Family Outing

December 25, 2009
I’ve never liked hiking. As a child, I’d wake up to the sounds of crackers being poured into Ziploc bags and the icemaker working double duty to fill the ostensibly indestructible Nalgene bottles, and I’d be uneasy. A look at my floor to see that my mother had set out my hiking boots, and I’d groan and hide my face.
This morning I found a bag of Goldfish already bagged and ready to go, waiting by my boots – brown and orange with excessive straps and other trappings that we’d paid entirely too much money for. Maybe if I closed my eyes and concentrated hard enough, the boots would be swallowed up into the floor and I wouldn’t have to go. After all, you can’t very well go hiking without the proper attire now, can you?
I opened my eyes. The hideous shoes were still there. And worse, my mother was trotting up the stairs, creaking the eighth step and humming something much too cheerful for me to appreciate, given the circumstances. I weighed the odds on whether or not she’d believe a sudden stomachache. Even as a child, I understood the horrors of the outdoors, and the importance of avoiding it.
My mother was not an idiot. She refused to let me stay home, claiming that we needed “family time,” and instead marched my brother and I out to the van like convicted and dangerous felons, humming all the time. The family backed out of the driveway, arriving 40 minutes later in Nature, the Outdoors, a place I’d come to hate.
On the trail, we cut fine figures of the family outing type of people. We wore semi-matching backpacks, shoes that differed only in color schemes, and outfits that looked extremely touristy. Our outfits, I’m sure, probably caused us to look more out of place than we already were. We were not the kind of family that should not be going hiking together out in Nature. I’d been a participant of enough of these family activities to know that, although always beginning with good intentions, they always ended badly.
They started out great, these little excursions, until my father got upset at one little thing or another, and then it’d be eggshells underfoot for the remainder of the trip. There was something about my father that wouldn’t let him relax the forever stern look on his face and let things just be. The all business mentality was forever present, keeping him on edge, and the littlest things set him off. My brother whined that he was hungry. I screamed as an insect flew into my face. My mother dropped her sunglasses five minutes back and wanted to look for them.
He rarely yelled at us kids, but the moment he had an opportunity, my mother would be the recipient of excessive frustrations and angry words. He gave her a look of such annoyance, such incredulousness, that she would instantly fall silent, and try her absolute hardest not to upset him again. Occasionally she’d point out something on the trail, with hope that the shared interest in the spotted lizard would diffuse the tension. It usually didn’t. Barely audible mumbles of “huh” and “mmm” escaped the mouths of my brother and I; nothing whatsoever came from my father. I could practically hear the eggshells cracking.
On the way back to the car, I’d begun to notice something. My father always walked at least three steps in front of my mother. He never slowed down enough for her to catch up, never let her walk beside him. Instead he isolated her between himself and his children. I decided then that I did not want to become my father. I didn’t want to be someone who couldn’t have fun, someone who shot staggering glances at a person as wonderful as my mother, making her face fall a thousand feet. I didn’t want to be wound so tight all of the time.
I shifted over on the path so that I was walking directly behind my mother. I stepped with precision, placing my feet into the exact spots hers had just left, avoiding my father’s prints as fervently as I’d tried to avoid this ridiculous outing in the first place. Looking back, I realized that our hideous hiking boots left the same lines and contours in the dirt, and my footprints hardly disturbed hers at all, making it look as though only one person had walked the path.
I continued in this manner all the way back to the car, stepping precisely where my mother’s feet had just left. I thought that maybe if I followed close enough, a part of her would be transferred to the dirt, and through those awful shoes, I could pick up these shreds and become more like her.

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