom, I don’t like the outdoors.”

“That’s not all they do there,” she reminded me, unfolding the brochure to the panel with the Bible study accolades. “They host different Bible studies three different times a day. This year’s theme is finding your identity in Christ.”

“Mom, that’s every theme of every teenage Bible study ever. And you already make me read the Bible every day anyway, and do a million Bible studies a semester. I own more Beth Moore books than I do actual books.”

“Beth Moore books are actual books, and you should study your Bible every day regardless of what I want. I don’t ‘make’ you.” My mom was fond of using air quotes to convey how offensive she frequently found my accusations.

Josh nodded sarcastically behind her, still hovering in the doorway.

     “Mom, I really don’t want to go.”
“I mean, I’ll go,” Joshua volunteered.
“You have to be in high school to go,” my mom informed him, “But maybe in a couple of years we’ll sign you up, too.”
“Wait, have you already signed me up?” I felt my face getting red as all my anticipation and plans for a summer spent indoors with books and Netflix binges slipped away.
“And paid for it, so you can drop the unfriendly attitude and be grateful for it, young lady.”

That ended the conversation and sealed the deal. I was going to Christian summer camp. In the weeks intervening, I pleaded with my father to overturn my mother’s executive decision, but he was on her side. “Leah, you know I love you,” he would say. “But I have to sleep next to your mother every night, so she’s the one I’m most concerned with pleasing.”

After two weeks of begging, I finally accepted this camp as my impending doom, and set about trying to guarantee that I would survive. I devised my
Summer Camp Survival Strategy: a list

  1. Conveniently forget to pack swimsuit. This should eliminate the chances of participating in water sports.
  2. Conveniently forget to pack Bible. This should decrease interaction during the Bible study portions. Additionally, pack six previously unread novels (one for each day).
  3. Pack comfy clothes only. Sweatpants are preferred, but if the laundry isn’t done, gym sorts will suffice.
  4. A blank notebook and two packs of new gel pens.
  5. Lots of sunscreen – SPF 45.
  6. A 20-pack of jumbo pads.
  7. Shower shoes.

      The morning before my departure, I put my plan into action. I hid all of my jean shorts and missionary skirts in my winter clothes trunk, leaving only the sweatpants available for packing. I slid my Bible just far enough under the bed that it wouldn’t be seen from eye level, but not far enough that it look like I was hiding it. I added a layer of clothes in my underwear drawer, where I hid my secular books from my strict and prying mother. One side of my suitcase was devoted to clothes; sports bras, underwear, sweatpants, t-shirts with Christian band names, socks with funky prints, and two pairs of sneakers: my everyday white sneakers, and my formal sneakers – red converse. The other side was reserved for the mystery books I’d biked to the library to check out (I even got one of the them from the teen room), my new notebook (with a sealed spine, because spiral-bound notebooks were so junior high), and two new packs of gel pens I bought with my babysitting money. The rest of my babysitting money was for my camp commissary account, which I planned to spend entirely on snacks.

My mother bounded into my room, without knocking, as I was zipping up my suitcase.     “Oh, sweetie! There’s going to be a dance on the last night of camp!” She’d segued from the brochure onto the camp’s website, and was scrolling down the itinerary on her tablet.

I sighed. My mother had already made her mind that I wasn’t going to go to the junior prom next year, so I have no idea why she was so excited about the camp’s formal. “That definitely sounds like something I don’t want to attend.”

   “Oh, you’re such a Debby Downer! It’ll be fun! You need to pack something nice to wear.” She began rummaging through my closet, shifting between Easter dresses of years past.“Here, take this one! You look so nice in red.”

I took the dress and reluctantly packed it into my suitcase, completely unconcerned with it wrinkling.

My mother began rifling through my chest a drawers, and I held my breath and hoped she wouldn’t find my hidden books. Instead, she found my willfully forgotten swimsuit. “Oh, honey, you’ll need this,” she said, folding it up neatly. “There’s a lake and waterslide and everything.”

“I don’t really want to swim,” I admitted, thinking first about how uncomfortable my body felt in a swimsuit, and secondly how soon my period was supposed to arrive.

“Why not?”
“I’m supposed to be getting my period this week.”
“How do you know that?” she asked suspiciously.
I hesitated. “Um, because I track it?”
“Why would you need to do that?”
“So that I know when I need to pack some pads?” I pointed to the full pack of pads next to my toiletry bag in my suitcase.
“You don’t need to track your period unless you’re worried about getting pregnant. Are you worried about getting pregnant?”
I rolled my eyes. “No, mom, I’m not, but it’s still good to know! I wouldn’t want to be swimming and then suddenly be surrounded by a cloud of blood or something.”

     “Your period doesn’t happen when you’re in water,” my mother asserted, rolling all my socks into coupled balls.

I held back a laugh. “That’s one hundred percent not true.” My grandmother hadn’t given my mother a very thorough sexual education, and so in turn, I hadn’t received one from my mother. I learned most of what I knew from the internet.

“Well, then, just wear a pad in your swimsuit.”

My face crumbled with disgust. “That’s the grossest suggestion I’ve ever heard of. Why don’t I just take a couple of tampons, in case I feel like swimming.”

My mother stopped rigid, clutching my socks tightly in her hands. “Tampons are only for girls who’ve already had sex, and you shouldn’t be having sex until your wedding night. God did not give you the precious gift of virginity for you to throw it away over a tampon.”

This was not the first time that my mother had conflated using tampons to losing my virginity, but it hadn’t lost its edge of absurdity. Regardless, I didn’t think now was the time to tell her that I was thoroughly uninterested in penis-possessing people. “Alright,” I conceded, deciding this wasn’t the hill I wanted to fight and die on. “I’ll take the swimsuit, but I highly doubt I’m going to want to swim.”

“Your choice,” my mother said, her voice still retaining a touch of its severity. “And remember you’re not allowed to court until you’re in college. That rule still applies for this dance. Try and find a nice group of girls to go with.”

My heart leapt with excitement, nervousness, and guilt. “I’m sure I can find a girl to go with.”

     “I’m sure you could talk your cabin into going as a group!” she suggested, her sternness slowly melting away.

“Maybe.” I stuffed the swimsuit into my suitcase and wondered if my summer could possibly get more awkward.

 

** *

The next morning, my mother woke me up before the sun to begin the five hour drive to the Middle Of Nowhere. I used the time to listen to as much music as I could; as soon as we stepped foot on the campgrounds, electronics were prohibited. Joshua napped. My father drove with one hand, sipping his coffee with the other, and slowly nodded along to my mothers constant commentary on every mediocre facet of the outdoors.

At first: “You can tell we’re getting into the deep wilderness because of how tall the trees are getting.” Later on: “Look, you can start to see the lake!” When we arrived: “There’s so much dirt.”

As my father loaded my suitcase and pillows, I read the giant sign above the curved archway, leading into the campground. “Camp Peniel?” I glanced at my father. “Don’t they get how phallic that sounds?”

My father grinned and began rolling my suitcase up the dirt path.
My mother scolded me. “Not everyone’s head is in the gutter like yours, Leah Magdalene.” Joshua flashed me look, clearly impressed I’d managed to get middle-named.
I apologized. “Sorry, mom. It’s just a really weird name.”
We walked further into the unknown, making our way towards the camper check in. We met the campground tour guide who gave us the brief lay of the land; the campground was split into designated boys and girls areas, with the explicit purpose of leaving room for Jesus, and the only common ground was the mess hall. He showed us the lake, which had a giant water slide and a zip-line that ended abruptly above the deepest part of the lake, the worship hall where the morning and evening Bible studies would be taking place, and finally arrived at my cabin. It was the furthest away from the common ground.

     My cabin counselor nearly ran our to greet us. “My name is Susanna!” she announced, hugging me without my consent. “We’re going to have so much fun this week!”

I gave her a half-hearted smile.

“You might need to do a little convincing with this one,” my mother said apologetically. “She’s not overly fond of the outdoors.”

“Oh, we’ll change that!” Susanna assured her. “We’re going to get along so well!”

My mother smiled excitedly and helped me carry my suitcase inside (my father and brother weren’t allowed inside – it was a girls only zone).

I was, per my mother’s habitual earliness, the first camper to arrive in my cabin. The cabin was lined with five rows of empty bunkbeds, with one single bed in the opposite corner for Susanna. My mother gave her verbal approval of everything, commenting that the lighting was nice, the beds were clean, the bathroom smelled like flowers. I chose the bottom bunk of the bed furtherest from the door of the cabin and made my bed with the guest sheets I’d smuggled from the linen closet at home. I put my books and toiletry kit on the tiny shelf attached to the headboard, and shoved my suitcase full of clothes under the bed.

     My mother finally hugged me goodbye, told Susanna to make sure I socialized, and then waltzed out the cabin, showing no signs of remorse at abandoning her only daughter alone in the middle of nowhere with a virtual stranger. I tried not to take it personally.

Camper check in was listed as continuous from nine in the morning until five in the afternoon, so I had several hours before I would be expected to go to the mess hall for dinner. I politely told Susanna that I was tired from the trip, and curled up in my bunk, reading my first book as the other girls in my cabin slowly trickled in. One thing became painfully obvious as the other girls made themselves at home: I was not going to fit in. They all looked exactly the same – bleached blond hair, jean shorts (that came to the knee, per the camp’s modesty code), fitted t-shirts with the sleeved rolled up, flip-flops that revealed excessive pedicures, and post-it notes stuck in the mirror above their large makeup bags reminding them that men look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. I stuck out like a sore thumb – no makeup, a pixie cut that required no attention, sweatpants, and a t-shirt that claimed Modest Is Hottest. Even our book choices were drastically different. My shelf supported my gel pens, my notebook, and a slew of mystery novels. Theirs involved Bible study books and decorative Bibles, and I was dreading every moment of the upcoming week until the very last cabin mate arrived.

She was tall, tan, brunette. She wore cutoff jeans that rested above her knee and a white tank top that you could see her purple bra through – everything about her defied camp regulations, and I was instantly in love.

She glanced around the cabin. The only empty bunk was the one above me.
“Hey, bunkmate!” she said sarcastically as she swung her duffle bag onto the top bunk.       I face felt warm. “Hey,” I said softly.

    “I’m Janice,” she said, reaching her hand out.
I shook it, trying to gather my shattered confidence. “Hey,” I said again. “I’m Leah.”           “Leah…” she said, trying my name out a few times. “Leah, Le—ah. Leah’s a good name.”

“Thanks,” I said, slightly distracted by how smooth her hair was. “It’s from the Bible. Both my names are.”
“Yeah? What’s your middle name?”
“Magdalene. It’s Leah Magdalene.”
She grimaced. “That’s so Biblical. How do you handle that?” She climbed the rickety ladder up to her bunk and leaned her head over the side.
“In a sort of pretend-it’s-normal kind of way. What’s your middle name?”
“Joplin.”
I blinked. “Shut up.”
Janice swung her legs over the side of the bunk, her tan legs dangling in front of me. She shaved her legs. “Totally serious. My parents are weird ass hippies.”
Susanna miraculously appeared at the foot of our beds. “Hi, girls! We don’t use language like that here!”
“Why not?” Janice asked.
“We like to glorify the Lord with all that we do, and that starts with our thoughts and ends to our words and actions!”
Neither Janice or I responded, and Susanna faltered in her enthusiasm. “Well, it’s almost supper time, so we’re going to walk down to the mess hall together. How about we go ahead and get our shoes on?” Susanna left us to get ready.

 

      Janice slid down from her bunk. “It is just me, or does she sound like a kindergarten teacher?” she whispered to me.

“Totally,” I grinned.

Janice tied her long hair up into a ponytail as she walked towards the cabin door, and I followed after her, suddenly hopeful that this week wouldn’t be so horrible.

 

** *

 

The food they served us left a lot to be desired, so Janice and I both habitually opted for the salad bar that was available during both lunches and dinners. To my relief, Janice felt as opposed to the other girls in our cabin as I did, and so we agreed to be each other’s camp BFF, reveling in how ironic we were.

The morning and evening Bible studies were segregated by gender, but the noontime sessions were communal, directly before lunch was served. When it was just us girls, Susanna and the other cabin counselors talked to us about the importance of saving ourselves for marriage, using harsh metaphors to demonstrate how emotionally traumatizing losing your virginity outside of marriage is, and how to dress and behave modestly in order to not distract the boys from the Lord’s holy work in their lives. The communal Bible studies, however, were much more generalized; a youth pastor with hair longer than mine telling us that we are in the world and not of it, reminding us that Christ should be the foundation of our identity.

“I know it’s tempting to want to collect labels,” he told us. “But labels are the way the world tries to lay a claim on your body and soul.”

     I glanced at Leah who rolled her eyes at me. It gave me butterflies in my stomach every time she made me feel less alone.

“The Lord is who we should be focused on pleasing,” he continued. “The world may give us temporary pleasure. Drugs: marijuana, alcohol. Sexual promiscuity: having sex before marriage, engaging in homosexual relationships, going too far with your boyfriend. All these can all seem fun and harmless in the moment, but they have severe consequences for the rest of your life, and, more importantly, they damage your relationship with God.”

I glanced down at my notebook, where I’d been doodling along the edge of the page. I wondered how the camp would react if they found out I was gay, if they’d be allowed to call my parents to take me home early.

“God looks down at us, his beautiful, made in his image creations, and smiles. But when we sin, He asks us, ‘Why have you chosen sin over Me? Am I less important than your temporary pleasure?’”

I glanced at Janice, adoring the way she bit her lip as she drew tiny animals on the opposite side of the same page I was working on. I wondered if she was even listening to the pastor. I wondered what she would think if she knew I had a crush on her.

The pastor thumped his fingers against his Bible. “Each of our sins separates us a little more from Christ.” I knew exactly which Bible verse he was going to turn to. “It’s not just the things we typically associate with abomination, like homosexuality.” I flinched. “‘Do you not know,’” he began reading, “‘That the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived.’” He paused, looking out at us all. “This is the part that the world would want us to ignore. This is where the way of the world and the way of the Lord are opposing. This is where we have to chose what’s more important to us.” He began reading again. “‘Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.’” He finished, closing his Bible and looking our over all of us, silently. I felt like he could look into my mind, like he could see how perverse my thoughts were in the sight of the Lord.

      One boy across the room raised his hand. The pastor called on him. “But, some people can’t help but be gay,” he said. “Isn’t it okay to be gay as long as you don’t act on it? Like, my uncle is gay, but he’s a Christian, so he never got married or had sex with anyone.”

The pastor ran his fingers through his hair. “I would agree that sometimes sinful urges feel like they can’t be helped, but being gay is a choice. It says so in the Bible; it’s a conscious choice to live a life separate from God. But I think that you’re uncle is doing the right thing by not giving into the temptation.”

I was watching the top of Janice’s head as she bent over her illustrations. She didn’t seem to be listening at all. My heart felt heavy and I felt a little sick. I didn’t feel like I was making a conscious choice by liking her. I felt so nervous about being found out. My mind wandered, thinking about the rest of my life, living with a terrible secret that I’d never told anyone. I felt exhausted already, and tears heated my eyes.

The youth pastor prayed over us and our upcoming food, but I didn’t close my eyes during the prayer.

When we were in the salad bar line, Janice leaned in and whispered in my ear, “I bet that kid that asked about being gay was really talking about himself, not his uncle.”

    “You were listening?”
“Yeah. I bet he’s gay and he feels weird being here.”
“What do you think?” I asked.
“About what?” She loaded two tongs of spinach onto her plate.
“About being gay. Do you think you can be a Christian and still be gay?”
She thought about it for a moment. “I don’t know. I think that if God is going to limit salvation based on where some guys like to put their dicks, then he’s not really all-loving.”
I blushed a little bit. “But girls can be gay, too.”
She giggled. “Maybe, but I’ve never met a lesbian.”
The word lesbian sounded so nice coming out of her mouth. “How do you know?” I asked.

“I mean, you can usually tell, right? They all look like Ellen.”

I glanced down at myself quickly. I was wearing gym sorts and a Relient K t-shirt. I didn’t look like Ellen. “What would you do if you met one?” I asked. I’d been pointlessly making my way through the line, too distracted to actually put anything on my plate. I ended up getting a scoop of sunflower seeds at the end of the bar before we made our way back to our table.

Janice was thinking about my question, chewing on a cheese cube from her plate. “I don’t know. I never really thought of it as a big deal, you know? I never really thought about anything sex related as being enough to hinder a relationship with God. But, you know, my parents had me before they were married, and they weren’t planning on getting married until my mom converted, and my dad did it just so she wouldn’t leave him. I don’t know.” She took a bite of her salad. “It just never seemed like a big deal to me, and I hadn’t really thought of it before.”

     That seemed so weird to me, that she could live most of her life in a Christian household and not think about her sexual inclinations being displeasing to God. For a brief moment, I wished I was straight so that I wouldn’t have to deal with this kind of confusion and guilt anymore, but then she licked some salad dressing off her bottom lip and I was completely smitten again. I thought about telling her. My mouth opened and began forming the words. I tossed some sunflower seeds in my mouth, chickening out. “Yeah,” I said. “I guess it’s not a big deal.”

 

***

The emphasis on water sports was much bigger than I’d anticipated, and my friendship with Janice hit it’s second obstacle: she loved water sports. She’d brought a black bikini that she wasn’t allowed to wear because of the camp’s modest pledge, so she spited the dress code by wearing a white t-shirt over it. She looked like a super model as she walked out of the bathroom and over our bunk.

      “Are you sure you don’t want to swim?” she asked, wrapping her hair into a messy bun. It was the fourth day at camp, and she’d been down to the lake every day. “The fish are totally cute, and if we want to be real deviants we can pretend that we don’t hear the blow horn and stay a few minutes into the boys’ swim time. Maybe we’ll see some of them without their shirts on.”

“I think it’s so unfair that they can swim without their shirts on, but we have to wear one- pieces,” I said.

She contorted her body into a dramatic pose. “Or! Bikinis and t-shirts!” She giggled.            “Come on, put your suit on and we’ll go down together.”

“I really don’t feel like it.” “Why not?”

    “Because.”
“Leah.”
“Janice.”
“Tell me.”
My face flushed and I looked down at my lap. “I started my period last night.”

Janice looked confused. “So?”

I felt even more embarrassed. “So…I can’t so swimming.”

She laughed. “Just put a freaking tampon in. You’ll be fine.”

“Yeah, I’m not allowed to use tampons.”

Janice stared blankly at me. “What the hell.”

Susanna appeared at the foot of our bunk. “Now, girls! We’ve talked about the language! Let’s have pure hearts and pure language!” She skipped out of the cabin.

Janice grimaced. “I thought she’d already left.” She sat down next to me. “What do you mean you’re not allowed to use tampons.”

“I mean that my mother said they’re only for girls who’ve lost their virginity, and I’m a virgin, so I’m not allowed to use tampons.”

“That’s the wackiest thing I’ve ever heard,” she said, getting off the bed and walking to the bathroom. She returned with a box of tampons, and tossed them into my lap. “Here. There’s instructions on the back of the box. The swim time is about to start, so I’m gonna go down to the lake. I’ll see you there?”

“Sure, okay.”
Then it was just me and the box of tampons.

     My face flushed when I opened the box of tampons and pulled one out. I felt horrified as I examined the diagram on the box, wondering how my vagina was ever going to work like that. I put the box down and picked up my book, deciding to stay in and tell Janice that I’d fallen asleep. But then I imagined Janice, emerging from the lake in her white shirt and black bikini, hair dripping down her back like a James Bond mistress, and I slammed my book shut. I took the box of tampons into the bathroom with me.

I decided to try to insert the tampon in a shower cubicle instead of a bathroom stall, because I felt that squatting would make the whole ordeal easier. I slid my sweatpants to the floor, followed by my panties, and then read the instructional diagram again. I unwrapped the tampon, and took a close look at it; it was so square, and made out of cardboard instead of cotton like I assumed it would be. I took a deep breath and then squatted. My hand felt around, trying to figure out exactly where my vagina was. I found it, and I felt how small it was. It was so small. I looked at the tampon. It was so big. I had seriously doubts about its ability to fit inside me. I took a deep breath before shoving it inside myself.

It hurt. There was a very specific kind of sharp pain that I had never felt before, and an immediate nausea accompanied it. I leaned against the shower wall and tried to take deep breaths. Deep breaths. Women wear these all the time, I thought. Janice wears these, I can wear these. I took deeper and deeper breaths, not moving, barely thinking of anything, for a few minutes until I could barely notice the stinging. I stood up, and immediately the pain was back. I went to pull my pants up and the pain persisted, every movement of my legs triggering a sharp and painful stab in my vagina.

     I looked at myself in the mirror outside the shower and noticed that I was sweating. I rinsed my face off in the sink, then went to find my swimsuit. I stuffed my body into the swimsuit, but the sight of my reflection in the mirror was enough to convince me to wear a t-shirt over it. I adopted my shower shoes as lake shoes, and began the harrowing walk down to the lake.

The path from the cabin to the lake usually took about four minutes, but the cautious walking and frequent stops slowed me down. About fifteen minutes later, I was overlooking the lake from the bottom of the waterslide, scanning the groups of modestly clad female swimmers for Janice, and trying to control my thoughts away from the radiating pain.

“Leah! Up here!” Janice was at the top of the waterslide, waving down at me.
I waved back.
“Come up here, we’ll slide down together!” Janice was already wet, her t-shirt clinging to her body.
“No, I’m good. I’ll meet you down here!” I called back.
“Suit yourself, you wuss.” Janice flung herself down the waterslide.
I made my way down the tiny slope to the edge of the water, each step agonizing pain. The nausea was getting stronger the longer I left the tampon in, but I was determined. Girls splashed around me, some shrieking at the fish, others swinging into the water on ropes, others attempting to tan on the side of the lake. Janice splashed into the water with delighted screams, and emerged ecstatically, looking around to see where I was waiting.

“Over here!” I yelled, waving. That made my stomach turn.

     Janice began swimming over, graceful in water. When it wasn’t deep enough to swim she stood up, water dripping off of her, her black bikini clearly visible. My knees shook, but it might have just been from pain.

Janice walked through the muddy shore water, getting slowly closer. “Dude, you have to go down that slide. It’s awesome.”

“I’m really not up for a slide right now,” I insisted.

Janice glanced at me, head to foot, and something caught her eye. “Whoa, Leah, you’re bleeding.”

I glanced down at my body and saw a trickle of blood running down my thigh. “Shit.”            Suzanne appeared by our side. “Now, girls, we’ve talked about the language. If it happens again, I’ll be forced to contact your parents.”

I looked at Suzanne hazily. The nausea was building inside me.
“Are we clear, girls? Only language that glorifies God, please.” Suzanne walked away, and I turned toward a nearby tree and heaved, clutching my stomach.
“Leah! Are you okay?” Janice scrambled out of the water and rushed to my side. She collected what little hair I had and kept it out of my eyes.
I threw up again. The nausea radiated from my vagina throughout my entire body.                “Girl, you seemed so fine earlier. What happened?”

I stood up a little straighter. “Okay, this is so embarrassing.” Janice scoffed. “You can tell me.”

     I lowered my voice, making sure no one else could hear. “I really don’t think tampons are good for me,” I confessed. “My mom always told me not to wear them, and I think I know why now, because this hurts more than than anything.”

Janice squinted her eyes. “Tampons aren’t supposed to hurt, dude. Did you put it in right?” “I followed the diagram. I left the stringy thing out, I shoved the rest of it in.”
“But you took the cardboard out once you had the tampon in, right?”
My face flushed again. “No.”

Janice’s eyes widened. “You shoved the cardboard in, AND you left it inside you?”

I threw up again. “I’ve never done this before,” I choked. “I didn’t know what I was supposed to leave and take out.”

“No wonder you’re throwing up, that’s insane.”
A tear rolled down my face. “I don’t know what to do.”
“We’re gonna go back to the cabin.” Janice helped me straighten up and walked with me, holding my hand just in case, and we slowly made our way back to the cabin.
I took off my swimsuit and sat on the toilet to take the tampon out, crying a little as I pulled it slowly. Janice stood outside the stall, suggesting to try and rip it out, quick, like a Bandaid. Once it was out, I felt the immediate relief. The nausea started to subside, my head stopped pounding. I tossed the tampon in the trash and changed into the sweatpants and a t-shirt that Janice had tossed over the door. I emerged from the stall like an ashamed puppy.

“Okay, come here,” Janice insisted, pulling me by my hand and leading me to our bunk.      “I’m going to show you how to do it.” She unwrapped the tampon and used her hand to demonstrate how to insert the cardboard, push the tampon in, and slide the cardboard back out again. “See, only the cotton part stays inside you,” she concluded.

      “That seems way less painful, but I honestly don’t think my vagina can take it right now.” I fell back onto my pillow.

“That’s something I really like about you,” Janice said, laying on her side next to me. “Not many Christian girls can say the word vagina without whispering.”

“I’m not exactly sure I’m a Christian,” I confided. I felt strangely liberated, as if touching and talking about my vagina so much was the secret key to finding my confidence. I wanted to bare my soul.

“Why would you say that?” She picked some fuzz off my t-shirt.
“Well…” I hesitated slightly. “Janice, I’m gay.”
Janice sat up, slowly. She looked confused, and a little nervous. I felt my face flush, and some of my previous nausea came back, and I instantly regretting every moment of my life. Then she laughed.
“What’s so funny?” I demanded, defensive.
“I mean, earlier this week I told you that all lesbians look like Ellen Degeneres and you didn’t say anything.”
I giggled a little bit. “I mean, I kind of look like Ellen, I guess.”

She doubled over, laughing. “You look nothing like Ellen, dude.”

I traipsed over to the mirror in the bathroom and turned my head a few directions to get a good look. “My hair is the same length.”

“The list of comparison stops there.” She was still giggling uncontrollably.

      I sat back down on the bed and waited for her hysterics to subside. “So, does all the laughing mean you’re not disgusted or horrified by me?”

She cocked her head to the side, confused. “Why would I feel like that?”
“Because of what the pastor guy said about being gay. How it’s a sin and everything.”
She scooted a little closer to me and put her arm around my shoulders, leaning in close as if she was going to share a secret. “I sincerely wasn’t paying that much attention to him until that other kid spoke.”

I snorted. “He was just reading Bible verses where homosexuality is listed as a sin.” I felt all these emotions rising to the surface and I started rambling. “And back when my parents told me what being gay was, they told me it was a conscious, sinful choice people made so that they wouldn’t have to confront their sins before God, and my grandmother would always turn the TV to a different station if anyone who was obviously gay was on, even if it was just a commercial. She told me Sodom and Gomorrah wasn’t destroyed so that she would have to watch sinful people pretend their lives were normal.”

Janice was quiet for a few moments. “That’s pretty intense,” she finally said, very softly. “Yeah.” I leaned my head on her shoulder.
“It’s weird to me that this all has been such an event for you. My parents have never addressed the issue of homosexuality with me.” She brushed my hair off my forehead. “I don’t think any of that is true, though. I’m not really sure how I feel about all this church stuff, but I can’t imagine that God is going to send you to hell because you like girls.”

I smiled. This was the first time I had told anyone my secret, and it helped me feel so secure and confident in myself. I glanced over at Janice. “Thanks for not freaking out.”

     “Thanks for telling me. I’m sorry it’s been such hell for you.”

Suzanne appeared out of nowhere. “Alright, ladies. I hate to do this, but I’m going to have to call your parents. I’ve told you three times that this language is not acceptable, and we can’t tolerate you girls blatantly breaking the rules and going against the will of God. You should both start packing your bags.”

“What the hell, seriously?” Janice climbed out from the bunk and glared at Suzanne.            “You’re kicking us out of camp because I said some minor swear words. They’re not even the bad ones! They’re the ones you’re allowed to say on TV!”

“I’m not concerned with what’s allowed on television, I’m concerned with glorifying the Lord. Your words are not glorifying the Lord.” She walked away, the most somber I had ever seen her.

Janice slipped back into the bunk. “This is bullshit.”
“Did you really want to stay another three days here?” I asked.
Janice looked torn. “I mean, I like the waterslide.”
I laughed. “Okay, then, I’m sorry.”
We packed our bags with ease. Neither of us had really made ourselves at home in the cabin.

Suzanne called our parents, describing how vulgar we’d been and how she knew that the Lord was displeased with our actions.

“And just think,” Janice whispered, “She doesn’t even know that you like boobies.”
I smirked. “I’ve never really thought about boobs as a separate entity before. It’s creepy.”

The following morning, my parents pulled into camp as soon as the sun was rising. My mother wouldn’t look me in the eye as she helped gather my suitcase and pillows. She was

silently livid; I was in for a serious talking to on the ride home. I debated whether or not I should tell her that it was Janice who had been doing all the swearing – it was halfway true, but I decided I’d made too much progress in the departments of confidence and honesty to back peddle so soon.

Janice was still asleep as we snuck my belongings out of the cabin. I wanted to take her up to say goodbye, but my mother was impatient to get on the road so that the berating could be begin. I settled for writing Janice a note on the page we’d been doodling on the day before. I scribbled my email address and signed it in the most pretentious way I could think of: In perpetuity, Leah.

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