You may say I’m a bad person. But really, I’m not. I’m an opportunist. A peripheral member of the Justice League, if you will. I never thought I would be the type of person to make a difference. I’m armed with an unwavering sense of humor, my favorite pastime is playing Ms. PacMan, and while every single one of my teachers knows my name, less than half of my classmates do. This isn’t some ‘coming of age story’, you’ve seen a million of those. It’s one better. This is how I became the person I am today by exacting delicious revenge on a real-life super villain. Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning.
A few weeks ago, my mother caught me in the most cliché of precarious situations: beneath the bleachers, making out with my boyfriend. We weren’t having sex, but we were going at it pretty hot and heavy. Out of nowhere I heard a scream and was lifted up by my favorite Green Lantern shirt.
“I can’t believe you would disgrace your family like this! Get in the car!”
Bewildered and shaken, I made my way towards the Suburban as fast as I could, my ears burning. I turned around and winced, a small crowd of after-school stragglers had started to gather. She stayed behind to berate Sean. I felt so bad for him I couldn’t even watch through the window when I got back to the car. All I could see was my mother waving her arms, her face slowly turning purple. Sean just stared at the ground with his hands in his pockets, probably trying not to throw up from sheer terror. Satisfied she made the right impression, my mother marched back to the car, parting the small crowd much like Moses and the whole Red Sea thing.
My mother slammed the door and started the car with a forceful jerk of the keys, “I cannot believe you, Megan. You’re only sixteen. What were you thinking? You are never to see him again outside of school hours. You will take the bus to and from school. Oh, and you’re going to church camp.”
I was still fuming from the bus rule when the last few words clicked into place. “I’m…WHAT?”
“You heard me. Church camp. It starts in two weeks, which gives you a whole week between the last day of school and then to pack and get ready.”
My mother and I had been warring over church camp since I was old enough to go. It’s not that I’m anti-God, I’m down with whoever can make a world where the Atari and the Xbox exist simultaneously, but I’m just not a church camper. The whole idea of forced chapel, Bible readings, and verse memorization contests horrified me. I mean, the whole thing sounds pretty dystopian if you ask me. And I’m going to be the only one who can tell that the apples are red.
It came time to leave for church camp. The dress code was so strict I had to buy almost an entirely new wardrobe. Not because I only wear pleather miniskirts and fishnets (I don’t. I wear a uniform every day: jeans, Chuck Taylors, and a tshirt), but because I don’t know anyone not living in the 1980s that would willingly wear culottes. Yes, culottes. And floor length denim skirts. And capped sleeved button ups. Just looking down at the pile of sky blues, pinks, and yellows made me want to throw up. My mom came in, beaming. “I bought you the camp t-shirt, honey. Look at how adorable this is!” I looked at the navy blue, giant shirt. In the middle was the name of the church camp in red and white letters “Camp Cleansing Springs: Replenish, Revive, Renew.”
“I’m not wearing that. That…that is…that is horrifying.”
My mother looked at me, crestfallen. I realized then that my mother was worried for my eternal soul. It wasn’t ALL about control for her; she really was worried I would go to Hell. I didn’t have the heart to tell her she was about to put me on a bus headed straight for it. So I put on the shirt. I took solace in the fact that no one I know would be going to this camp.
When we arrived at the church, it was chaos. There were six busses and what seemed like thousands of people throwing luggage and pillows, mothers crying, fathers giving awkward slaps on their sons’ backs, lots of people with whistles and clipboards. This was supposed to be the summer I spent working and saving for a car. Not the summer I spent eight weeks living like a Tibetan monk.
“Honey, I’m so happy you’re finally going to church camp!” My mother oozed. I wanted to point out that she was forcing me, but I bit my tongue. “Act like a lady, and don’t embarrass your father and me. I love you. Get whatever you want at the canteen, your father will call and pay up your bill every week.”
This was happy news. The canteen was apparently some type of store on the camp. You could buy soda and candy during breaks throughout the day; and now that my mom said that, I plan on gaining twenty pounds and coming away with diabetes. That’s why they call me Silver Lining Megan. Even though I’ll be spending my summer in Jesus boot camp, at least I’ll be floating on a Twizzlers raft down a river of root beer. I patted my pocket to make sure my dad’s secret gift was still there.
“Now, Cricket, your mom can’t know about this. Here’s a cell phone. I packed three charged batteries into your luggage. Use it only in an emergency, okay?” I hugged my dad. He loved my mom, but he understood that her insanity and fervor for Christianity was a little much sometimes. He knew that my spending two months in the wilderness with a bunch of strangers armed with Bibles would drive me bananas.
After saying the obligatory goodbyes and signing in, I was assigned to Girls’ Bus #3. Yes, because we couldn’t be trusted to sit in the same bus as a boy. Nothing revs a teenager’s hormones like brown, sticky leather seats covered in gum and duct tape. I sat next to a girl named Mary. She never spoke, nor looked at me. She did, however, sing loudly (and off-key) any time someone started up some cheery Christian song. After forty five minutes of sweaty, stifling, chirrupy torture, we arrived at the camp. I peeled myself off of the bus seat and plodded towards my doom. I felt someone grab my elbow and yank me out of the milling crowd.
“Hi, Megan. I’m Ruth. I’m the Camper in Charge for the girls’ side of camp. Your mother spoke with me before we left and told me about your…..adventures with boys.” She sniffed and looked from side to side, trying to make sure no one heard. “Anyways, if you ever have any questions, or are feeling tempted to revert back to your whorish behaviors, come find me. We could pray together. I’m the president of my school’s True Love Waits club.” Her syrupy smile was offset by her cruel, cold eyes. She wasn’t concerned for me. She was letting me know that she was putting me in my place at her camp. “Anyways, you’re in my cabin. Our counselor is Theresa.” And with that, she slung her arm through mine and dragged me up the hill towards the girls lodge.
I immediately hated Ruth. She was so preachy, especially about sex. She bragged about the fact that she vowed to God she wouldn’t even kiss until she was married. Every time she went on one of her tangents, she’d pointedly look my way. While most people would understand the necessity of killing her with kindness, I did not. Well, I did. It was just more important for me to shake her perfect little world up like a crazy, pseudo-Christian snow globe. Here I come with all of my whorish ways, bitch.
The first few days of camp were a social scramble. Everyone needed to secure their spots among the elite, or at least just find someone to sit next to in chapel. There was an obvious caste system. Ruth was the leader of the main group. I enjoyed my time on the outside. No one really spoke to me at first, and I made no effort to speak to anyone. It was my goal to make it through this alive, not make friends on the way. I had friends at school, but I preferred to spend my time alone or with my boyfriend. I know that sounds like a line out of a Babysitter’s Club book, but it’s really just because he’s the only person that I can sit and read books with under the swirly slide at the park and we don’t have to talk. We just sit, side by side, reading separately. That’s just how I prefer it- quiet.
Ruth approached me in the shower room in the beginning of the third week. “You know, it would be in your best interests to befriend me. I have an opening on our pew in chapel.”
“But your pew is packed full. I’m not really a lap-sitter, but thanks.” I said, forcing monotonal indifference. I was focused on putting my lotion on without letting my towel fall.
“Your attitude isn’t very pleasing to Christ, you know. Which is why you need me more than ever. To save you. To help you become pure again.” At this, I snorted and shook my head. She ignored me. “It just so happens that Mary isn’t in the group anymore. You can have her spot.”
My mouth fell open as I stared at her. Mary was her lap dog. She did everything Ruth asked and more. She idolized her, and said she was her ‘best camp friend’ (they apparently saw each other each summer at this same came for the past eight years). I was disgusted at how Ruth could just toss her aside. I started to dissect all of the possible reasons Ruth would kick Mary out of their pew in chapel. My mind raced through the past couple of days. Every time Mary opened her mouth Ruth changed the subject, turned and walked away, or rolled her eyes. I heard her whispering about Mary’s lack of new clothing and her disheveled hair. I personally thought that was an unfair statement given the fact that it was over a hundred degrees outside and the camp lacked air conditioning. We all looked worse for the wear. Then the horrible realization dawned on me, causing my stomach to fall out my butt. Or so it felt that way. My looks and clothing must be hitting just the right chord with Ruth and her minions- she wanted me to replace Mary in all aspects. Right down to the indentured servitude. No seat, no clique, no “god” was worth debasing myself for this sociopathic preacher’s wife wannabe.
I locked eyes with Ruth, “I’d rather die.”
Her nostrils flared and she marched from the shower room into the dressing rooms. I found a note on my pillow when I got back to my bed, You’ll regret your decision. Whore. I crumpled it up and threw it in the trash. She couldn’t scare me. This may be her entire world, but this was only a detour on my road of life. I considered writing her a little note back giving her a ten-point plan of how I wanted to take her down, a Contract With Churchcamp, if you will. But I thought better of it. I was sure that if I just ignored this, it would all blow over, or at least Ruth would find someone else to belittle and emotionally maim.
I ordered my usual at the canteen that afternoon, but when the counselor looked down the clipboard for my name, he furrowed his brows. “You’ve lost canteen privileges for the week.”
I was dumbfounded. What did I do? It was pretty severe to take away canteen privileges for a day, let alone for the rest of the week when it was only Monday. “Why?”
The counselor, David, just shrugged, looked at me, and narrowed his eyes. “I’m guessing you know. Talk to your counselor if you aren’t sure. NEXT!”
I walked away from the canteen, my ears ringing. I was humiliated and confused. I ran under the radar. Even my counselor Theresa didn’t know my name. Suddenly, someone bumped into me from behind, sending me into the ground. The boy next to me helped me up as others around snickered. Tiffany, a girl from my cabin, helped dust me off. “Are you okay, Megan? I overheard about your privileges. Can I get you a soda or something?” Before I could answer, I heard a little giggle.
As Ruth flounced away, turning back, she called out, “Oh, I’m SO sorry, Megan. I’m so clumsy.” She was holding my usual. Her wink told me everything I needed to know. She’s the one who had gotten my canteen privileges taken away, and I was determined to learn how.
The next two weeks, things like that continued to happen. I was forced to scrub the shower stalls, write lines about not stealing someone’s beach towel, lost swimming privileges, and once I had to spend three hours kneeling in the boiling chapel in silent prayer, asking God to forgive me for cursing at Ruth (this one I actually DID do…). As the days wore on, I became less and less complacent. At first, I just did the ridiculous chores without protesting because I didn’t want them to call my mom and tell her I was being kicked out of church camp. She may die of embarrassment or grief over my poor, doomed soul. I started to realize that my punishments were usually being doled out by David, the male counselor from the canteen. Tiffany said that this was odd because usually it was your own counselor in charge of your punishments. My alleged crimes always seem to occur while Theresa was on her two-hour break. I deduced that there was a conspiracy afoot and I was no longer going to be Ruth’s marionette. This was fucking child’s play. I’m tactical on my best day, maniacal on my worst. That bitch won’t know what hit her. It was time that Ruth’s regime was brought to a close.
As we crested the mountain that was the halfway mark, my days were used for reconnaissance. I pretended to grovel to Ruth in order to swing back into her good graces. It worked so easily that I almost felt badly. Until I remembered the inherent evil pulsing beneath placid exterior. She always wore a charm bracelet filled with True Love Waits charms and Christian fish symbols. One of her favorite pastimes was talking about how undesirable an unpure woman is to a man. It was hard, but eventually I got used to it and just tuned her out. It was nice to have a couple of people to talk to, even if they were lifetime subscribers of Ruth’s Bullshit Anti-Sex Rants. She was even given permission to schedule a purity rally. It was set for the last full day of camp.
I noticed that every day Ruth left breakfast early. She told me that she had gotten special permission from the Pastor in charge of the camp to have a personal morning devotional while the rest of us had to play volleyball or go hiking. One day at breakfast the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I jerked my head around to find myself in the middle of a hungry stare being shared by none other than the dickhead from the canteen and our resident virgin, Ruth. They both flicked their eyes to me at the same time, knowing I saw and both knowing that it was obvious. I pretended to go back to my fruit salad, uninterested. I never mentioned what I saw to anyone, especially Ruth, and she seemed to enjoy the game of ‘That never happened’. After that, I noticed that David left his table every day early as well. I asked around and found out that he went to the horse barn every day to feed them, water them, and clean up the barn.
Finally, revenge was tangible. The Monday of the eighth and final week of camp, after Ruth made her exit, I doubled over next to my table and clutched my stomach. Mary, still sour that I had replaced her, rolled her eyes and looked away.
“Megan? Are you okay?? “ Tiffany started rubbing my back and patting it.
“I think I’m going to throw up can you ask Theresa if I can go to the Lodge? Can you do it kind of quietly, I’ll be embarrassed if everyone hears,” I ask, my voice purposefully thin and creaky. Really, I just don’t want David, who’s on the opposite side of the cafeteria, to see me leave. Tiffany moved quickly to the head of the table and whispered the situation to Theresa. She came back and helped me up, “I’m going to walk you back up. Theresa said to drink water and rest. She’ll check on you after lunch.” We quietly rushed out the side door of the dining hall. Over the din of the dishes, talking, and industrial fans, no one noticed I had gone.
“It stinks that you’re so sick. Today is the day we’re all going to walk to the big field for games and a picnic. It’s co-ed! It’ll be NOT like prison for once!”
I couldn’t help myself, I laughed. I picked this day because of the fact that every single person would be gone, at least a two mile’s walk away, enjoying games such as Jesus Says and Father May I. Ruth and David, I was told, will drive the truck with the water and coolers full of lunch on the back. They won’t be leaving for another hour or so. Apparently they’re the only two people in camp who are trusted alone together. The irony of this is not lost on me.
Tiffany deposited me on my bed and I made a show of begging for the trash can. She put it next to my bed, “Did you want me to keep you company?” I could tell she was only offering to be nice, I knew she would rather go with everyone else. I told her I would just be sleeping and puking and that the last thing I wanted was company. I also remembered her telling me that she had a crush on Gregory, a quiet boy whose singing voice was angelic to say the least. Today she would get to steal snippets of time to be close enough to talk to him, maybe even be on his team for Bible Tag.
“No, Tiff. Thanks though. Go have fun. Tell Gregory I said ‘hi’.
She blushed and waved goodbye. I made a note to get her email when we parted ways in a few days. She was one of the nicest people I had ever met and over the past few weeks she had helped me realize that the majority of kids at this camp genuinely wanted to get closer to God and meet new friends. I came into this place not knowing what to expect, and while I found a 17 year-old dictator, I had also found a bunch of other people that were not only normal, but completely removed from her clutches. And while she still terrorized them because of their clothes, words, hair- you name it, she bitched about it- it didn’t ruin their good time.
I waited a few minutes to make sure she was Tiffany enough away. I leapt out of bed and went to the window. A long line of dots: campers, counselors, pastors, and their wives wove into the forest on the other side of the valley. One straggler dot, Tiffany, was running to catch up. Another dot, David, was making his way to the right, towards the horse barn. I realized something at that point, someone needed to save those that Ruth hurt and stop her from inflicting future pain. It was my fate, my civic DUTY to destroy her pseudo-divine tyranny. This wasn’t just about revenge, it was about setting Camp Cleansing Springs free.
Everyone was gone. Now was my chance. I ran out the door and towards the clearing where the barn was. It was on the other side of the hill from the lodge. I stayed off the main path, under the thick, lush green of the woods in summer. My white shoes were clunky and not good for running; I ripped them off and stuffed my socks into them. I relished the way my feet sunk into warm, damp earth. It may not be lady-like, but this was the closest I had felt to God all summer. My culottes snagged on bushes and tree bark but I pushed on.
I arrived above the clearing to the horse barn out of breath and covered in dirt. I put my socks and shoes back on and crouched low. I saw David walking towards the barn, giving the clearing a sweeping glance before rushing into the barn. I waited a few minutes, and started moving quietly down the hill. I moved around the side of the barn and stopped when I heard moaning and heavy breathing. There was even a nice ‘Oh God, oh God yes’ thrown in. I can NOT make this stuff up.
I peeked in, and there they were, she was pressed up against the side of a horse stable with her skirt pushed up, him grinding himself into her. His lips were on her neck, and her hands were under his shirt, her perfectly manicured nails digging into his bare back. Her charm bracelet jingled with every thrust. I got down on my hands and knees and crawled forward. I knew I was probably going to go to Hell for this, but chances are I would have gone anyways. Might as well go out with a bang. I pulled out the cell phone my dad gave me. I snapped a picture, making sure that Ruth’s face and David’s counselor shirt with his name on it were clear, but naked body parts were not. I didn’t want it to be porn, just proof.
Satisfied, I got low and darted for the hill. Once there, I took my hair out of its bun (Ruth insisted on doing my hair every morning), I unbuttoned my shirt, and ran. The warm air licked against the sweat pouring down my almost-bare back and chest. This blatant defiance and freedom made me feel as if I were running on clouds. Defeat was inevitable, and it tastes sweet and crisp in my mouth.
The second week of camp I had figured out that the phone got service from behind the chapel. I texted Sean. I detailed what I needed him to do with the picture. He sent me a simple ‘Consider it done’. That night, I left a simple note on Ruth’s pillow while she was in the shower, “Luke 11:39 And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness.” She picked up the note that I put on her own paper and wrote in cursive (she had never seen mine). Her eyes narrowed, looking around for the culprit.
“Is something wrong, Ruth?” I ask, feigning innocence.
“No. The Theresa wants me to check on something before the rally tomorrow.” She answers, faking a yawn.
We’re at a stalemate. She stares at me, searching for any kind of giveaway as to whether or not I wrote the note or saw who had and what exactly it meant. The problem was, she had so many enemies it could have been anyone. I could see that she knew this in the suspicious way she eyed everyone who walked past her bed. I gave her hand a squeeze, “Ruth, the rally is going to be fantastic, all thanks to you. It’ll be the perfect end to camp!” With this I plumped my pillow and laid down facing the wall. I had to, I couldn’t stop smiling.
It was the day of the Purity Rally. The package had come the day before. While everyone was getting ready, I snuck out of the Lodge with my box. They had picnic tables set up outside the chapel, situated around a giant, soon-to-be bon fire. I had volunteered to set the tables with the plastic cutlery and plates. I placed an envelope at each place setting, making sure everyone got one. I ran to the bathroom house behind the dining hall to wait for everyone to head down. Soon, the campers were moving towards the center of camp. We all gathered in the chapel, where Ruth gave an emotional speech about her dedication to God and virginity, imploring us to do the same. After a lengthy prayer, we were lead to the tables. People started to open their envelopes. I played along.
One by one, people swiveled their heads from the photo, to David. Then from the photo, to Ruth. Jaws dropped. Some boys laughed. Some girls ‘tsked tsked’. Mostly, everyone just stared, open-mouthed. Suddenly, Mary stood up and shouted, “Ruth, you’re the biggest hypocrite in the world. You should be ashamed.” I don’t know who was more shocked, me or Ruth. This whole time, Ruth was standing at the front of the tables, ready to act through a skit on how to say ‘No’ with David. She hadn’t noticed the silence. David was in the chapel, getting props; he too was oblivious.
I swear this next part happened in slow motion. Ruth ran forward and grabbed the photo. She swiveled around, looking for the culprit. Her eyes locked on me, but my face was stone. She started panting and turning red. The adults were standing in a group, clutching one of the photos, unsure of what to do next. She screamed “This is fake. This isn’t real. Someone faked this photo!” She ran around, ripping photos out of people’s hands. Except they weren’t willing to let them go; this was proof positive that the girl they lived in fear of, the girl they had to listen to prattle about her innocence was a complete fraud. “Stop looking at it! It’s NOT REAL!”
I could tell that no one believed her. So could she. David walked up, bewildered. One of the campers thrust the photo into his hand. He stared at it for an eternity. Then, he let it float to the ground. There was that ugly frown, again. “I’m sorry. I’m…I’m….” He looked helplessly at hundreds of judgmental eyes. He looked to the Pastor for help. Out of nowhere, Theresa marched forward. She grabbed Ruth and pulled her towards the Lodge, screaming and protesting. Immediately, the picnic tables exploded in conversation, “It doesn’t surprise me…”, “I can’t believe it, she was so pure…”, “He was called to be a pastor…”, “She’s been possessed with demons…”, “He’s a pervert…”, “What a lying whore”. This last one was from Mary. She looked at me, knowingly. I gave a slight nod and a wink. She blushed and smiled.
The bus ride home was much different. There was laughter and conversation, but this time no singing. The Pastor had David and Ruth’s parents pick them up the night before. Both of them had not only been banned from Camp Cleansing Springs, but one call from the Pastor had gotten Ruth ousted from her leadership position in her True Love Waits club. Best of all, all of the campers seemed relieved that the Dark Ages were finally over. I found one final note on my pillow, I know it was you. I guess this was meant to make me feel badly. But nothing could bring my spirits down. I was finally heading home. I learned that maybe I’m not such a quiet person after all. However, when an evil villain reveals themselves, I’ll be there, and I’ll do everything I can to bring them to their demise. That’s the thing about super villains, they’re not even that scary. People like Ruth? Bigoted, hate-mongers are what we should be defeating. It was an interesting summer- I exposed an evil nemesis and brought justice to Camp Cleansing Springs. It took Ruth years to build her reputation as a virgin devoted to God, but only eight weeks for me to expose her hypocrisy. Sure, maybe I’m evil. Or maybe I’m just a new kind of super hero.
Lori Pletka is a law student at St. Louis University. She has a deep love for The Temptations and a weakness for cute ballet flats. You can read more of her random thoughts in her blog at http://insertwitbylorip.blogspot.com/.