So there I was… trying to remember why it was a good idea to take my two pre-school age sons camping at the Grand Canyon. The entire time we hiked along the rim, I was haunted by the thought of one of my children falling over the edge and bouncing his way to the bottom while I watched helplessly. Those of you who saw the opening sequence of Sylvester Stallone’s Cliffhanger know exactly what I mean. Luckily, despite the annual budget cuts, the park service was still able to afford a single strand of rope to indicate where the edge was located. This was in case you failed to notice the four-thousand-foot sheer drop while peering at the twenty-seven-mile wide hole in the earth. I was a nervous wreck all day and couldn’t wait to get back to our flat and level campsite.
Once there, we began all of the cherished traditions associated with camping and kids: breaking out the gear, setting up the tent, preventing them from stoning to death endangered animals, and my personal favorite, the meltdowns caused by being over-tired. Truly, everything was going along according to plan. That is until our new neighbor arrived. He drove up in a weather-beaten Datsun pick-up truck with a camper shell on it. I’m not sure what triggered my alarm bells first. Possibly, it might’ve be his outfit of boots, jeans, sweatshirt, flannel shirt and down jacket in the 112° heat. Could’ve been the way he sat and drank over half a gallon of milk straight from the jug. Still, I’m betting it was the way he kept muttering to himself about how his boss couldn’t treat him like that, and they would sure regret firing him. Yep. That was it.
To put it mildly, it was very disconcerting to keep an eye on Dwayne (don’t you just picture a guy named Dwayne?) and my sons. Luckily, kids their age could still amuse themselves for hours with a fallen branch and a rock. We ate a lovely camp dinner of mac & cheese with hot dogs. Still, this guy next door is debating with himself, and now he’s starting to use different voices for each character. I glance over at the cab of the truck, and it’s half-filled with those little cardboard boxes detectives use for carrying out evidence from crime scenes. Now, I start planning out my next move. Do I call the park ranger? Are they even equipped to deal with this type of thing? What would I tell them? This dude hasn’t done anything really threatening. In the proud American tradition, I decided to ignore the problem and hope it worked itself out. Off we went to watch the sunset from the Southern Rim and close out the evening with ice-cream from the camp store.
We return to our temporary homestead some two hours later, and I’m still a little unnerved. It’s pitch black, there is no moon, and the nearest street lamp is probably forty-seven miles away. My headlight’s sweep over Dwayne’s area, and he’s nowhere to be seen. A wave of relief washes hits me as I start to relax. Using my flashlight, I walk the family over to the tent where we start to settle in for the night. Not wanting to heed nature’s call later on, I took one last jaunt over to the restrooms. On the way back, and only a few steps from the tent flap, I suddenly decided to turn around and give the area one last look-see.
Have you ever caught a wild animal in the dark with a beam of light? You know how its eyes shine when it’s looking straight back at you? All you can see are those two luminous orbs floating on an ebony background. That’s what happened when my flashlight hit the windshield of Dwayne’s truck. He had been sitting there for who knows how long staring right at me. I was so shocked I couldn’t move. It took a good ten seconds for me to turn the light away. Now, I was totally freaked out. Not knowing what else to do, I returned to my sleeping bag.
Two things kept me from sleep that night. One was the thought of how vulnerable my family was protected by walls basically made of Saran Wrap. The second was how hard it was to get comfortable with a hatchet hidden beneath my pillow.