Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Big Bus Trip of '68, Part 10

We slept so soundly we did not hear several busloads of new campers arrive during the late-night hours. Nor were we disturbed when some of these campers entered the cabin. Therefore, we were surprised to wake up the next morning and see all the beds filled.

We introduced ourselves to our new cabin-mates, then got dressed and headed to the Tabernacle where Paul met us. After the Morning Devotional, we went to breakfast, then back to the Tabernacle for the first full sermon of the day--this one from another minister (there was a whole staff of ministers at this camp) who preached another fire-and-brimstone sermon designed to frighten us into salvation.

In the afternoon, we went swimming, but were forced to abandon that activity when it began raining.

It rained off and on throughout the afternoon. Everyone crowded into the open-air rec area. Richard and I played ping-pong. Paul wandered off. I kept losing at ping-pong. Someone else took my place. In the meantime it had stopped raining, so I took a walk.

I had not gone far when I heard Paul call out, “Hey, Mack!”

I turned. Paul was standing behind the Tabernacle. Two girls were with him. My heart leapt. Girls!

“This is Diane,” he said, indicating the long-haired blonde with sultry eyes and full lips standing close beside him. It was apparent he had already laid claim to this one. The other one, a pretty brunette, stepped forward, smiling. “And this is Sheryl. They’re from Illinois.”

We strolled the grounds with the girls, talking. In a little while, they said they had to go back to their cabin to get ready for the evening. They agreed to sit with us at dinner and the evening church service.

Paul and I headed back to the boys’ side of camp, grinning from ear to ear, very pleased with ourselves. It was not a “score” in the sense of making out with a girl, but felt like a score nonetheless. We were satisfied just to have some girls to hang out with—which was good, because that was the best that could be expected at this camp.

I am writing this 38 years later. Certain events from that trip are as clear in my memory as if they happened last week—the big events mainly, such as the bus wreck in Memphis. But, when I try to recall exactly what happened during the remaining days of camp after we met the girls, I find that I can only pull up a few random memories, out of sequence and indistinct. However, there is a solution: I can look at the diary I kept that summer.

It has been in an old suitcase all these years, along with a great many other juvenile writings and drawings of mine. I have moved the suitcase from place to place, always storing it deep in the recesses of whatever closet I was using at the time, but never opening it to examine the contents.

Oh, I did once. It was some time in my 30s. I opened the suitcase, took out the diary, read a few pages, closed it, and said, “Never again.”

The problem was that it brought back too many memories.

That is the trade-off. Indistinct memory is rose tinted, while perfect recall is the stark, unadorned, unexpurgated truth. And sometimes the truth hurts. Sometimes we do not want to re-live the past in that much detail, not so much because of what happened, but rather, because it means becoming reacquainted with ourselves as we were. And nothing can bring that back more vividly than reading something we wrote . And the longer ago we wrote it, the more painful the experience can be.

That is why I said, “Never again.”

But, if I had really meant what I said, I would have burned the diary. I didn't mean it. I kept the diary, kept moving it from place to place, because I knew that some day I might be up to the task of reading it all the way through.

So am I ready now? Am I ready to do more than simply remember what can be remembered on my own, without prompting? Am I ready to open the diary and actually remember it all--actually slip back inside the mind of the adolescent I was 38 years ago and become him again? Is my curiosity great enough that I am willing to pay that price?

Yes, I think it is. I think I can handle it. After all these years, I think I am ready, finally, to go to the closet, open the door, take out the suitcase, sit down at my desk, open it, pull out the blue spiral notebook labeled “Diary 1968,” and go back in time …

to be continued