I haven’t been camping since I was a child, and I haven’t been camping in a tent since I was a toddler. My parents’ favorite story to tell is the time the five of us crammed into a too-tiny tent and five minutes after lights out I started gagging on a penny I had found and promptly eaten. I don’t think I was the type of kid with much of a mouth fetish, but I guess there was something about that penny. It is Scotch-taped to my baby book now, playfully labeled as a thing that might have killed me but didn’t.
I was too young to remember it. I do remember these other choking incidents:
Aged three or four, maybe, I went with my mother to the furniture store where she worked. One of her coworkers kept a crystal bowl of candy on his desk. He always offered me the thick, red, round pieces, even though I was too young to be trusted with them. I choked in the car, strapped into my carseat. I remember clearly the sensation of not being able to breathe, the sticky candy settling somewhere in the back of my throat. I don’t remember if my mother stopped the car or if I figured it out myself. She doesn’t remember the incident at all.
The second time I was older. Maybe nine or ten. I was at my friend Mary’s house and it was February. We were eating candy hearts, but the very big, thinner kind. I swallowed one whole, presumably by accident. Mary dragged me down the hallway to the kitchen and presented me to her father. I was turning blue and hadn’t had a breath in about thirty seconds. He called my parents and asked them what he should do. I ended up vomiting into the kitchen sink, overhearing my parents’ tiny voices through the phone receiver: I don’t know, do you know the Heimlich?
Camping now, as an adult, is almost exactly how I remembered it. It is fun through dinner, through lighting a fire and making smores, through telling stories with family (now replaced by friends) and drinking soda (now replaced by beer), all the way up until it’s time to go to bed and forty degrees out. S and I brushed our teeth together by my car, spitting into the dirt. I saw a Jerusalem cricket and almost had a fucking heart attack. Our air mattress had holes in it and we woke up with our bones digging into the ground painfully. I slept maybe forty minutes and remember one dream: in which my ex-boyfriends all lined up to tell me they were lying, they never loved me anyway, they just thought I should know.
I thought the hardest thing in life was writing when you would rather watch Gilmore Girls, but it turns out the hardest thing in life is getting out of a sleeping bag in the morning, an eleven-mile hike looming in your immediate future, the mountain air a crisp almost-freezing, and your hiking clothes made from the type of material that is so slick and shiny it is like dressing yourself in ice.
But I managed it somehow, and afterward I sat so close to the fire that my face turned red and I loved every minute until it was time to go to bed again.
photographs taken in Marion Mountain Campground.