I’m back home with my parents. I haven’t been to Rome in 10 months, a long time for an only child not to visit. It’s 33 degrees, officially summer. I’m reading Eileen Myles’s Cool For You. I have a wedding next week, one of my childhood friends. My mother suggested I do a few sunbeds as I’m very pale. I said I might fast beforehand too and she seems to think it’s a good idea.
How are you? Congratulations on Loki! I don’t have Disney+ and I’ve actually never watched a Marvel film ever, but I’m really happy for you! Everyone seems to be loving you as Agent Mobius. I’m so pleased, you really deserve it. Especially after the time you had with that Selma Hayek film at the beginning of the year. And you’re in the new Wes Anderson! Wow wow wow. From 1 to 10, Owen, how painful a dinner guest would he make, tell me honestly? Anyway, the book.
In Cool For You Eileen Myles is a summer camp counselor at one point and falls in love with a girl called Lucy Bean who is just a kid. When Lucy Bean leaves summer camp early, Myles is distraught.
Then I went down to my cabin to cry. And I didn’t stop eating for two months. I couldn’t believe I was in love with a kid. I didn’t know I could care so much. She was so perfect. She was the Peter Pan boy. The loss was greater than anything I had experienced. Something beautiful was gone and I was exposed. A pretty little fourteen-year-old girl. At night I would unlock the deep freezer in the kitchen and dig a soup spoon into the peppermint ice cream.
I was at a dinner party in London the other night, I was with people older than me (it was my first time being around older people in a long time, I’d missed it, did you miss hanging out with older people during these weird months Owen?) and we were talking about union jacks and Northern Ireland and then somehow we talked about how the desire to have a romantic sexual relationship with a minor is grossly misunderstood and then we went back to talking about who on our side might be electable and fuckable. We never went into the minors thing further, I don’t even know what might have been said, and now I wish I did. I didn’t say anything later in the Uber going home and actually really only now it occurs to me that it was a bit odd. Does everyone want to fuck kids Owen? In the news there’s a Brazilian evangelical preacher who married one of her adopted sons and is on trial for shooting him dead, after a swingers party allegedly, but she says they stopped in a lay-by and made love on their car bonnet. I feel like once you fuck your adopted son on a car bonnet in a lay-by it’s a slippery slope towards later shooting him dead in the garage of your seaside mansion, but I don’t know. It seems like the evangelicals and our side alike all want to fuck kids. Haha. In France they all do it.
To be fair to Myles she’s 18 at the time of the story, meaning they are both kids. Still, she doesn’t let up. Fat chance, she writes. I had lust. I had excitement and lust over a small child who was perhaps my sister’s age, who had a voice like a small harmonica, who had braces and you knew they would come off. (That’s a good filthy detail Owen, knowing that the braces come off ). Loving a Peter Pan boy and loving someone so young get marshmallowed onto the same stick with which to beat oneself up with for Myles. When Lucy Bean leaves summer camp, the administration asks Myles to write a report for Lucy Beans’ parents. Myles writes:
Lucy Bean is so completely charming and intelligent, almost too great a young person to be believed. There is almost nothing wrong with Lucy, and this draws people to her in an uncanny fashion and I would say because of how attractive she is to people and because it seems to come so easy to her to be likable [sic] and bask well in the affection of almost everyone who lays eyes on her, I would watch out.
I love that she blames the kid like that in the report. We should all write reports for the parents of the people we love. I think my mother could really do with receiving a love report about me.
In my summer camp once we got to the 14-and-above bracket we would be brought up to one of the higher fields after dinner, maybe around midnight, late. The stars would be out, very clear to see, the unpolluted sky and amplified space of high altitude. Although it was summer, it was the mountains, the Dolomites, and cold at night. We would be told to put on jumpers, sent back up to our rooms if we came down to the hotel reception area without them. Then we’d start marching up a rocky lane, ‘white roads’ they’re called, going high up through a forest, past fields of wheat and bales of hay. Wild mint grew in all the ditches and borders of the fields and its trodden-upon prickly smell was very strong at night. Only tractors ever went up that path besides us. The Leader would take us up with torches, but mainly we were told to walk in the dark so as to not to interfere with the unspoilt starry sky, holding onto each other so as to not trip on the uneven ground in the dark.
Once we got to the highest field there would often be more light, less forest cover, no overhanging rock formations. Often we went when there was a full moon, when we could run around and push each other over in the white artificial-seeming light. The Leader would make us lie or sit down in the grass and be quiet. Then he would tell us at length his version of the Kevin Costner film, Field of Dreams. I’m not going to look up the famous line, but my recollection of it in Italian is, “se lo costruisci, lui verrá” (If you build it, he will come). Imagine bringing a group of twenty-five 14 year-olds to a field to tell them your version of say, Good Will Hunting, as a modern day moral fable. I’m not saying I can imagine you doing that Owen, I’m just saying, can you imagine? Field Of Dreams is a film I still haven’t seen, but I understand that it’s about baseball and imaginary players and voices in your head and a lot of it takes place in a cornfield. I’m not sure what the moral of the fable was exactly, but I think it must’ve been about the importance of having dreams. After “if you build it he will come” we would be encouraged to run downhill through a wood in pitch darkness as a demonstration of trust. The wood fell at a steep and unforgiving decline and we had to do it at speed. Every year we met up in this camp and we competed in our devotion to it. Every year someone was injured during the night run. That year on the descent my friend Luisa broke her ankle even though I was holding her hand - dragging her through the forest but also holding her up. When we got back to the hotel an ambulance was called while she sat making low animal-like noises from the pain. We were praised for being such good friends.
That summer there was a boy called Versace. Funny name. I wouldn’t say he was my first lust, but he was definitely my lustiest early lust. He was shorter than me, deeply tanned, had wavy hair to his shoulders, almond-cut, yellow eyes that he looked up from under with a battered dog expression. He was one of those people who do that thing where you command the room by being soft-spoken. I can command a room, but not by being soft-spoken. He did some sport competitively, I can’t remember what, a water sport maybe, which made him broad-shouldered and muscular. I think even as an adult seeing this 14 year-old now I would be struck by his looks..
Versace was from a Catholic sect in Sardinia, the neocatechumenals, and he was in the middle of a vow he’d undertaken encouraged by his family and the religious community. No masturbation. ‘Fare un fioretto’ it’s called. I was 14 and this information had an extreme effect on me. That summer Versace became my religion. And then I heard his father had told him one night on the phone that I was a ‘test of faith’. He was in one of those booths you went to when your name was called over the hotel loudspeaker. The phone booths were mahogany and brocade, something theatrical and comforting from the 1940s, vaguely Swiss-looking. You pulled a folding glass door behind yourself when you took a call and sat in the little velvet seat. I imagine an empty hotel reception at night, a few stragglers walking by, the shy kids with fewer friends. The sound of the door sliding and slamming, the hollow truncated click of a phone being lifted, then the far away mumble on the other side of the line, as his father in Cagliari tells Versace that I’m the Devil.
There were a lot of things happening in summer camp that I didn’t know about that year. Versace was a special favourite with the Leader. On one occasion he and I were walking to the pool and had fallen behind the group. We were doing that thing where one person sits on a fence and the other person occasionally leans in towards them, between their legs, hands barely touching the person’s knees, then barely touching their thighs, then barely touching one another’s faces. I think we were talking about siblings. A door opened on the third floor of the hotel building and the Leader was there, leaning over the fire escape stairs, frowning at us and calling Versace’s name. Shit, there’s no peace. Don’t go. He called him again. We weren’t normally allowed to use the fire escape but the Leader gave Versace permission to do so this time. I’ll catch up with you, go ahead. I didn’t see him until dinner, much much later.
The Leader liked me too, but not like that. He made me the focus of everyone’s attention, made me the centre of summer camp gossip during his after dinner speeches, and consequently the target of female nastiness. I never knew I could be considered a whore until that summer. But he did like me, maybe in that reluctant kind of way when you’re not sure what you’re dealing with or looking at and err on the side of insincere public exaltation. For my part, I loved him, and his attention was everything to me. He had a sparrow’s face, sharp-nosed, alive, eyes like shards of glass, blue and see-through. I look like him now. He was so seductive. He would be silently moving through the hotel lobby and then suddenly say something ferociously cruel to a passing child, even a very small one. The next thing he would be comforting someone who was upset, saying things that were so deeply considered and well-observed and true, that they would feel like no one else would ever see them or understand them the way he did. We shared something, or someone, the Leader and I, though in his hands it was something very different, perhaps sick.
Versace and I stepped out of line only once. We were in the pool and it was pretty deliberate and slow. It was neither messy nor awkward. We were swimming together and then we were in the corner of the pool, the deep end. You could tell he hadn’t been masturbating. I think it took me a while to realise what was happening. It was a sensation of physical pleasure and not stopping that I hadn’t experienced before. His mouth was huge and slow. And then someone pulled me up from under my armpits so I came out of the pool like a kitten or a baby. We were marched around the perimeter to the exit and made to sit dripping in our towels on either side of the sunny deck, where the youngest kids in camp were drying out and squealing, looking at us with curiosity. I thought it was hilarious and kept laughing even though I knew we’d be in trouble. Versace never made eye contact with me. The Leader announced after dinner that there could no longer be relationships between campers.
The rulelessness. Summer camp was supposed to be adult role-play, abiding by rules, knowing your place. But here it was crueller and realer. It was freedom. And freedom meant sometimes pretending you believed it when an adult told you that stroking his penis was a sign of a deeper form of friendship.
Do you think kids are more vulnerable during the summer Owen? I think we all are. So Lucy Bean was nothing. She was just me. And she was gone. None of us ever told anyone until much later.
Anyway Owen it’s nice to write to you, I’ve not been feeling good about my writing. My friend Bobert says what I have isn’t “depression” but simply “being a miserable cunt.”
All the best Owen. Hope this wasn’t all too much. Write when you can. And you should read the book!
Yours always, Roisin.