Wednesday, April 9, 2008


This is a creative non-fiction writing experiment for me. I'm trying to be honest with the emotions my 10 year old self was feeling, but looking at it from this side of childhood, I was raised by June and Ward Cleaver. Any mistakes they made were made out of love. Both of my parents were and still are supportive and loving. Sometimes they didn't "get" me.

“Come on! It’s just a little bit further- you can do this!”
“I just… need to rest for a while.” I say as I stumble off the side of the trail, slinging my pack to the ground and sitting beside it. My father’s face gets fuzzy around the edges as I concentrate on breathing as normally as I can. The scouts are gathering around, staring at us.
“We’re almost there! It’s stupid to give up now!”
“I’m not giving up…. Just go ahead, I’ll catch up later.” My father looks around at the nine boys standing around, then leads them on up the mountain. I put my arms across my knees and stare at the dirt between my feet, taking tiny sips of air so the others won’t make fun of me. Tears gather in my eyes, and I rub them away with my wrists. Finally my brother catches up, and sits beside me, hanging his arm from my shoulders and glaring at the other boys. After an eternity, the last boy disappears around the bend in the trail.
“Okay” Says my brother, and his hand starts rubbing on my back. I lean my head back and concentrate on breathing- trying to force air past the cotton bunched in my windpipe. I wheeze, I cough, I cry, and finally it eases. Still wheezing slightly, I stand up and lift my pack to my shoulders.
“Go on ahead, I’ll catch up.” I say to my brother. He puts his hands on my shoulders and stares, concerned, into my eyes; then turns and hurries up the trail. Alone now, I can take my time. I can listen to the forest; the wind, the birds. I can walk, I don’t have to march faster than I am comfortable going. I get to the top and it is a beautiful view. I can see our campsite down by the lake at the base of the valley. My father walks up and stands beside me.
“See? It wasn’t that hard.”
I smile up at him, then look back at the lake. From up here I can see that it’s crescent shaped, and what we had thought was an island is a peninsula. Two people are fishing on the shore, hoping for trout, probably catching debris, if anything. Our campsite is the only wide part of the shore, twenty tents scattered in a field behind a rocky beach. I can see my mother sitting in a camp chair, her feet propped up on a log by the fire. She didn’t want to come on this hike this morning. Maybe I should have stayed behind with her. My father rounds up all the boys and announces that, as the slowest walker, I am to lead the way back to the camp. All the boys groan and roll their eyes at me. I hurry through the crowd to the head of the trail and start walking. Maybe they won’t see how red my face is. Maybe they won’t see me crying. I set a pace that’s much too fast for me; my boots slip on the path; really it’s more of a controlled fall than a hike. Soon it’s less controlled and more falling, and I end up on my butt, picking rocks out of my palms. Once again, the scouts start to pass me up, until my father shouts at them to stop. He helps me to my feet and leads me to the head of the group again, then returns to the back. My legs hurt, my hands burn. Doesn’t he see how hard this is for me? I just want them to go on ahead of me. I know the way back, there’s only the one trail to follow. I keep walking, staring at the ground, trying to hide the sounds of my breathing. I go at a more comfortable pace this time, trying to ignore the complaints from behind me, just trying to stay upright. My father starts singing a song, some old rock song that everybody knows. Some of the boys join in. He shouts ahead that everyone should sing. I ignore them, concentrating on walking, concentrating on breathing. I’m not trying to hide it anymore, I openly wheeze with every step. I’m now racing my body to the camp. Will I collapse here or in my tent? After about four choruses, the path flattens out, and the camp is visible just around the next bend. The scouts hurry past me, shoving and teasing each other. I skirt around the edge of the campsite and find my tent. I unzip the door and throw my pack inside, then crawl in and curl up on my side.
I wake up to someone scratching at the roof of the tent. I peek my head out and smile at my brother. “Hey, it’s dinnertime. We’re gonna have spaghetti.” “Thanks,” I say, then crawl out and stand. “How are you feeling?” I borrow one of my father’s phrases; “Like I’ve been rode hard and put up wet.” He chuckles a little, then asks “Are you sure you’re alright?” “Yeah, I’m fine” I say as we walk toward the fire. I smile at my father and sit beside my mother. She tousles my hair and leans in to kiss my cheek. “Did you have a good time today?” “Yeah, it was alright, but I fell.” I answer her, showing my skinned hands. “You’d better wash up before dinner.” I walk to the edge of the camp, where a jug of water is tied to a tree. I squeeze a little soap from the tube tied to the handle and wash my hands. I go to my tent and get my flashlight and my dinner utensils; a collapsible cup, a plate and a spork. I return to the fire and sit beside my mother again. Dinner is finally ready and we all pass our plates to my father. He spoons rehydrated something into each dish. It tastes like the spaghetti they serve in the school cafeteria- plain noodles and tomato paste, but I eat it. After dinner we rinse our dishes, then hand them off to the boys doing dishes tonight. The rest of us return to the fire. The older boys tell stories and jokes they heard on other camping trips. I’ve heard most of them before, but I still laugh. The dishwashers return and my parents get out the popcorn and the marshmallows. I spear two marshmallows on my skewer and stick it in the hottest part of the fire. I smile as they catch fire and hold my skewer up, admiring the blue flames swirling around them. I blow the flames out when both marshmallows are burned, then wait while they cool. I see my father staring at me across the flames. “Are you sure you want both of those? Don’t you want to share with your brother?” I manage to keep my smile on my face as I shake my head, then I look back at my marshmallows. I quickly pull one off and chew. My mouth’s too dry, it only tastes like charcoal to me. I quickly shove the other one in my mouth and swish some water around to chase the taste away. My mother smiles at me and smoothes my hair. “Do you want some of my popcorn, honey?” I shake my head and lean against her side. Once everybody has what they want, my father sits forward and tells a story to the group. It’s one of my favorites, I’ve read the book he got it from. He’s a great storyteller, his voice rises and falls, finding the rhythm of the words as he speaks them, building tension until he reaches the conclusion. We all smile and clap, then he offers the marshmallow bag around to everybody but me. He doesn’t offer me the bag, but I smile and say “No thank you,” then excuse myself and go back to my tent. I crawl in and take off my boots, then crawl into my sleeping bag and shove the material against my mouth as I cry, as quietly as I can, until I fall asleep.

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