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Are You Hiding Under Your Tent

Story ID:2529
Written by:Michael Timothy Smith (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Family Memories
Writers Conference:$500 2007 Family Memories Writing Project
Location:Fort Lee New Jersey USA
Year:2006
Person:Me - At my Worse
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The blanket ruffled in the wind over my head. Blackie, my dog
and best friend, poked her head under the blanket and stared at me.
"Blackie! Come here, Blackie." I called. She curled up next to me
and rested her head on my lap.

When I felt bad, Blackie was there for me.


My parents were fighting again, so I retreated to my
make-shift tent - an old blanket, full of holes, propped up with
a picket, and tied down at the edges with rocks. I cuddled with
Blackie, tears in my eyes. "Blackie, I love you."

My tent and Blackie were comforting. I could hide, protected
by Blackie. She was the kindest dog I knew, but I imagined her
growling and attacking anyone who tried to harm me. Under that
old tattered blanket, I sat with my dog and listened to the sounds
from outside, pleased no one could see me. I was safe.


*******************


I climbed to the top of a high tree and watched the world
around me. People passed below. I clung tightly to the trunk
of my tree. It swayed in the wind, as I watched the people
disappear around a bend in the path. I loved the isolation of
my perch. No one knew I was there. No one could hurt me.


*******************


I sat by a piece of timber. A storm had washed it up on
a small hill by my grandfather's fishing shack. High up on the
rocks and partially hidden by a small tree, it became my shelter.
I poked nails into its rotting surface. They became switches and
buttons for a spaceship. A rusty handle from a discarded saucepan,
which I found on the shore, became my controller. It allowed me
to dive and spin to avoid enemy spaceships. I imagined circling
my spacecraft. Other kids wandered by, but I remained hidden. In
my imagination, I soared high over their heads - unseen.


*******************


I'm an adult now. The tent made from a worn blanket, my
space ship, and the tops of trees are gone. I don't need to
hide anymore. Adults don't have to hide, or so I thought.


*******************


I sat in my bedroom with my computer in my lap. The screen
went to sleep and turned dark. I wasn't typing or reading. Two
years of unemployment and low-paying jobs took their toll. My
mind felt as blank as the screen. It felt dead.

Our financial situation was bleak. We were a month behind
in rent and our phone service had been cut off. Thankfully,
this kept the bill collectors from calling. My stepdaughter,
Heather, and I were not getting along - mainly because of me.
I was withdrawn and complained about the smallest things.

She and her three young boys moved in with us until she
could support herself. We were both in situations we didn't
want to be. We had no control and took our frustrations out
on each other. The stress took its toll on everyone, including
my lovely wife.

My step-grandsons were afraid. In a new home, without their
familiar family circle, they tried to adjust to their new
environment. Their new Grandpa was scary. His rules were
different. It frightened them.

Ginny was stuck in the middle. I'd come home from work,
retreat to my room, and hide. Heather and her boys went to
theirs. Ginny sat in the living-room alone. She was torn
between two loves.

I was a child again - hiding instead of communicating.

Ginny took control. She called a family meeting. After
the kids went to bed, she made Heather and me sit. She looked
at us. "You two are going to work this out tonight! I've had enough!"
She looked at Heather, "You want to leave? Fine! Leave, but you're
not leaving until you and Mike make up.

"If anyone is leaving, it's me. You two can either learn
to get along or kill each other. That will be up to you, but I'm
not taking this anymore!"

Ginny turned to me. "And you! You should know better! Those
boys need a grandpa! You're it! I'm sorry, but you're their grandpa.
Don't mess this up."

Ginny ranted at Heather and me for 30 minutes. When she
finished, she said, "OK! I'm going upstairs. You two sit here and
come to a decision!" She turned her back to us and disappeared
up the stairs. We listened to her stomp down the hall over our
heads and winced as the door to our bedroom slammed shut.

I looked at Heather. "Well, we've just been told. I feel
like a little kid who just left the principal's office after
being scolded for misbehaving."

"Tell me about it!" she replied.

A tear rolled down my cheek. "Heather, I'm sorry. I've been
an ass. I love the kids, but it's hard for me to adjust to
three boys living with us. I love your mom more than anything
in the world. I don't want to lose her. It's just that I miss
my time with her. We used to be alone here. We talked and
played. Now we don't have that luxury.

"I know you want to move out, Heather. I don't blame you.
Heck! I want to move out too."

Heather looked at me. "Mike, it's hard on all of us."

"No kidding." I sighed.

"Heather, don't leave. I'll try to do better. We owe it
to your mom. Stay as long as you need - at least until Seth
finishes the school year. I think we can work it out. Don't
you?"

"Yeah, I think we can."

We talked for a long time.

The next day felt like a storm had blown through and
took the humidity away. The tension between Heather and me
dropped. We were even talking again. Hurricane Ginny had
cleared the air and woke me up. I was being a little boy
again. Instead of communicating: I hid under my tent, climbed
my tree, and tried to fly away in a my driftwood spaceship.

My grandchildren were afraid of me. Heather avoided me.
I avoided everyone. I was relieved to go to work and stressed
to come home. Ginny, the woman we loved, suffered. Our lives
came apart. Ginny lifted the edge of my blanket/tent and
instead of curling up with me, she dragged my sorry behind
out into the open to face the challenge. I couldn't hide
under my tent anymore.

Michael T. Smith