If Hell Had a Showerhouse, part 3

by

I think the thing that makes me giggle about this story is that OGS (the author) makes a pretty big fucking mountain out of a molehill. Because if I wrote the story? Well, number one, the title would be explained. And I’d also tell you what it was like in that living nightmare. But, bless OGS, and read parts one and two before reading this.

Next I may post his only other three parter, about us coming out as queer to our families. You wanna read that?
———–

My mother used to entrust me with the care and protection of my younger siblings on a daily basis. She’d pull me aside quickly with the arm that wasn’t carrying her purse and a grocery list, or hover above me as I lounged in front of the television set and she’d say with matriarchal conviction, “You’re responsible for your sisters, okay?” I almost never acknowledged her with more than a dull nod or a quick “uh huh,” the sound of my voice muted by a cheese ball or chocolate bar I’d just popped into my mouth. Disasters would ensue, due to a lack of attention on my part (sometimes as a result of my interference), and mother would return home to a six-year-old crouched in the kitchen sink and bleeding from the knees. While consoling the victim, she would turn to shine her disappointment on me with raised eyebrows while chewing on the corner of her mouth.

The first day of Staff Training at the start of the summer I was to be a counselor at a Girl Scout camp, Chirp, our feared leader, was already chewing on the corner of her mouth, shifting back and forth on the balls of her feet and eyeing us with matriarchal suspicion. “Welcome to Camp ” she said a little too brightly, just before her expression sharpened as she attempted to impress upon us with a tidy speech the nature of our new responsibility, which was the very lives and futures of hundreds of children. We could have been eating cheese balls if we weren’t so busy picking parking-lot gravel out of our brand new sneakers or re-securing brightly colored bandanas to the tops of our heads.

Responsibility always has a price, but sometimes you don’t know the exact amount until that day when that bill arrives.

And sometimes you don’t know exactly how much you have in the bank until the day you go to make that withdrawal.

As I ran once again through the muddy torrent, the heavy radio, which was tied to my waist and which slapped against my bare leg came alive with Existere’s voice. She was alerting other groups to the fact that we were “trying to verify the location of one of the campers” and I could hear the simultaneous screaming, crying, and singing of inside the shower house in the background. I imagined her smiling confidently on the deck of the Titanic instructing the second-class passengers locked behind an iron gate to please wait calmly as dozens of first-class ticket holders and their wives with barely intact pearl necklaces crossed their hearts and dove screaming into the icy water of the Atlantic.

Her radio search was coming up empty, and I was coming upon one of two lodges I would search before returning to the shower house, where we would officially sit and wait until the storm calmed enough to initiate the Lost Camper Drill.

Early in that very first week of training we went over The Drill. Once it was verified that someone was missing, cars and golf-carts blasting horns would circle camp, which would signal everyone to get off the horse or put on a towel and head directly to the parking lot. There, head counts would verify once again that a camper was missing before the majority of staff would start a search party. Campers would be instructed upon their arrival that if they were to get lost, they should simply stop moving and wait. It was easier for the group to find a lost camper if they weren’t moving, we’d say.

I wondered about the missing girl as I ran to my second search site. If she were out there somewhere, dodging falling tree-limbs and lightning bolts, would she remember our instruction? Would she stop moving regardless of apparent vulnerability? Was she now trapped under a log or choking on mud because we forgot to say “unless you get lost during the worst storm of the summer, in which case you should run like hell until you find shelter?”

I whispered “Oh, God” to myself quietly after the second group of counselors helped me confirm the missing girl was not with them, and I started back for the pool area. The storm was still raging when I found Existere and told her the news, hoping I wasn’t already crying, hoping that if I were, the rain that was running over my eyes would hide it. And then it occurred to her like an anecdote might occur to someone in the middle of a conversation. “Someone checked the laundry room, right?”

Attached to the shower house, the laundry room housed the washer and dryer and a counter big enough to fold a wash cloth, and was accessible by a door on the back of the building. Inside the laundry room I found a calm party of four campers, clapping each other’s hands and singing about Miss Suzy, as though the world wasn’t crashing down all around them.

I barged in and asked loudly their names, my heart pounding hopefully. The youngest one of them, with a squeaky voice and blonde curls giggled as she introduced herself.

I’d say that I’ll always remember that name, the girl I needed so desperately to find, if only I hadn’t forgotten it long ago. I do remember wanting to run up to her and pull her into my arms like Sally Field in the heroically acted film, “Not Without My Daughter.”

“You’re all wet,” she said, and pushed past me out into the open air, into sunshine and chirping birds. The storm had ended, even more quickly than it began, and the shower house began discharging streams of disoriented, ruddy-faced girls.

An hour later we were handing children back to their parents who asked innocent questions and marveled out loud how talented their children were for being able to string beads on a wire all by themselves or for not crying the whole time. And they thanked us and shook our clammy hands before packing into minivans and leaving us there in the humid August afternoon, in the relief of exhalation.

For the counselors and support staff, composing ourselves after close brushes with death and dismemberment had become easy, and just like the surviving characters in the Final Destination movies, we laughed nervously and walked away from it all occasionally stealing brave glances at the sky from where it seemed maybe God was watching, testing our constitution with these life-tests, throwing them out playfully like Frisbees for us to catch in our teeth. Or maybe it was a more malevolent force that was trying our resolve, or actually trying to run us off the tracks. Maybe if Hell had a shower house we knew exactly what it would be like because the Devil himself had put his hand into the clouds that day and damned us all.

Only we hadn’t been damned at all. We had been successful again, only this time in the path of a slightly bigger hurdle than usual. It was an uncomfortable experience, just like so many mornings that summer when it seemed none of us wanted to get up and face it, this job that was either going to swallow us or spit us out. And looking back, I loved (almost) every minute of  it.

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