Were you ever lost as a child and the experience shook you so much that the experience sticks with you today? When I was young, my cousin and I were playing together at a park — a proving grounds — during a Fourth of July city celebration and it was a night I will never forget.

I remember twirling in circle. My cousin was a year older and much more worldly. She had already lived in several countries and my entire life was my backyard. We were playing tag in the midst of thousands of people and the game took us farther and farther away from our family picnic. The sky was darkening. We were circling in and around trees and bushes. Rocks. The sky thundered with exploding fireworks and was lighted in circular flashes of burning black powder.

The ashy smell of sulfur fell smothering from the sky like a curtain. And then she was gone. I could hear her laughter somewhere over there. But I couldn’t see her. Her laughter faded this way and then the other way. I was alone in the woods.

I wanted to cry but since there was no one to hear my wailing, I held it in and tried to listen for, and sense, a clue what to do next. For the second time in my life, I felt betrayed and I began to recognize its bitter sting. I had no idea where I was or what direction I should go to find help. It was cold. I knew I had to keep moving. Sitting down alone in the dark was not an option. Then the sky flickered with recognition as fireworks tossed their heads and cackled across the horizon. I sifted my body through the brush and over a farm of rocks and granite boulders — all the while keeping my eye on the erupting, and then fading, temporary North Stars in my self-navigated midnight sky.

I followed the vibrations from the heavens and its sulfur curtain drew me in the direction of home. I withdrew from the brush and appeared on the crest of a small hill looking down at the Fourth of July party circling 100 yards below me. I was overwhelmed with the sprawl of bodies spread out on their backs on blankets staring at the heavens — gazing up at me — but offering no safe direction down. The night was moonless. I picked my way down the hill in the brief, shuddering, moments of the hazy red and yellow circus of lights peppering the sky. It began to rain as I rejoined the crawling celebration in the park.

I pecked my way through the rising wave of people scrambling to seek cover from the wet. Godly thunder rained down on us. I went one way then another. I was turning in circles. I began to cry. Someone picked me up in their arms and I collapsed in dizzy sobs. I heard my mother’s name over a loudspeaker. Rocking. Swaying. Patting. I blinked through the tears. I was in a shack. A shed. A control booth with a view of the proving grounds. We spun around. I was in the air — cast from a hard shoulder — into a soft bosom. I was in the familiar clutch of my mother’s arms.

And there — looking down from over my mother’s shoulder — I saw my cousin pointing up at me and mocking me with laughter. She was sublime, unapologetic and victorious in my humiliation. I felt the familiar bite of betrayal again with the clarity of a canon of color falling like fodder from the smothering sky.

24 Comments

  1. Hi David,
    What a moving story. Betrayal is the highest sin in my opinion.
    I was never lost, but I was left alone in a frightening situation when I was child and I remember the details.
    My grandmother lived out in the country on a farm in a big, old, rambling house that had a root cellar. It was a small room down the stairs off her kitchen, with earthen walls and earthen floor. Even though she had a refrigerator, she still kept her canned goods down there– I suppose a tradition she had inherited from her mother.
    A little girl named Carla who lived down the street from my grandmother and I were playing outside and my grandmother, who was working in her garden asked if we would go down to the root cellar and get a jar of canned tomatoes she could use for dinner. Carla said “sure,” but I didn’t like the idea.
    Carla and I were both Nancy Drew fans and Carla baited me into going down the dark stairs, saying it would be a “mystery adventure.”
    The root cellar was not lit and we should have fetched a flashlight, but Carla said we would just leave the door open so we could see and I would feel safe.
    The long and short of it is, she hung me out to dry. When we were halfway down the stairs, she sneaked back up and shut the door and locked it.
    It was a good half an hour– maybe not, but it seemed like an eternity, before my grandmother, led by Carla opened the door. I had fumbled my way back up the stairs in the dark and pounded on the door and yelled, but no one heard me. I remember fuzzy things on the walls as I groped my way up the stairs.
    I never forgave Carla for that and lying to my grandmother she thought I was behind her and didn’t realize I got “stuck” down there.
    Donna

  2. Donna!
    Oh, what a great story! Yes! What a perfect betrayal of your friendship and trust that was! These early, emotional, beatings have a way of leaving a bright mark on us for a long time. Many of us say “Never Again” and try to divine clues from the experience so we will never be trapped like that again.
    My feelings for my cousin changed that day. Sure we still get along even though geography keeps us apart, but I didn’t admire her and trust her as much as I did before my mocking.

  3. Hi David,
    It seems that the “code of silence” as far as “ratting out” one’s so-called friends leaves an ambilvalent feeling.
    I didn’t tell my grandmother what really happened because I would have felt foolish getting duped and being afraid of the dark. Also, I didn’t want to violate The Code defined above. On the other hand, I wanted some kind of revenge on Carla and might have gotten some mild satisfaction from “ratting her out.”
    I don’t remember my thoughts at the time, but I’m sure it probably crossed my mind that I could tell on her and maybe get her in trouble, but The Code of Kids won out.
    Donna

  4. Hi David,
    Why do kids embrace The Code? Is it just because they want to feel a sense of group in an adult world, similar to joining a gang?
    I have had a lot of betrayal in my life and I think it has contributed to my sometimes very cynical view of life.
    Donna

  5. Donna —
    Kids join the code to fit in. They are manipulated into thinking if they “do the right thing” and tell and adult what’s really happening they’ll be punished by the group when the protection of the adult disappears.
    Betrayal is a fascinating topic. I write about it often. I think there is no bigger insult, crime, sin or hateful thing you can do to someone else than to betray them. History is rife with betrayals and the end is never good for the betrayer or the betrayed.

  6. David,
    Not long ago, I described to my father a recurring nightmare I have been having my entire life.
    While the place and time varies, the general theme of the nightmare is always the same: I am lost. Not just lost, abandoned. I am somehow separated from my family in a crowded place (almost always a store) and they walk away and leave me despite my cries and outstretched arms. I look for them everywhere, up and down all of the fluorescent aisles, but do not find them. I scream and scream their names and never find them.
    When I told my dad about my dream, I asked him if I had ever been lost in a store. He told me that I had. My mother left me in the grocery store, apparently when I was too young to remember, and did not realize I was not there until she was driving home.
    It is amazing to me how I have no memory of that event, but am still reliving it in my dreams.

  7. Fabulous story, Emily!
    You should try to relive the incident now while you’re awake as a sort of self-possessed regression therapy. Perhaps by forcing yourself into the moment while you’re awake will stop the nightmares when you sleep?

  8. David,
    It’s funny how vivid my dreams of the event are. I can hear the hum of the fluorescent grocery store lights, smell the foods on the shelves, feel the cold blast of the dairy aisle. But I have no fundamental “memory” of the event. Until I described my dream to my dad and asked if I had ever been left somewhere, I had no idea that the dream was an actual memory. I thought I just had a subconscious fear of being abandoned.

  9. David,
    We were talking about dreams at the dinner table one night. Emily, my stepsister, has some really whacked-out dreams and she remembers them in startling detail. I mentioned to my dad later that there were a few dreams I have been having over and over and over since I was a kid. One involves lots and lots of snakes (of which I am terrified), one involves tornadoes (of which I am also terrified) and the other is the lost dream. I am not terrified of being left in a store, so I didn’t understand why I kept having the dream. That’s when I thought that maybe it was my mind reliving an actual event that I was too young to remember.

  10. Memory is a powerful thing, Emily, especially when it reveals its secrets about you in the dark.
    Do you work on getting rid of your snakes phobia?
    Tornadoes, I think, are every Midwestern child’s fear and getting exposed to become familiar with the fear is impossible expect for finding oneself in the middle of a twister!

  11. Hi David,
    I’ve never felt lost when I was a kid because most of the time we were safely enclosed inside of the military bases where my dad and all of my friends’ parents were stationed.
    I do remember my brother intentionally getting lost during a trip to Great Adventure in New Jersey. It was in the 1980s, right after a fire had killed some kids who couldn’t find their way out of a haunted house at the amusement park. We went with our church youth group, so we were teamed up with our friends so that we could keep track of time and meet back at various places when we were supposed to meet up.
    After running around all day, it came time to leave. My brother and his buddy were nowhere to be found. We ended up leaving them behind at the park and some parents stayed behind to keep an eye out for the missing kids.
    When they finally found my brother and his friend, everyone was relieved — the fire that had killed the kids at the haunted house earlier that month had everyone freaked out — my brother told my parents and everyone else that they were having too much fun and had forgotten to keep track of time.
    I didn’t worry too much about my brother, however. It was his style to not pay attention to time and to disappear. But, I remember my parents and other parents being freaked out by my brother’s disappearance.
    Speaking about tornadoes and thunderstorms — we had a pretty rough storm yesterday that knocked out our power at home yesterday afternoon until sometime this morning. My son and I were outside and some neighbors mentioned that there might be another storm coming later in the evening. I could tell my son was a little concerned about another storm, so my wife and I made having the power off fun by saying we were camping out in the house.
    I shot some video of the storm blowing a walker around since the whipping winds and horizontal rain reminded me of Hurricane Katrina. The one time I was really close to a tornado, the rain was firing sideways in the same fashion and I didn’t realize what had happened until I saw the damage to buildings at a nearby shopping center.

  12. Love your video, Chris!
    I’m glad you don’t have a terror story to share with us about you being lost. My cousin was an Army brat, too. She lived in many places and moved all over the world and made friends quickly — because she had to in order to try to fit in…
    I’m glad everything turned out fine for your brother.
    I love making the “lights out” a celebration instead of a cowing… we’re in the middle of it now… electrical storms, high winds, power outages… it will be a long summer, I fear! 😀

  13. Hi David,
    I was having fun last night without any of the modern conveniences. I could have gotten online, but I didn’t want to ruin the atmosphere of everyone in the family hanging out, instead of watching TV. I also didn’t fire up the generator — we haven’t been to the grocery store for a while, so if anything has gone bad, it is probably food nobody was that interested in eating. Plus, things were nice and quiet — running the generator would have ruined the silence.
    The storm didn’t get the pizza place, so we had some fun food.
    I lit some candles and put them in the living room. Later on, I remembered we had solar yard lights, so I brought them into the house to put in my son’s room since candles and kids are a fire hazard. After the afternoon storm had blown through, the evening sky was nice and bright — without indoor lights to ruin my night vision, it was easy to move around the house with just the little lighting and moonlight we had. When it got a little darker, I noticed a million fireflies floating around in the night sky.

  14. Sounds like a grand time, Chris! What fun!
    The power here seems to go out when it’s 108 degrees with no wind and high humidity. You have no AC. No fans. You can’t sleep. You take a lot of cool showers. It’s a bit humiliating to be so defeated by nature so easily.

  15. “History is rife with betrayals and the end is never good for the betrayer or the betrayed”.
    – It’s so true, David! I have so many experiences like this as a child – mostly because I used to trust others easily…
    The surprising thing is – I still do – without a hitch!!!