Some Things You Just Cannot Forget
Recently, on a Facebook group page, a photo was posted for my high school classmates to see. The event? Our all girl retreat from senior year. Since I lack permission from all 83 attendees from the class of '84, a description of the image will have to suffice.
We were all comfortably dressed, as the retreat took place out in the woods somewhere in Alabama. The 80s aren't totally noticeable in our apparel. I mean really, just how different could a t-shirt and shorts be? A few hair styles reflect the desired volume of the times, but the wash of amber over the entire photo seems to reflect its age the best.
If you have been a friend of mine since college, then you'll have a hard time finding me in this photo. In high school I went through my short hair phase and let's suffice it to say that longer has definitely been better over my lifetime.
The original post from Felicia made me laugh. She noted that if it were not for the photo, and being able to find herself in the crowd, she wouldn't have recalled having attended. Cindy chimed in that she didn't remember anything either, but obviously she was there. The reason for the use of the term "obviously" is that Cindy's was one of the few unmistakable faces. She was in the front row, actually seated a few inches in front of the front row, if you aren't counting the two girls reclining front and off-center. The general consensus was that nobody seemed to remember what happened on retreat. I guess that whatever happened on retreat, stayed on retreat. Well, that's not an option with this story.
Rogelio chimed into the comments saying, "I can't remember what I did 5 minutes ago, how do u remember what happened 35 years ago?" This made me laugh aloud as it was the response to a memory that I had, and one that Cindy was testing for validity.
I had dropped in a few lines that would spark a memory, if it was still lingering in there somewhere. Rosie was the first to respond, "OH MY GOSH KRIS, I do remember that now." So for Cindy and Rosie, and now the rest of you, here is, in Paul Harvey fashion, the "rest of the story."
It was springtime, 1984, in a rural setting, filled with trees. A campsite with several cottages, of all green painted wood, built off-grade by about 1-2 feet, allowing for a variance in the slope of the ground. Each cottage wall was solid up to about 5 feet, and then screen covered openings allowed the tops of various bunks to be visible from the outside. There was a door to each, or maybe two. Sleeping here was just like sleeping out under the stars, without the stars.
Father Arnold invited us to listen to a story or two in the main hall. It wasn't mandatory as I remember, but just about everyone was there. He spoke of two girls, who had won a doll at the fair. Images of the doll shown in "Toys of Terror," an earlier story on my blog, come to mind.
They were roommates. The girls took the doll home, sat her in the infrequently used chair in the corner, and didn't think much more about her. She sat there, nameless, as it had been many years since either had actually played with dolls.
Monday morning came and both were off to work, or school, that I do not recall. I imagined them in their 20s.
Father continued with his story, there in the woods, as we listened intently. The sun was down, the day had been long and all were focused on the cadence of the monk in our midst. His voice dropped and slowed.
When the girls returned home, they found the doll on the sofa. Assuming that they mistakenly remembered placing her in the chair, agreeing that one of them must have moved the doll and simply forgotten, they intently placed her on the hearth the next day as they headed out.
Returning home, with all of the day's activities still fresh in their mind, their first thought was not on the doll. As you are expecting, she was no longer on the hearth. She was seated instead on the counter in the kitchen. The bar where they prepare their food and often grab a snack before heading out in the morning.
It became obvious that the girls were not to blame for the movement. They had not forgotten. They had not returned home and moved the doll. Their home had been empty, or had it? They wondered who else may have come into the apartment in their absence. The cleaning lady? One of their parents?
The girls set a trap to catch the culprit and prove the source of the prank. The doll was placed on the banquette in the bay window. They vacuumed the shag carpeting and left all of the fiber tendrils facing the same direction so that any footprints leading to or away from the doll would be captured.
Both returned home, and this time any thoughts from the day's happenings vanished immediately. The girls were focused on the doll that they had won at the fair. She had again moved, this time from her perch by the window, back to the chair where they had originally placed her. The carpet was untouched. No footprints were present. No human form had moved the doll.
A different solution had to be found. They considered disposing of the doll. The girls were afraid that the doll would not only be able to move across rooms but may also be able to traverse walls. That would certainly send both girls over the edge. No, they had to find a final solution.
A friend knew of a couple in a nearby town who dealt with demons and sprits and exorcisms. A quick phone call and a plan was in place for the couple to retrieve the doll. They arrived by the end of the week and the girls did not even bother to say goodbye to their new found fiend.
Returning home with the doll, the couple had to re-cross a bridge over a nearby creek. The bridge was under repair and only one lane was available. To manage traffic 24-7, a light was placed at either end. One lane of the two-lane bridge was maneuverable. When the light turned green, traffic was allowed to continue in that direction. If the light was red, any traffic from the opposite side of the bridge was given the ability to cross.
The couple waited in the dark, a slight fog rose from the creek bed below. The red light looked almost orange in the haze. The light must have been on a timer as no traffic was visible. Other than their own headlights, the landscape was dark.
The light turned to green and they approached the bridge. As they reached the center of the bridge, headlights appeared. The other lane was filled with cones and sporadic construction equipment. Had the car not stopped for the red light? Were the lights out on the opposite side? As they searched for a solution, the headlights grew closer. Just before impact they closed their eyes, the couple grasped hands and images of their many years together started to flash past and they instinctively began to recite the Our Father aloud.
"And lead us not into temptation...but deliver us from evil...Amen." They reached the end of the prayer and nothing had changed, no crash, no sound of tires on the bridge, no collision. As the gathered their thoughts and investigated their surroundings, they came to notice the taillights of the approaching car, in the rearview mirror. The car had passed them, but how? The cones were not disturbed. The bridge was not wide enough for the car to have passed. The doll was no longer in the center of the back seat!
We had all been silent, until this moment. Nobody screamed, but it was obvious that we were all affected by the story. It was time for bed. Bed? Heading to bed meant heading out into the dark. Father Arnold had told the story, he was a monk, wearing the cloak of authority for the telling of such a story. Many tried to appear unaffected. I'm pretty sure that I looked shaken. I don't do scary movies, I don't do haunted houses, I don't do Ouija boards.
I scurried to my cottage as fast as my trembling legs could carry me. We all seemed to scatter like roaches, looking for a new place to hide. We all instinctively ran to our Bibles, a required item to pack on this religious retreat. Looking for a reading for solace and safety, a few of the unaffected girls came up with a plan. They decided to leave our cottage and crawl under a neighboring cottage to scare hopefully the literal shit out of some of the other girls.
I've never been happier to be in the group of people hatching a plan for a prank, even though I was too scared to join them.
They left, with a soft creak of our screen door as the only alarm. A few leaves rustled but you wouldn't have noticed if you had not been part of the initial plan. Then there was silence and BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM, as they beat and kicked the floor of the neighboring cottage from underneath.
Screams filled the air and then laughter, from the girls on the prowl and the scaredy cats they'd left behind.
Yes, Rogelio, some things do live on in the brains of women some 35 years later. Some things you just cannot forget. I should find Father Arnold and investigate further. I wonder if he remembers telling the story?
About the only other thing I remember is some rendition of Flashdance where Joan was the lead, Alex Owens (Jennifer Beals). I remember her leaning back in a chair and pulling an imaginary rope, but instead of being engulfed in water, her performance was celebrated by the reactions of many. I don't know if that happened on retreat or at some other location during that same time period, but I hope that yet again it has sparked a memory!
Kristen Alger is an author whose goal is to help you find the fun side of life. Everybody needs a little laughter or sometimes, a little sage advice!