In eight fleeting weeks, BODY OF WATER, which is mostly fiction, will stroll out into the world, and a few of my secrets might seep out. Like, I have washed my hair with apple-scented hand soap and lied to teachers about where I did my homework. Like, I am not above eating fried bologna off a stick. And I sort of have an obsession with fuzzy pajamas.
Want to know what’s crazy? I recently met someone who lived in a tent for six months. Six! We didn’t quite make it to three. She was a little older during her camping time – ninth grade, not seventh – and we are the same age, so it’s easy for me to think back on her camping year.
We were at Herold Court that year, a second-floor apartment where the walls sweated in summer and my best friend wasn’t allowed to visit at first because my parents didn’t quite think about how the “I Heart Herbs” sticker on the car window could be taken if you didn’t know my mother gathered mullen for congestion and burdock for arthritis. The year my friend slept under the twinkle of cricket chatter, I was drenched in the humid hush of the box fan in the window. In winter we went sledding down the yellow line of Kentucky Road until we tumbled, laughing, into snow-filled ditches. I hope my friend was under roof by then. I don’t know which months she camped because she didn’t want to talk about it much.
Some days I feel frivolous, like I don’t understand even the things I’ve done. Like it’s not okay for me to write a book about living in a tent, because, even though I’ve lived in a tent, I was me at the time and not a regular person, and I didn’t get the same things out of it that a regular person would. And then I think, what do I mean by regular person? A person who has never lived in a tent? A person who has only ever washed their hair with shampoo? A person who doesn’t heart herbs and who takes fuzzy PJs for granted?
The kid in me would say there is no regular, everybody is different (because she thought she was pretty deep). But even that seventh-grader who was free of congestion and smelled faintly of apples -- who night after night went to bed wearing something other than fuzzy pajamas -- even that girl wanted to be like other people sometimes.
Which is why I am grateful to my new friend for sharing a touch of her story, even if she didn't want to talk about it much. I can't guess her story, wouldn't dream of trying. I was me, not her, my camping year. But some things -- some things she doesn't have to say. Some things I think I might know.