On a Lesbian Camping Trip, you are usually either a Lesbian or you are invited by your mother who couldn’t find a baby-sitter, or even worse has decided to introduce you to this aspect of her life. I suppose other certain-they-are-heterosexual people occasionally get to go on these trips, but I can’t imagine the circumstances and I won’t speculate.
Lesbian Camping Trips incorporate many of the classic icons of traditional American camping, such as quilted red-and-black flannel shirts, crusty cast-iron frying pans, and coffee with eggshells in it. Because this trip — and here is my first embarrassing admission, that I have only had one Lesbian Camping Experience – took place in the Midwest, it also included swarming horseflies, constant humidity, blazing sun, and a lack of shade or anything to do.
These wilderness adventures usually begin with a stable couple that actually enjoys being out of doors, has all the equipment, oils their Coleman stove once each winter while it sits idle in their basement, and brings along guitars. On the rip-roaringest of campfire nights this couple will produce, to everyone’s mingled excitement and horror, a tambourine or similar percussion device. No one doubts that they also have in their collection hollowed-out gourds and finger cymbals. The couple has friends of course, unattached or on the way in or out of an arrangement with somebody. There is no website for the Lesbian Camping Trip because it is still somewhere on the cusp of the Seventies and Eighties when this Trip takes place. The tents and the camping supplies are made and advertised for hunters and fishermen, not rock climbers or people who need waterproof and breathable gear in order to survive the most extreme conditions possible. The group tops out at just under a dozen, a comfortable mix of those who have found their Soul Mate for the time being, and those who hope they might notice someone interesting while they collect firewood or trudge along on a day hike.
If you are the Boy amongst The Women, you are treated with a special reverence. You are admired for your rough-and-tumble nature, whether you decide to reveal it or not. Your hair is tousled by dirty campground fingers regularly throughout the weekend; your mere presence encourages childhood memories. “Build a little hut out of your kindling, like this. My father was an excellent firestarter,” is a common refrain, as is “My grandfather taught me how to tie knots — even though Mom said not to bother with that stuff.” Middle-aged woman eyes glisten when they remember these things — often they go find another camper, attached or not, and hug them.
Your Mother Who Is Lesbian is quiet but happy. It is difficult to see where she fits in the puzzle of the Lesbian Campers, whether she is or has been an item with any of these women. They all like her, call her choppy shortened versions of her name as if she is their starting shortstop or number-one quarterback. But she seems too soft and maternal to be on the Lesbian Camping Trip. She leaves her hair long and loose while they all pull theirs back in ponytails under baseball caps and bandanas. She doesn’t own any of the chunky work boots they favor. She makes it through the entire weekend with her white nurse’s sneakers. She doesn’t curse – there’s always a wry and apologetic smirk to The Boy when the Lesbian Campers let loose with their sailor profanity – or drink any of their cheap canned beer, though she can chain-smoke with the best of them.
On the first night, The Lesbian Campers are just as agitated as they are in their lives in the city, with a darkness they just can’t throw off — it moves around just under their skin. Most of them are smiling — crooked, like they’re embarrassed to be happy in such a pastoral setting — when they crawl awkwardly from their tents the next morning. By the second night the darkness has melted away; they will flit around the camp like Girl Scouts, playing silly pranks on each other and breaking into shocking, abrupt belly laughter. At several points, maybe when she thinks you are not looking, your mother will pantomime a ridiculous disco dance or pretend to pick her nose. The Lesbian Campers will laugh at these gags until they cry and grip their crotches to hold in the pee.
You lock the keys in the trunk, or get stung by wasps, or cause some sort of embarrassing disturbance on The Lesbian Camping Trip. The women are understanding, muttering things like, “Poor guy!” or “Oh! I did that once,” and by the time the fire has progressed beyond the kindling hut and caught on a couple of good dry logs, you are the only one who remembers the incident. The folk songs are sung now in raspy and hesitant voices. The drinking begins in earnest. The cursing escalates until it is background noise and many of the words are outside the reach of your vocabulary. There’s no way The Boy can know what a cunt is, after all.
It is hot the weekend of the Lesbian Camping Trip. There are several forays to the local swimming hole, which has a picturesque tire swing that no one will try. You are egged on to no avail – wouldn’t that be a great picture, the skinny tawny kid, our token Huck Finn, hanging from the tire by one leg before he falls into the still and murky water? The women leave their hair wet after the swimming to stay cool. Two of the younger, slimmer campers walk around the camp in their underwear. One wears a matching beige camisole and panties. The panties are large and utilitarian, covering her hips, her butt, and some of her stomach and legs. The second girl’s red bra and black panties are one size too small. They pinch at her smooth white flesh. She is constantly pulling and readjusting the straps, giggling at whomever she catches watching. A buzz of discontent starts amongst the oldest campers, who are talking behind one of the tents – the buzz spreads and gets louder, so that even the Boy, throwing rocks at trees and appreciating the solid sounds as they make good contact, know something is happening. Some boundary has been crossed.
The woman named Dorothy but called Dot or Dee is the message-bearer. You know her from before the Camping Trip. She is thick, with fading blue tattoos on the inside of one forearm and hair cut short and stiff. No one can hear what Dee says when she leans in and speaks into the red and black-clad girl’s ear, her hand on the girl’s hip just above the panties.
The girl recoils from Dee’s touch; she crunches her face, which you have just begun to think is pretty, into something like a dog’s snarl.
“Bitch!” she spits at Dee. Your mother is looking around for you. You stand perfectly still, head and shoulders cranked to see the confrontation, loosely gripping your next rock.
You still can’t hear Dee. She is smiling, barely moving her lips, as she replies. The girl with the matching underwear has used two long sideways steps to reach the other underwear girl and is touching her lightly on one elbow.
Whatever Dee has said brings another snarl from the girl with the tiny tight bra and panties. She reaches back and throws a surprisingly quick punch at Dee’s face. It would be termed a Girl Punch – she hasn’t set her feet at all, and she’ll end up striking with her palm, a sort of closed-fist slap – but it looks like it will hurt.
Dee raises one beefy forearm, the one with the tattoos, and blocks the slap, sending quivers down the loose flesh of her arm. The rest of her body barely moves. It is clear to everyone, especially you, because you’ve seen your share of playground fights, that this is exactly what Dee wanted and expected to happen. She swivels her right foot back, plants it, and delivers her own slap, pushing off and squaring up to the young lesbian who tried to strike her.
Dee’s hand arrives with a loud crack on the girl’s cheek. The girl’s eyes widen in shock and her knees buckle. For a second it seems clear that she will fall and end up with her plump porcelain body caked in dirt and campfire debris, but she manages to keep her feet. She bends her face down into her shoulder and turns away from Dee, who has held her place. The remaining Lesbians, even your mother, form two groups of consolers and reassurers and move to opposite sides of the campground. Sobs and angry exultations are quieted by low and even voices. Somehow you know not to watch this part. You throw rocks at the trees again. The two clusters of campers gradually reunite, even Dee and the young mismatched girl. They hug and there is polite, golf-course clapping.
The women are still settling in around the campfire when you are told to go to bed. No satisfactory reason is given for the bed time, but your Mother uses a rare tone of voice that lets you know not to argue too hard. This is the worst part of camping, falling to sleep in a thin tent where every sound outside seems to come from just outside the front zipper-door and one mosquito, trapped inside, can elude and terrorize a person, especially a city person, all night. One half of your body fights to keep you from rolling down the subtle slope under your tent. This is what you remember from Cub Scouts and the Camping Trip for Disadvantaged Boys, the only other times you have slept out of doors. Somehow you fall asleep before your mother comes in. You wake in the early dawn to find her asleep on her back, her mouth open and filling the tent with bad breath. You battle your bladder for almost an hour; you finally emerge from the tent and shove your feet, some pine needles, and a significant amount of dirt into your shoes. There are beer cans and cigarette butts spread in patterns that flower out from the campfire. The door to one tent is unzipped, fluttering lightly in the early morning breeze. Inside is a tangled mound of sleeping bags, pillows, and limbs. One of the campers is sleeping in an undershirt. Her rear end, a pale moon with craters of cellulite on the edges, is exposed by a gap between the shirt and her sleeping bag. The curve of her flesh leads the eyes inexorably down to the dark crevice between her legs, a vision you jerk your head away from and end up looking at again anyway.
In the car on the way home, while you are still surrounded by farmland, there will be a short conversation that winds its way to a question. The talk up until then will be about the joys of being amongst nature, the anticipation of a hot shower, or preparations for the coming school year.
“So how did you like camping, honey? Did my friends drive you crazy?” If you ignore her, suddenly feigning interest in the radio, there will be a follow-up question like, “What did you think of them?”
You will answer, she will cry, and neither of you will go on a Lesbian Camping Trip again.
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