Monday, November 13, 2006

First Tastes (Chapter 12)

Did you ever taste beer?”
“I had a sip of it once.,” said the servant.
“Here’s a state of things!”! cried Mr. Swiveller ….
“She never tasted it — it can’t be tasted in a sip!
     — Charles Dickens


The other opportunities that my church afforded, ironically enough, was both my first taste of beer and my first fumblings with the opposite sex. The youth wing of the Lutheran Church had set up a church camp somewhere near the middle of Pennsylvania, in the middle of nowhere. For the insubstantial sum of $30, my parents could ship me off for a week to get closer to god. The camp brought kids of ages something like twelve through fifteen together for a week’s stay in cabins in the woods. The kids came from Lutheran churches all over eastern Pennsylvania.

But the people running the camps were all idealistic ex-hippies and young college students trying to put into practice the lessons of the Sixties. So in most cases, the people charged with our spiritual well-being and care were less than ten years older than we were. And they were all of a certain bent: liberated, progressive and idealistic.

They created a curriculum with the same new age leanings as our catechism workbooks. We played games to teach us life lessons. We were separated into small tribal groups for the week, and we were pitted against one another in both cooperative exercises as well as competitive. The first of these I recall was a treasure hunt with clues that when successfully interpreted led to the next clue to be figured out. This went on all afternoon until finally you reached the final destination. My group happily had worked well together from the outset, and we rolled into the camp’s main area before the other groups had figured out all of the clues. Our reward was large sheets of Jell-O cut into small squares. As each subsequent group arrived back at camp, we were encouraged to pelt them with Jell-O. As more and more groups made it back, the remaining groups were hit by greater numbers of Jell-O-wielding teenagers eager to dish out the same punishment they’d received. It was a great way to begin.

Another exercise simply involved us each lying on the ground in turn, boy-girl, with each person laying their head on the stomach of previous person so that once we were all on the floor it created a chain of kids where the last boy ended up with his head on the stomach of the first girl. Then the instructors did something I can’t recall to make the first person laugh, which sent waves of giggling quickly through the rest of until in very short order we were all howling with laughter. That same night, we also played my first game of spin the bottle. If this was church, I was certainly enjoying it.

I made some new friends. The closest was a group of two girls and another boy. They were from somewhere near Allentown, I believe, and had come to camp together. Todd and Debbie were a couple, itself an oddity in junior high, and their friend Kathy and I hit it off immediately. Soon the four of us were inseparable.
The camp itself was new and parts were still being built. There was the ubiquitous lake with rowboats and canoes. Cabins were the same as at my Boy Scout camp, wooden platform frames with heavy canvas tents stretched over them. They were big tents, with enough room for two rows of four or five cots where we slept. The only completed building was the kitchen and dining area, which had enough tables and chairs to seat everybody in the camp. There were a few others that had a foundation and a roof, but were open on three or four sides. If they were planning on finishing them, I could not tell. But they worked well in the hot, humid Pennsylvania summers, especially when it rained but remained quite warm.

There was also a large central bathroom that we all used. It was split in two, with boys and girls on opposite sides. This was the first year the camp was built, but already one of the first things the group of boys previous to us had done, was carefully drill holes in carefully hidden places so that we could peek into the girls’ shower. This was, for almost all of us, our first glimpse into the world of naked women, at least women not in magazines. These were girls we actually knew and talked to every day. That made it a very different experience. Seeing them in all their glory made them somewhat less mysterious and perhaps made us a little more confident. We still didn’t know what delights were concealed under the thick rugs of pubic hair, but we knew we liked looking at them. We were especially drawn to their breasts, of course, which were new, small and very pert. They appeared like freshly grown plants whose blooms had just broken the surface of the ground, pushing up toward the light. Gravity had not yet taken hold of their breasts, and they seemed almost like alien creatures, but ones we very much wanted to introduce ourselves to.

One night mid-week, each group headed out of camp for an overnight camping trip with sleeping bags and pup tents. I had again paired up with Kathy and along with Todd and Debbie. The four of us were going to share a tent. Kathy was a very attractive girl, with curly blond hair. She dressed in hippie clothes, very much in the fashion of the day. I was smitten, of course, but was trying to play it cool. Still, we all got along and were having a great day when it was time to retire to our tents for the evening.

All was fine at first, with the two girlfriends in the middle and Todd and my sleeping bags flanking them on the outside. We talked for a bit, but fell asleep easily. It had been a full day, and we were all tired. But then, at some point later in the evening it started to rain. Softly, at first, but then it turned into a thunderstorm. We woke with a start when a crack of lightning sounded frighteningly close to our tent. Todd and I both had the edges of our sleeping beds wet, so we closed up ranks and huddled together in the center of the tent where, at least for the time being, it was still dry. The thunder and lightning continued loudly, and that coupled with the uncertainty of whether the water would continue to rise on our tent, kept us wide awake and talking nervously.

Todd unzipped his sleeping back and sat up in the tent. We all followed suit. He then reached for his backpack, pulling a couple of cans of Yuengling, which he told us he’d nabbed from the kitchen before heading out on our hike today. I don’t know if any of them had any experience with beer before, but mine had only been the near beer in our basement refrigerator. Todd popped the top of one of them and handed it to me. He opened a second can and handed it to Debbie. She took a quick gulp and handed it back to Todd.

Kathy looked at me expectantly, and I handed it over to her. She took a sip and gave it back. I looked at the opening, then back at her, as she licked her lips to recapture a few escaping drops of beer. I remember Eddie and all the horrible things drinking had caused my mother and me, and then looked back at Kathy. It was no contest. I lifted the can to my lips, and tilted it back, letting the golden liquid spill into my mouth. It was sweeter than I’d been expecting, and a lot better than I remembered the near beer tasting. It may have been the surroundings, but I felt a rush. The thunder boomed again, and Kathy grabbed my arm and pulled me to her, burying her face in my chest. I instinctively wrapped an arm around her and took another sip of Yuengling.
We shared the two cans and then Todd opened two more, the extent of his stash. But we were all drunk as far as I could tell. We were all rocking back and forth, slurring our words and talking nonsense. The thunder and lightning seemed to have moved on. We could still hear it, but it was sounding farther and father away. We had no idea what time it was, but none us felt tired. Todd and Debbie both got into Debbie’s dry sleeping bag and began making out, leaving me and Kathy to fend for ourselves.

I could only barely make out her features in the dim moonlight that cast long, faint shadows across the side of the tent. I had no idea what to do, so I sat there for what seemed an eternity. I knew what I wanted to do, because I liked Kathy. And I had a pretty good idea Todd and Debbie were having a much better time than we were at that moment. I was feeling the effects the beer, but I was in uncharted waters of experience. I thought back to the church dances and how hard it was just to ask a girl to dance. Here I was almost alone in the dark woods with a girl I liked, who seemed to like me, and with whom I’d just shared my first beer.

Kathy must have sensed my hesitation or maybe she just gave up waiting for me to do something, anything. I felt her inch closer to me so that I could feel her breath on my cheek. She put her hands on my shoulders and I turned to face her in the moonlight. Before I knew what had hit me her lips were on mine and I kissed her back. She slipped her tongue into my mouth, which startled me at first, but I recovered quickly and reciprocated. After a few minutes of this, she pulled me down onto her sleeping bag and we continued making out passionately, at least for thirteen-year olds.

I could hear Todd and Debbie next to us, but could only imagine what they were doing. I certainly wanted to know, but they’d been boyfriend and girlfriend when camp started so I knew it was different between them. But maybe it was the drink, or the driving rain tapping on the tent and even something more. Whatever the reason, Kathy broke away from me turning to unzip her sleeping bag. She motioned me to get in with her and I did as quietly as I could. I was facing the zippered side, and pulled it up to seal us inside. When I awkwardly turned my body to face hers, she pulled me in close again and we began making out once more.

I was shaking with nervousness and trying not to let it show. Kathy whispered in my ear and asked me if I was all right. I lied and said I was cold from being wet, kissing her hard on the mouth in the hopes of deflecting the issue. She immediately put her palms on my chest, pushing us apart. She reached up and whispered to me again. “Let’s take off our clothes then.” She began unbuttoning my shirt, which took my nervousness to new heights. When I was bare-chested, she began working on her own top. I heard the snap of her bra coming off and felt it graze the top of my head as she tossed it outside of the sleeping bag. I felt as if I might faint.
I didn’t know what to do next, of course, or what to expect. She pulled me into her again and found my lips with her own. Her small breasts pressed into my chest. I could feel her body heave into mine with each breath. I knew what she looked like naked thanks to the camp’s shower, and I tried to visualize what I remembered seeing there. We both had on our pants and I kept my distance there hoping she wouldn’t notice that I had an erection unlike any other I’d experienced. I didn’t want to scare or her and quite frankly I was a little afraid myself, being completely unsure of what to do anyway.

Kathy began kissing my neck and not knowing what else to do, I did likewise which made her moan softly. I stroked her curly hair with one hand and planted kisses on her neck and ear. She took my other hand and pulled it up so it was resting on her breast, squeezing the back of my hand over it. She let go and I grabbed a hold of it once more, feeling her nipple against my palm. I knew that much more of this and I’d have a gooey mess in my shorts. It was obvious she was much more experienced than I was. I had no clue what I was doing and just let her take control.

We continued making out as the rain pelted the tent with a staccato drumbeat. Although I continued shaking uncontrollably, I was having the time of my life. She asked me again what was wrong and I admitted I was nervous. She whispered not to worry then placed her hand squarely on my erection and began rubbing it up and down through my pants. I though I had died and gone to heaven. Her lips returned to mine and our tongues intertwined. I continued fighting a losing battle with my inexperience. At some point I just gave up and tried to enjoy myself, which admittedly wasn’t too difficult. I cupped her breasts again played with the nipples, feeling their hardness between my thumb and forefinger. She had mercifully removed her hand from my hard-on, which gave me some hope that I might not embarrass myself. Sadly, it was not to be. After a few minutes more of groping in the sleeping bag, her hand returned once more to my pants. It was more than I could bear, and I ejaculated almost immediately.

Afterward, I went limp and she again asked me what was the matter. I replied by apologizing and trying to get her to understand what had happened without coming out and saying it. Once she figured it out, she was quite sympathetic, which I very much appreciated. She told me not to worry and that it would be our secret. She held me close and we fell asleep to the sound of only the rain against our tent.

The next morning, Todd and Debbie pretended not to have known anything, though I suppose it’s possible they were too focused on themselves to notice. Certainly I forgot all about them being right next to us, so it didn’t seem too far-fetched. The rain had stopped sometime after we’d fallen asleep, but the ground was still wet. We hiked back to camp silently, though Kathy and I exchanged knowing glances. For the rest of the week, Kathy acted as if we were a couple, like she was my girlfriend. It felt nice, and although we did make out a few more times, we never again felt the intimacy of that night in the rain, drunk on Yuengling. She never returned to church camp in subsequent years, and so I never saw her again after that summer, though I do often think of her whenever I see a bottle of Yuengling beer.

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