There’s one drawing that essentially stands as the first one I ever did. That’s probably not the case but it’s the only one that’s survived time and has the youngest date. We went to a neighborhood day camp every summer. My sister and I were separated because of our age difference. I was incredibly shy and therefore most of my time was spent planning how to go unnoticed and panicking when I was noticed. The remainder of the time I was confused. I couldn’t understand the point of many of the activities, nor could anyone seem to explain it to me and as a result I didn’t want to do them. Run through the sprinkler in your bathing suit with a crowd of other children. Why? I wasn’t trying to be rebellious I just didn’t feel like it was personally necessary to run through the sprinkler. I wasn’t hot.

Some of the panic snuck up on me today. It happens so fast, which is why I always feel like I’m running from it but it’s invisible and originating from inside me so maybe it’s not just dogs who chase their tails. It’s hard to get yourself to believe things that might not be true. Who you are is ok. You will survive the next ten minutes. Nothing is forever. Nothing comes to stay. Who you are is ok.

When you refused to do something you went to the White Chair. It sat at the knees of the Camp Director who was this towering woman with white, see-through hair and blotchy red skin. Let’s call her Goliath.

I had anticipatory anxiety for the last half of day camp. This was when the whole camp sat in one room and every kid had to decide between the same one of two activities. Swimming or Playground. Everyone chose swimming because it was hotter than a crotch outside and all the cool kids went to the pool anyway. Decision time was the first moment I was able to see my sister all day except for the rare moments when I might get walked by her room and catch a tranquilizing glimpse of her. I once read this essay by Robert Hass that had the line, “…when children get up in the middle of the night, it’s not to see if you’re there; it’s to see if they’re there.”

I was never sure which I would choose. Pool or playground.

This is what would transpire in my head:

Pool – Pro’s: Your sister is there, everything will be ok. Con’s: You’re in a pool, you’re in your bathing suit, there’s a thousand kids in the pool, there’s nowhere to go, nowhere to swim, you have to change in a disgusting locker room that smells like ass and is filled with dirty feet on a slimy, cement floor.

Playground: Pro’s: You’re not in a pool, there’s like two other kids there, you have your clothes on, there’s plenty of forms of egress. Con’s: It’s hot as fuck out here, you’re sister isn’t here, nothing is going to be ok.

Monkey bars it is.

Sometimes I still have these moments where I really can’t come up with an idea of what to do. For some reason I’ve been taking a bath. It’s just something to do. Ten minutes down. In theory the bath could be longer but paradoxically I can’t stay in one place for longer than ten minutes so I’m looking for activities to take up the time and simultaneously attempting to escape the time by finishing those activities with rapid speed. I like to think that if I level my body in the water and let it float, the lack of gravity will reprieve the pulsing pressure on my lungs and regulate my breathing. Like psych my body out of it and as a result of that it’ll just have to normalize and go back to it’s reflexive physiological state which ideally is steady breathing.

Each morning one age group was selected to sing a patriotic song in the middle of the circle. This would essentially signal the start of the day and the start of my own personal ritualistic ride thru hell. Really the camp should have been strictly classified for extroverts. It’s always been my nature to report problems after I’ve solved them. I don’t like the attention nor do I like the admission of guilt, powerlessness or being anything other than right and sane. Instead of telling a story like “Right now I’m suffering from a shit load of panic attacks…” I’d like to tell one, someday, like “One time, I had a shit load of panic attacks, this is how I solved it and now I’m great…”

One morning during our forced, melodic propaganda I got stung by a bee for the first time. I saw it coming. I knew there was nothing I could do about it. I was wearing these tiny white, crunchy cotton, shorts with neon green and yellow boats on them. My four-year old thigh grew tumorous with that saturated red swell. All I could do was silently hang my head in defeat as I came to the realization that someone would eventually see me and there was nothing I could do to avoid the attention. I managed to remain silent thru the whole ordeal – counselors, chaos, interrogation, The White Chair.

It’s not that I didn’t like to go swimming. I really loved it. I just preferred it alone and instead of truly swimming I preferred to let myself sink to the bottom. I would hold my breath and slowly diffuse it, letting myself plummet through the water, falling with gravity to the deep. It was a known suggestion to keep your eyes shut for fear of permanent damage due to the toxic combinations of chlorine and children’s piss. But I loved to watch the legs sway from below. The blurry colors, the apathetic motion and the weird light. The best part is the way it mutes all the noise. Like finding the perfect volume on the television. Suddenly it was all so fucking gorgeous.

– JT


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