Now, once a month, we trek up to the mountains and hike for several days. But, this month, as if living for days on freeze-dried spaghetti wasn’t challenging enough, she persuaded me to take her nephew along. He’s fourteen. She said I’d be a good influence on him. You’d think she would know better.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should add that I have zero experience with teenagers. I once observed one from a safe distance, but probably couldn’t pick him out of a line up. I never bothered to reproduce and, until this past week, had only heard the horror stories. Now, I wonder how our species has survived. What has kept parents through the ages from pinching the heads off their teenage children?
I didn’t realize a teenager has the attention span of an over caffeinated Jack Russell. It’s like they have a malfunctioning TV remote in their heads that is constantly changing channels. They seem to not think at times. They channel surf in their minds. And they talk endlessly about very odd things, flitting from one subject to the next in some crazed stream of consciousness.
“I can eat a whole tub of margarine.”
“I’m going to get a Harley-Davidson tattoo on my forehead.”
On the second day of our trip, the terrain became extremely steep and rugged. My girlfriend twisted her knee and was clearly in a lot of pain. We were twenty miles from the car. While examining her injury and trying to decide if I should attempt emergency surgery with a pair of fingernail clippers or call for a medical evacuation, her nephew hovered about, chattering away in the teenager’s discombobulated mother tongue.
“I can blow water out of my nose,” he said.
My girlfriend insisted she could walk out, so I divided her load between my pack and her nephew’s and we continued to follow the trail. Soon, her nephew’s feet began to hurt, so I took on much of the weight that was in his pack too. Over time, more weight found its way into my pack until their packs looked like flaccid plastic grocery bags and my pack looked like a piano. I could feel my spinal disks imploding down my back. Each disk screamed a pathetic death cry as it squashed flatter than a microchip until my spine compacted and my knuckles dragged the ground. It will take years of therapy before I can walk upright again.
As I struggled under my burden, her nephew, carrying a granola bar and a bottle of water, said, “I saw a UFO once.”
I carried that (piano) for two days and somehow managed to stumble down the trail without breaking in half. Finally, on the last day, when we were still eight miles from the car, we came to a gravel road. We hid the backpacks in the woods, planning to come back later in the car. When we put the packs down, a miracle occurred. Both my girlfriend and her nephew were instantly healed. They took off for the car in a sprint. I could barely keep up as I hobbled after them, exhausted, stooped and dragging my knuckles.
Gary Horton is a novelist and blogs at: ivebeenthinking.typepad.com