Saturday, August 6, 2011
So Now You Know
7. In the evenings, there will be long hours with nothing for you to do. The girls will entertain themselves, arranging each others' hair into tiny braids while you read or fall lightly asleep on the rocks. Sometimes you hear them splashing into the river, the collective scream as they pull off their suits under water and crash through the surface, naked and exhilarated. The camp where they've spent their summers since they were nine has a lot of rules. There are brown and white uniforms and daily activities divided neatly into two hour blocks. It's a traditional New England Institute, celebrating its centennial this year. Each morning they raise the flag and check the girls' finger nails; the girls address all the instructors as Miss. This summer they go with you and Miss Liz, out in the woods for a month, and you let them do whatever they want. Pretty much. So long as they don't get hurt. You encourage them to go ballistic, huck themselves off rock cliffs and rope swings, get covered in mud, stalk animals through the woods and carve pieces of wood. They prove very apt at these things, and more, and staunchly refuse to take showers even when they become available in a few weeks.
8. Each night, around a fire in the starlit woods, the girls tip back their heads back in their camp chairs until they fall flat onto their backs. Liz points out constellations, a white spray of stars across the black sky. The whole river trip is like this, serene and easy. On the fourth day a canoe tips over, spilling two girls and all the food into the little rapids. You worry about foot entrapment as you wade back upstream to collect the sunken cooler, usher the girls onto shore, but then again you're prone to worrying around water.
9. On the last day something strange happens. You and the girls have hauled the canoes onto shore and are beginning to load the trailer. You spot a shady spot by the dam which would make a good spot for lunch. You are bent over, grasping the handles of a cooler, when all of a sudden a thought enters your mind. You do not think it, because you yourself do not create the thought. It is just there, suddenly. Something is happening, it says. You pause like that, bent, arms taught, listening. Something bad is happening right now. The thought is purely factual, an announcement. You have the wherewithal to look at your watch: 2:38pm, Eastern Standard Time, June 28th. 2011. And then there is nothing you can do- this new knowledge makes you aware of some occurrence in the dimmest, vaguest of terms. It does not empower you. There is nothing you can do. You carry the cooler over to spot in the shade, begin arranging food on the picnic table.
You've had these moments before, and on a few terrible occasions, they have been true. More often then not, these broadcasts are nothing more than tricks played on you by your morbid imagination. You always think the worst thing is going to happen and are left mildly surprised when everything turns out fine. All the time, actually, you imagine terrible things happening. To your credit, you've tried to get this under control, with therapy and Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors.
You feel guilty a lot, as if bad things happen because you've imagined them. We encourage you to dispel this ridiculous notion. Your thoughts carry absolutely no weight, no universal significance. Causing bad things to happen with your brain is about as as likely as causing anything good to happen with your brain. Which is to say, not likely. You tried that last year- books of pop psychology, mediation, yes, if you can think it, it will be! and it was a disaster. Do we even have to remind you.
10. You drive a few hours up to Maine, constantly checking the blank screen of your phone as you hit random pockets of reception. Don't expect to see anything. Whatever happened, it just happened, and it will take a little while until the information reaches you, out there in the middle of nowhere. You turn up the radio on the awful pop songs the girls are begging to hear on 92 Moose, Maine's number one hit music station. When you stop at a grocery store to resupply, you try to sneak expensive coffee and whole cream into the cart and onto the camp budget.
11. For tonight, you may as well forget about what you know. You were right, of course. Something bad was happening, at that very minute you bent over to pick up the cooler. Something unfathomable, yet predictable- you always predict things like this are going to happen. This time it did, and we're sorry. But for tonight you may as well set up a good camp, sit by the fire, get to sleep early. Despite how angelic the girls are, leading in the wilderness is tiring. After tomorrow, when you're sucker-punched by shock and every little motion becomes gilded with grief, it will become exhausting, something else entirely.