Exercising the craft—June 1, 2015

By Ekta R. Garg

Prompt: “Be careful out there,” your mom said as you grabbed your duffel bag and headed on a camping trip with friends. “You know that tonight is the anniversary, don’t you?” You nodded, then shut the door behind you before getting in the car and taking off.

http://www.writersdigest.com/prompts/be-careful-out-there

*****

I stuffed my favorite sweatshirt into the duffel and turned toward my mother. She leaned against the doorframe with her arms crossed. I grinned at her, and she just rolled her eyes.

“Well, I can’t stop you from going, but I can tell you to be careful out there,” she said. “You know that tonight is the anniversary, don’t you?”

I nodded. “That’s the whole point of going, Mom. I love you. See you in the morning.”

“Love you too.”

I walked down the hallway and paused at the bedroom door at the end. I couldn’t help it; I put my hand on the doorknob for a second and wondered whether I was making a mistake. I didn’t have to go. Except…except everyone would be waiting for me. And I’d promised. Just like they had. We’d all agreed to come, and we’d taken steps to make sure no one would miss this night.

Taking a deep breath to steel myself, I pulled my hand off the doorknob and went to the kitchen door. I shut it behind me, threw my duffel and sleeping bag into the back seat, got into the car, and pressed the remote. My heart beat in time with the rumble of the garage door, and I couldn’t help wondering whether I was making a mistake. Maybe no one would show up. Maybe I was deluding myself.

Before I could talk myself out of the drive, I started the car and took off.

I didn’t have to go too far. I couldn’t help noting the irony as I turned on the high beams for a second that of everyone who had to come tonight, I had to drive the shortest distance and yet I probably felt the greatest amount of trepidation. The streets and road markers that guided me on my every-day route in the brightness of day now seemed to press into the road in the trepidation of darkness.

I inhaled long and deep again, and before I knew it I’d reached the campground. The tires crackled against the gravel as I slowed the car and searched for the shelter numbers on the ends of the wooden structures. Number 11, 12…there it was. Number 13.

Several cars stood near the shelter, and I pulled my car next to a Honda.

Who’s driving the Fit? I wondered. I turned off the car, retrieved my bags from the back, and started jogging toward the glow of firelight.

“Hey, Heather!” a couple of friends greeted me.

I jutted my chin in their direction and kept moving toward the oversized tents on the far side of the clearing. I found my tent number, ducked inside, and stayed long enough to open my sleeping bag on top of one of the air mattresses.

Thank you, Bethany, I thought, projecting my gratitude toward the friend who had suggested the air mattresses. The small comfort had made it easier to agree to the idea of camping in the first place. I left the tent and joined the others around the fire.

“How are we supposed to see anything with a fire this big?” I asked.

Jill shook her head. “Don’t worry about it. We’ll be able to see plenty.”

As we waited we took some time to catch up. The email chain we’d started a year earlier had taken care of the big-ticket items in our lives—children, jobs, relocations. Now we could spend time on the most recent happenings.

We’d been chatting for about 30 minutes, and during that time the last three of our group showed up. Hugs all around, and we sat down again. About 10 minutes later, it started. The reason why we’d rescheduled business trips and fought with family about skipping vacations with the in-laws.

The meteors that rained fell like streams of dreams, and we sat in silence. I watched the balls of light and had to chuckle as I thought of my mother’s fear that a meteor might cream one of us. Don’t come haunting me if a meteor kills you, she said, and I have to move in with the kids and your husband and feed all of them ice cream every night and twice on Sunday.

My mom. More than anything, I knew she thought it a little ridiculous that a bunch of “kids” in their late thirties had made a pact to meet and witness this event together. Scientists said this meteor shower had last appeared about 20 years ago, before any of us really paid attention to any of these things. This shower could produce actual meteor rocks. Why should we take a risk, she asked. What was wrong with meeting in the downtown of a large city and hobnobbing in the lobby of a fancy hotel?

Nothing, I said. Except that our meeting was about more than “hobnobbing.”

I don’t know what everyone else thought of in those hours, but I thought of the past. These points of light had traveled so far to come to us this evening; they must have started thousands of years ago. Before we all met in elementary and middle school. Before we became the tight-knit group of friends. Before we formed relationships with one another that would last through all of life’s challenges.

As we sat here on the twentieth anniversary of our high school graduation, I thought of the past. Of the memories we shared. And the fact that tonight we’d just added another one to our precious store.

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