I Don't Remember

I don't know how far back my memory can be trusted. I have a hard time remembering things before a certain point and I've always felt weird about that. It's been many years now, but my friend recently filled in certain parts of it for me. It wasn't easy to get him to talk about it, but over the years he had been building up a number of his own questions.

I'm not certain how to explain things to you-- well, at least not in any way that makes sense. I'll just go ahead and tell what I've pieced together.

A little bit after I turned eight years old, I was to attend a summer camp at Riva Lake. I had heard about it at school, and, right away, I begged my parents to let me go. I had never been around a lake, but back then my parents believed that I was more at home outside than inside. It certainly didn't take much whining to talk them into it. My best friend also got permission to go, but he couldn't be there for the first two days because he visited his father on the weekends.

Facing camp alone began to scare me, and my parents say that I was fairly frustrating those days before camp started. I repeatedly went back and forth-- deciding each day to stay home or go (whichever was contrary to my previous decision). As the day approached, though, my excitement and love of nature managed to overtake that fear of the unknown. I was on my way to summer camp.

My parents drove me across the state and left me there (surely with a great sense of relief). I remember almost nothing of the first few days. I know I must have loved the canoes (which we were shown on Sunday) because my friend said I couldn't stop talking about them. He had grown up on a lake, and we talked of trying our hand together at the canoe races later on. He offered a number of canoeing tips while we tried to feign paying attention to the Monday craft talks.

Tuesday morning marked the day of our first real hike. Our cabin group was to tackle some of the kid trails, but our counselor encouraged us try a grown-up one. This path was longer than some of the others, but the kids were so excited that the group voted unanimously to stay out until dinner.

The way my friend tells it, I wouldn't stop complaining throughout the hike. Ouching and sheeshing, I barely kept ahead of him in the back of the group. He knows I'm not usually such a groaner outside, and I guess it rubbed him the wrong way. It wasn't long before he started pushing me in the back whenever I slowed down, and I reacted more angrily than usual. After a few minutes we got into a bit of a shoving match and the counselor had to call back for us to calm down.

In the brush to the right (where we could see the lake through the trees) we suddenly heard a harsh hissing. As one of the guys commented that it sounded more like a deflating tire than an angry snake, a large crash and violent brush movement forced him to hiccough in mid-sentence. Some of the kids started running forward, away from the noise, but my friend recalls that he and I didn't move much at all (though if we did it was only to back a bit off of the trail). Footsteps crunched loudly, and by their sound they were getting closer. Something must have snapped inside me, because off I went, running wildly into the woods. My friend yelled out at me, but I just ignored him as he gave chase.

He followed me into the woods, tripping at least a half dozen times. His knee and hand were all bloody and he was calling after me, telling me to come back. He and I had run through the thickets near our homes countless times, but he had never seen me run so fast before. Losing sight of me, he continued to follow the sound of my crashing through the undergrowth. Eventually the wind had drained out of him, and he lost a lot of ground. He stopped, swallowed his tears, and called out once more.

He will swear to God that all he heard in response was my laughing. He had been furious when he realized that I must have been pulling some sort of prank. After one last painful scream sent foul words my way, he began walking back to the trail calling out for our counselor.

But, you see, I don't remember this. As I think back to that period of my life, I have a very uncomfortable feeling most people would not understand. My memories of this situation are very limited and, to put it mildly, bizarre, but these are the first solid memories I can dig up. There's a real doubt in me now-- I'm always questioning whether my memories before this incident were real or have since been built from what I've been told. I know that you cannot understand or believe this, but I'm going to ignore that fact and tell you of the few memories I feel are genuine.

I see a picture of myself being pulled out of mud, slipping and sliding. Some kid found me, was pulling me, slapping my chest and snickering. I remember a warm, slimy embrace and my head buzzing sharply. The kid threw me against a tree- a tree I remember vividly. Its bark was greener than a lot of the other trees nearby, and when I slid down it I barely scraped my back at all. The child ripped his clothes, tore at them madly. Through my daze and the darkness, I saw him throw his pants in the mud. I heard him laugh. I watched him run about bleeding. Suddenly he pulled himself down low to me, and that's when he kissed my chin. He left me with his lingering laughter as he darted into the night.

I have never made any sense of these memories and I have never spoken of them to anyone but my parents (who probably shrugged this off as a child being childish). To this day, though, these are the only memories of my childhood that I do not doubt.

The next afternoon the search party found me speaking nonsense, rolling around naked near a log. They had the authorities from the city looking for me through the night. I heard the counselors tell of how the dogs were nearly worthless, getting confused and heading out of the woods again and again. I heard the nurse say how battered I looked. I heard the doctors telling my father that the night in the woods had "affected the boy badly".

Two days later, my parents drove me home. I tried to believe they weren't angry with me, but it was hard to ignore the strange looks they exchanged from time to time. One day I might be able to ask for their side of the story.

Memory plays tricks on you, I'm told. It comes, it goes, and it gets distorted along the way.

It's different with me, though-- I just don't remember.