Getting Lost
John Rosenthal

The story I want to tell you took place a long time ago, in the summer of 1954. That means that I have to rely upon the accuracy of my memory, which isn’t all that reliable. Sometimes I remember things that didn’t happen exactly the way I remember them, and, occasionally I actually remember things that didn’t happen. These imagined memories have texture and palpability and I can’t distinguish them from real memories. For example, I recall sitting across the table from Bob Dylan at the Cafe Reggio in Greenwich Village on a cold afternoon in 1961. I was hanging out with my friend Billy Hopkins, who lived in the Village and knew everybody. This was before Dylan had recorded his first album, before his fame extended beyond Bleeker Street. He was sitting at a small round table, a shaggy-haired kid in a black leather jacket, drinking coffee and writing a poem on a napkin. The day was bleak, the cafe dark. Not much was said. 

Okay, I agree, it’s not much of a story, but after Dylan became famous I told it a few times. Then one day in the mid-1980’s I suddenly said to myself: “Wait. Maybe you didn’t actually meet Dylan that day. Maybe you and Billy looked all over the Village for him, but never found him. Maybe you had a cup of cappuccino in the Cafe Reggio, and then went back to Billy’s apartment and played some music.” 


The fact is, I’m no longer sure I met Dylan in 1961, and that’s a dilemma. Am I fantasist? I assure you, I don’t feel like one. Is there something hyperbolic and self-dramatizing about the way I remember things? I suppose so, though I hate to admit it. I also suppose I could contact Billy and ask him if we met Dylan that day, but that would be difficult since I haven’t heard from Billy since the Spring of 1961 when he mailed me Dylan’s first album. After that he vanished from my life. Anyway, I hate to admit this but Billy’s name might not have been Billy. It might have been Johnny, like mine. Billy Hopkins. Johnny Hopkins. They both sound right. We weren’t great friends. 

Nowadays I don’t tell my little Dylan story anymore. After all, my interlocutor might ask “Who’s Bob Dylan?” Well, I know very well who he is. He was the skinny young man with wild hair sitting across the table from me in the dark cafe, smoking cigarettes and looking nervous. I was there. 

I also know who the boy was, Johnny Rosenthal, and what he was doing in the Adirondack Mountains on that August morning in 1954. That was me, standing beside a swift little river that was covered with a light, dank mist. But since I don’t entirely trust my memory, let’s just say it was a boy standing there around 6:30 am on an unexpectedly hot New England morning. The campsite was stirring, which meant that Mackie, the chief counselor, a lean, dark man with cold, blue eyes, had begun to shout insults at the campers who were still in their sleeping bags. The boy was tired and sore. The day before they had paddled seven miles down Long Lake and then hauled their aluminum canoes up the tricky rapids of this shallow river to Shattuck’s Landing, an ugly stretch of sand and dirt at the edge of the Adirondacks. There they had pitched camp, eaten a quick meal, and gone to bed. All night long the boy had heard mosquitoes buzzing in his tent. 

That morning they were to begin the second half of their trip, a five day hike into the Adirondacks. The boy had dreaded this part of the trip. He was much smaller than everyone else and was afraid he wouldn’t be able to pull his own weight. That’s what you did as a camper at Keewaydin Camp. You pulled your own weight. 

An hour later, after a breakfast of biscuits and oatmeal, and after the week’s provisions had been equally distributed to the ten boys and two counselors, they were ready to break camp and hit the road. The game-plan was to reach the campgrounds at the base of Algonquin Mountain by late afternoon. 

The boy strapped his rolled sleeping bag onto his pack—which now included his own gear plus twelve tin plates and a number of tin cans filled with corn beef hash and fruit cocktail—and lifted it off the ground. A rush of anxiety, like a small electric shock, passed through him. The pack was heavier than he expected. Counting silently to three, he hoisted the pack in the air and, to his surprise, his knees buckled. As he adjusted the new, slightly uncontrollable weight about his shoulders, he realized that if he leaned backwards, even slightly, he might fall down. The boy, who had never read Kafka, pictured himself falling down on the trail, backwards, like a cockroach that couldn’t get up. It was an unpleasant image. 

How in the world, he wondered, will I be able to carry this much weight for eight miles? 

I hate to interrupt the boy just as he’s about to set off on this journey, but I can’t help wishing that he’d been a little more forthright, that he’d spoken up right then and admitted that the backpack was too heavy for him. Nowadays youngsters are routinely encouraged to express their self-doubts and even to elaborate on their personal limitations; and conversely, they are encouraged to appreciate the vulnerability of others. In these relatively enlightened times in which counselors are trained to anticipate situations that undermine the self-esteem of children, it’s unlikely that any child would be asked to carry more weight than his or her strength would allow. That’s very nice of course—it’s even more than nice, it’s decent—but my story takes place in 1954 when these particular options didn’t exist. Many years later the boy’s son, who also attended Keewaydin and who also was small for his age, would have laughed at the idea of carrying too much weight. “What do I look like, a camel?” he might have asked a counselor, and immediately the weight of his pack would have been reduced. But in 1954, such irony was rarely used by youngsters, especially at Keewaydin, where fortitude was considered a virtue and whining a vice. The boy was sure that if he complained that his pack was too heavy for him the others boys would find ways to mock him and the counselors would exchange significant glances with each other. Remember, World War II had ended less than ten years earlier, and it was won by men who knew how to pull their own weight. Some of these men, Mackie included, were counselors at Keewaydin. 

Of course the boy’s worst fears came true. Within half an hour, he started to lag behind the other campers who breezed past him as if their backpacks were filled with feathers. Feeling slightly desperate, he picked up his pace. Unfortunately, the faster he walked the more he began to stumble on rocks and roots, and the harder the straps of his pack dug into his shoulders (padded shoulder straps were still in the future). The boy’s desperation increased. 

I recall that until this unexpected moment in his life the boy had more or less counted on a sort of universal kindness to see him through difficulties—his parents, for example, whose tenderness and understanding had always modified the harsher elements of his young life, such as playground injustices or the tactless behavior of bullies. But now, as he staggered about on the trail, he was beginning to feel that the very absence of his parents from these woods constituted a kind of betrayal. To put it simply, they ought to have been there to witness what a mess he was in, especially his mother who understood him better than his father. She’d be upset once she learned about his heavy backpack, and in his imagination he began to rehearse the presentation of his grievance to her. After all, she always offered him a consoling look across the dinner table whenever relatives served him food he despised and didn’t have to eat at home. 

The boy looked up ahead and saw that all of the other campers who had passed him were out of sight. Occasionally he’d hear their shouts and laughter down the trail. 

That he was, compared to the other boys, a weakling was becoming obvious by the minute, and this was awfully embarrassing, especially since it must also be obvious to Carl, the junior counselor, whose job was to bring up the rear. Carl, a senior music major at Dartmouth, was a tall, skinny guy with a high laugh who waved his hands dramatically in the air whenever he got excited. The boy, whose impersonations had earned him the reputation of a wise-guy, had entertained his fellow-campers over the past few days by exaggerating Carl’s mannerisms—speaking in a lisping, falsetto voice and flapping his wrists girlishly in the air. Now, however, as he listened to the junior counselor whistling a tune a few yards behind him, the boy remembered these little takeoffs and blushed with shame. Carl was effeminate but he wasn’t a weakling. 

Just before noon, the boy, exhausted and dragging, saw that the guys up ahead had knocked off for lunch in a clearing next to a small waterfall. He thought about limping up the trail as if he’d twisted his ankle, but Carl, who was ten yards behind him, would know he was faking it. Instead the boy decided to saunter into camp, gazing like a poet (or as he imagined a poet to gaze) at the soaring Adirondack wilderness—lost seemingly in a cloud of poky appreciation. 

He was afraid someone was going to say something about his late arrival, but nobody did. 

Shucking off his pack, the boy sat beside the little waterfall. Tony Esposito, a muscular kid from Philadelphia who was on lunch detail, handed him a packet of Orange Kool-Ade in a tin cup and a spam sandwich. He dipped the cup into the chilled mountain water and poured in the orange powder, stirring it with his finger. Then he licked his finger and drank, tasting bitter metal beneath the sweetness. The boy felt excluded as the other campers talked among themselves, continuing conversations they’d started on the trail. Nervously, he ate half his sandwich and gulped down the rest of his drink. High in the surrounding oaks, a few bluejays argued, and the clear bright water, cascading down the rocky hillside, made a soft splashing noise. But the boy, who was slightly sickened by the taste of warm spam and worried about the long afternoon hike ahead, heard nothing. 

Before the other campers had finished eating lunch, the boy rinsed his cup in the stream, handed it back to Tony, and walked over to Mackie who was leaning against a tree with his eyes closed, a weed stem stuck between his clenched teeth. He kneeled beside Mackie. 

“Do you mind if I take off now?” the boy asked quietly. 

Mackie opened one eye, squinting, and the weed in his mouth moved imperceptibly. Then he nodded and closed his eyes again. The boy was sure he detected a trace of disgust in Mackie’s nod. 

Nevertheless, feeling suddenly invigorated, the boy lifted the pack on his back and, once again, stumbled under its surprising weight. But that was all right. He stood up as straight as he could, shrugged his shoulders to find the right balance, and left the clearing without saying anything to anybody. Knowing he’d have a headstart on the other guys, he felt almost elated, and the thought crossed his mind that maybe he’d even get to the campground first: all he had to do was stay in front. He fairly sprang down the path, his footing strong and sure. 

Looking back all these years later, I’m touched by the boy’s optimism which had already been shaped by stories and movies in which self-determination always triumphs over physical limitations. In real life, though, optimism lasts only as long it can, and no more. Within twenty minutes the boy was beginning to stumble and lose his breath. He leaned against a tree to ease the weight on his shoulders (he could feel a blister forming), and heard the sound of laughter coming down the path he’d just traveled. It was the other campers. A wave of black hatred swept over him in the sunny green forest. They were trying to catch up to him and pass him by and show up his weakness. He began to walk quickly down the path, determined to stay ahead, but it was no use. A few boys soon passed him cheerfully, arguing about baseball. The boy’s heart beat poisonously. With his spirit faltering, he wished them broken legs. Soon Mackie and the other boys caught up and passed him, too, some of them singing “The Happy Wanderer,” and he found himself, once again, the last boy on the trail. 

As he trudged along, mindful of the terrible weight on his shoulders and staring at the rooty trail beneath his feet, the boy began to make a list of all the people who made his life miserable. Of course Mackie was first on the list since it was Mackie, who, out of an unpredictable malice, had made sure his pack was too heavy. Mackie wanted to humiliate him because Mackie was, quite simply, a cruel person—a cruel, dark, pale-eyed person with small teeth and a mouth like a slit. Next on the boy’s list were his fellow-campers. They weren’t cruel like Mackie, but they were uncaring and dumb. Some of them must have noticed the excessive weight he was assigned, and yet nobody lifted a finger to help him. The worst of these were the strongest boys whose strength made them blind to the needs of others. Then came his parents who insisted, against his protests, that he return to camp for his fourth summer in a row. That wasn’t fair. He pictured his father wearing bermuda shorts, carrying the sprinkler around the yard from one spot to another, worried about their soft green suburban lawn. Looking up from the ground, the boy glared at the forest. If his father despised crabgrass so much, the boy thought, what am I doing here? Then he suddenly pictured the community swimming pool in his hometown on Long Island, filled with restless green water, and he saw his friends, laughing and tanned, stretched out on their towels, listening to a transistor radio. 

Finally the boy thought of Carl, who, it turned out, wasn’t such a pansy after all, but he also wasn’t very cool. I’d kill myself if I was that uncool, he thought, and that’s when he heard the silence, and looked up and around and realized that something was wrong. Straight ahead, the trail, rising through the forest, was empty. Whirling around, he expected to see Carl a few yards behind him, maybe whistling something stupid or taking a picture of a tree, but Carl wasn’t there. The boy stopped dead in his tracks and said to himself, I’m alone. That meant something different in 1954 than it does now. Americans hadn’t yet discovered the physical and spiritual benefits of hiking in the Great Outdoors. In those days you could walk for days in the deep mountain forests and never cross paths with another soul. Alone was alone. 

It was a simple moment, and very clear. 

The boy had never been alone before, not really. All his life he’d lived in the suburbs around New York City, and though they were very nice suburbs with plenty of trees, he was always aware of that exact boundary where the trees stopped and the streets began. Sometimes in the winter, playing hide-and-seek with his friends in what seemed like a wilderness, he would glance up and see the edge of a white brick chimney through the bare trees, or hear, far off in the distance, the honk of a horn. 

But on that summer afternoon, he knew, as he knew his own name, that he was alone. The silence he was standing in had a depth to it, as if he were standing in the bottom of a well and the world was making a noise somewhere else. Cupping his ears, he listened for the sound of voices far ahead of him, a whoop perhaps or a laugh or an echo, but all he heard was the sound of leaves hissing continuously in the tall trees. 

He said to himself: Alone isn’t lost, it’s just being by yourself. Alone is all right. 

During the past year the boy had seen a book called The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale on his mother’s bedside table, and the title had stuck in his mind. Now, with the deep woods all around and nobody in sight, he thought of the book again and decided this was a good time to think positively. He said to himself: I’m not lost. It’s all in my mind. He even tried to whistle, though all he could manage was tuneless noise. 

Alone is okay, he said to himself. 

As the boy continued down the trail, occasionally turning to look for Carl, his bundle of aggravations disappeared, giving way to an anxiety that seemed to have no center. 

He looked down the trail which sliced its way through the dense sun-splotched woods and told himself that if he stayed on the trail he’d eventually meet up with everybody. There was the trail in front of him. He just had to keep walking. 

I’m not lost, he said to himself again, and hitched up his pack. Move on. 

And he did, humming. 

About fifteen minutes later, however, he arrived at a fork in the trail. A small path sloped off distinctly to the left. He stopped humming and thought to himself that Indian scouts were skillful at this sort of thing. Recalling Kit Carson, who’d been one of his earliest heroes, the boy fell to his knees where the trails divided and began to search for small signs of disturbance such as upturned leaves and footprints. Unfortunately, he couldn’t tell the difference between leaves that were upturned and leaves that weren’t. And he didn’t see any footprints. 

Scouting was more complicated than he’d imagined. 

He rose wearily and decided he’d better stay on the wider trail. However, as soon as he hoisted his pack on his back and started walking, he wondered if he was making a mistake. Hadn’t he overheard Mackie saying something at lunch about branching off the main route, or did he just imagine it? He tried to recall exactly what Mackie had said, but all he could come up with was the image of Mackie’s thin dark pitted face, looking up at him, his pale-blue unblinking eyes filled with either sadness or disgust. 

The pulse in his neck was thudding and that distracted him. 

The boy kept walking, but he’d lost faith in the honesty of trails. Every step he took seemed to increase the likelihood that his fellow campers had veered left, and, in his mind’s eye, he could see them striding along the narrower path in single file, kidding around with each other, talking about sports and their girlfriends back home. Then he pictured someone turning around and glancing down the trail, somebody like Tony Esposito, and saying, “Hey, where’s. . . ?” and how all the guys would turn around too and check the empty trail and then look at each other with a knowing look. “Great,” someone would say sarcastically. “Now we’ll make camp at dark and have peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for dinner.” 

The boy felt their contempt keenly, but even that contempt was better than the anxiety that was closing in on him. For now it seemed more than obvious that he’d taken the wrong trail. Of course he had. If eleven people had hiked this way, there would have to be a sign, one footprint at least. Again the boy dropped to his knees and stared at the ground for clues of some sort, but he couldn’t find any indication that hikers had passed this way today. For a moment he had trouble catching his breath. If he was on the wrong trail, he reasoned, then every step he took would double the distance between him and everybody else; pretty soon he’d be so far away that nobody could find him. 

Rising slowly from the ground, the boy was paralyzed by indecision. He didn’t know whether he should return to the fork in the trail and take the smaller path, or risk going forward on this one. 

His legs felt like they were made out of lead. 

The boy now had to admit to himself that he was lost, though what that meant wasn’t exactly clear. I’m lost, he said to himself as if he were saying: I’m orange. He looked at the forest around him, thick with trees and endlessly green; he closed his eyes and, as if trying to tune a radio into a distant broadcast signal, he listened carefully for something, a motor throbbing in the distance, or the whine of a saw carried on the breeze. But all heard were the rustling leaves high above him. 

A new wave of fear passed through him, and he asked himself: how could I be lost in the woods? Life isn’t a fairy tale. 

I suppose this is a good time to point out that the boy had believed, from an early age, that he lived a charmed life. This belief was probably connected to the peculiar fact that his father was Joe DiMaggio’s lawyer. When he was younger the boy would never pass up a chance to tell his playmates that his father was Joe DiMaggio’s lawyer—information that always impressed them. Of course now that Joltin’ Joe had retired from baseball, his father’s connection to the ballplayer didn’t have the same impact that it used to; nevertheless, it still made the boy feel special and lucky—so special and so lucky that every once in a while he had speculated on the possibility that life (not just his life, but everybody’s) was a drama in which he played the starring role. This probably explains why the boy, just as he was beginning to understand that he was really lost, also wondered for a moment if his fellow-campers might not be hiding behind trees, waiting to see what the son of Joe DiMaggio’s lawyer was going to do next. 

It was around this time the boy noticed that the woods had grown a little darker, and looking up, he saw that the sun had slipped below the top of the tallest trees. He was reminded that in a few hours it would be night. He’d forgotten about that. 

The boy started to yell for help, but as the word leaped out of his throat into the wilderness a dreadful thought crossed his mind. What if by yelling for help his cries attracted the attention of a maniac? Here was a moment of clarity. For suddenly the boy understood that being lost meant not only that you were at the mercy of maniacs, but very possibly in their vicinity. 

Maniacs no longer play quite as large a role in the dark imaginings of boys as they used to. I suppose that’s because over the last fifty years social scientists have studied the social and cultural roots of criminality, and in the process, they have re-defined the criminal as the victim of poverty, abuse, or neglect—an elegant assumption that neatly replaces the ferocious and punitive Christian concept of a sinner with the more charitable and therapeutic notion of people who are emotionally impaired. Unfortunately, this research, whether or not it’s true, or even to the point, came too late for our frightened young man in the forest who in 1954 believed entirely in the existence of evil, and especially in the sort of absolute evil represented by maniacs, that is, knife-wielding men with foam-flecked lips and insane eyes. And as he looked around the immense forest, his breath held tightly, it seemed plausible that the Adirondack Mountains were full of maniacs hiding behind boulders or lurking in ravines, hunting for lost boys. But not only maniacs. Bears too. He’d almost forgotten about the bears. The boy tried to recall everything he’d been told about how you act if you cross paths with a bear in the woods, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t remember if you were supposed to stand still, or run, or shout loudly, or climb a tree. And if he was supposed to climb a tree, then he was out of luck because he was a lousy tree climber. (He was, it was now pretty obvious, lousy at everything.) All he could remember was that a mother bear who was still nursing her cubs would kill anything that came too close. 

For the first time that day the boy realized that he was hot. His hands were actually dripping with sweat. He wiped them on his pants. A mosquito whined in his right ear and he waved it angrily away. A few seconds later it was back, a furious little siren, and he slapped at it, accidentally hitting the side of his face. Looking at his hand, he saw the mosquito—a smear of blood and minuscule black wings. 

Good, he muttered to himself, as he wiped his hand on his pants. 

Listening now, he became aware of a loud and steady droning that surrounded him completely. He wondered if this sound, this droning, had just begun, or if it had been there all along and he just hadn’t noticed it? 

A small sob escaped from his throat, and, inexplicably, he slapped his face again, harder this time. The buzzing and droning seemed wild and vexatious, as if the insects had struck up some kind of unholy communion. He wondered if they could send signals back and forth to each other. Then he had a terrible thought: what if all the mosquitoes in the forest began to figure out, according to some bug instinct, that he was alone? What if they suddenly swarmed towards him and with their tiny, hungry needles, millions of them, and drained his blood? 

It was a child’s thought, but he was a child. 

As the boy stood in the middle of the trail, listening to the drone, he looked deep into the forest, and, for the first time in his life, but not the last, he understood that the universe was humming with appetite. Such a thought, so, outsized in its horror, was almost nauseating. He began to recall certain images—where had they come from?—that had slipped quietly past the everyday cheerfulness of his life. These images apparently had been too horrible to accommodate, but now he couldn’t stop himself from remembering them. A teeming army of ants pouring over a fallen antelope like a glistening black rug. A python unhinging its mouth to swallow an entire baby pig. A boy his age dragged by an alligator into a green pond. Spellbound by horror, he shucked his backpack off and let it drop on the trail. Then he watched as a procession of creatures flashed past his unseeing eyes—the devouring and the devoured wedded in awful contract: lions and jaguars and gazelles and wolves and lambs and cats and mice. As if a veil had been pulled aside, the boy realized that Nature was a gigantic digestive system. 

Then he blinked and saw the dusty, late-afternoon sun slant through the green forest. Even the earth, the brown earth on which he stood, was only rot. 

Of course this was unendurable. And not just to him. To anybody. But it was especially intolerable to the boy who, until that very moment, had regarded himself as a person who lived in a bright, clean house surrounded by a trimmed green lawn, who listened to Bill Haley and the Comets on his forty-five record player, and who ate TV dinners on Friday nights. 

Throwing all caution to the wind, he began to scream, his voice, high-pitched and cracking. 

Can anybody hear me? Can anybody hear me?” 

Behind him, bouncing off a distant ridge, his echo faintly returned. Holding his breath he listened for a reply. Even the insects, silent for the moment, seemed to be listening. Then the relentless droning began again, and he cried for help, but nobody answered. 

He began to pray, not as he prayed every night—out of habit—but devoutly, spontaneously, breathlessly, recklessly. His prayer, spoken in a quiet, strangled voice, mingled entreaty and contrition; there was no promise he wouldn’t keep if only God would rescue him. Trying to speak in a reasonable manner so he wouldn’t seem pitiable in the eyes of God, he apologized for his past crimes that had contaminated his soul and led to his present damnation—stealing at least 12 45s from The Melody Shop, vandalizing Stop signs in his suburban neighborhood, and setting a fire that burned down a small grove of trees on a golf course. He also promised, as a kind of aside, that he’d never curse again or tell lies. Twice, craving something more fervent and intimate than a bargain, he shouted God’s name into the sky, his fists clenched beside his ears. 

Above the darkening green of the forest, the sky, visible only in patches, appeared surprisingly blue. 

The boy couldn’t decide whether he was being punished or overlooked. 

He dragged his pack across the trail and slumped down against the trunk of a fallen tree. The trunk was soft with age. Across the trail a small grove of birches leaned together against the straight green forest. He wondered if the pale orange mushrooms that sprouted like oysters on the bark of the fallen birches were edible. 

Waving mosquitoes away from his face, he glanced to his left and saw a thread of tiny red ants, no bigger than chocolate sprinkles, weaving their way down the decaying trunk. He laid a finger across their path and one of the ants climbed on his knuckle. Raising his hand, he watched the ant as it shuttled here and there, stopping and starting, frantically trying to find its way. He blew gently and the ant, weightless and simple, sailed off his finger into a patch of emerald moss. It would find its way home. 

Was he the only creature in the world who didn’t know what to do? 

At this moment the boy began to cry. There was nothing else to do. He was, he realized, a completely despicable person, a paltry, sarcastic, mean-spirited, whining, false-hearted, ungrateful weakling who deserved everything he got, even death. He saw himself as a person who had managed to live, worm-like, beneath everything—beneath the kindness of his family, the goodwill of boys, the openness of girls, the simple requirements of religion—a snickering thing in a sincere world. Sobbing quietly, he began to slap his face over and over again with both hands. 

And that’s when he heard the whistling. At first it sounded like a bird-call. Then the sound, hinting at melody, cut like a blade through the hum of the forest, a distinctive and familiar and human noise. He whipped his head around and saw Carl, fifty yards down the trail, Carl, strolling towards him, glancing this way and that, his pack edging above his shoulders, a camera dangling on his chest, whistling. Years later the boy would remember what an angel in high radiance looked like: a skinny young man walking slowly along a forest trail. 

A young man who was pretending that he heard nothing. 

For a moment the news of his rescue didn’t register. He blinked Carl away. But when he blinked again, there was Carl, approaching, a look of friendly concern on his face. The boy glanced away and quickly wiped his eyes. When he turned to face Carl, his expression was merely pleasant. He thought about humming a tune, like one who is resting, but he only smiled weakly. 

Carl cocked his head and smiled, too. 

“Taking a break?” 

The boy nodded, unsure of his voice. 

“Yeah, I guess.” 

A small crack appeared in his voice when he said, offhandedly, “I didn’t think anybody was behind me.” 

Carl laughed and waved his hand at the forest behind him. “You know one of the staff has to be last man on the trail.” 

“Yeah, I guess,” the boy said, starting to get up. 

“Here.” Carl offered his hand. 


When he stood, his legs were trembling. He hoped Carl didn’t notice. He slapped at his legs as if he was dusting his pants, the way strong men in movies used to slap women who couldn’t stop crying. 

“I guess I didn’t know if I was on the right trail.” 

Carl looked closely at the boy. 

“What other trail is there?” 

“Well, there was one that . . . that . . . went off . . .” 

“A little path? Off to the left?” 


“The deer path?” 

“Yeah, I guess.” 

“No,” Carl said. “Nothing to worry about. You’re on the right trail. At least I hope we are!” he added, laughing his high laugh. 
Carl helped the boy with his pack. 

As they started down the trail, Carl said, “I took a little detour to photograph an abandoned hermitage. It was really something. Ruins are beautiful in a funny way. Do you like ruins?” 

“Sort of,” said the boy. 

Panic takes a lot out of you. It’s as if you accidentally open up and everything—where you live, what teams you root for, what food your mother fixes for your dinner—tumbles out of you and there’s nothing that can be done to stop the scattering of who you are. In effect, your personality dissolves as you plead for exception. In spite of his pitiful bravura, the boy’s legs could hardly hold up under the weight of his pack, but, as it turned out, he didn’t have to. Tony Esposito from Philadelphia suddenly appeared on the trail ahead. Tony was a friendly guy, kind of quiet. He lifted the boy’s pack off his shoulders, and said, “There’s a lake up ahead and we’re pitching camp. We can go swimming. Let me help you with that. We thought you’d taken a nap!” Then he laughed and that was that. 

Which of course is not quite true. That is never that. Experiences, especially dire experiences, are relived throughout our lives—not on the sensory level where they whirled us about until we had to hold on for dear life, but in our consciousness, where, a few years later, we try to make some kind of stationary sense out of what happened. In my case, making sense meant repeating a particular story to myself in which the wandering hero, a person who isn’t the least heroic, rescues a lost soul who has fallen by the wayside. It also meant asking myself if experiencing humiliation was such a terrible thing—and I suppose the answer to that question depends upon what kind of adult I grew up to admire and understand. And this is true: I’ve met many people, so-called movers and shakers who never seem to have lost or been lost, and for some reason they seem like children to me.