Every summer, I got sent to Christian camp. My mom dropped my brother and I off and waved goodbye, driving back down the mountain. It had been two days of learning to tie knots, memorizing scriptures and rope swings before I developed a mad crush on Sarah Riley.
She was a blonde tomboy a year older with a gap in her teeth and dirt on her knees, the first one to jump in the river. She had the energy of a tomcat and was everything I wanted to be, loud, smart and fearless. My face went buzzy when I looked at her and I would bring my Bible close to where she was playing and sneak glimpses at her over the pages. I never talked to her once, but tagged her extra hard when we played flag football.
One morning I caught all the adults in the rec room huddled around a radio. Two of them were crying and Miss Dishman, our Bible Study teacher was arguing heatedly with Camp Counselor Rick. She was shaking his head as he kept pointing at the last pages of the Bible. I could hear a voice booming on the radio quoting Revelations, until Miss Dishman caught me looking, and shut the door in my face.
The next day, the trip to the waterfall was cancelled, along with the nightly S’mores sing along. Instead, they gathered all of the kids around the campfire and had us pray in silence.
Camp Counselor Rick stepped forward into the firelight. He was always smiling like he had a secret, but this night his grin was almost frightening. He said a few Hallelujahs then asked for silence. He told us to prepare ourselves for amazing news.
One of the kids interrupted and asked if it was a pizza party.
He said no, it was better. It was the best news of all: Jesus was coming.
The other counselors nodded solemnly. Miss Dishman was shaking her head off to the side.
Camp Counselor Rick said there’s a preacher on the radio who predicted the last election and rise of Gorbachev, and he just got a message from God himself. And Jesus was coming. The Rapture was coming.
In two days.
Saturday. At midnight.
The kids murmured to each other in confusion. One asked what about Sunday kickball? Camp Counselor Rick pointed to the starry sky and said Jesus was going to come down on a white horse with a flaming sword in his hand and we would all float up to heaven like helium balloons. He said that sinners would stay on the Earth for Armageddon, the seas turning to blood, famine, and locusts so you’d better pray for forgiveness for all your sins now. He gave a sharp look at my brother who was rumored to be the culprit behind the Playboy magazine that was found hidden in the lake house. Some kids started praying immediately.
And then I saw Sarah Riley being comforted by Sean Harris, a strapping nine year old quarterback. He had teeth that looked like he was never going to need braces, teeth that were whispering in her ear to make her laugh. I hated Sean Harris more than the Devil, and saw him hug Sarah until a camp counselor separated them.
We asked if we’re gonna be in Heaven, does that mean our Mom’s don’t have to pick us up? It depends, Rick said, if they’re saved or not. If they are, they’ll meet you up there, if not, then….
Then what? asked Billy.
Then you’ll need to pray extra hard for them.
Miss Dishman stepped forward and said, prophecies come and go, that only God would decide and that no man could know the day or the hour. Camp Counselor Rick interrupted her and said that we were the lucky ones to be given this gift and to get right with God.
I wanted the Rapture to come. Just not that weekend. I wanted to call my Mom immediately to tell her to free my hamster Tigger. I didn’t know if hamsters officially had souls or not, but I wanted to make sure he was covered just in case. A bleak depression came over me realizing I’d never be a jet pilot or firefighter or ever be an adult, and I’d be stuck in Heaven in an 8 year old body for eternity.
We had another group prayer, then they sent us off to bed. I could hear Miss Dishman and Camp Counselor Rick arguing as I walked back.
The next two days were a free for all. Some of the kids stopped showering, the fat kid Billy ate all the candy he’d been hiding under his bed, and I made a list of all the burning questions I had when I got to Heaven, like if the Loch Ness monster was real, if aliens were really angels in weird green disguises and where did my Dad go for all those years.
Camp Counselor Rick told us this was the last soccer game of our lives and yelled Hallelujah every time we scored.
On Saturday, I thought about my outfit very carefully that day and picked my favorite T Shirt with a Tyrannous Rex on the front. I prayed so hard my hands hurt. I begged forgiveness for blaming my brother for the Playboy magazine I snuck into the lake-house. I prayed for all the kids at my school that were about to go to Hell, for my Jewish friend Geoff who always laughed when I’d beg him not to believe what his parents told him. I wrote a letter to my Dad, telling him everything he missed and left it on my pillow.
And then I found Sarah Riley. She had combed her hair and was wearing a blue dress. Finally we were alone. I walked up slowly, my face going flushed. She turned, and I stood there staring.
“What do you want carrot top?” she asked.
“Since it’s the last day on earth, I just want you to know….I-I-I like like you.”
I ran off. I didn’t even stay to see her face. I hid in my room and prayed Sarah Riley and I would float up together, and then I made a plan. I begged my brother for his sling-shot. I chewed five pieces of gum together into a hard ball and tested my aim. If Sean Harris was gonna float up too, the least I could do was make sure they weren’t holding hands.
All day we waited for the end. At sunset, Camp Counselor Rick said we were going to wait for Jesus in the field. The slingshot was hidden in my back pocket. I saw Sarah Riley and turned before she looked back. Sean Harris was standing next to her. I hoped when I flew up that I wouldn’t go too fast to get good aim.
Everyone closed their eyes and raised their arms. I peeked to see Sarah Riley and Sean Harris holding hands. My hand eased back to my slingshot and held there. Camp Counselor Rick lead us in song as the clock ticked. Another counselor banged on a drum. 11Pm, 1130pm, 1155, I took aim. 1158, 1159, MIDNIGHT.
I fired the hard gum from the slingshot. It went wild and hit Sarah Riley in the knee. She stared at me with fire in her eyes as we all stood in the field for a few minutes, holding our poses. I put the slingshot away in mute terror. Miss Dishman walked out towards us.
“Alright kids” she said, “Its way past your bedtimes. Get along now.”
Camp Counselor Rick was about to protest then closed his mouth. He looked at his hands to make sure he was still there.
Sean Harris took Sarah by the hand.
As they walked past me she hissed, “Jesus isn’t gonna save you now.”
The kids walked back in silence. Camp Counselor Rick kept staring at the sky. I stood there, knowing the next day Sean Harris was going to terrorize me, Sarah Riley was going to laugh at me, and Jesus was still coming, but no one would ever know when.