Night Swimming at Summer Camp in New Hampshire
By Liliana Greyf
The girls swim in the lake at summer camp. It is the only place around them that is cool.
It is mid-August and the hair on our legs has grown long even below the knee. The days are hot and slow. We wake with our backs damp and our ankles blistered. We braid our hair in the mirror and paint our toenails light pink. We hang the straps of our bathing suits on the porch, let them drip lake-water into the grass.
In the afternoons, the air becomes impossibly still. We lay on the floor of the cabin with our belly-buttons showing, exhale hot air towards the ceiling and open all the windows. Even the silence is sticky with warmth. We count each other’s birthmarks and kick our feet over the rails on the bunk beds. We shuffle decks of cards and hope for a breeze to blow through the room. The world grows heavy with our waiting.
We watch the sun move through the sky until the windows become stained with purple light. This is how we know that it is time. We slip off our dresses and walk the wooded trail hand-in-hand. We stumble through tree roots and glide beneath branches. We close our eyes and do not open them until we feel the dirt turn to sand on our heels.
It is dark by the time we have reached the water. Now, it is the lake that is still. The air has begun to move. We run and crawl and tiptoe and breathe. We do not stop until we feel the lake seep through the lines on our palms.
The water is dark with chill and depth. We sink our hips into it, bury our faces into its quiet. We push ourselves into the throbbing blue. Under the surface, we listen to its murky breaths. We think we can hear it speaking to us, calling us to move deeper, further, quickly. Every night seems to be the first cold we have ever felt, and we swim through it as if we will never experience it again.
We remember the first night of the summer, weeks ago now, when the water still felt new, piercing, bold. We think of our clumsy apprehension, our unknowing gaze. We recall how we stumbled through the heat without anticipation of night. Now, we have internalized this thrill. We do not suck in our bellies or raise our arms. We do not shy away from the cold.
We float on our backs and watch the constellations rearrange themselves, the leaves flutter and pulse. We let the ends of our curls drift loosely beneath us. We open our eyes and let them be flooded with wind, let them sting and blink and see.
We are submerged by the solace of liquid deep. This is what brings us back to the present. During every moment that is not this one, we are in mourning for the days we have already experienced, those we can not get back. We retrace the faded calendar that our counselors drew with chalk on the porch. Cross out another day. Step back to measure our progress. We wonder how long it will be before there are no days left. Here, under the surface, there is no tomorrow. There is no end to this summer. No final campfire, no last breakfast. Here, we are just existing. Girls, together, swimming in the lake at night.
Tomorrow morning, we will wake up slow and heavy again. Only the roots of our scalps and the spaces between our toes will hold memories of what we saw. Only our eyelids will flicker with cool breeze, dark chill, crisp water. Only our hearts will beat with the rhythm of the lake’s ripple. We will only wait to swim again.
The entirety of this piece was written in one sitting, then edited slowly and meticulously for weeks. As I wrote, I attempted to recall the experience of summer camp—the heat that was constantly surrounding our little selves and the larger experiences that heat stood for. I wanted to create images that were symbolic of a greater meaning while remaining truthful to my physical memory of those moments.
Liliana Greyf is a native New Yorker. Her favorite things include small plants, short stories, mint tea and the bagel store across the street from her house. She is passionate about the use of the word "girl."