I could have been nine; I could have been eleven.
I have supporting evidence saying it could have easily been either of them.
One thing’s for certain.
It could not have been both of them.
It’s infuriating. It’s like there is so little space left in my brain, different but similar experiences are now conflated together, doubling up in my personal “Memory Bunk.”
Why can’t they be separate?
Oh, well…wait. One more thing before I start. I promise it’ll be short. (That was me, talking to myself.)
The following anecdote happened to a fellow cabin mate at Camp Ogama when we were either nine or eleven years old. His name was Jerry Wiseman. Dollars to donuts – whatever that means, besides two “D” words shoehorned together – I’ll bet Jerry Wiseman doesn’t remember this story.
And I do?
Why am I retaining other people’s experiences, and they’re not? (By which I do not mean they are not retaining my experiences but that they are not retaining their own. Just to be clear about that.)
Working Hypothesis As To Why I Remember Things And Other People Don’t:
They’re them and I’m me.
Our cabin is on a canoe trip, headed for Antler Island, as the fish swims, a nine-or-so-mile paddle from our camp. Minus a portage beside “the Rapids”, where everything has to be lugged across an inconveniently situated sliver of land separating two canoeable bodies of water. (Unable to bear the heaviness of a pack, I am generally given the job of carrying the paddles and/or the “Medicine Kit”, a metal fishing tackle box containing aspirins, various salves and Ace Bandages, a task appearing deceptively easy but it’s not.)
We arrive at our destination and set up for the sleepover. Campers are dispatched to collect kindling for the fire we will cook our food over – I am retroactively salivating over grilled steaks.
(Coming back from the surrounding treescape, when I was asked why I had returned empty-handed, I replied, “I couldn’t find any wood.” I was not a popular camper.)
Jumping ahead, after a night where a bear ate our salami, our counselors announced a surprise post-breakfast excursion. Indian artifacts had reportedly been discovered on Antler Island, and we would be trekking out to find more.
(Unbeknownst to us, the counselors had previously gone ahead, salting the terrain with souvenir – Read: “tourist-store bought” – arrowheads, so we could excitedly find them and then tell our parents that we loved camp and we wanted to come back.)
We line up single-file in front of a rudimentary, forest-blazed trail, Jerry Wiseman in the back, and me, one camper in front of him. Jerry Wiseman is an amiable cabin-mate. Though we are not exactly friends, “marking on the curve”, since I had no actual friends, Jerry Wise was my best pal on the canoe trip.
We head out, singing “Val D’ree, Val D’rah”, or, since we were after Native Canadian artifacts:
“Indians are high-minded
Bless my soul, they’re double-jointed
They climb trees and don’t mind it
All day long.”
I have no idea what that means.
Really? Every one of them is “double-jointed”?
We are bopping along the trail, visions of arrowheads dancing in our heads, when
Jerry Wiseman gets stung by a bee.
How do you figure that? The last guy in the line. Everyone passes by the same spot.
Jerry Wiseman gets stung by a bee.
We immediately return to our “Base Camp”, where a counselor ministers to Jerry’s discomfort. (Aided by the salve from the “Medicine Kit” someone had selflessly carried across the portage.)
Amiable Jerry Wiseman feels better. Having suffered the injury, he is given the honor of deciding what to do next.
“I think we should go”, decides Jerry Wiseman.
Okay. “Three cheers” for Jerry Wiseman.
Assembled in the exact order as before, myself, second from the end, Jerry Wiseman, holding up the rear, we are back on the trail. A minute or two later...
Jerry Wiseman gets stung once again.
Sorry about that chuckle. (You might want to check yourselves for a similar reaction.)
Why the incongruous response? Is it Schadenfreude? Is it that I was a mere “one camper away” from being in Jerry Wiseman’s swollen and devastated condition? Is it an unspoken awareness that, our beliefs to the contrary, the world we live in is agonizingly unfair?
My guess is it’s all of them.
But the reason I remember this story is because of the third one.
Lesson assiduously learned, age nine or possibly eleven:
Paraphrasing what they say after a city is visited by a terrible terrorist attack,
In a random universe, potentially, and possibly inevitably – and deep down we know it –
We are all Jerry Wiseman.