A Waist-High Kind of Tent

Reality for Josh Brittain

The first time I had to sleep in a real small tent, a waist-high kind of tent, I was 23 years old and living in Missoula, MT. I was wedged between really thick foliage, bushes and trees on one side of me and a rocky, gently running creek on the other. I needed protection from any people that were using the trail nearby.

I set the tent up, trying to be quick, unseen…ultra-controlled breathing and sweating nervously the whole time. It was so dark out too, it added to my anxiety. Almost pitch black, I had to use my sense of touch at times. Crawling on my hands and knees to check out how padded or bumpy my sleeping area would be. My fear of being disturbed, harassed, simply caught was overwhelming. I didn’t want any shit to go down, I didn’t want to get jumped or arrested or facing any wildlife attacks. For how truly nerve-wrecking and spirit crushing it was, I managed to get the tent set-up without a hitch.

I zipped myself in, trying to be as silent as possible. I tried to relax and sleep, forget where I was, why and how I got there. Tried to forget the circumstances through-out my life that made this more of a common reality for me. Hoping to get tired or bored enough to sleep…but instead my senses were heightened.
All I could think about was surviving, what to do if anything went down. Whether it be animal or human, I mentally prepared myself for danger. After awhile I fell asleep, but it was that kind of sleep that kept your thoughts and senses close to the surface.
So much so, that I was instantly aware of bustling footsteps on the trail behind the brush. I had my boot knife at the ready, holding it tightly in my right hand…thinking of it as an extension of myself.

Still I made no noise, I was listening so intently…as if I was actually calm and collected. The fear I felt was so strong, but I was ready to fight.
The footsteps eventually got closer and I could hear them talking. I was so hyper-focused that all I was listening for were key phrases, words, or long pauses in their conversation. Anything that indicated my location was discovered. I don’t know what they were talking about, but slowly they continued on their way.
Silence remained, but still I was alert and kind of perturbed. I couldn’t sleep with my blood boiling, heart pounding and mind racing. I stayed up ‘til dawn trying to recover. Even with the fear, irritation and pit in my stomach, I breathed in a sigh of relief that I made it through the night.

Then it was time to go to work.

I needed to get there early so I could make myself as presentable as possible. I didn’t want my co-workers to notice my wrinkled or disheveled appearance. No matter how hard I tried to make myself look good, my irritation grew from the intense, sleepless nights. Ultimately, I would end up being the angry guy at work, always in the worst mood and often mean. Half the time, I couldn’t completely hide my less than pristine appearance. I was even more frustrated with myself for being such a pain, but my attitude about life was raw and always just behind the curtain.

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