The fire crackled and embers floated up into the night sky. I sat around the fire with my father and the other adults while the other kids fished off the dock. The air was filled with the smell of smoke, roasting hot dogs and whiskey. The tales were getting taller and my father was starting to act a little too silly so I stood up and started walking toward the dock to fish with the other boys. The ice clinked the side of the glass as my father tipped it back to finish yet another whiskey on the rocks.
“Since you’re up, why don’t you go make your old man another drink.”
“What did you forget the recipe? It’s ice and whiskey.” I said jokingly.
“You little smart ass.”
“Like father like son.” I smiled and laughed as I walked past his chair.
At 13, my father and I often traded sarcastic remarks as we joked around. However, my father had a strange competitiveness with me. He took my effort to prove myself to him as a challenge. He would often tell me how great he used to be and that he could still take me.
As I walked past him, he reached out and grabbed my arm. I jumped sideways and pulled my arm free and began running and laughing. In doing so, his lawn chair tipped over and he rolled out of it. I stopped to look back and he was already on his feet.
“You little son-of-a-bitch. You better run.” He said as he started to chase me.
I wasn’t quite sure if we were still kidding around or not. I knew he had a few drinks but I wasn’t sure how many. I didn’t know if he was serious or not but I didn’t want to find out. I ran like my life depended on it. For all I knew, it may have. I ran down the path through the trees and to the waters edge. I quietly waded into the cold water around the back of a lilac bush and I crouched down. The sound of my father’s footsteps drew near. I tried to slow my heavy breathing and pounding heart by taking quiet deep breaths. I could hear him breathing heavy as he looked for me. Through the leaves of the lilac I could see the glow of his freshly lit cigarette. He was no more than ten feet from me. He sat there for a while then he walked back toward the cabin. Still I waited. I didn’t know if he was baiting me or not. After about fifteen minutes had passed, I waded around the other side of the bush to dry land and walked over to the dock where the other boys were fishing. I walked out onto the dock and grabbed my fishing pole. As I began to talk to the other boys and bait my hook, my Dad came walking down the dock toward me.
“I got you now didn’t I.”
“Nah” I smiled. “I could jump into the water and get away.”
He grabbed the collar of my coat. “I got you didn’t I.”
I looked into his bloodshot eyes. They looked empty and mean.
“No, I could have jumped into the water and got away.”
He twisted the collar of my coat and it tightened around my throat. “I got you didn’t I.”
“No” I persisted. “I could have jumped into the water and got away.”
He twisted the collar tighter, and choked off the air. His hands shook, as he spoke through his clenched teeth. “ I got you. Didn’t I.”
“No.” I gasped stubbornly. “ I could …have …got…away.”
He twisted even tighter and lifted me off the ground by my coat collar. Every vein in my face was pulsing and it felt like it was going to explode. I tried to speak in defiance but I couldn’t make a sound. I grabbed at his trembling hands and kicked my feet as I started to lose consciousness. He looked into my eyes. Then, all at once he let me go.
“Ok. You win.”
I gasped for air and coughed uncontrollably. I stood hunched over catching my breath.
“You win.” He patted my back.
I looked up at him through my tears? “What did I win?”
“You beat me. You beat the old man”
I shook my head. “Dad, I want to look up to you. Not compete with you.”
I’m not sure why that set him off but it did.
“You little fucken bastard.” He grabbed me by the collar again and dragged me off the dock. He slammed me on the ground and climbed on top of me. He tightened the collar around my throat again and slammed my head into the ground over and over as he screamed at me.
“You ain’t so tough now are ya you little fucken prick! You spoiled little fucker! You think you are so tough now?!!!! Huh?!!!! Think you can take the old man?!!! I could fucken kill you you little cock sucker!!!”
Thankfully, my stepmother came running down and pulled him off of me.
“He’s just like his fucken Mother!” He walked toward the cabin. Moments later, I heard his truck start up and the engine rev. Then, the sound of rocks and gravel hitting metal as he tore away. That was the last time I went camping with my Dad.