The woods are
Always darkest first, I remember.
It’s just the two of us.
He says we need to hurry because
It’ll be too dark to see
Each step directly in front of the last,
The trail’s raised edges keep my vanishing course sure.
Darkness encroaching, he says to go faster.
I am struck by terror.
It is dark,
We’re separated from the group,
We are alone.
He is big,
I am small.
Could I out run him?
The plants are coming faster now,
Like my heartbeats, thoughts,
I want to sprint,
Campfire voices announce the end.
I look into his eyes.
He says he’d rather not
Be out so late next time.
“Relapses were inevitable,” he told himself. Everyone knew this, and he figured people would understand. It was only his inner circle that knew he was an addict anyhow.
And as much as he wanted to point a finger at her for causing the relapse, he couldn’t blame her. He wanted to. But he wouldn’t. She just wanted to have fun. What did she know?
He also wanted to blame work. Why did they have to give him two days off in a row? And in the winter? It’s like they had set him up for failure.
He had been clean for nine years. Nine years. Of course he missed it every single one of those days. Technically, he still was on the wagon. “Technically. Ha!” he laughed. He knew all about technically. No, he had fallen off the wagon–no “technically” about it.
It did feel amazing though. The rush. He could sense his blood flowing throughout his body as if it was reporting constantly that the journey was amazing–all while surrounded by a crowd of people. Wow. Naturally, he hid his high from everyone, avoiding any unwanted judgement, though deep down he knew that they all saw a man who was trying to pretend like he wasn’t high.
His primary thought then turned to money. Like any addiction, his had a price, and an expensive one at that. “Yep, I know it’s shameful, but I’ll just ask my parents for the money. Flat out. No lying this time. I’m just going to tell them what it’s for and if they love me, they’ll understand and help me,” he reasoned.
“Hello?” said the voice on the other end of the call.
“Mom, it’s me.”
“Are you alright?”
“Sure, yeah. Well, no. That’s what I’m calling about,” he said, forcing an undignified voice.
“What is it? You know I hate when you call like this.”
“You know how I took H-, your granddaughter who misses you very much, to the mountains yesterday to go tubing? Well, I saw people skiing and I couldn’t control myself. I need money to ski. The season’s nearly a quarter over, so it shouldn’t be too much, and of course you and dad are invited to come out and ski with me any time you want as well. Ballpark figure, I think that only $2000 should cover me, equipment and all.”
“Mom? You there?” he asked, looking at the screen only to see the call had ended. “I can’t believe she hung up. She never did love me. I guess I should’ve seen this coming. I don’t know why I punish myself. I should have just called the ol’ softy first anyhow. Besides being a true believer, everyone knows the man can’t say no to anyone.”
“Dad. Father. How’s it going? Are the Cubs still looking strong next season? Say, I’ve got this favor to ask…”
Breakfast at 7:00 am with his woman, a quick shower at 7:45, and they’d be out the door by 8:30 on their way to the home store. After picking up a few essentials it would be time to head to the hardware store. He desperately needed a new tool for weeding, and also a bit of potting soil. Oh, and winter fertilizer. If things went perfect, they’d be driving away from the hardware store at 11:00 on their way to meet friends for lunch at 11:30.
It wasn’t quite a sit-down restaurant, but the couples hadn’t seen each other in what seemed like forever, so he budgeted an hour and a half for the lunch. Farewell handshakes and hugs would conclude at 1:00 pm, so he figured they could be pulling out of the parking lot at 1:05, which would leave plenty of time to drive to the ‘burbs for their nephews game. The kid was only 6, so it wasn’t exactly organized. From his perspective it was more like a bunch of adults forming a fleshy boundary which attempted to keep sacred childhood. Either way, he was excited to see his sister and brother-in-law.
From there, the plan was to split-up for an hour or so to clean up. Then everyone would meet back up at 6:00 for some Colorado-style pizza. He figured they’d be out of the restaurant by 8:00–8:30 at the latest. Afterwards everyone would return to their respective homes, and have a nice quiet night on couches.
Yep, he was pretty proud of himself for having such a thought out plan, but now it was time for bed.
Pulling the covers up–awkwardly as usual–to warm the back of his neck, he shut his eyes, smiling.
He awoke. Widening his eyes as if that helped him regain consciousness faster, he reached for his phone. Seeing the time before noting who was calling, he read “5:30” with some confusion. “Who would be calling so early on a Saturday?” he wondered to himself. The screen informed him who it was, and he couldn’t help but smile.
“Honey,” he said. “Honey, wake up, wake up,” he said shaking her.
“What time is it?” she mumbled.
“Huh? Why? That doesn’t matter. We’ve got to cancel our plans for the day. The mountains called. They’re open!”
Confused, this was the first time he could remember seeing anything other than milk in a one gallon jug. He eyed the waitress suspiciously. Licking his lips at the mention of homemade root beer, he believed the milk jug proved its homemade claim while simultaneously casting a shadow of doubt regarding the health code. The root beer was fantastic.
Hannibal, MO is where he found himself. Why? Who can remember such things? Besides the root beer, he remembered hearing about Mark Twain. He has yet to meet a man who can forget about Mark Twain once they become aware of him. He also remembered his parents being at the restaurant, so he knew it wasn’t a boy scout trip–the main reason he would’ve been in Missouri.
Ahh, boy scouts. Some of the happiest moments of his childhood occurred because of the boy scouts. Almost every boy scout event etched at least one memory into his mind. Those green Eureka Alpine tents. At first, his fourth grade hands had trouble setting them up, but the older boys gladly taught him to work smarter not harder. Building fires, hiking, sleeping out under the stars, canoeing–all things he would’ve never done if it hadn’t been for troop 428.
Boy Scouts. That was a long time ago. As he grew to be an older teen, he wanted to own more gear himself. Coincidentally, his family was on vacation in Wyoming, on a ranch, where he first laid eyes on a Cabela’s master catalog. Not knowing the treasure he’d stumbled upon, he fumbled through the pages at first. It was the tent section that caused him to slow down. And slow down he did. Reading the description of the 3-person, 4-season, dual door, dual vestibule Eureka Summit XT, he could hardly contain himself. And for only $229! Unfortunately, even though a second trip to Wyoming from Kansas required a drive through Sydney, Nebraska where the flagship showroom store was located, and even though they stopped and it was near his summer birthday, his mother wasn’t having it. (Whether his father would’ve bought it is another issue. Let’s just say he learned too late in life that the man had a harm time saying ‘no’.) While crushed, the damage was temporary as he was at least happy to be heading back to the Cheyenne River Ranch.
The chance to regularly shop in a Cabela’s came into his life once again with the advent of the Kansas Speedway in 2001. This brought Cabela’s, the #1 tourist attraction in Kansas, to his home town. No more ordering from the catalog. But at this point the trouble was that he was in college and college had landed him back in NE Missouri on the Mississippi, near Mark Twain’s ol’ stomping grounds. Shopping in a Cabela’s was becoming a fantasy that was just too good to be true.
I’m happy to report the wait is over. Today, August 15th, 2013, not one, but two Cabela’s locations are opening in the Denver Metro area at 10:30 am. He moved to Denver on a whim, a decision rooted in passion. Some might foolishly count this turn of events as coincidence. He knows it to be fate. Mark Twain said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” He now knows the third most important day in your life is the day you learn someone loves you enough to not give up on you. For him, that day is today. Long live Cabela’s!!
“Chopper down,” the radio sputtered. This was a first. In the worst way. After all, this was supposed to be an ordinary mission. There was no added danger this night. There certainly was no reason to have expected this.
“We have to go get them! I’ll start running the ‘Before Takeoff Checklist,” the flight engineer suggested excitedly. This was difficult to stomach. There are some guys who just want to get into the ‘action’. He was one of those guys. I, on the other hand, was not. I remember my uncle, who was in the Navy, describing how once a helicopter caught fire as it landed on the ship. He recounted how so many guys ran towards the fire. A Sunday stroll was the pace he chose. That always stuck with me.
“Sir, do you want me to let them know the helicopter needs to be destroyed once everyone is clear?” asked the aircraft commander. The unit commander was on board this particular mission. He sometimes sat in the back of the helicopter to make sure he didn’t lose touch with what’s really going on as he only watches the missions on a screen most other days. Again, I was shocked. Wow. This is getting real, really fast.
The flight engineer pushed again for achieving ‘hero status’ in one mission, so finally I addressed him. “Look, we don’t even know what happened. If they were shot down, it probably isn’t the smartest thing to go fly into range of that weapon, is it?”
Confusion like this was relatively rare. But as pilots have a knack for analyzing past mistakes to avoid making them again, we knew what to do. We called it the ‘conservative response rule.’ This was a helpful tool to use in cases of disagreement among the crew. Basically, past aircraft mishaps revealed that when there is disagreement, the more conservative option voiced should be followed until more data can be gathered.
In the above example, one crew-member wanted to fly, the other wanted to wait. The more conservative idea was to wait, therefore we waited. Waited only until more information was available.
That’s the key to this rule. Even the name ‘conservative response rule’, brings to mind always doing the conservative thing, but that’s a severe misunderstanding which can hamstring entire missions. There are times during flights that being aggressive and daring is the right decision. The point of this rule is to make sure everyone is in agreement that selfless bravery is called for. If there is not agreement, stick to the conservative course of action until more information is available.
What’s the practical application to grounded life? Outdoor activities come to mind. How many times have we been with friends and disagreement shows up about what to do next? Say, climbing a mountain as a storm is brewing. Some want to continue, because they say the storm will surely pass. Others suggest turning back. Friendships have been lost over such situations.
As for me, I say stick with the pilots. Turn back or at least wait a while to see how the storm develops. Dead aircrew are longing for you to learn from their mistakes.
Unlike other ‘lessons learned’, this one has a specific audience. Within each of our friend groups, there are those who are natural leaders. If this is you, next time there is disagreement, put this rule to good use. Besides enhancing your status (rightfully so), it just might keep people and relationships intact.