Catherine and Tracey asked me write a flashback post on this theme:
"How (The Smiths, Nirvana, Debbie Gibson, *insert band name/artist here*) Changed My Life." Pick whatever band, performing artist, one-hit wonder - even just a single song, if you want - and write a post about how it moved / rocked / utterly transformed your adolescent / teenage / young-adult self.
I struggled with what to write about.
Like most teens, my musical taste was sort of a membership requirement for my social clique, but did it actually change my life?
I wanted to give up on writing on this theme, but I kept thinking.
I wandered around in the memories of my adolescence and found myself locked in my parent's car on a hot summer day feverishly journaling about a canoe trip I had returned from a week earlier.
In July of 1982, my friends Tom and Andre invited eight kids from our high school freshman class to join them on their church youth group's trip down the Wisconsin River.
I found four legal pad pages covered with tiny writing on both sides tucked between the pages of my "Official Preppy Secrets" diary just where I remembered hiding them so long ago.
In the journal entry, I painstakingly recounted even the most insignificant details of the canoe trip.
It seems I recorded everything, not sure at the time which details were important and which were not.
This trip, in its own way, was life changing and because the ten of us listened to the same songs over and over again, it is set to a soundtrack in my memory.
It's a long account that ends in tragedy.
I was fourteen when I wrote it.
Here it is...
Everyone met at Immanuel Lutheran Church on Friday, July 23 at 1:00.
We somehow managed to get all the gear in the few cars we had and begin the three hour journey to Sauk City, Wisconsin where our trip started.
We were all paired up and lined up in our fine canoes. Mike I. and Mike K. were partners, Debbie and I, Tom and Andre, Steve and Pat and, finally, Lisa and Cindy. There were other people on the trip but the ten of us stayed to ourselves. We sat waiting for Erik, the leader, to say we could go.
Finally, we pushed off. Lisa traded canoes with Debbie so that she and Cindy could both paddle the first stretch with someone who knew how to canoe.
Steve and Pat had to stay behind for an hour and a half waiting for a car to bring their cooler.
Lisa and I successfully got under the first bridge and were met by Mike and Mike, then Tom and Andre.
We tied the three canoes together and waited for Cindy and Debbie.
Debbie was supposed to be experienced at canoeing but for some reason she and Cindy could only move the canoe in every direction but forward.
When they finally reached us we tied their canoe on and drifted in our four canoes.
The canoe became "Cary Canoe" because of "Gary Gnu," a newscaster on a children's show.
Mike and Mike had to go to the bathroom so they jumped out and swam quite a ways to the shore.
When they were swimming back we realized for the first time how strong the Wisconsin River current could be.
Mike K. got caught in it and was swimming desperately against it.
I remember being very scared that he would drown.
Tom was ready to go in after him if he had to (as Tom is an important part of the varsity swim team,) but Mike got out of it and both Mikes got back in the canoe.
Because of the fact that four canoes tied together don’t go anywhere, we split apart two and two.
Lisa and I were with both Mikes. Cindy and Debbie went with Tom and Andre.
For awhile our two separate vessels drifted down the restful river. The sun was beginning to set and we were surrounded by the blue-green river, thick green trees, the soft tan sand and the orange-yellow, glowing sun.
We had gotten ourselves about half an hour behind the 18 or 19 other canoes and Steve and Pat were nowhere in sight.
With no warning, we found ourselves swarmed by a huge flock of birds. We were sure we’d be the victims of birds going to the bathroom, but we all came out clean.
We decided to paddle so we might have a chance to set up and eat before dark. Debbie got in with Andre and Tom climbed in with Cindy but then, they separated their canoes so it was our double and their two singles.
We Hawaii 5. 0.’d it the rest of the eleven miles we had to go that night.
I remember the sun going down behind a big hill and it was just out of sight when we finally reached the sandbar where our group was camped.
We four girls and the four guys set up our two tents far away and facing away from the others.
As soon as we had the tents up and the charcoal going it was getting really dark and Pat and Steve got there. They set up their tent in pattern with ours forming a 3three sided square facing away from the larger group. Mike K. fixed hamburgers while Lisa, Cindy, Tom and Andre ate their chicken.
By the time we had all eaten it was very late. It was a good thing that earlier, when we could still see, we girls had walked half a mile down the sandbar to pull off our pants and pee.
We searched the brush and found enough wood for a small fire, but we were called away for devotions.
A guy with black hair named Brian led the devotion. It was about how God had created everything and everything was different – like every grain of sand. He also said that this wasn’t a retreat, it was a vacation and that we should all just have a good time. During this devotion, Mike and Mike were eating Nutter Butters and Pinwheel Cookies. I had pretzels. Pat and Steve had Fritos or something and so on. It’s lucky I was able to hear devotions! When they were over, the ten of us went back to our own “resort.”
Since we were on the sand, the fire was in a hole that we dug. It was a little weak so Lisa and I went down to Fable’s tent to get a log out of their fire. They gave us one and as we were leaving (after returning their shovel) they were screaming, “We love you!” and such. Lisa yelled back, “Are you near sighted?” and we ran back to our set up laughing.
We all sat around the fire and made s’mores and listened to Mike K. and Pat sing Bruce Springsteen. It reminded me of those Pepsi commercials where a group of teen-agers are having a fire on the beach. The fact that we were all together was all the really mattered.
Interrupting our Utopia every five minutes was one of the counselors. They must have thought we were having an orgy or something. They’d even stand in the shadows and just watch. Finally Erik told us it was time to hit the sack. Every one of us, at the exact same time, without warning, hit the ground with their hand. Mike I. laughed all night.
We did all go in our tents. The guys raided the girls and then we raided them as The Goodnight Kiss Patrol. All of a sudden there was Erik at the tent door. We girls hurried back to our own tent. Erick said to us, “I notice it’s the girls in the guys tent, not the guys in the girls.”
“Now he thinks we’re whores!” we all groaned.
Just as we were about to go to his tent to explain how all of us were JUST FRIENDS he came down and apologized. He said he just didn’t like us in there and said that two had been in “prone” position.
(Cindy and Andre!Ha ha!)
Erik is definitely strange!
Earlier when we had just put on our pajamas, two of us in surgeon scrubs, two in sweat suits, Erik told us, “These guys don’t need the excitement of seeing you girls in your pajamas.”
They guys found it pretty funny. Since when are surgeon clothes and sweats arousing?
After Erik talked to us about our raid we settled down to go to sleep.
Lisa hyperventilated twice.
I was like a maniac screaming, “DON’T DIE!!”
Cindy told Mike to get Lisa a bag to breathe in so he got her a plastic one!??!!
After that I slept for about an hour and woke up to Cindy and both Mikes talking. I joined them outside with my sleeping bag.
Mike I. was worshipping Cindy’s legs and toes and Mike K. was insisting that my thighs could be food.
We were joined by Pat and Andrew and we started having modeling contests. We modeled our noses, our big toes, etc. Pat always won because he showed his parts in the most “professional” ways.
After that we buried Andre in the sand. It was about 4:00 a.m. and a counselor came and yelled at us for having kept him up all night.
We walked down to the river and crossed to a sandbar island.
Mike K. wrote “Dino the Dinosaur was here.”
We watched the orange, yellow, violet and red streaks of sunrise stripe the sky.
At around 5:00 a.m. the ten of us were all up and the brilliant yellow sun rose against the bluest sky.
Mike K. cooked bacon and eggs rather unsuccessfully while Tom ate like a king with Cindy, Andre and Lisa. Debbie and I had crumb cakes.
The funniest thing was Steve and Pat -- they had cold pop tarts for breakfast. The entire lot of food they brought consisted of seven boxes of pop tarts, two loaves of bread, a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jelly, a jar of marshmallow crème, some doughnuts, cereal (no milk), a bottle of strawberry soda and a few other things. The rest of us had steaks, eggs, fruit, etc. It was pretty funny.
We had all our stuff packed in the canoe by 7:30 but we weren’t leaving until 9:30.
Steve and I had a sand fight and were both totally covered in sand. When we had cleaned ourselves off, we joined everyone else in their search for minnows. They’d even made a private swimming pool for the ones we caught.
The sky looked like a baby blue backdrop for a big yellow spotlight as we left our first camp.
Debbie and I tied between the Mikes and Steve and Pat. Cindy and Lisa were tied to Tom and Andre. Right away we got ourselves about a mile behind the group.
We got hot and swam in the river which was about 80% waist high. The current was very strong in all depths of the water.
We gorged ourselves that day. Steve and I ate a whole bag of cherries. We tried to find out if the seeds would sink or float. They sank.
The whole day the other two canoes stayed away from our three. We were swimming and they were sunning.
Over and over we listened to “Since You’re Gone” by The Cars, “Going to a Go-Go” by The Rolling Stones and “Take it Away” by Paul McCartney on the mixed tape that Tom had brought on the trip.
We came to part of the river that was almost silver looking.
Tom, Lisa and Cindy had stopped somewhere for more intense rays.
Andre joined us and we all swam and pulled the canoes behind us.
The guys all took off their shorts and were letting the river carry them nude.
Mike and Mike were doing dolphin dives and teaching the rest of us the chorus to "Thunder Road" and "Born to Run" by Bruce Springsteen and some Jethro Tull song. Mike and Mike sang the songs all the way through and we joined in when we could.
“Boom Boom Out Go The Lights!”
So anyway, we were swimming along in waist deep water and all of a sudden there was a drop off and the waist deep water was twelve feet deep.
We were close to the bank but the water carried us pretty far before we realized the current was way too strong for us to be out there.
We swam to the side and grabbed onto trees. Steve, Mike and I were all hanging on one tree limb and Debbie and the other Mike were on another.
Andre and Pat were able to reach the canoes.
I was holding onto Steve. The current was so strong that our bodies were being pulled up onto the river's surface, pointing straight down the river.
Pat and Andrew got Steve, Mike I. and I, but we couldn’t get to Mike K. and Debbie.
Mike I. got in the boat and put on sweatpants, he had never put his shorts back on when he was in the water.
A motor boat picked up Debbie and Mike K. They were hanging on the side of it and the motor cut up Mike’s foot.
Mike got in and Debbie was hanging on the side of the canoe.
I was brushing my hair.
Mike I. was laughing at Mike K. whose shorts were thrown at him by the motor boat people.
Mike was cussing and screaming.
None of us really thought about what was going on.
When we were still in the water, Steve had jokingly said, “Oh, No! We’re drowning!”
Suddenly Debbie was back on a tree grabbing desperately onto branches that kept breaking.
We got her back into the canoe and a ranger got us off the log we were stuck on.
Mike K. got us all in life jackets pretty quick.
The ranger said to be careful because someone had just gone down.
Our rope was stuck, but we just cut it and left.
Around the bend we saw a lot of motor boats along a sandbar talking to people from our group.
We beached our canoes and learned that a kid from our group named Bobby had been swimming with his partner when he went under.
He never came up.
People who knew him were crying and we were just shocked.
Mike K. was by himself crying out of anger at our stupidity. He was punching his hand and maybe even cussing. I don’t know.
All I remember thinking was how unfair it was that we could fool around and act like assholes and live while an innocent kid drowned.
The counselors told us to take our canoes around to the other side of the sandbar to set up camp.
This sand bar was all hot sand, no brush hardly, nothing.
When we got our canoes around to the creek, (a small part of the river) Cindy, Tom and Lisa showed up. They had gotten themselves about a mile downstream and had to walk back up.
We unloaded our gear and then the entire group met.
We formed a huge circle, held hands and prayed.
We voted to continue the canoe trip and we went back and set up.
Mike I. and I washed our hair in the river while Steve played frisbee football with a lot of the youth group members.
We ate dinner early.
It was so hot on this sandbar. Lisa, Mike and I got towels and our pillows and laid down for awhile.
There was a helicopter looking for Bobby now and they were dragging the river.
I can’t stand the sight of those boats that drag the water.
We were all so hot and confused.
All you could really think about was night coming for cool air and sleep.
There was some comic relief.
Since there were no bushes on the sandbar, we had to canoe across the little part of the river to an island to go to the bathroom.
It became known as Excretion Island.
I was over there with Tom, Steve and Andre. I was sitting in the canoe listening to what they were saying.
Tom was laughing so hard and playing “Name That Shit.”
“Look at that one! That’s gotta be Joel’s!” he said.
Tom wanted to make a buried treasure map.
While they were there they took Molly Hatchet (our axe) and got some wood for a fire.
That night was very different from Friday night.
Things were funny, but not that funny.
We had devotions and Erik read some things to us. He told us that God gives us everything and sometimes he takes things away. It was Bobby’s time to be with God, he said. He also asked us if it had been us would we have bee ready. Would we have gone to Heaven?
Cindy and I were scared by that.
The ten of us laid our sleeping bags around what Andre was trying to make into a fire.
“Keep the fire burnin',’’ we sang.
Steve and I were sharing a pillow. The last thing I remember about Saturday night was talking to him about God and looking at the stars.
The next morning I awoke to a symphony of farts courtesy of Tom, Andre and Mike I.
We all got up and ate, then packed up, sat in the canoes and waited.
There was a final devotion by Sharon who read something from the Bible reassuring you that God is by your side.
Then we left, each girl in a canoe with a guy because the object Sunday was to go the final five miles fast and to be done.
We finally reached Spring Green, our destination.
We unloaded the canoes and had a long wait before we were leaving so we went swimming in what would have been a great swimming hole except for all the rocks.
The guys were jumping off a tree into the water. Mike and Pat were swinging on a rope singing “Give Me a Mountain, Give me a Dew!”
I cut my baby toe really bad on something. Erik fixed it up. A lot of people were crowded around -- to see the blood of a toe, I guess. Mocking the whole thing, Mike I. came rushing through to see and for his efforts he got handed my bloody paper towel.
We all kind of sat down and relaxed listening to the same songs over and over on Tom's tape.
I rode home with Tom’s parents and Andre.
Tom's parents were more than upset by the death, they were hostile. After their lecture, Tom and Andre had flashbacks about going to school at Immanuel Lutheran. They got so excited talking that they were spitting on me but I was so dirty already that I really didn’t care.
When we got back to the church, we found out that Mike had come careening into the church parking lot full of grieving, upset parents with “Limelight” by Rush blasting on the radio.
We had just missed a prayer and a lot of people were crying.
When I got home, I told my parents and went to my room.
I just cried and cried. Not only for Bobby’s death – I didn’t know him, but I cried because I realized how much we all grew up on the trip.
I can’t explain how I feel to anyone who wasn’t there.
I needed to write this all down so maybe I’ll understand things better.
God bless us all.
I was a girl with one foot planted, deep as bedrock, in childhood while the other foot desperately searched for a toe hold on the mystifying path to adulthood.
Throughout the journal entry I bounce back and forth between being a child at play and a young girl becoming conscious of her blooming sexuality.
I knew the trip was important, but couldn't quiet put my finger on the way that coping with this death nudged us all forward on our journey to maturity.
On July 24, 1982, Bobby Heinze drowned in the Wisconsin River.
I can't help wondering if his parents ever recovered.
I imagine they still miss him every day.
Bobby, you helped the ten of us grow up a little.
I hope you are at peace.
This song, played over and over again on that trip, is for you.
You can find more on this theme at these blogs:
Her Bad Mother
Oh, The Joys
Girl's Gone Child
Red Pen Mama
Outta the Coop
Look for these bloggers next week:
Anyone can participate in these Friday theme posts. All you are asked to do is copy the list of participants and add it to the bottom of your own post -- don't forget to add yourself!