Camp Utopia & the Forgiveness Diet (9781940192567) (10 page)

Do you remember that party @ Chuck e cheese? When u did the magic show and MY DAD was there & I kept saying he saw me and u kept saying he didn't. remember how afterwards, u drove me home the back way & we got a snowball in Catonsville (exit 12) & u wanted to change the color of my tears but u were out of powder & you wanted the birds to fly outta my hair but they were locked in their cages & u wanted to appear some quarters frm my ear but u didn't have any change & we were just 2 normal people sharing a snowball. u weren't a magician & I wasn't fat & you kept saying my dad didn't see me. then u let me put my head on ur shoulder & u held my hand & kept saying if he'd known it was u he woulda said something. No one would ignore u, Bee. No one would walk away.

remember how I believed you?

instead of levitating, I wish u'd concentrate all your efforts on disappearing. i know u say it's impossible, but maybe u'll discover some kind of rabbit hole or some glitch in the universe & u'll snap ur fingers in b'more and then particle by particle u'll assemble in utopia. First ur hands & then ur face. U'll hover by my door. Then by my bed. Then u'll crawl in my bed. Then u'll…



PS. Sorry re: the doves.

PPS. If u do appear in utopia, can u disappear me out of it? #jussayin



AFTER SEVEN DAYS of aching muscles, quivering sit-ups, and a dark rumbling hunger, we were rewarded with an extra half-hour of sleep. The idea behind it? An extra thirty minutes of sleep might provide the strength to confront Sunday, our official Weigh Day. Weigh days occurred publicly on that same demonic scale. The goal was to see which team shed the most weight, so we could promote this hellhole in a TV commercial. But by day seven, a prime time spot on cable TV was no match for, say, chocolate lava cake with caramel icing. And after one week, that was all I wanted.

Hollywood remained the skinniest and the most revered. This glorious Sunday she wore a pink T-shirt pulled tight across her bodacious chest. It read “Captain Thin.” It was unclear whether the camp provided her with the shirt or if she took certain liberties. Needless to say, she continued to take the role very seriously.

“Thank you,” she said when we all shuffled in, knuckling our crusty eyes, “for getting here on time.” Like we had a choice. She was the one who hauled our asses out of bed. “The Forgiveness Diet emphasizes the importance of punctuality.” Even Miss Marcia, our counselor, rolled her eyes. How could someone be this pleasant in the morning? So sunny? I decided right then if this were some crazy M. Night Shyamalan film and Utopia was a deserted island where our plane just happened to crash, I would eat Hollywood first. Just saw off her leg, pearl anklet and all.

The campers gathered in the common room of MontClaire Hall. Boys included. Our collective stomach growling could have been measured on the Richter scale. As Belinda and Hank tried to encourage us, I imagined dousing them with syrup. Butter. Eating them alive.

“Now keep in mind,” said Belinda, who sported a pink shirt that was a raspberry pie, a strawberry tart, the fluffy exterior of a Hostess Snowball, “everyone loses weight at a different rate.”

“Yes,” echoed Miss Marcia. “Back when I was a camper, I only lost four pounds my first week,” she said. Only.

Without further ado, Miss Marcia fanned out our files like a deck of cards and Belinda plucked one out. Tabitha Calliope Nelson.

Cambridge eyed the scale cautiously. “I don't like these things,” she said. Miss Marcia reminded her that this was an opportunity and, “We're here to help you, not judge you.” Cambridge groaned. “Here's to getting it over with,” she said, stepping on the platform.

Despite all the Laffy Taffy, espresso frappes, and peanut storms she'd supplied, Cambridge had lost weight. I snuck a peek at Tampa Bay. He grinned. I had a feeling those two had burned a few calories together. There was some kind of chemistry between them. Regardless, Cambridge was down three pounds. She looked more relieved than happy. It was Hollywood who cavorted around like an epileptic, screaming, “Take that!” to the boys. Whenever someone from the boy team was weighed, I watched Hollywood tense. Then she'd count on her fingers, squeeze her eyes shut and calculate.

In no time at all, every file had been fished out from Miss Marcia's fingers by Belinda, except one. So far everyone had lost weight too. Tampa Bay led with a whopping seven pound loss. Only one girl from our team needed to get on the scale. The only thing that camper had to do was drop more than one pound. When my team realized the stakes, everyone relaxed. Even Hollywood. Once everyone saw who was remaining, certainly, they thought, she would lose a pound. I mean really. Out of everyone.

I stood up in front of my team, the boys' team, Miss Marcia, Hank, Belinda, and all the other Utopians. I walked up to the scale in my flip-flops. Thwak—thwak—thwak. Fifteen days ago I tried The Forgiveness Diet. I forgave everyone I could possibly think of. I even forgave my dad. Not to mention TJ, who begged me to forget him. To move on. I let it go. For the past seven days at Utopia, I swam in a skirted swimsuit. I power walked and ate chicken breast. I sacrificed my phone to a Hefty bag.

When I stepped on the scale, I heard hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhuuuu as everyone drew in breath. I knew Hollywood writhed behind me, tapped her nails on her sparkling phone. I was her money shot. Her MVP.

Then, from Hollywood I heard this: “Are you frickin' serious?” Followed by this: “Not even a whole pound!”

It was safe to assume that my loss was not as significant as everyone'd hoped. When I looked over my shoulder, Hollywood's pink mouth hung open in an enraged O. “Tell me you're retaining water, Baltimore. Tell me.” She was trying to control herself, but an angry redness crawled up her neck and ears. “I want a do-over,” she said to Miss Marcia, snapping her fingers. But a do-over was useless because I was still on the scale, my .8 weight loss ablaze behind me.

It was Miss Marcia who shushed her. “All bodies are different,” she said, directing this to the crowd. “And some lose weight a little slower.”

“And just how slowly is that?” Hollywood spat.

When I went back and sat, Cambridge and Liliana congratulated me anyway. I couldn't see Hollywood, but I felt her eyes burning into my back. If my shirt smoked, I would not have been surprised.

“Don't worry about a thing, Baltimore,” screamed Miss Marcia. “I'll bet your loss next week will be Tree. Men. Dus.”

From: Bethany Stern

[email protected]


Dear Forgiveness Diet Inventor,

I am curious about the advertisement featured on national TV after American Envy two weeks ago. I followed the directions on your infomercial and have been eating next to nothing.

I am hungry, so hungry that I would eat this f%4#
ng computer if it wasn't delivering this e-mail, which I hope won't be ignored. I am exercising so much my bones hurt.

At exactly 11:06 AM on Sunday I tried The Forgiveness Diet. Fourteen days later I have not seen results. I ask you: WHEN CAN I EXPECT WEIGHT LOSS?


Bethany (an obviously undervalued customer) Stern

[email protected]

To: Bethany Stern


Dear Dissatisfied Consumer:

We here at The Forgiveness Diet LLC regard your concerns and opinions with the utmost gravity. A qualified dietician will evaluate your query within seventy-two hours. You may anticipate a thoughtful reply within four to six weeks.

In the meantime, thank you for purchasing The Forgiveness Diet
. You are one step closer to a body transformation. Our website is teeming with information including a detailed FAQ section where most questions can be answered. We appreciate your patience and look forward to your metabolic success.


The Forgiveness Diet Staff

Results on website and commercial are not typical. Most participants see mild results within 8-10 weeks after using the patented 3- part system. As with any change in exercise or diet, consult with your physician first. The Forgiveness Diet LLC and its claims are not FDA approved and should be instituted at own risk.



AS YOU CAN imagine, things were tense my second week at Utopia, and Hollywood watched me like a hawk. Every time I lifted my fork to my mouth, she was there breathing down my neck. She began wearing fuzzy slippers and swooping in without the alert of her clonking heels. “Baltimore!” she'd sing like an
American Envy
contestant. “I was just checking in!”

For the most part, I ignored her. At least I tried to. Liliana took her pretty seriously even though her brother told her not to. Liliana's rocket science bro stood outside our window at night and told Liliana not to lose weight so quickly. “It's supposed to be a slow process,” Gabriel said, rattling off equations about calories and heat conduction. He made the most ornate paper airplanes and shuttled them through our window. He'd stuffed them with diabetic candies too, which I ate. Her blood sugar, Liliana said, was fine. Better than ever. She wanted to get on Hollywood's good side anyway. She was convinced our captain was connected to the fashion industry somehow. With her brother groveling below like some scrawny Romeo, Liliana sat on her bed in bedazzling yoga pants. She shouted at Gabe to settle his algebraic butt down. “For shit's sake,
, get a girlfriend. This is college.”

Then there was Cambridge. She had her own agenda, but by week two I still didn't know what it was exactly. We finished off her supply of goodies the night after weigh day. She was sure her father would send more, but so far he hadn't. This worried me more than it did her.

“Maybe they are searching our mail,” I wondered out loud.

“I certainly wouldn't doubt it,” Cambridge agreed, twisting her hair while she spoke. She was bent on having a head full of dreadlocks by the end of the summer. She wanted to go back to Miss Tidy Twats Prep (her words, not mine) with a new look. Cambridge—who was built a lot like me with big legs, a thick waist, and broad shoulders—had no apparent need for sleep because, by our second week, she was sneaking out at night. She futzed around the dorm—all distraction and flushed cheeks—until eleven or so, then she'd say, “Pshew! I could use some air,” and creep out barefoot. I knew Tampa Bay waited for her outside. He was a bit of a hipster, I guess, but he had nice teeth when he smiled, which he never stopped doing whenever Cambridge walked into a room.

From our dorm's window, I'd watch her snake her way between the bushes, lamps, and emergency call boxes, her backpack thunking against her shoulders. When she came back to our room, always pretty late, Liliana would be sleeping and I'd be thinking about TJ.

“You're thinking about that boy again, aren't you?” she asked one night.


She looked at the photo I'd brought of him. I had it on my desk leaning against a Delilah Rogers romance. It was taken last summer after I dropped a few pounds and TJ and I were eating at China Hon. The waiters snapped it just as TJ pulled a violet out from behind my ear. The way he regarded the camera, the way I smiled at him, we looked like a couple. A real one. Or at least a possible one.

“He's good looking,” Cambridge said, kneeling down by the desk. “But is he a good kisser?” she asked. “I'm all about a good kisser. I can't stand those pointy tongues. Or the Dirt Devil who wants to suck out your tonsils. No, kissing really is an art form. ”

I wasn't sure how to respond. TJ and I kissed for the first time the summer before ninth grade. I was thirteen. For months I had asked him about kissing: Had he thought about it? Had he done it before (I knew he hadn't). Might he be interested in trying it? With me? He was noncommittal and mysterious, the way he always is. Then, one night, we were outside, and he was showing me a card trick. He kept flubbing it too, holding up a card.

“Is this it, Bee?”


“Yes it is.”

“No it's not. I know my own card.”

TJ grabbed another card. “It's this one, right?”

“Ummm. No? Sorry.”

We were on his back porch. The sky was all purply-pink.

“When I looked at you just now, it looked like you were balancing the moon on your head.”

I flexed my flabby muscles. “Maybe I was.”

TJ looked back at his cards. “You can do it now.”

“Do what?”

“Kiss me.”

Still he didn't look up from the cards, and I thought he probably should, but what did I know. I was only thirteen. Anyway, I was sitting Indian-style and so I uncrossed my legs and then leaned across the milky glass table, a bull's-eye hole in the center for an umbrella between us. Just before my lips touched his there was this low rumble in my throat, like a growl. The kind of noise a dog makes when it's stretching.

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