I’ve had some horrible writer’s block for the last three years (wah wah wah, I know). I purposefully coincide the date with the day I graduated because the Creative Writing Department at UCSC pretty much beat the shit out of me. Not because it was rigorous, but because I found it very hard to write what I liked without being judged. But that’s another subject. Basically, I’m tired of wallowing in blank-page-self-pity and I’d like to get the juices flowing again.
So, like all desperate writers are wont to do at some point, I’m exploiting my childhood memories. I have no agenda other than to get me writing again, so I don’t promise chronological order or any story arc or even a moral. I have a feeling that most posts will involve my experience at Cult Camp.
Some of you may have already heard these tales of infamy, adventure and oddity. To those of you who haven’t, well, you’re about to understand a little more about me. The names have been changed or omitted to protect my ass.
I’d like to start out with one that I most recently retold to my coworkers at a business lunch.
Memory #1: The Trailer
When I was sixteen years old, my mother told me that we were going on a family vacation to Montana. The “family” included my mom, her boyfriend, my fourteen-year-old brother, my autistic ten-year-old sister, my mom’s boyfriend’s daughter and son, aged twelve and nine, and me. The “vacation” included driving in a camper sitting in the bed of a pick-up truck from Southern California through Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Idaho and camping along the way. And by “Montana,” my mother meant we were going to be staying in a teepee on piece of property owned by The Divine Unity, a group of middle-aged hippies who got together and banged drums, lit incense and meditated while their charismatic leader talked about how she was the reincarnation of various famous people from world history. Cult Camp.
While my mom, her boyfriend and my sister sat in the air-conditioned cab of the truck, the four of us teens and tweens were shoved in the camper along with enough camping equipment to supply an army, several duffel bags, a fridge full of food and Coke we were forbidden to eat or drink, a piddly boom box and a limited amount of CDs and a sink that did nothing but hold dripping bags of ice. My mom’s boyfriend, who was a bit of a redneck crazy-pants, had rigged an army phone that had a single, fragile wire that we laced through the camper and into the back window of the truck to a receiver. This was to be used in case of emergencies and/or if one of us desperately had to pee. The phone worked, amazingly, except that while our bladders were exploding in the hellish heat of the camper, my mom and her boyfriend rarely heard the ringing of the phone over the cool blast of the air conditioner and the drone of sitars from Ravi Shankar’s Greatest Hits.
One night as we drove through the wastelands of Utah, I was awoken by a bright light in my face.
I’ll explain the sleeping set-up before I continue. Imagine a space the size of a ten foot-long hallway. At one end of the hallway, on a raised platform, my brother and mom’s bf’s son sleep in a nest of bags and coats. Along one side of the hallway is the “kitchen” (including forbidden fridge and dripping sink) and along the other side of the hallway about a foot away sleeps Jasmine and mom’s bf’s daughter, laying on a kitchen table converted to a bed, sleeping in opposite directions so as to fit. At the mouth of the hallway, is the door to the outside world. My face was pointed at this door.
Bright lights blinking on and off. Familiar banging, reminding me of the screen door during summer time. I opened my eyes. The road was racing behind us as my mom’s boyfriend ripped along back roads at 90 mph. I could see it because the door to the camper was wide open and flapping in the wind. A car’s headlights blinked on and off, trying to warn our lunatic driver, who was oblivious. The camper was shaking and the cabinet doors, mostly tied and taped shut, rattled violently with their contents. An apple escaped and rolled out the door to its smushy doom.
I have no idea why I pretended to be asleep. I don’t know why I didn’t say anything or why I didn’t just jump up and close the hysterically-flapping door. But I didn’t. I acted as if nothing was happening.
Then bf’s daughter woke up and started screaming my brother’s name. “The door! The door! Shut the door! Help!” And my brother, like the little hero that he is, leapt from the platform, over my head as our vehicle jettisoned down the gravelly road and contents from every available cubby hole freed themselves and banged around the cabin, leaned out over the edge and shut the door. Wordlessly, he returned to the nest.
In the awkward, relieved silence, I burst out laughing.