July 15, 2011

Consequences: A Drama in Three Parts, Part 3


Saturday dawned bright. Our only full day at Shi Shi, the day for leisurely breakfast, morning cocktails, tidepool exploration, swimming in the ocean, dancing in the sand. When life is this idyllic, it's only natural (from a dramatic story perspective) that tragedy is looming. As a foreboding David Lynchian soundtrack floated on the wind past our unhearing ears, we came up to the second camp to say hello. Nathan (Team Seattle), someone  I had met earlier that day when I was distracted by the task of turning 48 eggs into breakfast tacos, was lying in the sand against a piece of driftwood. His nose, his whole face really, was turning a garish shade of red. "Do you have any sunscreen?" I asked him. 
"They have some at camp, maybe."
"You should use some. It looks like you're burning."
He grunted an acknowledgment that communicated he wasn't a sunscreen kind of guy. I moved on. 

We spent the afternoon swimming, running up and down the beach, and had a quick lunch at the Seattle Camp before going back to Portland camp to rest and relax for a bit. I read a chapter of The Hobbit outloud. We had cocktail hour. And then we got dressed and prepared to head back down to Camp Seattle for dinner. Gabe and his crew were providing a hot dog and chili feast, and Camp Seattle had promised a massive bonfire. It was, indeed, a massive bonfire. Practically the size of a funeral pyre. We arrived to half-naked friends stoking a pyramid of driftwood taller than me. After roasting hotdogs on a smaller cooking fire, we moved to the bonfire which was now roaring merrily. We sat down on driftwood logs circled around the fire, passed whiskey around, and began story hour. This involved someone standing up and telling a story about someone else in the group. The person featured in the story was the next person to stand up and tell a story about someone else. The bonfire raged on. It was so hot you couldn't stand close enough to roast a marshmallow. 

It was then that Bob appeared. But no one saw him. Almost no one heard him. He might have passed unnoticed but for the events left in his wake. He slouched into our circle, looked into our eyes, and whispered in Nathan's sunburnt ear, "Firewalk with meeeeee." And so Nathan did. In an act of bravado (and stupidity), Nathan attempted to run up one of the half-burnt logs that leaned across the bonfire. He did not succeed. He half-fell, dropped a foot down, and managed to get to the other side. Seconds later, Greg did the same slightly more successfully. What followed was loss, darkness, mayhem. Nathan surrounded by his friends in the far-off low tide, his moans, the night pressing in, the fire burning pitilessly. 

The story comes fragmented. Some of us had already gone back to the Portland camp, some were lost to whiskey, some to fear and helplessness. I saw his blackened shin but his foot was only half in the light and covered in sand. At a loss, I went back to camp and fell asleep in my tent. Darci and Caitlin stayed up through the night and pouring water over his burns. Greg lay in his tent whimpering, his feet burned as well, but not so badly. Someone's cell phone and a call to 911. The Coast Guard and Search and Rescue came down through the forest on ATVs, I imagine them looking like the men searching for E.T. in the forest, all flashing lights and noise in the night. A helicopter was called and circled over the beach at sunrise, took Nathan away around six in the morning. We woke up to mangled stories and confusion. Darci's description to the dispatcher: "Nathan, earmuffs." He covered his ears. "It looks like a dead person's foot."

The happy ending to the story is that he's okay in the he-will-live sense. There are the bills for Flight for Life, the hospital stay, and skin grafts that will come later, but alive and in debt is probably better than loss of a foot to gangrene. Another positive is that it's quite probable that he will never make this exact mistake again. One can hope that his firewalking days are over; he walked and came through on the other side.

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