I don’t like sauerkraut. Or I didn’t. I was eating a pastrami sandwich today and there was some sauerkraut on it and it didn’t bother me. And I wondered why I had had an aversion to sauerkraut at all (apart from it being utterly disgusting in appearance, smell, and flavour; a lot can be forgiven for perfectly accompanying thin-sliced pastrami).
And then I remembered the rumours.
No. Not those rumours. But the timing of my sandwich is highly suspicious. Like the god of deli meats is looking out for me, reminding me that life is a bit cyclical.`That it doesn’t matter that I’m 31: sometimes high school is inescapable. Because people don’t change enough from the teens they were when they become the adults they are.
I was a counselor at a day camp for kids with disabilities the last two summers of high school. By the second year I was completely comfortable in the job, loved all the kids (many of whom returned), was friends with all of the counselors from the past year and made friends with those who were just starting. Probably unsurprisingly most of the counselors were young women or high school girls: young men weren’t that attracted to the job, for inexplicable but obvious reasons.
There were a few guys: Bruce, a late-twenties trashy-dude who took the job when his girlfriend Laura did. Nick, a kid around my own age. And another Shawn, a varsity-looking guy, also older, but only early twenties.
It was probably the best job I’ve ever had (present occupation excepted), and we gang of friends, though of varying ages and backgrounds, really delighted in pranking each other to one extent or another. The bigger pranks were reserved for a special day, toward the end of summer, and on that day everyone was on the lookout.
I didn’t look hard enough, though. Because on that day they managed, Bruce and Shawn, to get me on the ground and dump a huge bag of wet brown sugar all over me. And then to top it all off:
God it stank. And it was sticky. And it lingered for what seemed like days.
This brilliant and humiliating prank was engineered by Bruce, and I never thought of a way to get him back. Plus, he was from Rideau Heights in Kingston, the shady side of town, and I just didn’t want to mess with him.
Summer closed, and the changes that had been taking place all season beneath the earth sprouted brilliant maples that bore some insane fruit.
A few days before my sauerkraut bath I was called in to the camp director’s office. She was a high school friend (although long graduated), and I had the job I did because of that connection and because the company’s main office was next to my father’s law office, so I saw her all the time. She waved me in, and indicated that I should have a seat.
“I had to call you in today, had to, even though you shouldn’t worry about this at all. But I’ve had a complaint about you.”
The wind was sucked out of me. I thought I was pretty affable. If I’m comfortable, as I was in that environment, I’m pretty good with people and I try not to step on any toes. I thought I was doing well.
“Someone has complained that you’ve been sexually harassing some of the female counselors.”
The wind was punched out of me. My mind ramped up speed, re-examining every interaction I had had with any of the other counselors all summer long. I had a girlfriend, and didn’t consider myself flirty, and I was taken utterly by surprised.
“Look. I know that this complaint is nonsense. But it was made, and as the camp director I have to investigate and confront you about it.”
“Can you tell me who? Who I’m accused of harassing? Who made the complaint?”
“No. But seriously. Don’t worry about it. It’s bunk.”
I left her office a very cautious, paranoid person (but not paranoid enough to avoid the sauerkraut dousing later that week). I couldn’t tell anyone about it, because it was just too freakishly embarrassing. Plus, if it made me re-evaluate all of my interactions, even though I was assured that the complaint was baseless, then I couldn’t imagine what other people would think. I didn’t think I could count on the benefit of the doubt (although I shouldn’t have been so worried). And I just didn’t want anyone thinking of me like that, even if only to consider it without judging.
But, on the last day of day camp I was sitting outside with Bruce, trying to be a little sympathetic since his girlfriend Laura (the one who was also a counselor and who had gotten him hired) had broken up with him. They lived together, so this was especially painful for him (and alien to me), so I talked to him about it, and about how weird the summer was.
“You know,” I said, “I, uh, I got called into Stephanie’s office a couple of weeks ago. Someone had filed a complaint against me, for sexual harassment. Can you believe that? I mean, what the hell? Hey, tell me honestly, do you think that I was over the line with anyone here?”
He looked at me and smiled the bitter smile of the recently dumped: “Yeah. I do. I’m the one who filed that complaint.”
What. The. Fuck?
“What the fuck? You? Why?”
“Laura. You were always talking to her and I know that you two have been sleeping together all summer. You needed to be put in your place, you little shit.”
His eyes were pretty crazy by this point, and all of a sudden the sauerkraut incident wasn’t just a prank: it was aggression, spite, revenge.
“Bruce. Look. Laura and I are friends. I have never done anything even remotely inappropriate with her.” (Hey, I know this is supposed to be an 18-year-old talking to a 28-year-old, but forgive me if I make the 18-year-old sound a little more sensible and a little less squeaky than the situation really had him sounding.)
He spat something about waiting for me around the corner after work (seriously, dude? High school is over, for both of us, but maybe not for as long in your case.) and then he crawled off. No longer a person to me, but a chameleon. I hadn’t realized it; I hadn’t been able to pick him out against the red brick of the camp building, or the green leaves of the summer trees.
I wanted to talk to him, and convince him, somehow, that he was just wrong. But he wouldn’t listen. Just threaten.
I asked Laura about it later. I told her about the sexual harassment complaint (and her eyes grew wide) and then I told her about Bruce being the one to make it (and her eyes grew angry), and then I told her about his accusation that we had been sleeping together, the 18-year-old kid and the 27-year-old woman-living-with-someone (and her eyes grew soft).
Yeah, they softened.
“Well,” she began, “he got it half right.”
“I’ve been sleeping with the other Shawn for half the summer.”
I had no idea what to say to that. All I could think about was sauerkraut, and being held down by Shawn while Bruce poured the disgusting concoction all over my head.
I don’t mind sauerkraut so much anymore. And I suppose rumours don’t bother me either.
But I don’t ever want to suffer from both ever again.