The Yard Yetis On Vacation In the Middle Of Somewhere...
Pepper and I are at the end of a long line outside Ace Plumbing, as a yellow school bus idles on Main Street. We are both wearing name tags on our lapels so that if we are separated from the group, we can be found. Mine reads...Not Yet A Yeti...printed in large block lettering with a purple crayon. Pepper’s tag reads...The Amazing Pepper and is written in Sans Serif. He is wearing a Safari helmet decorated with bottle caps and corks hot glued to the brim, mosquito netting covering his beak, and a pair of cargo shorts sagging past his knees from the weight of the fluid filled flasks in his pockets. Pepper is carrying all of his belongings in a Gucci overnight case he ordered on QVC two nights ago when he couldn’t sleep due to the excitement of the journey.
I am slightly embarrassed, not by Pepper, but by my suitcase, sitting at my feet. I am the only attendee in line, as far as the eye can see, carrying her belongings to camp in a SUITCASE. Well, I didn’t know. I have never been. To camp. I wanted to be prepared. To be ready. For anything. And considering the SIZE of my suitcase. I AM. For I too am excited. The invitation to attend camp with the Yetis came in the night. Slipped furtively under the door to the studio, written by an unknown, yet seemingly familiar hand.
As the line snakes forward, I reach down for the reassurance of Pepper’s tiny wing, and he has disappeared. Into the bus. Perched charmingly on the brim of the bus driver’s hat, Pepper is wearing wrap around shades and greeting each arrival with a foreign phrase of welcome...I think. From the look on the faces of the boarding Not-Yets...I have a feeling that something is lost in the translation. Either that, or he has just insulted twenty different women in twenty different languages.
I find my seat in the back of the bus, sandwiched between two other Not-Yet-A-Yetis. A grinding of gears, a loud belch of smoke, and we are off. No AC to cool us, our legs and limbs sweaty and making scatalogical noises on the worn leather seats every time we try to edge slightly away from each other. But then we dissolve into laughter and a voice from the front seat opposite the driver, yells out DO I have to come back there...and we shrink in fear, stick out our tongues and make googly eyes at each other.
I begin to sing, as loud as I can, a familiar tune from the past. The Wheels On the Bus Go Round and Round...ah no...a different time...a different era.
Pepper backs me up with Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer On the...and the driver freezes him with a stare.
So, no tunes, just the steady hum of the wheels on the pavement and one by one the campers on the bus drift off into sleep.
Between eyes closed and the coming of sleep, we are transported from HERE to SOMEWHERE. Our final destination. The end of a long and bumpy road. Deep into the forest and far far away from what I like to call...Home.
The bus pulls into a clearing, skidding slightly on the gravel, and shudders to a complete stop outside the gate. The arched gate signifying our arrival at...
I am at Camp No-See-Um, deep in the woods by the lake...and I am marching single file along a path leading to small gingerbread cabins arranged in a circle. Ten tall tepees form a concentric circle around the outside of the cabins. The flaps are closed and wisps of smoke whisper through the openings at the top where the three support poles intersect.
I bump into the camper ahead of me as she brakes sharply and without warning. I drop my suitcase on my foot, but before I can yowl, I am distracted by the plaque over the door, the writing obviously engraved, deftly and deeply, by a scorching, searing, wood burning tool. I too, feel as though the words as I read, are etched into my heart with a similar depth of intention.
“Imitation Is Not the Sincerest Form Of Flattery”
You Are An Original
One Of A Kind
Fakers, Charlatans, Mimics and Mimes
Enter At Your Own Risk”
My knees buckle. My teeth rattle and my hands tremble. I feel the goosebumps rise on my arms and the hairs on the back of my neck rise in warning. I am quaking in my boots.
I sense a hand on the small of my back urging me forward through the open doorway, but when I turn to see who is there, there isn’t anyone except my shadow lurking behind me.
I glance down at my name tag. My Not-Yet-A-Yeti-If-Lost-Please-Find name tag pinned firmly to my raincoat. Okay. Okay. I wore a raincoat. A yellow rain slicker and my yellow wellies on my feet. The note said to come PREPARED.
So I did.
I packed my toothbrush, and a flashlight, Imodium for my nervous stomach, ear drops for swimmer’s ear, elastic bandages and a neck brace for sudden cervical injuries. Sunscreen, Deep Woods Off, a can of Raid, a pack of latex rubber gloves, sterile wipes, a box of matches, Calamine lotion for pesty bites, a tourniquet, a CPR manual, water wings, an inflatable swim ring, nose plugs, a rubber swim cap with a chin strap, a tweezer for stray chin hairs, a fresh razor for landscaping, five cans of Deep Woods Off and a letter for my next of kin expressing my wishes for organ donation and the spreading of my ashes in the middle of the lake should the need arise.
Oh and two boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese plus two cans of sardines and a box of crackers in case of a power failure or other natural emergency.
By the time I haul my suitcase over the threshold, all the other campers have laid claim to one of a series of bunk beds, leaving me the sole choice of a top bunk in the corner. This is bad. I am afraid of heights. I have no choice. I am alone and all the other girls have buddied up, in close tight knit pairs of friendship or fear, and the woman sitting on the bottom bunk simply shakes her head before I can ask if if if..we could switch places. No. That would be a definite no. A perfect complement to the list on the wall beside each bed citing the rules of cabin living and each line starts with a capital NO.
NO talking after lights out.
NO food or drink in the cabin.
NO cell phones.
So many NO’s I am afraid to move. But move I must, as a large woman is standing in the doorway, one hand on her hip and the other holding up a bull horn.
It appears that we must do everything in pairs, a matched set, siamese twins, an I-go-where-you-go pal.
My bunk mate looks at me and sighs. Uh-Oh.There is one more girl and they embrace each other like long lost lovers and I stand alone. Double Uh Oh.
Pepper is my buddy.
My permanent pal.
And we are sunk.
But, I remind myself, when headed into unknown territory, it is better to be alongside the known, rather than the un-known.
Outside, squinting into the bright sunlight, our camp counselor, a six foot seven Amazonian redhead, clad in a Camp No See Um t-shirt, camouflage cargo pants, steel toed hiking boots, and a bandana tied tightly across her forehead and drenched in sweat, introduces herself.
Pugh as in P-ew
Pepper giggles into his sleeve and Lila barks into the bull horn, straighten up there little twerp. Well, Pepper would straighten up if he could, but since he has been sipping Ninety-Seven out of the Ninety-Nine bottles on the ride up here, he is listing horizontally to the left.
We are heading to the lake for what I hope is a swim, and as we tromp off through the woods, down the path lined with what is surely Poison Ivy or Poison Oak hiding the equally poisonous snakes that I think just brushed against my ankle, I look up in hopes of seeing just one Yard Yeti. A familiar face. Gladys. Wanda. FiFi. No, only Lilah, and there is NO WAY she is a Yard Yeti. A Yeti maybe. But Not A Yard Yeti.
We arrive at the edge of the shore, lined with boats, canoes and kayaks made of wood, birch and aluminum. I veer off closer to the aluminum ships, preferring something that might not spring a leak in the middle of this murky lurky lake filled with who knows what, but Lilah points to a well weathered birchified canoe and tosses Pepper a paddle.
Oar! Lilah screams. That is not a paddle, that is an OAR! The other girls, the little twinsets, twitter and tee-hee at my lack of fluency in camp speak, as Pepper and I push off and wade in. My boots fill with water, my sleeves are full of sand and my eyes fill with tears. While others are gliding and swishing and swooshing through the waves, imagine just how far we get, one set of arms oaring ahead and one pair of wings languidly draped over the side splashing water with reckless abandon. Pepper drops one oar over the side and as I reach to keep him from tippling and toppling, the other oar makes a splash and we are stranded...up the creek without a paddle...OAR! I meant to say OAR! Just me and an inebriated avian companion warbling Moon River, like Andy Williams, into the air.
Lilah wades in to where we are stranded and I am screaming for a rescue. Our eyes meet as I notice she is standing next to me, in the water, and it only comes up to her waist. Her hair flames and her eyes are on fire as she drags us back to shore, and in total humiliation, tells us to stay put until the others return.
Please, I whisper, please let this be the worst. Please.
It is not.
The dinner bell is ringing.
Off we go to the dining hall to line up once again and to pass through the food line, plate in one hand, utensils in the other. A buffet, I think. Yes! I am a VERY picky eater. Until the age of twelve, I survived on oranges and bacon. So I am hopeful, that there will be some variety here, some choices to make, something delicious and tasty. A Big Mac or a Whopper.
I can’t look. I hold out my plate and something colorless and odorless and tasteless is on it and I cannot bear to look until we are seated at the tables, and oh no no, Lilah is at the head of MY table. And on my plate, oh thank heavens, pineapple. I love pineapple. Nope. Pale pitiful clods of stewed cauliflower, a pile of peas, the slimy green peas from a can, and liver, sans the bacon.
Lilah issues a warning. Here at Camp-No-See-Um, we eat healthy and we eat everything on our plate. Or no swimming. None. Never.
So I try. And I gag.
Okay. Time for the disappearing napkin trick. I place my napkin on my lap and load up my spoon with peas. I open my mouth and say Yum, then slip the spoon under the table top and into my napkin. Ha! I repeat this with each and every bite on my plate and am about to say my saving grace, when the saturated and cauliflower soaked napkin busts wide open and slimy little peas roll under the table landing dutifully on Lila’s steel booted toes.
Hungry and lonely and very very sad, I climb into up to the high bunk, and cry myself to sleep. Somewhere, between eyes closed and the coming of sleep, I hear the rustling of leaves, the fall of footsteps and hushed voices just outside our cabin window. I rappel down the side of the bed and tiptoe to the window. The moon is full and there are shadows in the trees. The tent flaps are pulled back and tied. But all I can see, are the backs of shapes retreating into the night, deep into the woods, heading for the water.
I know it. In the wild.
Where they are always found.
Please see me. I say.
But I am at Camp No-See-Um and the night swallows up any flowering hope of rescue.
The next day, I sit in the cabin, punished for my gag reflex and oar v.s. paddle confusion. No lake for me. If something doesn’t happen, I will spend the entire week in this dark space, and when time comes to return on the bus, I will emerge, white and flabby and pale, like those fish that sleep way down deep near the ocean floor, bereft of any sunlight.
Adjusting my eyes to the darkness of the cabin, I see a shape. The shape of a fellow traveler, similarly trapped in the shadows, and weeping softly into her pillow. I rise and gently lay a hand on her back and whisper. There. There.
Her name is Teeney, and she is. So very much younger than I, a shadow my former self, and desperately in need of good company. Teeney is between foster families and the agency thought that camp might be just the thing to help her socialize, to be more outgoing, to relate more easily. To fit in. To be just like everyone else. Teeney’s clothes are odd, her hair is long and unkempt. Her glasses are thick and she stutters when she speaks. Teeney sees herself as a no-darn-good, not-worth-the-trouble, not-easily placed, not-not-not.
I see her as a friend. A companion. A port in the storm. A hand to hold. So we do. Hold hands. And tell stories. About ourselves and our lives and our hopes and our dreams and our most secret and aching wish to turn the corner, to walk down the path, to see the horizon, and to be...
A Yard Yeti
I have a gag reflex and a fear of anything that moves, but Teeney has a greater fear. She is afraid of the light. Any light. Sun light. A flashlight. Any light source that is shined on her face, to let the world see her, for just who she is. A social misfit. Oh and one teeney tiny but truly terribly terrible secret. She doesn’t shave her legs. She doesn’t groom her armpits. She doesn’t know how. The only mothers she has had somehow skipped the finer points of those life lessons. Oh, yes, she would fit in quite nicely, in some regions of the world. I smile. Poor Teeney, if I could just beam her up from HERE to THERE, it wouldn’t matter. No one would care. Not about hair. How silly. How foolish to dwell on such folly. But I am not one to talk, with my SUITCASE and my raincoat, and my best friend, a drunken birdie named Pepper.
We accept one another, Teeney and I. We bond in the darkness and promise to keep each and the other safe and unscathed. We vow that we will eat all our peas, and swim like the minnows, just like everyone else. I will not gag. She will not falter. We will fake it so that we can make it. Out of this cabin. Into the sun.
The following day, we make it through breakfast, ick, and a gelatinous lunch. Just enough to clean our plates, grab our swimsuits and race to the lake. A pair. We are a pair. We run and we laugh just like everyone else. We splash and we dive and we...are buddies. We are flying under the Lilah Radar, the P-You beam, buddies. And then...
Buddy Check. Lila screams it out of her megaphone. Buddy Check. Each and every camper must find their buddy in the water, join hands and raise their arms high overhead to prove that they are a pair.
Like everyone else, we raise our arms high.
Not a kind, let’s share a giggle laugh, but a demeaning degrading diminutive cackle. All eyes turn to the source of her amusement, Teeney’s armpits. Teeny tiny droplets of water drip off the hair under her arms as she waves them in the air, and now everyone...is looking, pointing, laughing...and I feel Teeney let loose of my hand and sink down low in the water up to her chin.
For a moment, a mere second, I am grateful for the separation of selves. I abhor the spotlight. The center of attention. No good can come of being under a microscope. A close up scrutiny of one self.
The Yard Yetis are here. I know it.
But I see it. I see it now as clear as day.
Lilah Pugh is a fake.
A wanna be.
A charlatan. A cheat. A ruse.
And I, a Not-Yet-A-Yeti, hear a gentle whisper kissing the tops of the trees, wafting out of the tepees, filling me with courage. Urging me on to do the right thing. To stand up and be counted. To do what I do best.
Care for others. Comfort and cherish.
I pull Teeney up and close to my side. I throw back my shoulders, and stare Lilah down.
Just because we are not like everyone else, just because we are in search of ourselves, just because we are still on the journey, the walk from Here to the faraway THERE, does not mean we matter any less. Does not mean that we cannot be kind. And it most definitely means...
We leave NO ONE behind.
I wish I could tell you it all ended well.
But Lilah, dear Lilah, is the counselor from Hell.
So here we sit, Teeney and me. On our very last day, on the edge of my bunk, pasty and flabby and pale, packing to head home. The sun is now setting and the light growing dim. The bus will arrive in the morning at ten. Now all we must do is survive until then.
I cannot tell you what happened in between the lights switching off and the sunrise at dawn. I am sorry I can’t. For I am not really sure I believe it myself. Teeney remembers almost as little as I, but there was a moment when we were both standing on the edge of the forest, watching the women dance in the night. The Yard Yeti women, wild and set free. Fully themselves for anyone to see. They left little trace of their presence, except a few petals. Flower petals, scattered and strewn. The same petals, Teeney and I have woven into halos of light, and are wearing as we walk to the bus, right past Lilah’s stern face. She has no flowers, no scent of her own, and she will remain here forever alone.
This camp was a fake.
A scam and ruse.
The road to the Yard Yeti Kingdom is a path, and like all paths in nature, there comes a point when you must choose which way to turn. The lesson learned here, is that what appears to us as the right way to go, may be simply the easier way. The smoother path. The brighter, lighter, well lit, well traveled highway. Where tricksters and no-see-ums can hide in the crowd. To tantalize and tease.
There is a Path...
one that leads
to the one and the only
Chapter 24 | Chapter 26