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T he kids in my cabin thought it was weird that I wasn’t circumcised, so they nailed my penis to a tree. Not the whole thing, just my foreskin. It really fucking hurt. After they left, I stood there for a while, trying to get the nail out with my hands, but it wouldn’t budge. I started yelling, and this girl Colleen found me. I’d mistaken her for a boy on the first day of camp, and she hadn’t spoken to me since. Now she was standing there in her cut-off shorts, staring at my dick. “What happened?” she asked.


Her voice was kind of froggy, and she had no tits and short hair. She wasn’t ugly, just regular. I thought she should


probably grow her hair if she didn’t want people thinking she was a boy, but that was just my opinion.


“Could you go get one of the counselors?” I said. “I’m bleeding.”


It was annoying, how she had to think about this for a second. Finally she said, “All right.”


“Hurry,” I said as she turned to leave. Then I watched her basically saunter back to camp. I thought for sure she wasn’t going to get help, but about twenty minutes later, Andy showed up with a claw hammer. “What the fuck is this?” he said, immediately prying me loose. Colleen stood by, studying the scene, and I thought things could’ve been worse. She could’ve brought some of the other kids with her.


Andy took me to the emergency room in his truck. He was from Texas and drove up to Michigan every summer to serve as the camp’s athletic director. He had light brown hair that curled in the humidity and shocking blue eyes. When you looked at them, you couldn’t help but search for the edge of a colored contact lens. The best thing about Andy was how he was always saying stuff like, “George Clooney is a good-looking guy. If I was a girl, I’d do him.” Then he’d go off and kick your ass in touch football. As soon as camp started, all of us Midwesterners were saying “ya’ll” from liking him so much.


At the hospital, the doctor cleaned and bandaged my wound, then gave me a tetanus shot. Afterward, I called my mother from the waiting room. “What do you mean they nailed your penis to a tree?” she said. She sounded more irritated than worried. Like she thought I was making it up.


“Ask Andy,” I said, handing over the phone. I really couldn’t stand to have a conversation about my penis with my mother.


I tuned out while he was talking and looked around at all the other sick people. You could pretty much tell what their problems were based on the fact that they were clutching some part of themselves or some other part was bleeding. I’d been jealous of them when we’d first walked in, that their pains had seemed so normal. Now, on the way out, I was feeling oddly proud. “That’s some kind of war wound,” the doctor had told me, shaking his head. “You’re a real trooper.” I would never have asked to have my dick nailed to a tree, but now that it had been, and I was a trooper, I didn’t really mind.


Andy handed the phone back and said my mom wanted to talk to me. Her voice was all sympathetic as she asked, “Are you all right? What did those little fuckers do to you? I’ll sue every fucking one of them.”


“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “I’m cool.”


“I mean, that’s sheer barbarism,” she said.


“It’s okay, Mom.” She always did this. Went way too far, or else not far enough.


“We’ll see about that,” she snapped.


On the ride home, Andy made me tell him who’d done this to me. I wasn’t a tattletale, but I went ahead and ratted them out anyway. It was just making me feel so good, how mad he was getting on my behalf. Back at camp, he rounded the four of them up and demanded an explanation. A couple of them mumbled something about me having a hoodie on my woodie, and Andy told them to shut the hell up. He said he expected a lot better from the kids at Arts Camp, then he called their parents to come get them.


That night, I had the cabin to myself. My wound was like a migraine between my legs, so I took some ibuprofen and went to bed. As I lay on my top bunk, I couldn’t stop thinking about Colleen. How I’d sent her running into the woods that first day. How she’d introduced herself to me, and I’d said: “Colleen. That’s a funny name for a boy.” But she wasn’t a boy. She was a girl. The first one ever to have seen my dick.




The next day, we both showed up for swim session in our regular clothes. All the other kids were already out on the dock, diving in, doing cannonballs, dunking each other. “What’s the story, guys?” Andy asked us.
     “I have my period,” Colleen said flatly.
     “I have a hole in my dick,” I said, wanting to match her honesty.
     Andy nodded and told us we could just hang out for an hour, then stripped down to his trunks and headed for the lake’s edge. The water was freezing, but he never showed this. Just dove in, surfaced, and began swimming.
     “What do you want to do?” Colleen asked, turning to me. She had a pointy nose and dark brown eyes flecked with yellow, as if the irises had been bleached by the sun.
     “I don’t know,” I said. Frankly, I was stunned that she was talking to me at all.
     “You should go back to that tree and carve your initials in it,” she said.
     “What for?”
     She shrugged. “I don’t know. To mark the spot.”
     “It wasn’t something fun, you know,” I told her. “How would you like to have your dick nailed to a tree?”
     She glared at me, then marched off into the woods. It bugged me, how fast she was going today compared to yesterday, when I’d been bleeding. After a second, though, I went after her. “Hey!” I yelled. “Wait!” and she actually stopped. “Sorry,” I said once I’d caught up.
     “I don’t have a dick,” she said.
     “I know.”
     “Your dick was nailed to a tree and I went and got help,” she reminded me.
     “I appreciate that.”
     “I could’ve just left you there.”
     I nodded.
     We looked at each other for a second, and I thought maybe I saw something girly in her face. Something worn and small.
     “Excuse me,” she said.
     Instead of moving out of her way, I said, “C’mon. Let’s go carve the tree.”
     “No thanks,” she said.
     “But that was a good idea you had.”
     “Excuse me,” she said again, and I got out of her way, even though we were standing in an open pine forest and she could easily have gone around me.

I went back to the tree myself and fingered the tiny nail hole. It was strange to think that less than twenty-four hours earlier I’d been slightly crucified. One of them had held my legs, one held my arms, and one had stretched out my foreskin. The fourth one had done the nailing, and I’ll give him credit, he got it in on the first blow. I think we all expected me to scream, but at the last second, I remembered Andy hitting that cold lake with all the silence in the world, and decided it might be something to try.
     It wasn’t really my foreskin they were so mad about, I knew. It was that I’d signed up for all these cooking classes, as opposed to woodworking or videography. Then I’d look at a Playboy and get a hard-on like everyone else. It was one thing for a cowboy like Andy to be a little soft, but in a weedy kid from Saginaw, it drove my bunkmates nuts. They were always calling me Julia Child or asking what time dinner would be ready. One of them had a girl in sewing class make me a pink apron. As far as they were concerned, you were either a guy or a fag. There was no in-between. And if you thought you’d found it, they’d put you in your place. I understood what Andy had said about expecting better from the kids at Arts Camp, but really, they were no different from the ones I went to high school with the rest of the year. Just a little more creative.
     I wasn’t circumcised because my dad was English and he didn’t believe in it. Then he dumped my mother when I was two, and she ranted forever that she should never have listened to him, that having to clean my foreskin as a baby had been a pain in her ass, that no girl would love me when I grew up. This had really scared me until I’d gotten older and figured out how to masturbate. With a foreskin, the slide is built-in, so there’s no need for spit or Vaseline. Suddenly my dick didn’t seem so bad to me.
     In the end, I decided that I didn’t want to carve anything. I didn’t want to remember any of this. Instead, I unzipped myself and took a leak against the white pine. The piss hit my wound, and in that brief, cauterizing moment, I maintained a stoic’s silence.

The next day, Andy excused Colleen and me from swim session again. After he’d left to join the other kids on the dock, she said, “Sorry I got so mad yesterday.”
     “That’s okay,” I said. We sat facing each other in a beached aluminum canoe. Whenever one of us moved, the grit and sand beneath it sent out scratchy echoes.
     “I can’t help the way I look,” she said.
     “Maybe you should grow your hair.”
     “Oh yeah?” she said. “Maybe you should get circumcised.”
     I guessed I deserved that, even though it kind of hurt.
     “Anyway,” she said, reaching into her pocket, “I made you something.”
     “Close your eyes and hold out your hand.”
     I did this, and felt the tickle of metal in my palm. When I opened my eyes, though, I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. It seemed to be a tiny silver barbell. “What is it?” I asked.
     “A stud.”
     “For your penis. I made it in jewelry workshop.”
     “Jesus,” I said.
     “It’s the nail they used on you. Andy threw it on the ground after he pulled it out, and I picked it up.”
     I wasn’t sure what to say, other than I didn’t want it.
     “If you put it in now,” Colleen said, “the hole won’t close.”
     “Is that how it works?” I asked.
     She shrugged. “If it’s the same as pierced ears.”
     I picked it up and brought it closer to my face. The posts at the end were more polished than the grayish nail they bordered.
     “You don’t have to wear it,” she said.
     “I’ll think about it,” I told her.
     That night, after cleaning my wound like the doctor had shown me, I attempted to put the stud in. When it wouldn’t go easily, I gave up, even though I could tell that with a little courage, it would probably have been a perfect fit. There was just something weird about the whole thing. Commemorating something so lousy. True, I didn’t mind having the hole, but not because I wanted to show it off. It was just a nice point of interaction. A way to connect with people.
     “Did you get it in?” Colleen asked me the next day. This time we’d taken the canoe out on the lake. Andy had said that if we could sit in it, we could certainly paddle in it. I was at the back, steering, while Colleen sat up front.
     “No,” I said. “It was too tight.”
     “But it’s the same exact nail,” she said.
     “I don’t know what to tell you, Colleen.”
     “It’s probably starting to close already,” she said. “You’re going to have to push it.”
     “I don’t want to push it,” I said.
     “I could do it for you,” she offered.
     I lay the paddle across my lap then, taking a break.
     “Hello?” she called.
     She looked back at me then, and, seeing I’d stopped paddling, lay her own paddle down. We drifted like that for a while, the wind spinning us in open circles. “Are you formulating an answer?” she asked at one point.
     “Yes,” I told her.
     “How long will that take?”
     “I don’t know,” I said. Really, I already had an answer. That she could do whatever she wanted with my dick, except for putting that stud in. Only I wasn’t quite sure how to phrase it.
     Finally she said, “This is boring,” and we headed back to shore. When she got up to step out of the boat, there was a small bloodstain on the back of her shorts. For a second I worried that something terrible had happened, then I remembered about her period. A tremendous sense of relief came over me on her behalf, and I couldn’t figure out how to phrase that, either.





It was Andy’s birthday, and for dinner that night, my Cuisine of the Southwest class made his favorite five-alarm chili. He came into the kitchen afterward to tell us how good it was, then took me aside and asked how I was doing. He put a hand on my back and left it there, even while we were talking, and I got all choked up about it. “I’m okay,” I managed, but I could see he didn’t believe me.


“Listen,” he said, “a person could have some post-traumatic stress after something like that. If you start getting really depressed, I want you to come talk to me, okay?”


I nodded and finally he took his hand away. Then I went outside and bawled over the fact that it hurt me worse when people were nice to me than when they hammered a nail into my dick.


That night, there was a knock at my door. “C’mon in,” I said. It was Colleen.


“Hi,” she said, looking up at my bunk.


“Hi.” I noticed she’d changed into a clean pair of shorts.


“I was just wondering if you’d finished formulating what you wanted to say earlier.”


“Oh,” I said. “Right.”


“I can come back if you’re not finished.”


“No,” I said, “hang on a second. I’m almost done.” Actually, I’d stopped thinking about it when we said goodbye that afternoon. Now I was just scrambling to tell her anything. “I guess I just wanted to thank you for making me a stud, even if I don’t end up wearing it.”


“That’s it?” she said.


I nodded.


“But the question was, ‘Do you want me to help you put the stud in?'”


“It was?”


“I’ll just come back later,” she said, heading for the door.


“No,” I said, climbing down from my bunk. “Wait.”


She stopped and turned around.


“You can put the stud in,” I said when I hit the floor.


Her face brightened a little. “Really?”


“Just give me a few minutes to get used to the idea.”


“Sure,” she said. She came in and sat down on my bottom bunk.


I didn’t know if I should sit next to her or not, so I climbed back up to my bunk and stretched out. There was a giant dead cockroach in the dim globe at the center of the room, and I worried that this reflected poorly on me.


After a while, she said, “Your penis is the second one I’ve ever seen.”


“Really?” I said, feeling suddenly, profoundly disappointed.


“The first one was my mother’s boyfriend’s.”


I tensed then, afraid that she was going to tell me some terrible story of abuse that would make me feel awful forever. But it wasn’t like that. Not at all. She’d only seen this guy’s dick on accident. Through the reflection in a china cabinet. It stood at one end of her mother’s kitchen, and was also visible from the living room, where Colleen was supposed to be watching TV. Only she wasn’t watching TV. She was watching her mother take out the boyfriend’s dick and give him a blowjob. Or the boyfriend open up the mother’s shirt and play with her tits. This had been going on for weeks, and it was making Colleen sick. At the same time, she couldn’t bring herself to complain after having waited so long. Her main hope was that the two of them would break up while she was at camp.


“Wow,” I said once she’d finished.


“Are you ready for me to put the stud in yet?” she asked.


“Um, I can’t really do it right now.”


“Why not?”


“I just don’t think it would work.”


“Why?” She got up from her bed and looked at me.


“Don’t come up here,” I said.


“Do you have an erection?” she asked.


“It’ll go away in a minute.”


“Are you going to jerk off?”




“Then how will it go away?”


“It just will. Talking like this will get rid of it.”


“Or you could jerk off,” she said.


I shook my head. “My dick still hurts.”


She thought about this for a moment, then started climbing the ladder.


“Stay down there,” I said, but she ignored me. I sat up a little and put a hand over my crotch.


“It’s not like I haven’t seen it before,” she said, reaching the top.


I left my hand where it was.


“C’mon,” she said. “Lie back down.”


Slowly I did this, and she sat to one side of me, her legs crossed Indian-style.


“You don’t even know what my mom looks like,” Colleen said. “She could be really fat and ugly. Would that still give you an erection?”


I shrugged. “Is she fat and ugly?”


Colleen sighed. “No.”


“What does she look like?”


“Like you want her to. With big boobs.”


“Yeah?” I said.


“One time I was staring at them and she said, ‘Stop looking at my breasts, Colleen.’ It was really embarrassing.”


“Why were you staring at them?”


“All I have are these,” she said, looking down at herself.


“Some men like women with small breasts,” I pointed out.


“Do you?”


“No. I like big ones.”


“God!” she said. “Why do you always have to say that stuff?”


I shrugged. It was a good question.


“Do you still have an erection?” she asked.




She was quiet for a second, then she said, “Here,” and she pulled off her T-shirt, just like that.


“What are you doing?” I said.


“Turning you off.”


I took a good long look at her. In fact, she did have breasts. Little puffed-out mounds, like dough that had ballooned in a deep fryer. At the center of each one was a pale, strangely outsized nipple. As if these had arrived fully formed, and were now just waiting for the rest of her to fill out.


“Are you turned off yet?” she asked.


“No.” I was in a fair amount of pain, though, with the nail hole stretched to capacity, and the bandage bearing down on it.


“I think you should stop saying you only like one kind of girl,” she said.


“All right.”


“At least wait and see what she looks like without her clothes.”


I nodded, wishing I could touch her. Only I wasn’t sure if we were actually together, or if she was still just teaching me a lesson.


“Move your hand,” she said, looking at my crotch.


I moved it.


“Can I see it now?” she asked.


“I don’t want to wear the stud,” I told her. “I want the hole to close.”


She seemed disappointed by this. “Are you sure?”


I nodded.


She sighed. After a moment, she reached for her T-shirt.


“Wait,” I said.


She stopped turning it right side out and looked at me.


“Maybe you could clean it,” I said.




“My wound,” I said. “I have to change the dressing every night.”


“Oh,” she said.


“There’s gauze and peroxide in the bathroom.”


She glanced in that direction. A moment later, she set her T-shirt down and uncrossed her legs. Soon she was descending the bunk ladder, walking into the bathroom, and coming back to me, all without a top. I put my hand back on my dick, not to cover it, but to touch the parts that didn’t hurt so much. I understood then that she was right. It wasn’t the size of her tits that was making me hard. It was that I had criticized them, and she was still letting me look.


“Move your hand,” she said again, and I did, and she started unbuttoning my jeans. Without really thinking, I reached up and brushed one of her nipples. She didn’t seem to mind this, so I did it again. Back and forth between the right and left until they’d flinched into tight little rivets.


“Lift up for a second,” she said, and I raised my hips off the bed. She eased my jeans and shorts down at the same time, careful to hold the waistbands aloft from my wound.


It was hard to know what to say at that point, so I didn’t say anything. Mostly, I just watched her watch my dick, thinking I might come from the soft way she was looking at it. After a while, she reached in and peeled off the white tape holding the gauze bandage in place, followed by the gauze itself. “Was that okay?” she asked, and I said that it was. “What else?” she wanted to know, and with my own hand I showed her a little about the slide, moving the tip of my foreskin back and forth over the head. It hurt, yes, but her unwavering eyes were a kind of anesthetic. “Let me try,” she said after a while, and I nodded. Her long, slim fingers did just as I’d asked, and soon I’d come all over them.


“Sorry,” I said.


“That’s okay,” she said, reaching for a clean gauze pad.


“Now I’ll do you,” I said, slipping a hand between her legs.


“Tomorrow,” she said, though she let me hold my hand there. “My period should be gone by tomorrow.”


She finished cleaning me then, first the cum, then the wound. At last I’d gone limp, and she asked again if I’d be willing to let her try the stud. I didn’t really want to, but it seemed important to her, so I said okay. As she gathered the slack of my foreskin, attempting to match the two sides of the hole my bunkmates had made, I closed my eyes and thought back to that afternoon. How the four of them had suggested we all go for a walk. They’d found a patch of wild blueberries, they’d told me — enough to make a pie. Of course I shouldn’t have gone, but I couldn’t seem to help myself. I figured I’d either make a pie, or get hurt trying. And I did get hurt. I remembered it all very clearly as Colleen pushed the stud in with one swift movement, searing me. This time, though, I yelled. I hollered. And when I opened my eyes, there it was, the shiny thing she had made of my misery.



For the rest of the Summer Camp Issue, click here.

Alicia Erian is the author of a novel, Towelhead, and a collection of short stories, The Brutal Language of Love. Alan Ball wrote and directed a film version of Towelhead, which will be released later this year.