“THIS IS YOU,” SHE SAYS, with a riiip to the Styrofoam cup.
“When you start out, you are pure and without flaw—the way God intended you to be.” She pulls a new cup out of the plastic sleeve lying on the picnic table and holds it in one hand, level to her face. I look down at the cup I’m holding. We all have one. All of us girls sit under shelter #3, the one next to the big tire swing. They separated the campers into boys and girls today during devotional time. I can see the boys in a circle behind the dining hall playing kill ball, spiking volleyballs at the heads of the few unlucky boys who sit in the middle. The youth minister’s wife made sure we all had a cup in our hands before we sat down at the picnic tables. Kaylee, the one the boys call “strawberry” because of her freckles and sunburn, is already chewing on hers before the wife can even begin to tell us what they are all about.
“Have you ever held hands with a boy?”
“Have you ever kissed a boy?”
“Kissed two boys?”
When I realize the girls are ripping their cups along with her, I lower mine into my lap. Kaylee slumps forward with chin resting on the table, spitting soggy, confetti piece of cup onto it. The closest I’ve gotten to a boy is having sixty-three children with Joe Jonas during a game of M.A.S.H. at a slumber party. I hold my cup to my thighs under the graffitied table, but the girls on either side of my bench start to eye it. I try to look like I am reading the love confessions scrawled in permanent marker on the table top as I take a chip out of the rim with my thumb nail. Strategic. A size to convey that maybe I’d sat close to a boy at the movies or stolen his hat, but not gone too far. I still want the camp counselors to consider me for the Camper of the Week award, after all.
“Let a boy touch you?”
Her cup can no longer hold any liquid.
“Once you give away your firsts, you can never get them back. Each time you let a boy touch you, that’s another part of you that you are taking away from your husband—a part that is ruined. God can forgive, but pieces of you will still be gone forever.” She holds the jagged remnants of her cup in front of her chest. It is only about as tall as my pinky nail except for one uneven spot that shoots up like an upside-down vampire fang.
“How will your husband feel if this is all you have left to give him?”
The story goes that she had her first kiss on her wedding day. Her husband walks to our shelter during this story to add stock to it, I suppose, but just sort of repeats what she says in a deeper voice. Clad in an orange bandana rolled around his forehead, a T-shirt that looks like the Reese’s logo but instead says “Jesus” and a pair of crocs, he relays how much happier he was with his wife knowing that she had never been with another man. He walks back to the field where the boys are playing before I can ask if she was his first kiss too.
She tells us to keep our demolished cups. A reminder of what we are—what will happen to us if we don’t do what He wants. Most of the girls immediately shed their cups, whether whole or torn, into the trash as they leave, but I take mine with me. Kaylee’s confetti blows off of the picnic table behind us as we walk away. When the dining-hall bell rings for lunch, the boys have already been lined up for fifteen minutes.
Sarah Robbins (she/her) is a writer originally from Oklahoma. She has work in (or forthcoming from) Carte Blanche, Thin Air, Stone of Madness, Pretty Cool Poetry Thing, and others. She spends her free time sewing and watching reruns of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. Follow her on Twitter (@/saaraahkate) or Instagram (@/tri_saraahtops).
Image: “Styrofoam Spiral” by Beth Price; bprice21.wordpress.com