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Friday, July 1, 2011


It's the worst camping trip I ever had, and the experiences affect me to this day. It's the summer I turn sixteen. I'm going camping with my friend, Jamie Hurtson, and Jamie's father, Jim, and mother, Janet. Jim is overweight, mostly in his stomach. He has a dark, full beard, and sunglasses, he wears a gray, polo shirt that makes him look fatter than he really is. Janet wears a long blue skirt and that makes her long, thin body look thinner and weirder than usual. Mr. and Mrs. Hurtson look like one of those silly comedy duos from those black-and-white movies my father and his friends like to watch, like Laurel and Hardy, or Abbot and Costello. I'm so excited! My parents drop me off at Jamie's house, where the Hurtsons are squabbling as usual.

“There's too much stuff,” Janet says.

“I just want to be prepared. We're late, will you hurry up!” says, Jim.

“OK, OK, I just don't want to forget to do anything before we go.” Janet replies.

They have a trailer, a small white one, in their driveway. It's overloaded with junk, olive-green tents, multicolored folding chairs, two brown doormats (yes, doormats) that say “Welcome” on them, burgundy curtains, a gray La-Z-Boy, clothes of all different sizes and styles, for men and women, store-bought firewood packaged in white paper, industrial-sized bug spray in an eerie, black canister, the size of a lamp, a huge, blue vat of sunscreen, and enough food to last for two months. Incidentally, the trip is to be for three days, over the weekend.

On the way to the park, we have to stop several times, because the overloaded trailer is breaking. Eventually, we have to stop at an auto repair shop to have the wheels of the trailer fixed. The fixed wheels help, but the trailer still sags under the weight. When something carries a burden, it has to be relieved; the problem can be ignored, but it will keep being a problem until it is relieved.

When we get to the campground, we start setting up the tents. Jim is yelling, because Jamie's doing it wrong. Jamie should be a boy. That's what Jim and Janet wanted. They were very disappointed when she wasn't. She still has to dress like a girl, wear dresses and skirts, and long hair, but she has to act like a boy, be tough when she hurts, carry things for her lazy father, put up tents. Jamie is kind of short. Her hair is short too, like a girls' basketball coach. She wears a pink skirt, which looks like a bad idea; it is not conducive to holding tent pegs, especially pegs that are farther apart than her height.

“Jamie, you're not doing it right!”

“I'm trying!”

“Don't snap at me! Now fix it!”

“I'm sorry.” There is a tear in her eye.

“Just fix it,” he says angrily.

“Here, I'll help you,” I offer. “It's not your fault.” I whisper.

“Oh, you don't have to do that,” Jim said, sweetly smiling. “Are you going to let her do your work for you, Jamie? Hurry up!”

“I don't mind,” I say.

“You just sit down,” he says firmly, “you don't have to do anything.” He smiles, but his smile quickly melts to a frown. “Jamie! Get with it!” he says peevishly.

I sit down. They finally get the tents up on the dirty ground, and Janet puts the welcome mats out in front of the tents.

“There, that will keep the dirt out,” she chirps.

But the only way to keep the dirt out is to stop walking in it.

The trailer is now emptied, but the tents are very full, especially Jim and Janet's tent. It is stuffed with a La-Z-Boy, a portable T.V., a small refrigerator, and an assortment of camping implements that make the tent bulge and nearly poke out of the zippered door. The tent looks like it will burst under the pressure.

“You girls be ready for dinner, we'll eat in half an hour,” Jim calls out.

“OK,” we answer from inside our tent.

“Why does your father yell so much?” I ask, “He frightens me.”

“He just wants me to be good at things. I wish I were better.” She sighs.

“It's not your fault, you know. You shouldn't blame yourself for how he treats you.”

“I should just do what he says, but I really do try!”

“Are you talking about the tent pegs?” I ask. “You couldn't possibly have done that, for one thing, you aren't dressed for it, and for another, you aren't tall enough to span that length.”

“If only I was taller!”

“You can't be taller, but you could stand higher if you unload the burden you've gotten from him.”

“Why can't I be better at the things he likes? I'm so clumsy!”

“You have to stop burying your shame with these lies. It's his fault that you feel so inadequate.”

“Thanks for talking to me.” Tears are running down her eyes like rain on a window, the way you can see the raindrops run down a dirty window, clearing little streaks of dirt away.

Janet calls out to us inaudibly and comes into the tent. “Oh, girls! You've tracked dirt into the tent”

“We're sorry,” says Jamie.

“That's what the mats are for,” Janet says, “Why didn't you wipe your feet?” she asks.

“We did, I mean we tried to,” says Jamie.

“Obviously not,” says Janet

“I'm sorry, Mrs. Hurtson,” I say.

“Jamie, why can't you be more neat and clean?” Janet asks, “Well you are cleaning this up, Jamie,” she says, “Next time, use the mat!” Janet leaves.

“Why can't I just be better?” cries Jamie.

“The dirt won't go away unless you stop walking in it; in a place like this, even a doormat won’t keep it out.” I say

“It's no use,” Jamie says, “I'm just not good enough; I'll never be good enough.”

“Stop feeling badly about things you can't control,” I say, “you need to let go if you want to stop recycling your problems”

“You're a good friend,” she says.

“Thanks,” I say.

After dinner, we get ready for bed. We go up to the camp bathrooms to brush our teeth and so on. The bathrooms are old-looking, and the gray brick is worn and dirty. With the dark sky the whole scene is rather eerie. There are two separate bathrooms (not counting the men's rooms); I go to the one on the left, and Janet goes to the one on the right. It is dark inside, and there is a slight, high-pitched wind blowing through a vent opening near the low ceiling. I am in the stall when I hear footsteps. They are slow and slight, and even though they frighten me a little, I am sure they belong to Jamie. Then I see a dark silhouette entering; it is a man. He has on a wrinkly shirt, but I can't see his face. I am frightened and shaking.

“Excuse me?” I call out.

“Oops, sorry.” He sounds nervous.

He leaves, and I sigh; I am relieved; it was just a mistake. I don't think about it much afterwards. Then I hear slight footsteps again. I feel uneasy.

It is the same young man in the wrinkly shirt. Even the ladies sign doesn't keep him out. He walks slowly towards me. I am paralyzed with fear; I can't even scream. He comes closer, slowly. He is muscular. I can see, from in the back lighting around him, that the color of his shirt is red. The light around him makes him look like an angel. I begin to make out his face a little; he has stubble under his neck and an odd, twisted smile, I can see his eyes, they are at once dark yet full of life. They are shockingly wide open yet glassed over; they look wild and empty, like an animal's. They are penetrating. I shudder. I see his torn jeans are completely worn out in the knees. I see that his jeans tent and bulge, and his implement is nearly poking out of the zippered door. He looks like he will burst under the pressure. I see that he has a pink pill between his thumb and his index finger which looks like a bad idea.

“Aaaaaaaa!” I scream a shrill scream that hurts my own ears.

The man with the pill runs away quickly. I run to the other bathroom and knock on the door and scream for “Mrs. Hurtson!”

“What?” She opens the door.

“A man, there was a man!” I pant. “He came in!” I still pant. “I screamed before you didn't heard me!”

“What?” she asks.

“There was a man. I screamed. Didn't you hear me?” I pant and shiver.

“No, I guess I didn't hear you. What did this man do?” she says.

“He came towards me twice! He came a pill. With a pill.”

“A pill? Well, where is he?”

“He ran off away,” I reply

“Let's go get Jim.” she says.

We go to Jim and she talks to him and he comes to me.

“Are you OK?” he asks.

“I want to go home!” I say.

“It's OK; we'll be OK.”

“Maybe we should go,” says Janet.

“We'll be OK until morning. Try to get some sleep,” he says.

I don't sleep. In the morning it rains, so we pack up and drive home. On the drive home, I think about the experience I had. Why did it happen? Did I do something to encourage the man with the pill? Could I have stopped him? There had been tape on the door knob, so I hadn't locked it; I thought it was broken. Could I have locked it? Ever since that night I've felt dirty and bad, like damaged goods. I've often wondered what's wrong with me. I'm still not sure if I wasn't partly to blame. I feel so ashamed!

Copyright © 2011 David S. Robinson. Any part of this work may be transmitted, preformed or otherwise used in any form, so long as 1) I am clearly identified as the author, 2) a link or URL to this site is included, and 3) no changes are made without my prior written consent.

p.s. Feel free to comment on anything you liked or didn't like. :)

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