A Lake You Can't See
This is a first draft. It has not been polished beyond the extent needed for the assignment I wrote it for.
Content warnings: Mental health stuff, references to the alt-right.
Monday, September 3, 2018
The green tent I’ve bought so as to not have to sleep in the big, shared tent had been advertised as fitting two people. Which two people exactly had been left to the reader and/or buyer’s imagination, but the people selling the thing certainly can’t have been thinking about me, being just a single, tall, fat person. When I put my bag inside, which is where it has to be, the space that’s left is exactly enough for me to be uncomfortable in pretty much any and every position I might choose. In addition, the mat I’ve bought is too thin and too small, so is the sleeping bag, and the way the tent gets incredibly wet on the inside at night is the straw that breaks the bag full of straw that had already made a victim of the camel some time ago. I will not sleep until Wednesday night.
I try, of course. I toss and turn. I wonder about the state the book I brought with me will be in when this is over. I toss and turn. I see my phone’s battery is nearly empty, and plug it into the portable charger, one with a huge battery that’ll last me all three days, making it the only good purchase I made specifically for the trip. I toss and turn. I never even get close to nodding off. I keep tossing and turning. It’s starting to make me feel like a salad. So I get up, and out of the tent (not that there’s any way to get up inside the tent) and try to figure out what to do, at night, alone, in a forest. I shower for longer than would’ve been reasonable if anyone else had been awake.
I make my way back to the dining area. There are people there, mostly around fires, a lot of them talking, smoking, drinking. I can’t see anyone’s face. I don’t learn anyone’s names, or even talk to them. It would’ve felt rude to try. I walk away, and look at the maps app on my phone to see if I can find the lake I heard people talk about earlier. It’s maybe a 10-minute walk. 15, at night, in the dark. I get to the lake, and I see a pirate ship, crewed by ghosts. This seems impractical, because I’m pretty sure the lake is landlocked. Except, of course, I don’t see a pirate ship, or ghosts. A trick of the moonlight, filled in by imagination. I briefly wonder if landlocked pirate ghosts are a metaphor for something. I walk back, because there’s not that much to do at a lake you can’t see.
On the way back I stroll around the area we’re in for a couple of laps. I overhear teachers talking. People have mostly disappeared from the dining area. I go sit down near my tent, listening to podcasts on my headphones. I shower again, and then go back to the dining area, to wait, in general for other people to show up, and specifically for the people who make the coffee to do so. It takes them ages.
Tuesday, September 4, 2018
This is the day when a rich man at the campsite gives a speech in which he feels the need to tell us that shithead alt-right hero Jordan Peterson has some good ideas, actually. I stop paying attention, because the reminder of the world outside the forest sets the back of my head on fire. When I see an opportunity to leave, I run — well, walk fast — to the lake from the night before. I realise as my bare feet slip into the water that this is a panic attack, and that it’s happening because I have PTSD, and that that’s why I sometimes feel the need — not desire — to run into a lake. Or, at home, the forest, but I was already in the forest, and it seemed impractical to find a separate forest to run into. Internet hate mobs make you want to run into nature, I guess. I wonder if the victims people have actually heard of ever run into a lake because somebody brings up a discount psychologist.
For the rest of the afternoon, I separate myself from the activities at the site, the ones I can get away from. I tell people it’s because I haven’t slept. Second and third-years have been recruited to push the people sitting by themselves into the activities. I wonder if anyone else sitting solo has PTSD. At the end of the day, I join in on the bingo. We don’t win anything. We’re mostly relieved we didn’t win the inflatable woman, because what the hell are you going to do with one of those? Amidst jeering boys, agreeing with the friends I’ve made on the trip that we really don’t want to win the inflatable woman is the first time since the panic attack I feel okay again.
I never try to sleep. I do take another long shower, cleansing to exit the daylight. There’s a lot of lights in this night. Dancers, jugglers, all sorts of installations. These are here for the rich man’s corporate retreat I’ve learned we’re here in the oncoming shadow of. A silent disco — I recognise a lot of them as fellow students — jumps and thumps around in a field. It’s surreal enough that it’s a little like walking into magic. I never get tired. I’ve crossed the rubicon on tired. Tired is in my past.
After the silent disco ends and everyone wanders off again, I do what I did on Monday. I sit near my tent for a while. I take another long shower, which at this point has, in my head, become a ritualistic cleansing to be allowed back into the daylight. I wait for coffee. It takes ages.
Wednesday, September 5, 2018
Everyone knows I haven’t slept. It’s either the first, second, or third thing I say to everyone I talk to. “You know,” I wave slightly dismissively, as if it doesn’t matter, “I haven’t slept.” The rubicon has slipped back under my feet. I’m sore, and tired, and done. I destroy my nemesis, the green tent. While people pack up their stuff and break down the big, shared tents, I sit under a tree and I read more of my book than I have all trip. (Books are famously hard to read in the dark.) I go home, and decide against going to bed right away. Wouldn’t want to mess up my sleep schedule.