Ignorance like a gun in hand
reach out to the promised land
Your history books are full of lies,
media -blitz gonna dry your eyes
You're eighteen wanna be a man
Your granddaddy's in the Ku Klux Klan
Taking two steps forward
and four steps back
Gonna go to the White House
and paint it black
Turn around, they'll try to keep you down
Turn around, Turn around
Don't drag me down

--Mike Ness

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Darkness (Part I)

I was afraid of the dark through out my childhood and well into my adolescence. Never was I afraid of many things but this one made up for the lack of fear in other areas I suppose. My fear was not the kind of fear that I imagine most people deal with. Not a slight adrenalin rush and the nervous alertness that comes with it, not something easily dispelled with a quick monster check and comforting hug from Mom. Darkness for me took on a menacing singular presence; it became an entity, a personification of the blacker places that exist in our imagination. Take the all the evil, malice and hatred that exists in the world, pour it into a formless being that at once is everywhere and nowhere and you will be close to what the dark was for me. Craven and King have nothing on the demon that stalked my youth.

I battled with this nameless being during all of my childhood. I doubt if many who are close to me even know of the abject terror this fiend filled me with. That terror did not manifest itself with tears, screaming or frightened calls for parents. It was a paralyzing fear for me, one that left me rooted to where ever I happened to be. Trapped and alone, unable to move or react, leaving self doubt and visions on my own demise to gnaw at me like graveyard rats chewing the bones of the dammed. For years this was my transition from wakefulness to sleep, laying stiff and still in a bed that had become a coffin, waiting for oblivion to take me and bring some small measure of peace. Each time knowing somewhere inside, that this time would be the last. Once I let my guard down, Darkness would take me.

As I got older I came up with tricks to keep Darkness at bay. Ways to stand vigil until the return of the light or exhaustion take me. A flashlight became my sword and a book my shield, armor against the night. This tactic in my silent war inadvertently served a function I did not realize; it fed my intellect, that rational side of me that is rooted in logic and reason. I built a wall of reason to protect me against Darkness until such time that I could vanquish him completely. Slowly, I became more secure. There were no ghosts, no goblins or demons, no presence lurking in the night waiting for an opportunity to strike. Over time that presence diminished and became a small nagging thing only occasionally rising up to confront me. He was still there but not so intimidating now; I knew a final confrontation was coming yet and beneath the rational armor was the thought Darkness might somehow win. It was the chink in my armor; the tiny flaw that could be my undoing. I wanted to be rid of this foe once and for all but I feared the confrontation.
Scout camp was to ultimately be the setting for this battle. I started going to Camp Tapico when I was eleven. Over the next three years Darkness would take that opportunity to strengthen his position. He spread his form though out the woods of northern Michigan. Kalkaska County became his lair for one week a summer. He worked hard to claim me there in our silent battle, but I had grown stronger too. I was armed with knowledge of the woods and those creatures that dwelled there. I became familiar with their habits and habitats least they join the forces of Darkness. With my reason before me, I came to know the trails, woods and animals that were contained within so that if had to venture forth at night I would know them for whom and what they were. When I did have to venture forth at night, I worked hard to stay with groups of my peers. Darkness was always reluctant to reveal himself in front of others; I could feel him in the distance though, watching and waiting.

Patience paid off for Darkness my fourth summer there; I was fourteen and it 1985. My first three summers at camp my scout troop had always camped at Deer Run-the camp site closest to the administration end of camp and most centrally located to the various activities camp had to offer. In the winter of 1985, our troop had become more like the boy run organization it was supposed to be and we boys had decided we wanted a more challenging site for summer camp. We chose Beaver Point. Where Deer Run was on the south east side of Grass Lake, Beaver Point was on the west side. It was the closest of three isolated sites. You could not get vehicles in there as part way in was a narrow causeway crossing a swampy portion of the lake. Consequently, all troop equipment would have to be packed in and daily commissary runs would be done by canoe. It was perfect for the needs of a troop that had grown in experience.

Now camping is not the only thing a scout does at summer camp, it is also a place to learn some skills. Hiking, boating, archery, rife and shoot guns, and swimming are among the popular activities that you can learn or better your skills at, possibly earning a merit badge along the way. One of the less popular interests is Astronomy. Now, astronomy is something that has always intrigued me and I signed up for it at the nature center right away the Sunday afternoon we arrived at camp. I did not think about the ramifications of this fateful decision at the time. It was warm and sunny on the parade grounds outside the nature center and without hesitation I signed my name under several others on the clipboard. Astronomy would meet that night after opening campfire at 10:30 pm. Getting there was no problem as my troop had to walk past the parade ground to reach the trail head that lead to Beaver Point. As we left the campfire that night, we walked as a group back toward our campground and upon approaching the parade grounds I saw the small cluster of boys and one counselor standing in the middle with some equipment. I told Mr. B, our Scoutmaster, that I would be back later as I had Astronomy merit badge to work on. He nodded acquiescence and continued back with the rest of our troop while I peeled off and headed over to the knot of youths on the parade grounds.

Astronomy went well and star gazing is an activity I still enjoy today. My problem began when the lesson ended and we started to break up to head back to our troop sites. Of the fifteen or so camp sites that were at Tapico, only three were located on the west side of the lake. All of the others were on the east side of the lake. With the majority of the campgrounds on the east side, that meant the majority of the campers would be on the east side of the lake. The minority of the campers would then be on the west side; my side of the lake. As we packed up our stuff, I was coming to the realization that the fickle finger of fate had determined me to be a minority of one. Even the counselor was going in a different direction. I slipped on my knapsack and looked toward the opening in the distant tree line that marked the opening to the trail head for the western sites. Now I could have asked the counselor to walk with me and I’m sure he would but I became a victim of my own hubris. I was a Patrol Leader, I was respected, and I would not be labeled a coward. I began walking toward the opening in the woods, a dark hole in the tree line. An owl hooted and a slight breeze made the trees whisper like the voices of the damned. I could smell the sick sweet scent of rot and decay that came from the swamp back further in the woods. It was the smell of death. With each step I took toward that black hole in the tree line, my heart grew heavier. I was filled with a cold foreboding, every fiber of my being screamed to get away, to run anywhere and nowhere. I stopped about ten feet from the opening to the woods. I was paralyzed with fear and indecision. I was helpless and I could feel him in there waiting for me, mocking me with his silent laughter. I stood alone in the night and Darkness waited.

(To be continued)