Here is another repost from a year ago when I first started blogging. I’m pulling it from the archives of my old blog site to give it a bit of fresh air here. I’ve posted a few of these over the past couple of weeks. If you missed them, check out Turtle Soup, and 25-Years Ago Today (Part I and Part II). Turtle Soup is exactly what it sounds like. 25-Years Ago Today is the detailed ‘lost-in-translation’ story about my getting married in Shanghai back in 1996. Both are full of unusual and humorous moments (usually at my expense).
Boys Gone Wild
originally posted 18 April 2021| Boys will be boys.
NaPoWriMo2021 No. 18/30
Two boys, ten days, too many miles;
Booted feet, blistered toes, brothers side-by-side.
Ramen dinners, rain drenched socks, rocky trails and piles;
Packs so heavy, peaks up high, pissing steams outside.
Starry nights, startled sounds, sleeping side-by-side;
Lost footings, lightning strikes, limping along with smiles.
Hot dog noodles, hollowed trunks, human stink with pride;
Two men, ten days, too many miles.
I originally wrote “Two Boys” a little over a year ago when I’d just begun to write. It was a counterbalance to another, darker, poem about my relationship with my brother growing up. “Two Boys” is a reminder to myself that I don’t always have to dwell on the ‘difficult times’ in my writing. Having begun writing as a therapeutic exercise, I tended to tackle memories linked to negative emotions. ‘Expressive writing’ pulled me out of the depths of deep depression and chronic pain. I’m incredibly grateful for the positive impact it has had for me and I continue to use writing as a way to work through issues. But life is not all doom and gloom, even for the chronically depressed. I’ve had some amazingly good experiences in my life and it’s important for me to acknowledge this. Not just for myself, but for those of you reading this that may also be dealing with depression. We are not one dimensional. We are not defined by our diseases. I can be happy, act silly, appreciate life in both sickness and in health. I needed this reminder today, so I’m sharing “Two Boys”. When I first opened it, I considered doing a revision. Perhaps adding a “turn” to enhance it’s storytelling power. But, honestly I like it for what it is. It’s a light-hearted piece and it doesn’t try too hard to be more than it is. It reminds me of me. Good enough.
I also enjoy the rhythm of “Two Boys”. It reads like two boys trekking side-by-side in the quick but regular pace of long-distance hikers with many miles yet to go. It takes me back to the backpacking trip that it was inspired by. I can almost feel the heavy pack upon my back. Smell the aromatic pines. Hear our boots stomping along the trail along to the poem’s beat.
Thinking back to that summer brings a smile to my face. It was the summer after my freshman year of high school. If I’m counting correctly, my brother had moved away six years earlier to live with our father in Jersey while I stayed behind in Vermont with our mom. At the time of his leaving, I felt like a wounded animal that just escaped a trap – suddenly free from the fear, but deeply hurt and all alone. Feelings way too complex to be fully processed even today, let alone by the nine year old me at the time.
We’d seen each other regularly through the years during holidays and summers, but it was forever different. It was rare for us to be together just the two of us. The fighting had mostly stopped, but so had the whispered conversations during the night when we were supposed to be sleeping. We no longer were shaped by shared experiences. It’s not that we grew apart per se, it’s just that we no longer grew together.
But this summer was different. My brother, now 18, was suddenly an adult and he had a special plan just for the two of us. A ten day backpacking trip along the Long Trail – the section of the Appalachian Trail that passes through the Green Mountains of Vermont. We’d hiked quite a number of miles along the Appalachian Trail growing up. When we were much younger we’d been involved with the Green Mountain Club maintaining trails and even helped build one of the trail-side shelters. These and other backpacking trips were the highlights of our childhood. The source material for many stories of adventure and comedic mishaps. But this time would be different. Just the two of us “out in the wild”. Our very own choose-your-own-adventure.
When we set out with backs bent under our overweight packs, I remember being full of energy and excitement. But the first day’s stretch was a steep incline and it wasn’t long before the excitement transformed into determination. Over the next ten days we overcome many aches and pains; heavy winds and rains; and a few missed turns. Our bodies gradually adjusted to the new routine, helped along by the ever lightening weight of our packs, the beauty of our surroundings, and our fair share of laughs.
I still remember distinctly the final day when we hiked out. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon when we broke free of the trails and entered the sleepy little town of South Lincoln. We discovered it was a very sleepy town, with the only payphone inside the general store which was closed for the day. I imagine a sign on the door saying something like ‘Gone Fishing’, but I’m probably making that part up.
The closest next town was many miles to the north. Aptly named Lincoln. There is nothing worse then hiking roadside, especially after having shrugged off our packs for what we had thought was the final time of the trip. I’m not sure how many miles we walked northward before a car passed us and slowed down to a stop. I’m not sure why they stopped. Perhaps my brother had waved them down? All I know is that they offered us a ride to Lincoln and we jumped into their backseat without a second thought. The car windows quickly steamed up from our body heat and the couple in the front lowered their windows to clear the air. They dropped us off in Lincoln’s town center near a pay phone.
A couple of hours later our mom arrived to pick us up. As we got into the back seat our mom’s smile became pained. She asked us if we had bothered to wash up even once during the hike. To be honest, it never even occurred to us. We fell asleep in the back seat as she drove us home with the car windows fully open. No doubt leaving our very own long trail of body odor in our wake. Later we laughed about how much that first couple must have regretted picking us up. They had been quite during the ride. I envision they were probably holding their breath the whole time.
Those ten days “out in the wild” were the happiest days I ever spent with my brother. I loved him for wanting to spend this time with me. I felt safe. Comfortable. Free. It’s a beautiful memory. In the years since, we’ve talked about planning another backpacking trip, but we’ve yet to make it happen. Life always seems to conspire against us with other priorities. For many years we connected less and less as time passed, living each of our lives separately. Recently we speak more often as we consciously make an effort to connect. We spoke just this morning. Perhaps that is why I thought to share this particular poem and story today. At the end of the call he said I love you. I said it too. It felt true.