Liz Harmer
from “Right to Grapple,” which appears in our Issue #207


Let me give you an idea of the sorts of discussions we get into here. On the first Sunday afternoon, just after the little blue VW bug scraped out of here on the gravel road with my mom inside it, I managed to get into an argument about rocks. I was standing near this old tetherball post with my three sacks—my backpack, my rolled-up sleeping bag, and my garbage bag full of clothes—waiting for one of the H______s to escort me to my cabin and halfheartedly hitting the ball. Blam. Blam. Blam in one direction, blam in the other. Then this guy whose real name I cannot reveal comes up to me. Tall and skinny, a little bit of hair growing in on his cheeks and chin. The hairs themselves too long to be called stubble, but too sparse to make a beard. Jeans, t-shirt, fat wooden cross around his neck on a black cord. Exactly my type.

“Hi, I’m D_____,” he says. Slight Québécois accent. “But my camp name is Frog.”

One of the first things they make you do is change your name. It’s one of the many ways that summer camp is like a cult.

“Hey,” I say, still kind of knocking the rubber ball with my closed fist. “Marnie. But I guess they’re calling me Breezy.”

He puts his bags down, too, and we stand staring at each other. He’s smiling, but the silence is what you’d call painful. I’m not generally good at silence, though, so maybe it’s just me. Maybe he is praying at me in that very moment. His eyes wide open and staring at me, a sleeping fish.

“So,” I say.

“Yeah,” he says.

“Nice afternoon.”


I look down. The tetherball post is rooted down into this huge old stone. The stone is a kind of purply-red with a scattergram of that glitter rocks sometimes get. So I say, “Can you believe that this rock is millions of years old?”

That’s when he frowns. His whole face and body tighten up, as though there is an elastic, like the one on your pants, going all the way through him, that someone has just decided to yank up on. His face gets wrinkled, frowny, tight. “Do you really believe that?”

Answering a question with a question. Nice move, I think. We had both used the word believe, and perhaps if I’d been smart I would have backed up right there. Whoa, pony. Whoa, girl. “Well, we just learned about it in geography. They have these ways of measuring the age of the earth?”

This should give you some idea. I had none at the time. I found out later that the people at this camp were the kind of people who think maybe it was Satan who buried dinosaur bones all over the place just to test our faith. But right then Frog just keeps frowning at me. “I affirm your right to grapple with these questions,” he says.

I would have laughed. If he’d been any other teenage boy I would have laughed. I have never had interactions like this with boys. Usually boys are trying to find some way to manipulate you to get into your pants, or they’re actually touching you, finding ways to touch you on the shoulder or the arm or the knee or suggesting playing tackle football or something. This Frogwas as tall and austere as an angel.

“Thanks, Frog,” I say. I admit there is something a little bit hot about it, even if does rat me out later to the H______s so that Mrs. H_______ will come and talk to me privately to ask me to confirm or deny that I was an evolutionist. “I appreciate that,” I say. A thrill tickles up me. How tall he is, sexy and severe, pulled up tight with string.