All posts by Benjamin

Orange & Ivory: A Tremendous Night of Democratic Carnage

By Aja Arnold

Okay. Here we go.

The polls began rolling in as crowd reactions indicated the wins for each candidate. Cheers and clinking glasses for Hillary and the Democrats and uproarious boos for Trump and the Grand Old Party. These indicators were the only way I could follow what was going on as I accumulated sales at an exponential rate and acquired what felt like 30 tables. As the evening progressed, I noticed the cheers became more staggered and the gaps between clamoring noise began to be filled with boos.

Just keep moving, I thought. You cant worry about this right now. Stay focused. Remember, you dont have your old tools anymore. This is all you, no mood enhancers. Just focus on doing a good job and being sober at the same time.

As a citizen, I was ready. I was ready to begin the process of erasing Donald Trump from my memory. I was ready for the media to get back to business and return to real issues instead of frantically fact-checking Trump’s tweets. I was ready for the election to be over and for political tensions in this country to take on the process of dissolve. I was ready to see another impervious glass ceiling shattered, to make another milestone in a step towards progress. I was ready to move forward.

As a recovering addict-alcoholic, I was ready. Closing in on eight months of sobriety, I was ready to show off and impress myself with my new methods. Old habits would have called for an array of things to satisfy a particular formula I spent years perfecting to ensure that I could work at an affable, supersonic state: a shot just about every hour on the hour, a forty bag stashed away in my bra for bathroom bumps, and a cup of coffee on the side with the occasional water. I was ready to take on such a momentous evening with full force and kick ass and do it sober.

Manuel’s Tavern was whirring in chaos — eruptive with camaraderie, glasses clinking in tones of celebration, and presumptive victorious vibes emanating in every room. I took a deep breath and hit the ground running. Women were strutting around sharply in their pantsuits and bold shades of lipstick as if to shout, Im with her! Tables were all adorned with “Hillary for America” decor, beer taps flowing endlessly, bottles popping. Within an hour, I poured half a bottle of Bulleit Rye whiskey for my first table: a gay man and a lesbian, drinking their rye neat with a glass of ice on the side. They were a stylish pair — dapper, even — with their tweed blazers and bowler hats and brimming confidence. Their spry nature intimidated me. I felt not cool enough to build any sort of rapport with them, so I dropped their neat ryes and dashed, anticipating their need about every 10 to 15 minutes.

Even so, with all the decisive positivity and somewhat smug assurance in the room, it all seemed too good to be true. An impending sense of doom crept in my stomach. This was standard, though, for a naturally born-and-bred addict-alcoholic who had this creeping feeling for as long as she could remember about anything, all the time, ever. I couldn’t even begin to go down that rabbit hole. I couldn’t let the idea that Trump might become elected veer me out of focus.

What a fucking disaster that would be in here, could you imagine? All these people, drinking, gettin’ all riled up… if Trump were to win, the place might explode.  All the polls have Hillary beating Trump by a landslide and these people were ready for their savored victory.

But it all just feels a liiiiiiittle too easy. If the election is rigged, they better have it so  rigged we dont accidentally end up with Trump as President. What if

Table 43 motioned to me and raised their empty rocks glasses.

“Oh, another round of Bulleit? More ice, too? Got it.”

They nodded in approval and gave me a couple big thumbs up with gummy and jolly smiles. “Yaaaaaaas!” they called out. They must have been there for a couple hours already.

Every time I looked up from ringing in orders, I saw Trump’s  victorious creepy eyes staring back at me. I kept moving as I watched the seats in Congress go to red in the majority.

Shit, what are we gonna do? He cant become President, right? They wouldnt let that happen. How the fuck did we get here? He said he grabs womens pussies, for Gods sake. He called Mexicans rapists on fucking day one. He can barely manage a Twitter account. Hes a god damn Internet troll, and its really coming down to this, this fucking close? How is this happening right n Oh, shit, table 10 needs another bottle of chardonnay. Oh, fuck, I forgot to bring two more beers to 40. Table 43 probably needs more Bulleit. Table 21 needs another cider, ring in that round for 32, oh and dont forget food for table 41, that guy standing by the bathroom wants a Stella, and girl at 20 wants another Sweetwater. Get it together, dont get weeded. Come on. Just keep moving.

The capacity of the building peaked and the staff lost any and all liberties to move between rooms without shouting and shoving people out of the way. There was no more handling this gracefully. People at the bar went from being cool and patient to being just flat-out, total dicks. Probably due to anxiety and stress, considering the rising conditions of the evening.

Ah, yes. You know that impending doom feeling? Welcome to my fucking life.

I watched as the bartenders became fed up, throwing their hands up as kegs blew left and right, servers shouting at one another, customers flailing their arms in our direction in desperate attempts to get a measly drink or two. I looked over at one server at the taps as a tear gently rolled down her sweltering cheek.

Amid all the disorder and disharmony, I was holding it together pretty well. I kept calm as I continued moving, weaving through the crowd using my smaller stature to my advantage as I wiggled through back and forth between the bar and the dining room with about eleven drinks in tow each trip. Im doing it, I thought. Im doing pretty good. And Im sober! I havent even thought about drinking. For a moment, I felt relief and a sense of pride.

Okay, this isnt so bad. Its pretty crowded now, but nothing we cant handle. Breathe. Inhale, one two three four. Exhale, one two three four. FUCK, HE JUST WON OHIO shit, another round of Bulleit? Make them doubles? HAHA, I DONT BLAME YOU. Its okay, the Dems will come back, we still got the west coast to count. Ah, there we go, Oregon, California, Washington, oh and Hawaii, theres some blue. Everyone is slowing their roll a little. Fuck, okay, I forgot about table 21, they look pissed. Well, as they can see its really fucking busy so theyre gonna have to wait. Shit, Trump just won Florida. Gahhhhhhhhh. Alright, alright, alright, keep calm. Inhale, one, two, three, four. Exhale, one, two, three, four. Wait, what did table 40 want again? Ugh, Ill remember, itll come back to me. Just keep moving.

More people piled in just as I thought we couldn’t possibly fit another human. So many humans. Too many humans. Something needs to scourge the planet, a new epidemic.

Whatever, this is nothing. Ive worked worse and busier nights than this and totally fucked up. Nothing will ever compare to the nightmare of a shift I worked bartending alone at another bar with no glasses, ice, or vodka to make a single vodka cranberry while I had about 50 people screaming at me. I can handle anything. Ive had glasses thrown at me before, Ive been cussed at, Ive had my ass grabbed, Ive been grabbed at while behind the bar

As I was making my way to satisfy another round of drink orders, I felt someone grab my arm and pull me back. I turn around in annoyance and disgust to see Pinot Noir guy from table 10, bumbling around his table, warbling with his thickly coated wine glass in hand — the same one I had been refilling for him since 3:30 p.m. The stupid lush grinned at me with his hand still on my arm as he waved his glass at me in a charade of politeness in asking for another fill. His teeth were daubed and stained by layers of Pinot Noir and his eyes were muddled in inebriation. Clearly, he knew not what he just awakened within me. My skin boiled in a triggered sense of violation and I threw him a stare I did not miss exhibiting. With this I saw him shirk back, drunkenly orbiting the table back towards his chair.

Oof, how hard it was to not explode.

“Of course you can have another glass of wine,” I said, as calmly as I could. “But you don’t need to grab me for that.” I let out a little hiss of air, for a girl needs to breathe. I moved along, holding in my thoughts, piling them in along with all the others in my mental pressurized gas tank of emotional turmoil.

How fucking dare he touch me? Fucking people, man. He must think hes the only fucking person in here who needs a drink. Fucking typical, a straight white man getting whatever the fuck he wants. If I was a dude, he never would have thought about touching me. And this is just going to be okay, isnt it? This is how our country is going to be run. Donald Trump is going to be our next fucking president, isnt he? In a few years men will just be grabbing pussies and calling it presidential. I cant fucking believe it. Fuck him, fuck everything, fuck everyone, hes getting his wine last.

That was it. It was official. I had lost my cool and entered into “fuck you” territory, a very uncomfortable and risky place to be in while sober. Everything in my undeniable nature was nerving me to take a fucking drink and say “fuck it dude” and get tanked later. I begrudgingly returned to table 10 with a glass of wine to hear Pinot Noir guy’s gauche attempts at an apology. He continued this throughout the rest of the night, more and more profusely as he continued to get sloshed. Meanwhile, I stewed. He left me a 40 percent tip at the end of the night. Even so, this did nothing to smooth over my inner seething.

Inhale, onetwothreefour. Exhale, onetwothreefour. Shit, more boos? What happened now? Whatever, just keep moving.

Down the rabbit hole I went as I began to feel drowned by all the people waving and panicking for more drinks. Stuck with no resolve, no means of sedation, I listened to more polls roll in and our country started boiling red.

Okay, got beers for 42, thats not even my fucking table, but whatever, got another bottle of chard for 10, need a pitcher for 32 fuck, were out of pitchers, gah okay so what theyll just have to take two PBRs, okay another round of double Bulleit Rye neat for 43, oh awesome I just accidentally poured whiskey on my hand now I smell like whiskey, oof  well THAT SMELLS REALLY COMFORTING. Jesus I didnt even like to drink whiskey when I drank, oh COOL, Trump just won Alaska maybe I just need to pop some Ibuprofen and maybe this itching craving headache will go away if I do a shot of Coca-Cola and I can trick my brain into thinking I did a shot cause fuuuuccccck I want one, I need one, I deserve one.

I trekked my way back into the dining room and it felt much darker compared to when I had just left it ten minutes ago. Shit, the energy in here just dipped into, like, a deep dark realm of despair or something. Wait, why is it so dark in here? I looked over and saw two oversized frat boys slumped on the wall and saw they had turned off the light switch.

I made my way to the light switch and (sort of) gently nudged the two bros out of the way to adjust the lights back to their normal brightness. I turned back around to survey the room as I go to grab my tray of drinks and plan my route to deliver. The room looked really fucking grim, and even worse cause with the lights back up, I could see every line, every detail of grimace on everyone’s face.

Ew. This is just worse. This is so, so sad. And kind of gross. Should I just turn the lights back down? No time, just keep moving.

I made my way through the newfound sorry state of the room. It was obvious: we weren’t at a party anymore. We were at a fucking wake. All I could do was keep moving. Despite what was happening or what I was feeling, I had a job to do, people to serve, money to make. Do people tip more generously when they feel like the world is ending? Guess I’m about to find out.

My eyes continued to graze upwards towards the big screen TV hovering above table 44 to see that our country had seemingly made its choice, with Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin still too close to call. I reached to hand a young woman her pint of High Life as my eyes met hers, all tear-stained and bloodshot through the thin veil of fog of her square-rimmed glasses. She had been dethroned of her blazer, probably due to the rising heat that came in with the volcanic crowd. Her hair was now down and disheveled as if she had been pulling at it with brewing frustration, tugging in an unforgiving, sheering state of powerlessness. She clutched onto her beer silently as she gazed into its particle sum of carbonated bubbles. I wonder if she saw her reflection in her glass: an image of hopelessness and defeat, crumbled down to this, seeking the comfort of this one beer … Maybe with this I can wash away this pain. I wonder if that’s what she was thinking.

I paused and realized that reflection was just as much me as it was her, and that those thoughts were my thoughts. I had just experienced one of the most historical, distinct shifts in drinking history. I saw the drinking go from fun and celebratory to drinking out of fear and panic. Seeing the looks on everyone’s faces took me back to how my final drinking stage had been. That final shift from fun drinking to sad, scary, unwieldy drinking.

Yep. Just like that.

I wanted to stay at table 44 and hug sad High Life girl, because no one did that for me when I needed it most. But I had other thirsty eyes tugging at me. So, I kept moving. I continued to my other tables, making my way through the crowd’s various levels of fear, shock, and anger. My headspace was knocked fully out of its little protective bubble I had worked so hard to manifest. My eyes teared up slightly and I reached to rub my eyes and caught a nice, big whiff of the Bulleit Rye that had fallen on my wrist earlier. It’s warmth ensued my nasal cavity as I thought of doom and forest fires.

What the fuck am I doing? I thought. What is the fucking point?

In an effort to prevent a full-on existential breakdown, I continued to work and decided it was time to close out my tables, everyone holding their drunk and weighted heads in their hands in total despair.

Inhaleonetwothreefour. Exhaleonetwothreefour. Just. Keep. Moving. Almost done.

Finally, it was 3:30 a.m., and I sat weary in booth number seven in Manuel’s Tavern as I stared at my phone’s alert in disbelief. This was the reality we now lived in: Donald Trump was just elected as the 45th president of the United States. This wasn’t like the nightmares I’d been having months prior.

Inhale One two three four. Exhale one two thr- omg.

And then it hit me.

I have to live through a Trump presidency sober.


The last time I saw him he was serrating the ivory tusks of man, rocking
Rocking back and forth in his throne, shaking his head violently
With bursts of anguish in perpetual combustion as guilt rode him like a saddle
Years of inventory have shown he was no decent man worthy of such statutes

But alas, on top of the hill he sat

Hole Still

By Justin Barisich

I want to cry
soul open like steel
come softly
you can watch
the shadows always reveal
the sweetest light
heaving from tiny eyes.
Your frantic embrace
could blaze this ocean
lick the spring dry
but the water will find me
linger at my lowest
and never ask why.

 

66-hole-still

[Poem crafted using poetry magnets.]

Eleven (for another Katrina anniversary)

By Justin Barisich

“Tis but an hour ago since it was nine,
And after one hour more ’twill be eleven;
And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe,
And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot;
And thereby hangs a tale.”
– William Shakespeare, from As You Like It

I

No one remembers 11 –
the age, the person, the anniversary.
It’s come just after ten, a big one,
a milestone for which we
sing the best songs,
light every last candle in the house.

But this year,
we visit the grave sites in silence.
They always forget this one,
like they’ve forgotten the little towns in between,
the homes still untouched after decade.

So – what’s one more year anyhow?

II

I don’t want to remember my 11th year –
when grandmother died,
when I wrote my first poem,
when I read it at her wake.
I showed the grownups in my family
how wise a child could be.
I siphoned my sadness into art,
masked it – like an adult –
too unsure of which way
half-grown boys should cry.

III

Nine months from now,
faded friends from high school
will start celebrating the 11th birthdays
of their storm-born children.
The ones brought to life by boredom,
loneliness, and all-consuming loss.

Rather than filling themselves in
with patchwork concrete,
they chose to pour a new road instead,
one they still dream of riding out
far from wherever this has now become.

IV

May you remember like a child:
the gulf’s bastard breathes in 11 today,
and we’re still trying to wipe away
her flood lines marking our sinking houses,
still sanding down and painting over
damage we’ve buried so deep
that it’ll never rise to the surface,
no matter the number of years
we let slip away unspoken.

FALALALAFUCKING LA LA LA

By Tricia Stearns

Yesterday I found myself in the doctor’s office hooked up to an EKG machine, and even the machine was having a fucking meltdown and didn’t work. There were two nurses and a doctor all hovering over me trying to get the little plastic connections that were taped to key parts of my body to read from the machine on to a paper, so the doctor could medically evaluate whether I was having a heart attack. Technology. I always thought technology would eventually kill me, and maybe God was going to show His sense of humor — His little way of getting back at me for all the expletives I yell when I can’t get a printer to work, can’t figure out how to complete an Excel spreadsheet or never set my margins right the first time. Fuck technology.

Two nurses and one doctor later, the EKG machine was ushered out of the room. Together we decided that if I continued to feel like I ate every meal at the Golden Corral, then it would be wise of me to go to the Emergency Room.

At 5:45 in the evening, the Christmas do-das on the light poles of the nearby shopping center were casting colored shadows on the paper liner of the exam table. We were all tired. While they disconnected the wires of the machine, I envisioned each nurse hustling home, each yelling at her kids to let the dog out to pee, while she heated soup or zapped those Godawful Hot Pockets for her children’s dinner. My triage crew gave me a sample of an antacid, and I went home and threw the dinner party that had been scheduled since September.

But honestly, I didn’t feel well—and I hadn’t felt right for over two weeks. But I just keep moving. I drink a cup of coffee, walk three miles despite my feet yelling at me. I work though I hate it, iron shirts, cook dinner, read a bit, write essays but never revise them, give my husband and our sex life the obligatory ten minutes. Each day I move because I must.

I thought about going to the emergency room just to cancel the dinner party; after all, I never got around to making a dessert. FALALALAFUCKING LA LA LA.

I did manage to roast dinner in the oven between the 18 phone calls an hour, ten new emails per hour, combined with a holiday luncheon where we gave a scholarship away honoring my deceased daughter.

Thus, dessert never got made, and I was tempted to cancel the dinner party.

Suzie, one of the guests, ALWAYS serves homemade pie or three kinds of cookies, along with a scoop of made-from-scratch sorbet when she entertains. Oh, and she is ready when people arrive. I, on the other hand, have to have my husband serve the first cocktail while I go back and change – and toss back my first glass of wine just to settle into social mode.

I didn’t go to the emergency room afraid I would just catch a flu bug from some other stressed-out suburbanite, combined with the fact my husband would just reschedule with the perfect people. I was almost home free. I had a roast in the oven – the ultimate answer to First World problems.

And dinner was fine. I heard laughter and compliments and merry cheer come out of my guests’ mouths. Our dinner conversation was thoughtful – with intelligent discourse on the state of our republic. My husband was profoundly pithy with dropping just the right humor when the discussion would get too heated, but the entire time I had an internal conversation with myself.

I am just so tired. I am tired of mean people. I am tired of being a people-pleaser. I am tired of dishes, cooking, work—yes, your carpet needs replacing before we put this dump on the market. What? You bought a new car a week before we close on your first house?

I went to bed reading and planning the following day, reviewing my Fitbit where I walked 19,000 steps. And I had a heart rate in the danger zone. FALALALAFUCKING LA LA LA.

Something happened that night. I had a dream. And my deceased daughter, who died at 20, was 8 years old. And she snuggled on my lap. We were on the patio of the house we lived in at the time. She had her hair in pigtails, and she was holding my face and making me look at her as she explained her dilemma. But this time she was holding my face and looking into my eyes, and saying, “It’s okay, Mom. It’s okay. It’s beautiful here, and I am so very happy and joyful.”

And I woke up to another day of First World problems. I wish I could tell you that my attitude improved. It didn’t. But I followed the mantra, “Fake it til you make it.”

I took baby steps. I went to the office Christmas party for the first time in four years. I got people dancing who normally stick to the walls like Velcro. I took cookies to that asshole in the mailroom. I bought Christmas pajamas for my other girls, even though they are adults. I baked cookies—for my dog and HIS friends.

FALALALAFUCKING LA LA LA.

Each day I feel less overwhelmed, personally and globally. I don’t feel I can solve all ills. But this one thing has occurred to me that has been a game changer.

The Declaration of Independence says we have an inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. I get what our forefathers were trying to say, and I would have been on that boat with them, cold and miserable. Upon landing, we would work the fields to grow food for my family and village.

I also believe in a Cosmic God, one that is in control of the entire universe and the soul of each human being – and my dog. In John 14-17, Jesus says God created us to be happy and joyful in this world and the next.

The Declaration of Independence was ratified by a group of tired expatriates who wanted to pursue their own democratic republic, to self assert their future and the future of their grandkids.

I get the whole Peace on Earth thing, that plays on the Muzak while I wait in line at Target. But, seriously, having peace in your heart in 2016? FALALALAFUCKING LA LA LA. No way.

But, I was given a clue in my dream. I live in a world full of pain and trouble and human suffering. I do not need to add to it. I must surrender my anxiety and trust the universe.

The pursuit of happiness is just that – the chase. The get-up and hustle, the early bird gets the worm, only the strong survive, the coach yelling at you in the locker room at half- time to get your shit together and WIN.

Often in that pursuit of happiness we create Idols. We can even become our own Idol – seeking the obvious: the fast car, the material possessions, the best for our children or a politician that will save our society from suffering. And, in that very pursuit, we lose ourselves.

Through the years of working, doing and being a human, I once lost myself.

And when I lost my child in a sudden accident, the News became personal.

Tragedy is only a moment away for all of us. In any given moment, our lives can change. In my suffering, that deep internal grief that only a parent can truly understand, I have made room. I have made room to surrender to a quiet joy that cannot be bought. It does not come with my employee review or 74 likes to a selfie with my dog.

This joy is the byproduct of suffering. The suffering is the foundation of a club. I belong with other members of it, and we stand in solidarity, surrendering to pain —surrendering and living with joy despite of it.

I am too tired to pursue. Instead, I receive. I receive hope.

An Easy Mortality

By Myke Johns

It did not begin as a trudge. It started as a hike. From the very foot of the Appalachian Trail to about twelve miles in. This gaggle of boys carrying sticks, wearing backpacks, our faces expectant even at that hour. Under any other circumstances it would be inexcusable for us to be awake—not for a school day, not for church, not for Christmas morning. Yet here we were with boots on, intently listening to our Scoutmaster go over trail safety one last time.

“Troop 410,” that was us, “we do not hike alone. If you have to stop to rest, to go to the bathroom, to pass out, you buddy up.”

We all eyed each other and quietly decided who our real friends were. I was not going back into the woods with Quentin or Hunter—those two did not have my best interests at heart. I figured I would buddy up with whoever was closest should the need arise. Raoul and Jason stepped almost imperceptibly closer to one another, though they didn’t have to. There was no coming between those two, and everyone recognized and respected that.

“Guys, are we ready to go?” Raoul called out, and the lot of us fell in behind them.

None of us consciously thought of them as leaders, but they were easy to spot in a crowd—Raoul’s dark skin and gangly legs, jutting from the bottom of his shorts, Jason’s ball cap. They were nice dudes—treated everyone square. They were a year older than most of us—or maybe not older. They were taller.

One mile down the trail is the best moment in any hike. That wasn’t so bad, you think, I can do eleven more of those! Hell, I could do twenty. Let me go, and I’ll make it to the Georgia line. I’ll make it into New England. I’ll do twenty two hundred more of these. I’ll see you in Maine, boys. I’ll send you a postcard.

By mile five, the uneven terrain and the morning chill humbled me slightly. I started to notice how most other kid’s walking sticks weren’t just broom handles with crude carvings in them. I compared their expensive metal-framed backpacks to my regular, overstuffed school pack, my sleeping bag strapped to the bottom with bungee cords. The next mile kept getting further away.

But we were out in nature! Daniel stood in the trail ahead of me, facing east. I got close, and he waved me over.

“Look!”

We stood at the base of some great rock outcropping, maybe a boulder, but in the North Georgia chill, a layer of ice had formed on it. Now, as the day warmed, the sheet was melting, but not in a way we’d seen before. We strayed there for a moment, watching water drops like tadpoles squiggling down the inside of the ice, the boulder perspiring in the sun.

Daniel’s pack was the opposite of mine—aluminum-girded and clanking heavy with tin cans, camp gear, everything strapped down and tight. But we had an easy back-and-forth and he was small like me. We buddied up and the next mile stepped lighter. We ran into Jason and Raoul, taking a knee just off the trail.

“You boys doing alright?” Jason asked.

We’re fine, we say. They pulled the canteens they’d dunked into the creek.

“Do you guys need tabs?” Daniel asked. Water purification tablets, as we’d all become familiar that morning. They turned your water a pale yellow which was wholly unpleasant to look at, and made the water taste like a really weak tea made from dead leaves and potting soil. Nobody liked them, everybody used them. Except apparently for Jason and Raoul. They capped their canteens and made off down the trail ahead of us.

The last couple miles before the campsite, the trail led down into a valley and the slow-going switchbacks caught most of the boys up with each other. So for a short while before our stopping point, we all got to see how the others had fared. We were all doing okay and the collective boost of confidence had us speaking as men do with one another in the woods. Our conversations became jocular and adult. We talked about boobs and the best ways, we supposed, of seeing them. Not a one of us eleven-year-olds was an authority on this, but we had all hiked twelve miles into the Appalachian Trail. We could not celebrate with beer, we could not have uncomfortable-but-awesome sleeping bag sex with our girlfriends—we did not have girlfriends. But we could engage in some casual adolescent sexism as we merrily pitched our tents, built fires and ate dinner.

There around the fire, we laughed and told our stories from that day on the trail—the falls, the sights… Hunter claimed to have seen a bear, “I swear, on the ridge as we rounded the lake!” No one believed him.

Raoul’s eyes went wide.

He stood, turned, and his skinny legs propelled him into the dark forest just beyond camp. We called after him. Jason followed his friend into the woods, and we fell in behind him, abandoning the fire, grabbing flashlights and tearing off into the dark.

Jason shook us and we called their names, the lot of us, sweat-stained and wondering if Raoul had spotted Hunter’s phantom bruin. One of us made out shapes in the moonlight, and we broke sticks and brush underfoot tramping up to them.

We found them there, the two, bent over the same log—pants around ankles, hands clutched at bellies. A foul, earthy stench, like peat or spoiled soup wafted through the pines and the two boys groaned as they splattered the forest floor with their unspeakable filth.

They were buddying up on diarrhea. I glanced at Daniel—he arched an eyebrow and simply said “the tablets.” Everyone seemed to understand what that meant. The troop turned and silently made our way back to the fire. Surely they’d be fine, we thought, as long as they were together.

Throughout the night, as the fire died and we bedded down, Jason and Raoul periodically scooted off to soil the forest floor with their regrets, one always following the other, like a pair of sad angry Sasquatches, groaning into the black night, ruining their asses in the pungent and terrible woods.

We go outside to grow up. We’re educated in buildings and raised in houses, but we go into the wilderness to mature. We’ve built cities to protect ourselves because most everything out there in the world will maim us in some way, from mosquito bites to thorny brush, sharp rocks against our tender feet, teeth against our soft flesh. When camping it is imperative that you grow accustomed to the sight of your own blood. There is an easy mortality about us in the forest and sometimes watching your friends turn into shit golems is what teaches you to respect the world around you.

It rained in the night and it soaked into my tent and my sleeping bag and everything, really, that we had carried onto the trail. We stood around eating Nutra-Grain bars for breakfast. No one wanted to break camp. Mostly because everything we had carefully packed the day before was now swollen, wet, and seven pounds heavier.

Except for Jason and Raoul. Their faces were drawn, their eyes sunken. If they had slept, it did not show.

I saw Daniel eating from a cold can of beans by the wet ring of stones which had once been our campfire.

“How’s your gear?” he asked me.

“Just about ready,” came a voice from behind me. I turned and the rest of the troop were standing over my shoulder, watching Daniel coolly spooning beans into his mouth.

I ate my crummy breakfast and packed up all my wet shit. The other boys did the same. We had another ten or so miles to go that day. There was heaving and swearing all about as we got our backpacks on. It was truly awful and cold, but somehow our camaraderie had not been broken. Daniel dug in his pack, produced a roll of toilet paper, tossed it to Raoul. The boys fell in line behind Daniel, obscured by his giant backpack. He turned to the trail.

“Are we ready to go?”

I was.

I wasn’t.