Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Camping Story - being punished for being afraid

August, 1967

I was 6 years old.  I had been living with THIS family for a year at this point I guess.  I had just finished first grade.  I was still a newcomer, having been *yoinked* away from my weird-ass mother in Florida (and the baby brother everyone pretended didn't exist) and *plunked* down in the middle of a shit-ton of sisters I never knew I had, a father I never knew I had, a step-mother...  I guess I was probably still reeling a bit but who knows - I was already weird, I was already outside the middle.  I NEVER cried for my mother, I was honestly (surprisingly) very sanguine about the whole thing. 

So dad had decided to rent a motor home and take the 4 youngest, with NM, on a camping trip up to Banff, Canada, near Lake Louise.  I guess they must have discussed it, I remember going to the Army/Navy store in Orange and getting two footlockers we girls would share for suitcases.  I remember the day the thing was parked outside waiting for us to pack it up.  But, being very little and outside the middle I blocked out or just didn't know any more than that.

So, here is a picture of me and my sister Leslie, headed to the bathroom.  Groovy motor home.  (we were not allowed to use the bathroom inside the motor home.  I think dad didn't know how to drain the tanks or didn't want to spend the money it would cost or whatever)
We were carrying our towels.  It was early morning.  I had ALREADY gotten in huge trouble at the beginning of the trip, for not packing the necessary clothes for myself.  I don't know if I got spanked, but I got WAY yelled at and then talked about in loud voices.  So by this point, I was already triggered and gut-sick.  In the above picture, I was wearing a raincoat and summery cotton jammers with shorts - Leslie has on a sweatshirt over her PJ top and pajama pants.  I hadn't brought the right PJs or the correct bathrobe.  Let me show you a close-up:
(Even back then my hair was completely fucked up all the time.)

I was 6 fucking years old.  Look how little I was.  I DIDN'T PACK THE RIGHT CLOTHES.  What mother, in her right mind, (or father for that matter, but this was the 60's) does that.  I wouldn't let my kid go to his dad's for the fucking weekend without checking what was in his backpack, up to the time he was like 12.  I was FREEZING in this picture.  Um, even though it was August, it was Canada.  I didn't know what the word 'Canada' was any more than I knew what a 'transmission' was.  I probably packed a book and a barbie and obviously a raincoat...  It had been 80 or 90 degrees back in Orange, CA.

So there I was.  Little.  In a NEW family with parents who palpably hated me.  <--I have asked my NM wtf about the hate, she admited dad hated me on sight.  ON SIGHT.  SO - new family, 6-yrs old.  Already sidelined, already outside.  Just another weird place for my body to be, in the already long journey of my weird ass life.  Not connecting with the sisters, they are busy being older sisters and getting to know each other anyway - step-family dynamics not yet ironed out and they were new to dad also - it was an emotional cluster-fuck.

One night, probably like the other nights before, (new campsite every night or two) dad gave one of us a flashlight and we all 4 trooped to the bathroom to brush our teeth and get ready for bed.  I found a picture of a Banff campground, but this is not the specific place:
It was dark, and woodsy and naturey, the way that only a campground in 1967 can be dark.  Back home, we live in the city, on a busy street next to train tracks.  We don't know nature.  We have one flashlight between us.  And of course, one of the older sisters had control of it (even in a normal family, siblings are shits :) la la on a dirt path, probably not far, really, from the camper.  We are probably having fun, shining the light into the trees and being creeped out.  We get to the restroom, I think it probably looked a lot like this:
Generic campground cinderblock restroom.  Steel door (keeps out bears and closes on its own).  Absolutely no lights inside, so it is even darker in there than outside.  We are fucking around, flashlight beam waving around, going pee, brushing teeth, trying to see, arguing, nudging each other out from in front of the sink - normal sister crap.  I am taking too long.  Of course, I couldn't get to the sink until they let me, and then I was probably being a pain in the ass little sister (and I probably didn't want to really go back to the camper yet).  I had to juggle toothbrush and towel and underpants and I just took too long.  They thought it would be funny and they - they left.

[I AM NOT MAD AT THEM - they had no idea how to be sisters, we had all just met.  We were strangers thrown together the prior summer - Leslie and Georgia had been living with their mom and then with Dad and more girls and jesus.  What a fucking disaster.  They weren't MAD at me, they were huffy and irritated and all OLDER and they were thoughtless in the way that kids can be and they didn't really KNOW me and if you aren't taught to be kind, how do you know??  All they knew was that I was a fuck-up and dad hated me and sidelined me, so they sidelined me too.]

That door.  THAT DOOR.  It slammed with the loudest *BANG*.  A big steel door, in a steel frame, on a cinder block building with a cement floor.  It was the biggest noise.  And then, it was dark.  so fucking dark and freezing cold the cement was ice cold i couldn't see it was black and my eyes were huge and i have never.  ever.  been so terrified again in my life.  My hands were wet and I dropped my stuff and since it was a doorknob (not like the handles we have now) I couldn't turn it and I couldn't have pulled that heavy thing open anyway and I was calling out and yelling "WAIT" and then I just SCREAMED.  It was a HOWL (this is horrible to remember) and I just kept SCREAMING I was on the ground I couldn't see my hand in front of my face I wasn't screaming for attention or to get anyone to come to me, I was screaming my terror I couldn't STOP screaming oh my god you guys. I was so little and I was so fucking scared.  And the sound of my scream echoed in the bathroom and that scream was so loud (I cannot imagine how loud it was across the campground - you know how sound carries on a cold night in the open)

I think they thought I COULD open the door, that I would be left behind but trailing. It must have been pretty close to the campsite, and they took off running (probably giggling) and by the time they got back to the campsite I was already in hysterics.

THEN.  The door slammed back open and I was grabbed by the arm and yanked and my legs were SLAPPED and SLAPPED AGAIN and the hissing whisper *be quiet you little shit stop screaming shut up* and his hands were YANKING me and dragging me back to the campsite and...  scene.

I don't remember the rest of the night.  My mind kind of shut off at that point I think.  I'm sure I was shoved into the motorhome and yelled at and it was quell horrible, the end.  I'm ALSO sure that the other sisters were traumatized too.  They caused it, sure, but they didn't mean for me to get BEATEN and they certainly didn't anticipate my screaming.  I do NOT know for sure, but I wonder if they got lectured about leaving me behind.  I don't think their behavior was condoned in any way.  And I know they were probably horrified at the results.

I think, honestly, that I thought they wouldn't come back.  That they wouldn't notice I was gone (distinct possibility in my little brain).  I was SO outside the middle by this time already that I knew I was invisible and meaningless ("we can get a donkey to do what you do around here!" [direct quote from many lectures over the years]) I just knew they weren't coming back and I would be in that place forever.  It was just such a NORMAL thing, to be forgotten.

I'm sure he and NM were sitting by the campfire, enjoying a martini or 12 and enjoying the 10 minutes of silence with no kids and I'm sure I startled him and probably embarassed him.  Hateful fucking bastard.  I am SO glad you're dead.  I hope that last heart attack HURT like a mother fucker.


  1. That's horrible Gladys. I'm sorry.

    1. Thank you, Jessie. They are all just the same souless assholes.

  2. {{{{{Gladys}}}}}

    Jesus. I wanted to reach back in time and soothe you. And bitch slap your father. Hard.

    1. Thank you, Vi. ME TOO. He was just a fucker in the truest sense of that word.

  3. I hope his last heart attack hurt like a motherfucker, too.

    1. Thank you, Bess - well, it killed him anyway, right? lol.

  4. Gladys,
    I live in the woods - in the dark, woodsey, naturey woods. (Love that description.) My FOC goes camping every year at a local campground that looks (now, in 2012) almost exactly like the pictures you posted of the campground and woods above. The facilities in particular are almost exact. Being in there after dark? Scariest. Environment. Imaginable. And I'm a grown up.

    I want to say that I can't imagine the horror that you felt, but sadly I can. I know that horror and it's real, it's palpable, it's almost unsurvivable. To be abused for screaming for help in that situation is, hands down, just fucking evil.

    I'm so sorry that you had to live through that.
    And so glad that you did.

    Regarding the packing; at six years old my DD's sometimes still put their shoes on the wrong feet. Forget appropriate clothing. Bad parents, just bad adults.

    I'm with vi and the retroactive time-warp bitch slapping. Bastard.


    1. Thank you Vanci. It really was about the scariest thing I ever lived through. Writing that made me realize why slamming doors always make me so UPSET. Well, no wonder.

  5. This memory sounds like something that would have sparked Stephen King to write a horrible scary story that would have been published, made a kajillion dollars, and then turned into a movie which would have made a kajillion more. It's horrifying and I feel for that terrified six year old girl. I can remember being afraid as a little kid, and I don't know that it's a kind of fear I've ever felt again in adulthood. Fear is fear, but I think it's even more terrifying for a child, if that makes any sense.

    1. Thanks, Jonsi - that does make sense. Because as a child, you have no power. None. No basis for logical what's-next thinking. All you have is helpless reliance on adults. And if you're an ACoN, that means your screwed six ways to Sunday.

    2. Exactly. You've just put into words the feeling I had about what I was trying to say that I couldn't find the words for.


  6. Well holey hay-sus.
    That was just nasty, Gladys. THEY ARE NASTY. I LIVE pretty much in an environment that looks like where you went camping. But I'm a groan-up, locked 'n loaded and now 30 some years of experience with the "Great Out Doors."
    And my INDOORS are locked and I'm STILL "wary." How terrifying for a Little One. The smell in one of those places alone would be enough to terrorize never mind the dark and the metal door slamming shut.
    Good gawd.
    They're just bat-shit crazy. Time to break the Mar-tooni Glasses just outside the "camper," steal the groan-ups footwear and scream "FIRE!" at 3 AM in the camper-thingy and watch the idiots run and leave YOU behind.
    Since they're lacking a conscience, they can pick the shards outta their dermis, seein' as how we're pickin' it out of OUR conscious awareness ;) Or the parts that remain.

  7. It's all just another brick in the wall, ya'll know. I got in trouble for FEELING afraid. My reaction to fear was appropriate given the frame of reference (age, location, family, probably stories about axe murderers and bears from sisters, etc0 and yet I was hit and punished.

    We are taught, one brick at a time, that our perception of things is wrong. Our natural reactions to things are wrong. Our intuition is wrong. No wonder we are all nutz.