EYES OF AN ANCIENT SKY

My mom was pissed about me getting arrested again. Livid. Enraged. So mad in fact, that she kicked me out of the house. To be honest, I wasn’t even that bummed about it. It was almost like she was doing me a favor.

“Get Out! Get Out! Get Out! I don’t care what you do. I don’t care where you go. Just get out! I don’t want to see you again until the night before the Shasta trip!”

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Illustration by FONSE D30

The Shasta trip was a week away. My Mom had paid for the trip months in advance, and wasn’t about to let her money go to waste. Which worked out great for me.

The youth group at a local church took the 8th graders on a trip to Lake Shasta in California every summer to celebrate their graduation from middle school. It was a week of fun in the water. Sleeping on houseboats. Swimming, inner-tubing, wake-boarding, water skiing, fun in the sun with your friends yadayadayada.

The youth group was less religious (not intentionally) as much as it was an excuse to socialize on school-nights and play dodgeball and soak-em. Not to say every kid who went there wasn’t actually religious. Some of the kids actually were. On the other hand, some of the kids were Jewish. Like Bar Mitzvah Jewish. Who obviously weren’t there for the spiritually uplifting message. A ton of hot girls our age would always be there, too. I sorta believed in God at the time, and did enjoy singing the songs and hearing the speakers talk (going once a week didn’t have that big of an effect on my day to day choices, though). So if the Wednesday night get-togethers at the local church were a big enough draw for a lot of kids who wouldn’t normally go, non-believers really came out of the woodwork for a trip like Shasta.

Being homeless for a week wasn’t that bad, I would just hang out with friends all day every day, like I would normally do anyway. Since it was summer and school was out, I had no problem finagling sleepovers almost every night. The one night I couldn’t find a place to stay I simply spent the night on the green couches they used to have by the Starbucks at QFC in the U-Village, sneaking a few winks between 2 and 6 a.m. One night I slept in Kieran Kelly’s closet. He snuck me breakfast. I ate the eggs and English muffin in silence in the dark as I waited for his parents to leave for work so I could leave my hiding place.

Soon my week of “mild” homelessness was over and I was back at my mom’s house getting ready for the Shasta trip. My mom still wasn’t talking to me. The morning I departed for the trip I met up with all the other kids on the side of the church. It was a large church in the heart of the U district a block off the Ave, bordered on the back by “Frat Row” and was a stone’s throw from the University of Washington.

They loaded us all in to rented white passenger vans. I sat with my friend Franco, who never ever came to the youth group on Wednesdays, a testament in itself to how much fun we were about to have on this trip. To this day Franco is skeptical of religion in any form.

Franco was my friend, but I considered him to be a lot cooler than me. He was a pretty boy, with curly hair, sparkly eyes, and a baby face. He looked super young for his age. He wore board shorts and a hoodie, and a hemp necklace with a sharp piece of crystal hanging from it that doubled as a scribe to etch his tag name HORK into mirrors and windows.

He wore puffy Osiris D3 shoes and was a talented skateboarder, even though he still pushed mongo (he would correct this abnormality eventually). He was so good at skateboarding at the time that I thought pushing mongo was the right way to push and that I was the one doing it wrong. All the hottest girls thought he was hella cute. He was also a lot better at graffiti than I was, able to do multicolored paint pen pieces in his black book that everyone agreed were the best. He even designed the 8th grade t-shirt. It had the middle school’s name in graffiti letters on the back, and almost everybody bought one.

Franco and I shared a pair of earbuds, listening to Pharoah Monch’s album “Internal Affairs,” looking for graffiti on I-5 out the window and talking about all the dream freeway heaven spots that we wanted to hit.

We drove, and drove, and drove. All day into the night. We stopped once at a truck stop to refuel and stop for lunch. There was a McDonald’s with a play structure in it, a bunch of us went in it, even though we were far to old. Franco and I caught scribes in all the bubble shaped windows. It was the last time I would ever go into a play structure. Then we loaded back up into the vans and drove some more. It was 10 p.m. when we pulled off the freeway and stopped at a church in rural southern Oregon. This is where we were to spend the night before waking up in the morning and driving some more.

The next day we embarked bright and early to continue our journey. We stopped near or in Weed, California at a rest stop. Franco and I posed for the obligatory pictures in front of the Weed, California sign. So did a ton of other kids.

Just when I thought I’d had listened to enough Pharaoh Monch to make myself puke, we arrived. They loaded us onto three houseboats and we set off on to the lake.

Lake Shasta is a manmade lake that was created by the construction of the Shasta Dam across the Sacramento River ten miles north of Redding, California. Its shoreline was mountainous and steep, covered in reddish rocks.

We slept in sleeping bags under the stars on the roofs of the houseboats. Far from any cities the night sky was bright with stars. I had never seen stars like that in my whole life. It was beautiful. We stared out on them, and the stars stared back at us. We talked late into the night. Talking about what our houses would look like if we were on MTV Cribs. The girls slept on the houseboat next to us, and my friends and I would lie stomach down facing them, the girls doing the same facing us, and we would talk back and forth.

We started and ended the day with prayers. Each day we had 20 minutes of quiet prayer time accompanied by workbooks that were optional to complete. I filled mine with halfhearted answers to theological questions and filled the margins practicing tags.

We spent most of the rest of our days swimming or playing Egyptian Rat Slap (a very addictive card game) on the table in tone of the kitchen cabins. A speedboat would come by periodically to pick people up to go innertubing or wakeboarding behind the boat. Twice a day an old lady in a rowboat with an outboard motor would come by to sell us snacks and drinks out of coolers she kept on the boat. Every night I would freestyle rap for the other kids, and they were all impressed.

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Illustration by FONSE D30

One night on the back of one of the houseboats, a girl from our middle school showed Franco, me, and some other boys the stick and poke tattoo her friend had given her. It was a tattoo of a heart and it was right above her vagina. I think this was the first time I’d ever seen a vagina in real life. I held my breath, speechless.

We would jump off the roofs of the houseboats into the water. You had to get a running start to clear the deck below the roof. On the second day a girl pussed out at the last moment and didn’t commit to the jump. She landed on the deck below and broke her leg. They rushed her by speedboat and then van to the hospital in Redding. When she returned she had a neon green cast and spent the rest of the trip confined to the houseboat, more or less.

There was one boy who went to an obscure Christian private school back home. No one liked him- he creeped out the girls. He would go on to stalk one of the girls from the trip for years after. He stole my friend Daniel Bond’s money for the trip. $160. We knew it was him, but we couldn’t prove it. We were planning on jumping him but the chaperones stopped us before we could. We each gave Daniel $20 of our own trip money. I saw the same kid years later in college, he had changed his name, not legally, and was trying to reinvent himself. I was very drunk and I threatened him with a box-cutter and attempted to rob him for hella bottles of liquor at a party. Someone called the cops. I had ditched the box-cutter by this point. Somehow, the kid didn’t snitch on me and told the campus cops “Joe’s an old friend of mine, we were just kidding around…” redeeming himself in my eyes.

Our days repeated themselves like this day after day. Each the same, each a little different. On the second to last day, we took a day trip to Redding. First we went to IN-N-OUT burger, It was the first time I’d ever eaten there. It was good, but Dick’s is still better in my opinion. The girl with the broken leg had already eaten there earlier in the week after she left the hospital. She bragged about it.

We spent the rest of the day at a family fun center. Playing video games and laser tag. Racing go-karts. Franco and I caught scribes on the mirror in the bathroom. Soon the day was over and we were back in our sleeping bags under the stars.

The next and final day we had a mandatory three hour silent prayer time. It was probably the most boring time I’d ever had up to that point in my life. We all sat in a grassy field next to a retaining wall that overlooked the lake. The sky was blue, and the air was cool in the way summer mornings are when you know it’s about to be hella hot. A baby deer walked thru the middle of the field. All the girls gasped and cooed.

Early in the evening that night, we waded up a pristine stream into the hills. The water was crystal clear. I felt like I was in the water cave in Zelda: Ocarina of Time. At the end of the stream was a deep pool with a water slide formed into the rock naturally, water rushing down it into the pool. On the left of the slide was a black rope with knots for hand holds that you climbed to the top of the slide.

I was a chubby kid, not fat, but definitely chubby. All of the other kids got up the rope with no problem, except for a few other fat or chubby kids, who didn’t even try. I could not do it, no matter how hard I tried. I lacked the upper body strength to pull my own weight up the steep rock. I could get about half way up before falling backwards or forwards and sliding down to the bottom. I tried till I was red in the face. I tried till my hands were covered in blisters. We stayed probably an extra thirty minutes just so I could keep trying. No one laughed. Everyone just stared. Finally I gave up. I was on the verge of tears. I was embarrassed, I was ashamed. I hated myself.

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Illustration by FONSE D30

No one mentioned it to me ever again, although about 40 kids saw it. The next day we loaded up into the vans and left back to Seattle, our future, and high school in the fall.

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5 thoughts on “EYES OF AN ANCIENT SKY

  1. I hella look forward to these forreal .I check everyday to see if you’ve updated it or not. keep em comin please.

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