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Carl loses his innocence.

July 14, 2016


June, 1941

Carl reports to the West Glacier Ranger Station Monday for his second summer as a fire lookout on Huckleberry Mountain.  First he graduates from high school and says goodbye to his friends from school.  We find Carl in bed the next morning.

Carl was sicker than he could remember. He knew it was from last night’s graduation, drinking out on a road toward Conrad Cemetery.

‘His friend Hank had a trunkful of bottles in a box. No, a boxful of bottles in his trunk.’  Carl narrated the scene in his head.  Then Carl didn’t care. He wished he could throw up, but he knew he couldn’t because he had the dry heaves hours ago. Carl was glad the shades on his room were drawn because light hurt his eyes and his head.

He didn’t want his mother to know about last night. When did he come home? God! The taste of whiskey was all in his nose and head! Cloying, sweet. Made him feel restless.  He drew up his legs and extended them.

Hank had told him he wanted him to have a good time after graduation. He teased him about being a virgin, about not drinking. It was June, 1941, the evening warm. A clandestine party. Carl was only starting to realize he no longer trusted Hank.

“This is like an initiation,” he urged. “Here, drink this. Tastes like creme de cocoa. Drink it right out of the bottle.” Some of his other friends also partook. Like Les and Dave. Duck didn’t come. Duck’s dad was an alcoholic and Duck wouldn’t drink.

The liquor burned, tasted sweet, sort of like cocoa. He gulped a few. Soon Carl was heading ’round into the slant. After running into the ground that rose up to his cheek like a wall of gravel, he crawled over to the side of the road and vomited in the long grass. Things got mixed up after that.  He remembered lying on the floor of the car in the backseat.  Something about his jacket being left behind.  He sort of remembered hollering for someone to get it for him.  Then he fell asleep.

At last Hank took Carl home, pointed him toward the porch, and drove away.

Carl made it into the kitchen door, then through into the dining room.  After the dark confusing maze inside his house, Carl couldn’t keep from brushing hard against the stairwell as he climbed to his room.  He felt a bit proud of his ability to navigate in the dark.  Once into his bed he got under the covers without removing his clothes.  Didn’t matter, he thought.  The room spun, so Carl put one foot out onto the floor.

Soon, morning.

“Yoohoo, Buddy!” sang his mother from downstairs. Carl said nothing. “Want some eggs for breakfast?” The thought of eating eggs made him retch. His body felt suddenly hot and he kicked off his covers with feet that still had on shoes. “Buddy,” she called again, her voice high, musical. She walked up the stairs in her leather heeled shoes. Clump. Clump. Clump. He looked at her face in the doorway.

“I don’t feel so good, ma.”

“Now why would that be?” his mother asked, coyly. “Was it something you — she paused for effect — drank?”

He didn’t answer. He felt shame.  His mother clumped back downstairs. Now he felt cold again and wrapped up in his blankets. His head ached. Nobody would help him get some aspirin powder that he knew was in the hallway cabinet near the bathroom.

His sister Carol was in girl scouts, off to a camp at Flathead Lake. He stared at the wall, in his misery. He studied the door to the closet. At his stuff. Books, a knapsack, wool socks.  His rifle.

He knew that in a couple of days he would be back, working in Glacier Park. On Huckleberry Mountain. Living in the cabin beneath a fire lookout, thousands of feet above the North Fork of the Flathead River. He wondered if he would feel better by then.

He loved his parents, but right then he was thinking his mother was. . . he didn’t want to finish the thought. He wasn’t superstitious or religious. He had always been the family pet, kind of.      The only boy in the family born after three girls.

He loved his mother so much! But she was heartless. She was bad!   He wanted to say it aloud, so he whispered, “you bitch!” Somehow, he felt better. He had survived the rite of passage.  He removed his clothes and got back in bed to try and sleep.



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