Stories In Which My Son DOESN’T Die

23. The Iceman Goeth

My idea of camping generally consists of a camper, with a bathroom, comfortable bed, and a fairly decent kitchen, or better yet a motorhome with similar necessities but with a decent amount if space. Necessities you’ll notice I said, not comforts. I adore driving to the middle of nowhere, finding a rustic campground, and sitting around a fire roasting marshmallows with as few people I don’t know around as possible. But I’m not a savage. I live in the twenty-first century. We’ve developed a certain level of civilized behavior of which I see no point in depriving myself. So while my ex-wife Laurie is satisfied to rough it in a sleeping bag and tent, and my son William is young enough to see the adventure in sleeping on the hard ground under the stars as a camp counselor keeping track of a gaggle of unruly pre or post adolescence, I on the other hand find it impossible to sleep with a single mosquito buzzing my ear, or dirt lodged in places that my ancestors expected to only clean once or twice a year. Pete agrees with me luckily. That’s  one of the many reasons we’ve stayed together for over 20 years.

So though one of my very favorite trips ever was a camping trip to Medicine Lake, not too far from the Oregon border in Northern California, it was only camping in the sense that we were at a campground. Pete and I had recently purchased a rather old motorhome that had, at least, all the required accouterment. True it smelled like decades of cooked bacon, the fabrics and walls felt strangely greasy, and somehow it felt like an outdoorsman’s abused hunting cabin. However, it had a bed, a bathroom, and a fully operational kitchen. 

We were accompanied by William, around 10 years old, and his mother Laurie. They were roughing it. In a tent that is.

We had planned a weekend at the lake, complete with kayaks, campfire side dining, and marshmallow roasting. We had not counted on a wind so strong we couldn’t row away from the shore or light a fire, but oh well.

We spent time walking trails with our two dogs-a giant mutant Dalmatian Laurie and I had adopted the year before we separated and she had kept, and a husky mix Pete and I got around the time we purchased our house. We toured the volcanic features, and went spelunking. Spelunking is the art of cave exploration if you are not in the know. 

Medicine Lake is part of the Lava Beds National Monument area. A vast warren of caves, obsidian mounds, cinder cones, and other miscellany. We had a blast even with the less than perfect weather. But the highlight was our trip to an ice cave. The map didn’t have a lot of details, just directions and a name, but we were game for anything. 

We headed out around mid-afternoon, since there wasn’t very much information we weren’t expecting anything too exciting, and when we arrived at the barren field with a hole in the ground that looked vaguely like a meteor crater on a small scale, we were even afraid that it may not exist at all. After all, an ice cave in Northern California, slightly off a dusty forest road seemed a little implausible. Like so many hikes leading to a “forest lake” that was long gone, or a “meadow” that was simply a weedy clearing in a scrubby forest (you can probably tell what kind of hikes I’ve been exposed to), I was expecting a simple “historic”, i.e.. “long-gone” cave.

We made our way down into the crater, looking for what was described as a small cave entrance. It was actually a hole in the crater wall no larger than one good sized adult could crawl through. With not a little trepidation we squirmed through one by one. Wow. We were not disappointed one bit. 

The temperature dropped by many degrees, and thank goodness we had heeded the warnings to wear warm clothing, hats, and to carry flashlights! As soon as we entered we were all enthralled; it really was an ice cave. Actually, to be precise, it was a cave with an underground glacier running alongside it. We found out later that an ice cave is literally a cave IN ice, not a cave WITH ice. But who cares, right?

We gingerly made our way deeper into the cave, noticing that the rocks strewn throughout the bottom of the cave were coated with a thick layer of ice that appeared to about an inch thick. Of course it was pitch dark. You could only see exactly where you aimed your flashlight, making the entire operation extremely dangerous and that much more of an adventure. As we inched deeper into the cave, luckily being able to stand upright thanks to the higher ceiling we found inside, we saw a wall of ice to the far side. We headed towards it when William let out a blood curdling scream and immediately dropped out of sight, as if a trap door had opened under him!

I thought he was dead for sure. In seconds several thoughts ran through my mind. He had fallen to his death at the bottom of a hundred foot cavern, or he was impaled on an ice stalagmite, or trapped on a ledge and would bleed to death while we waited in vain for a forest ranger to rappel down and bring his broken body up to us. Or god knows what other horrible lingering fates.

About 10 seconds later we heard a weak and trembling, “I’m okay…” As we quickly, but cautiously made our way to the hole in the ground and peered over the lip of the gaping maw set almost precisely in the middle of the cave, our lights settled on William who was carefully perched on a gentle slope of glistening ice covered rocks leading down about 10 or so feet into a lower cavern. 

He gingerly stood up, noticed that he didn’t even have a scratch on him, and one by one we lowered ourselves down to join him. Get back up on the horse was what his three parents seemed to think.

We spent another 15 or 20 minutes exploring the fascinating crystal walls of ice that were so pure you could see about a foot into them. Then, when it started to get a little too cold for us to take any longer, we headed out. 

While leaving the cave we met a new group of about 5 or 6 adults, none of which spoke much english, dressed in shorts and t-shirts, without flashlights, jackets or hats, transferring a one year old child through the hole with them. We tried to warn them what was ahead, but they either couldn’t, or didn’t want to understand us. I’ve often wondered over the years if they were ever heard from again…

24. Still Not A Fight

The only thing she told me was that William was on his way to the hospital in an ambulance. It was my ex-wife Laurie calling me at work, which everybody knows you only do in an absolute emergency. She said she didn’t have any more info than that. The lady who called from the high school said he’d been in a fight, but as I was frantically canceling my last few clients I just kept saying, “Well, they said he was in a fight, but there’s no way William got in a fight.” I told Laurie I was leaving for the high school office to talk to somebody and find out what actually happened, and then I would her and Pete at the hospital emergency center. 

When I got to the office I was immediately met by three of William’s friends who wanted me to know as soon as I walked in that he had in fact NOT been in a fight. Apparently he was punched in the nose with no provocation. It was a good thing the kids knew because the office staff was useless. All the woman behind the counter could tell me was that he’d been in a fight and that was all she knew. I gave up and went to the hospital where I wished on gone in the first place.

I arrived to find William with blood staining his t-shirt, neck, and face, and an icepack attached to his nose. I was told his nose was broken. William looked miserable, which if you know anything about my son, is terrifying. William doesn’t feel pain like a normal person. We actually had a pediatrician warn us to watch him and if we were at all concerned to have him tested for a rare disorder called congenital analgesia, a fancy term for a child who doesn’t feel pain like a normal person. We know he does feel it, he just doesn’t seem to care. To see him so shaken and miserable was unnerving to say the least.

As the story goes, William was in his PE class on the field. The kids, not having lockers yet, had all of their possessions with them on the field. An older boy, who was apparently cutting class, was stealing skateboards from several of the other lower class-men. He would ride it until a teacher came out to confiscate it. He then went for William’s, and William resisted. My son is not easily intimidated, though at times he probably should be. As soon as the boy took his skateboard William followed after him and while bending down to pick it up said, “Hey asshole, give me my board back.” He came up to face the boy who turned around and punched him squarely in the face.

He doesn’t, or at least didn’t the last we talked about it, remember the punch, or even how he ended up on the ground. He didn’t even remember going for his skateboard, or what he said. It was all told to me (and him I assume) by his friends that were present. This is why I always stress to people that he wasn’t fighting, and he wasn’t (thank goodness) being bullied, he was a victim of felony assault. 

He recovered at warp speed like most young men. The doctors at the ER couldn’t do much since he had what they called a green stick fracture where the bone doesn’t break cleanly, it splinters like a sapling because the cartilage hasn’t hardened completely. Surgery would be required later. So he was sent home with a Neti Pot, an ice pack, and some meds. He hated the Neti pot, had the bandage off before we got to the car, and really didn’t care one way or the other about the Vicodin they just casually handed him on the way out of the emergency room.

This all occurred on a Friday afternoon, and like any concerned parents we expected to have a message from the school on the answering machine when we got home, but nope, nothing. Well, surely somebody would contact us to decide what we should do before Monday. William wouldn’t be back in school for a bit after all. They hadn’t actually caught the kid after he fled, and he needed some rest anyway.

Monday morning Pete and I got dressed for work and waited expectantly to see if somebody would call before the school day started…again, nope. Laurie walked the block from her duplex to our house and we waited a bit longer. Finally we decided to walk to the school, Laurie, Pete, and me, leaving William at home “recuperating”. It was only a couple of blocks, and a cool late summer morning, but we were definitely “warmed” up at this point. We figured maybe they didn’t know what had happened and they were waiting for us to make the first move. So we arrived at the front office, and asked the secretary if we could speak to the principle. She asked how William was doing, and said she was surprised that William would get in a fight, it wasn’t like him. To which we all scrambled to answer first with, “It wan’t a fight! It was assault.” She visibly recoiled and meekly asked if we knew which principle we wanted to see. They had 4 or 5, I don’t remember, it seemed like such a foolish concept to me, and I would be proven correct. We said we didn’t know, and she thought maybe the principle in charge of discipline. Whatever, we didn’t care who we talked to any longer.

We only waited about 5 minutes when we were ushered into a good sized conference room. After we sat down the principle, and what we assume was an aide, or even a lawyer, entered and had a seat. It felt a bit like a hearing with a judge. After introductions he asked what we were meeting about! We actually exchanged shocked expressions and reluctantly started describing what we had been told. Well, he hadn’t heard anything of it, so he asked the officer who had been sitting quietly in the corner since we arrived, if he knew the situation. He was busily paging through his notebook and distractedly asking questions such as, “What day?” and “What’s his name?”

Finally the officer looked up from his spiral notebook and simply said, “I’m not sure which case we’re discussing. I have a lot I’m dealing with right now.” We got up and walked out. Honest to god, we literally walked home, got in the car, and drove to the Catholic School that William’s best friend Collin went to, and enrolled him for the winter quarter. I’ll tell you what; those Catholics don’t mess around when it comes to education, or criminal assault.

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