She was one of those people who entered a room belly first — a quality you might associate with a reluctant, if not particularly shameful concession to the sloth of middle age. It’s a shyly boastful stance that pregnant women can manage to make beautiful; however, for a ten-year-old, it was indicative of a particularly sorry state of affairs.
Her sizable midsection was the first thing you noticed, as it was impossible not to. The bright yellow tees that hung so loosely on our hollow frames strained to cover her massive girth. But to remark on the size of her would be tantamount to admitting you noticed her at all, and at Chimney Rock, you spent the entire summer doing exactly not that.
In the mess hall at lunch and dinner, she piled her tray with grease soaked morsels — onion rings, pizza squares, and two types of French fries (sweet potato and curly). It was the same stuff we all subsisted on that summer, but, ignorant to metabolic processes, we just assumed she ate more of it; looking back, I’m not sure she actually did. Every day, she moved past our group alone, always to the same table in the corner, always facing the wall.
Eight weeks passed in a sweat of crushes and kickball, Slapjack games and creative perversions of the Chimney Rock fight song. My team won Capture the Flag. When Ollie the spiky haired junior counselor emceed the talent show in short shorts and a bikini top, I laughed so hard my sides throbbed for three days. A girl whose name I forgot taught me how to pass out. We learned how to dive. I got poison oak twice…three times, maybe.
The candlelight ceremony was on the last night of camp. Each of us holding a single taper, we took canoes out on the lake, then soundlessly passed a candle around until all of our wicks were lit. Faces glowing above a flame, we took turns sharing our most important memory of the past two months. It was as solemn as summer gets when you’re ten.
It wasn’t as if we expected her to talk, or even be there at all. Mandatory group fun doesn’t apply when you’re not part of the group and no one cares if you have fun. But as the ceremony entered its second hour, as I yawned and cracked my neck to the side, I saw her. She was sitting alone on the dock, legs steeped to the knees in the dark water. My eyes had adjusted to the night by this point, and I could see her quite clearly, as she was lit by the moon. She was dipping a French fry into a tiny brown puddle on a plate atop the expanse of her thighs. There was a glob of barbecue sauce on her cheek. Her eyes were wide and fixed on us. Her eyebrows moved up and down rapidly as she chewed, as if they were engaged in an animated debate. If I had to, I’d swear I heard her humming the fight song.