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A Lesson on Longing
I stood in silent confusion. A horde of liquid frustrations follow their late companion down my young face to a messy end on the parched excuse of a lawn, as the old Ford pick-up that embodied my one desire kicked billowing clouds of dust into the pressure-cooked heavens on its way down our seemingly endless driveway.
“Wait!" I could contain myself no longer, and set out at a dead sprint which, at the time, wasn't all that impressive. My worn sneakers pounded the earth, propelling me little by little towards my world, my life, straight into the restricting arms of my mother.
"You're not old enough babe. Maybe next year." She tries to pull me into an embrace, but I deftly evade it. For a split second I consider resuming the chase, but, realizing the futility of it, fix my blurry gaze instead on our overgrown sandbox. Upon arriving at the refuge, I promptly lie on my back and begin to howl.
So passes my experience of the first recorded Willy’s Camp, my grandparent’s latest and most elaborate attempt to win over the grandchildren and infuriate their children, far outstripping their earlier efforts with candy and lawlessness. To start things out, they didn’t go too far, settling for a weekend trip to Yellowstone National Park. This became a tradition, and each year they got more conductive of a small mind’s imagination.
Time passes. Other things such as food, dogs, and Christmas take their turns being "my world, my life," but that incident was seared into the tender flesh of my six-year-old brain, never to be forgotten. Every year, I anticipate with mixed feelings that day when my grandparents will pull up with all of the cousins and take us somewhere infinitely exciting and wonderful. I use the term "we" lightly. About as lightly as my childish grip on the rare, perpetually ground bound ice cream cone. In fact, “they” is a much more fitting word. “They” being my two older brothers. They got to travel to infinitely exciting and wonderful places with my grandparents. I got to stay home and chew idly on Play-doh.
“Can I go?” I invariably asked when it was time for my brothers to leave, knowing the answer.
“You’re not old enough hon, maybe next year,” my mother invariably answered.
“But why? It’s not fair!”
“Gramps isn’t a very good driver. Just the other day he got in a nasty wreck. You are not riding with him.” And that was the end of it. Once, I pressed on, looking for details, and got a swat on the bottom for my troubles. To this day I don’t know how my age would influence my grandfather’s driving in the slightest, but then again I don’t have my parents’ boundless wisdom…
More time passes. I grow taller and less patient. I learn priceless life lessons. I fume that I am still not allowed to go to the annual Willy’s Camp.
Then, one day it happens. I reach that magical age of 11 that somehow makes it alright for me to die in a fiery car crash. If I’m not mistaken, this was soon after I locked the babysitter out of the house for the night. Or perhaps it was after I discovered the game 20 questions... Either way, the day had finally come.
My oldest brother Layne and I were on the trampoline that blistering, fateful day, wasting away the summer. It was suicide by roasting to be moving, so we were lying on our stomachs, making designs out of what little saliva we could muster.
“What’s that?” I ask, indicating a cream-filled white heap of bird dumpling sitting conveniently close to my face.
“Oh no way! My favorite!” Layne said with a nasty grin on his pudgy face.
“What is it though?”
“Some whipped cream. Lick it,” He said casually, displaying a budding, unrefined malice.
In my naïveté I didn’t question the unusual amount of excitement generated by this simple statement. Pulling myself forward with my hands, I position my head directly above the delicious looking morsel beckoning me with its intriguing texture. My brother’s teeth became more and more visible as my tongue neared the nugget.
I stroked the poop with my tongue and rolled over, pondering the bitter taste. When raucous laughter bombarded my ears, I unthinkingly joined in, not getting the joke but assuming I should.
"Colton! Reed just licked some bird crap!" Layne rolled around, eyes streaming with mirth.
“What an idiot!” A high pitched, nasally laugh could be traced to my scrawny, second-oldest brother on the swing.
Slowly it dawned on me that I had been hoodwinked. With that realization was dug up the deeply seeded brotherly hatred. With a battle cry I launched myself onto my elder by four years. He was laughing so hard that I actually got a couple of solid hits in before he pinned me down and scrubbed the trampoline free of dung with my face.
Vaguely resembling a mime, my petition was greeted with laughs from my parents. As a result I missed the arrival of my grandparents, being somewhat occupied with skulking in my heap of a room.
"Reed you comin' or not?" reverberates around my room and through my brain, the message injecting adrenaline into my system and stimulating a muscle spasm in my arm, that in turn sent a jarring message to my brain informing me that I had hit my funny bone on the headboard. Forgetting all grudges and anything that didn't have to do with going to Canada with my beloved grandparents, I jolted upright, grabbed the bag I had packed as soon as I learned I was eligible for Woody's Camp and a waiting sleeping bag, and bolted out the door.
Without stopping to say goodbye to my parents, I hopped in the recently purchased camper fit snugly into the bed of the old Ford. My family was the last stop on the route, so all of the good spots had been taken. The cab of the truck was packed, and the bed seated directly overhead was also exceeding capacity with a volatile pile of five adolescent cousins. I found myself shunted onto the wraparound bench alone, my legs crammed under the table with a soon-to-be familiar map of the United States, as the truck gave a jolt and we began our journey into the gaping unknown.
I take in the inside of the unfamiliar camper. It takes but a few minutes to come to the conclusion that it is utterly and mind-numbingly boring. Restless after only roughly twenty minutes, I walk carefully up the aisle, dodging flying debris as we careen around corners, and hop up onto the bed. Or rather onto the legs of all those on the bed.
"Can you guys scootch?" I manage to spit out, "there's nothing to do," before a chorus of "What the heck!"s, "Get off my freaking feet"s, upset grunting, vicious lashing legs, and a reek of body odor overwhelm my senses.
"Shut up! And get your nasty feet off my legs! There's no room." Layne says before turning around to continue their game, expecting complete obedience. "Mine. Freak, I keep getting semis. But I guess I could sell them for lots of money and buy something better. Jordan that one’s yours. Haha station wagon, burn…" his commentary was drowned out as I did indeed obey without argument and returned to the bench. I knew better than to upset him.
With a sigh that I’m sure professional actors could learn a thing or two from, but that was lost in the crash of monopoly falling out of its cupboard and scattering shrapnel all over, I lay down as best as I can manage in the cramped space, close my eyes, and eventually fall asleep. Only to be awoken by the unmistakable sound of a blown tire slapping the inside of the wheel wells. I close my eyes again. This was going to be a long trip… idly I wondered what was going on at home.