WORDS: REBECCA BRILL '16
IMAGE: OLIVIA RODRIGUES '18
In the grand scheme of things, a person is probably going to be fine as long as they continue to have no memory of the last time they shat their pants. A friend presents this grand theory at a party in attempt to console another friend who has just told a story about waking up after a night of drunken stupor to a foul surprise in her jeans. “At least you can still say you don’t remember the last time you shat your pants,” the other friend expounds. “That’s all that matters.” That’s when I say, “I can name precisely the last time that I shat my pants.” As the party guests stare at me, ostensibly horrified, I do.
It happened the summer I was eight, when my family rented a house near the beach in a Waspy Connecticut suburb. Before my first day at Camp Compo, the local day camp that convened at the beach playground, my parents gently suggested that I not bring up my Jewish background to the other children there. We were among the only Jews in the town, and we were certainly the only ones on our level of religiosity: at home in New York, we were active members of an Orthodox synagogue, and my brothers and I all attended the same yeshiva. I suspect my parents were wary of anti-Semitism, though clearly not exceedingly so, as they’d deemed the town suitable enough for spending the summer; it even had one small synagogue, which we attended weekly. I agreed to keep quiet about my religion, though I had no reason to believe the subject would come up. Camp Compo was not religiously affiliated; it didn’t seem likely that the other kids were going to harass me about the lack of pork in my brown-bagged sandwich.
And yet much to my surprise, the topic of faith surfaced almost immediately. On my second day of Camp Compo, during an after-lunch game of tag, one girl shouted, seemingly at random, “I got baptized when I was born! When did you get baptized?” The comment sparked a camp-wide discussion about baptism in which the campers tried to one-up one another by revealing new details about their christenings: “I was baptized at Saugatuck Congregational Church!” “I was baptized in the same gown that my mom was baptized in!” “I was baptized in a pool of liquid gold!” “I was baptized in the very blood of Christ!” I stayed quiet during the discussion, unsure what exactly the term meant but aware of its theological implications, until one girl with a floppy mushroom haircut peaked out from behind a tree, looked straight into my eyes, and said, “Rebecca, tell us about your baptism!” It would have been so easy to lie. I could have made up any stupid detail about my baptism—“I was baptized in the JCC swimming pool, with no bathing cap!”—and the campers would have believed me. But there was something about the way that girl had said it, the way she’d peered at me from behind the tree, that made it abundantly clear she was onto me. She’d found my horns.
In addition to synagogue and Jewish day school, I had attended, prior to my month in Connecticut, a Jewish summer day camp in Nyack. During the year, all of my extracurricular activities were run by my school, with the exception of my brief stint on the JCC soccer team, where I met girls from other Jewish day schools. Even my family vacations had been Jewish up until now: every spring, we went to Miami Beach on a kosher tour called Passover by the Sea, whose day camp divided children into groups based on age and gender with alliterative holiday-themed names like “Matzo Men” and “Seder Sisters” (in fact, it was one of my fellow Seder Sisters who asked me, “Are you even Jewish?” when I wore terrycloth shorts on a day of observance instead of the more pious choice of a skirt). Occasionally, my family spent long weekends at Kutscher’s, a run-down Jewish hotel in the Catskill Mountains left over from the heyday of the Borscht Belt. It had never even occurred to me, until the baptism comment, how few encounters I’d had with non-Jews. Of course they could tell that I wasn’t baptized. Years of interacting solely with other Jews must have made it clear as day. It was in the inflection of my voice; it was written it all over my Semitic face. This, I realized, was what had initially concerned my parents. While the children of Camp Compo stared at me, waiting for me to recount my baptism, I stared at the ground in panicked silence. Suddenly, I was nauseous and I was thinking about Anne Frank. That was when my stomach turned.
The shit squirmed out of me slowly at first, leaving me with the false hope that I might make it to the bathroom just in time. My hope was crushed seconds later when my bowels then emptied themselves all at once, as though overcoming their initial shyness. I tried to pretend it wasn’t happening, but the sudden shift of gravity in my underwear was difficult to ignore. It was precisely the same sensation that I’d had three years before, in kindergarten, when during circle time, I’d relieved myself right in my tights. My teacher had asked me if my stomach hurt and even though I said I felt fine, she brought me to the nurse and explained, using vague hand gestures, what had happened, perhaps hoping to justify the incident with a medical diagnosis. This time, though, I didn’t tell anyone, since conveniently—if defecating oneself can ever be considered convenient—it had happened just before swim time. In a bathroom stall, I wiped myself clean, changed into my bathing suit, and tossed the evidence in the trash. I made my way with the other campers toward the ocean, the sparkling Long Island Sound. There, I dipped my feet in the water before plunging into it, letting the waves wash over me.